had mentioned about the famous Maithil poet Vidyapati. This sunday I had an opportunity to attend a “Vidyapati Jayanti” function and now I know little more about him than his name. He has written poems of Bhakti and Shringar Ras (Devotional and Love [well, marriage I should say in this case] poetry respectively). But there is more. At several points in the history of human civilization, at least in India, there have been people who have worked towards giving the “language of the people” its due importance. Buddha and Mahavira did it in their times by giving their preachings in Pali and Prakrit and not in Sanskrit. And their teachings affected the attitude of many rulers too, Ashoka being the most famous one. Vidyapati is credited with bringing about this change in Mithila in his life time. He emphasized the use of “Desil Baina” (people’s language) in the administration and politics. He was a friend to the then king of Mithila – Raja Shiv Singh, besides being the Raj-Pandit (royal priest).
Coming back to his poetry, he has written the devotional songs for lord Shiva. It is said that he was such a great devotee that Lord Shiva had come to serve him and remained with him as a servant for a long time. Now, I can not claim the truth of the story but I guess this story is the manifestation of the old Indian belief – “Bhagwaan bhakta ke das hote hain” (God is the servant of devotees).
Amongst his poetries of Shringaar Ras, most are in the context of the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. So, I guess Lord Shiva was all pervaded in his life.
I do not know if it is the effect of Vidyapati, but marriage of Shiva and Parvati comes very often in the Maithili marriage songs. Thinking of it, in general, marriage of no other God seems to have received as much of importance in Indian mythology as that of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati. So, it might simply be a situation of lack of choice!
Talking of poets, the more recognizable face from Mithila is that of Nagarjuna (”Badal Ko Ghirte Dekha Hai”). Incidentally, he belongs to my maternal native place – a village called Tarauni in Darbhanga district. Of course, I will make no claims of that having any effect on my talents since the only time I have visited the place was when I was less than four years old; and as is not difficult to guess I do not remember anything Reason was that in my life-time even my maternal grandparents never stayed there. They shifted to Katihar because of my grandfather’s job and though wanted to go back after retirement, could not do so on account of my grandmother’s illness. My mother herself has visited her village only rarely. Anyway, that was a digression. I was talking of Nagarjuna. He wrote in Hindi as well as Maithili. On of my maternal uncles told me that he had heard the poem “Badal Ko Ghirte Dekha Hai” from Nagarjuna himself, right after he had come back from his journey of Mansarovar. Unfortunately, right not I do not have many of his poems in electronic form. One called “Unko Pranam” is available on my Writings Page. He appears to have had a “Ghumakkad Jeevan”(wandering life) in pretty much the way Rahul Sankrityayan had wished people to have in his “Ghumakkad Shashtra”. No surprises that meant misery and poverty for his wife and family. Am not taking any moral stand on this. Not that history does not have precedence either.
Now, certain other aspects. Except for Bengali Brahmins, most of the Brahmins and others jump up at being told that Maithil Brahmins, even traditionally, are not prohibited from taking non-vegetarian dishes. It is restricted in some fashions, though. The non-vegetarian food allowed is restricted to fish and meat. Further only meat coming from “Bali-Pradan” (sacrifice of animals for worships) is allowed. No eggs, chickens etc. What Maithils are more strict about is the intake of onion and garlic. The “allowed” non-vegetarian dishes are also supposed to be prepared without onion and garlic! People not taking non-veg at all are not more common amongst Maithil Brahmins than in any other community; I mean it is only by choice and not because of restriction or norms. But of course, food restrictions are disappearing fast. Onion and garlic as well as all kinds of non-vegetarian food have become part of normal life.
“Dahi-Chura” is a very respectable dish in Maithil Culture. For many feasts of importance, at several occasions, it serves as good a purpose as several tasty dishes would serve. Many “Brahmin-Bhojan” (feast for Brahmins), “Kaumari-Bhoj” (feast for virgin girls), “Ahivati Bhoj” (feast for married women) etc. are carried out with Dahi-Chura, supported by other sweets etc. of course. Serving important guests, especially in a hurry, with Dahi-Chura would not be considered any less than serving them with several other dishes. I have often wondered at the importance and respectability of this dish, but can see no obvious reason. It is considered a very “pure” dish for sure. For example, earlier people, while travelling, would not carry cooked food since the cooked salt, if it comes on the road, is supposed to become “unpure”. Dahi-Chura was a good substitute. Of course, another way around this problem was to carry food cooked without salt and carry uncooked salt to be mixed with it while eating
Some customs regarding maintaining the purity of food are very peculiar. Already mentioned the case of cooked salt on the road. Some other concepts are called “sakhri” and “apait”. “Sakhri” is the situation where a pure food item (like milk and sweet – basically things containing neither salt nor any cereals) is touched without washing hands after having touched something salty. This might still look kind of familiar and reasonable. “Apait” goes a step further. It arises when almost anything non-salt is touched without washing hands after having touched something salty! So, you can not touch the bread after having touched the cooked vegetable without washing your hand. Like most of the other things, not followed strictly now a days (to our relief!). In fact for a long time I did not even know that there are concepts like these in existence.
While eating with others, you are not supposed to get up till everyone has finished. In the ideal way of serving food, curd and sweets come at last and curd must come. Then, there is this concept of “bhog” (not peculiar to Maithils, I guess), where you keep aside a little food in the beginning and devote it to God. But the recognition that we are offering to God what He Himself has given is very much there. A sanskrit verse for this situation (which I do not remember) means “Tumhara diya hi tum ko arpan” in Hindi (translated: Am offering you what you yourself have given to me). If any food is left at the end, it is supposed to go to some dog in heaven or hell (I do not remember where). Probably this is the dog that had accompanied Yudhishthira in his journey to heaven. Though, I do not think this is an encouragement for wasting food. In fact, whether it is serious custom or just a saying, I am not very sure. While I have seen my father offering “bhog” in the beginning, he has always been strongly parital towards not leaving food in his plate at the end.
Besides Dahi-Chura, another important dish in Maithil Culture is called “sakroiri” (Boondi Ka Raita). If there is a feast which is serving rice, ’sakroiri’ must be there for the feast to be considered complete. Even otherwise, people do try to include this dish.
Amongst other things, not meal-dishes, “thekua” (a snack made with flour/maida and sugar, which when made well, is very crispy), “tikri” (a sweet – another name for it is “baalooshahi”), “gunamuna” (a preparation whose composition I do not know, but is typically distributed amongst women and children in dwiragaman), “pirakiya” (”gujhia”) etc. are important fast food. Around Makar Sankranti Moodhee/Chura/Til’s lai (laddoo) are very prevalent. “Nimki” (namakpare) and its several variations are also important part of snacks. Besides these there are several other home preparation, which can be found in most of the North Indian communities.
(Poetry as well as food – this should be a complete day )