Birbhum district is the traditional birthplace of the great Vaishnava poet Chandidas. The village is about 24 miles east of Suri and 9 miles from Bolpur. Chandidas was a famous lyric poet of the 14th century and his devotional padavalis are well known throughout Bengal and beyond. Their popularity is so great that many later poets of inferior merit have not hesitated to compose lyrics following the style of Chandidas and have tried to pass them as the handy-work of the great Master.
Mr.R.C.Dutt, I.C.S., one of the well-known scholar administrators in India mentions the following traditions regarding the life of Chandidas:
"The traditions current about the life of Chandidas give us some clue to the nature of the rivalry which has ever existed in Bengal between the Vaishnava and Sakta creeds.
It is said that in his early youth, Chandidas worshipped an image of Sakti, which was called Bishalakshmi, and the poet often
addresses the goddess in his works. As may well be imagined, the conversion of Chandidas to Vaishnavism has given rise to many tales. It is said that, on a certain day, he saw a beautiful flower floating on the river, where he had gone to bathe. He took it up and went to worship Bisha- lakshmi.
The goddess appeared in person, and asked for the flower that she might place it on her head. The worshipper was awe- struck, and enquired what strange virtue the flower could possess, so as to induce the goddess to appear in person, and to wish to keep it on her head, instead of allowing the poet to place it at her feet. The goddess replied: "Foolish child, my master has been worshipped with the flower; it is not fit for my feet; let me hold it on my head.And who may thy Master be?" enquired the poet. "Krishna," was the reply;and from that day the poetexchanged the worship of the goddess for that of Krishna.
It is scarcely necessary to and that later Vaishnava writers have taken advantage of Chandidas's conversion to prove the superiority of their 'deity, and haveinvented this fable. One thing, however, is plain, namely, that the rivalry between the two creeds has prevailed in Bengal, as else where in India, from remote times.
"Chandidas has immortalized the washer woman Rami in his poems, and numerous are the stories told about their loves. The poet was informed that he could not performsadhan till he had a faircompanion, not by marriage, for money, but one to whom his heart would be spontaneously drawn at the first sight.
Our poet went out in search of washer woman was washing clothes on the river side, the poet saw her and was fascinated. Day after day he would go to the riverside, with a fishing rod as a pretext and sit there, gazing on the woman. Words followed and
love ensued, and the poet left his home and parents, and ever afterwards lived with Rami, a washerwoman as she was by caste.
Chandidas was a renowed singer. One day, it is said, he went to a neighboring village Matipur to sing with his paramour; and when they were returning, the house in which they had taken shelter fell down, and they were both crushed and died in each other's arms. The story has perhaps little foundation in fact."4
The passage of time has added more importance to the temple of Bishalakshmi at Nannur. Although there are rival theories as to the birth place of Chandidas and the most formidable of them is that he was born at village Chatna in Bankura district it is now commonly accepted that Nannur village in Birbhum district has that unique honor. Poets of those days frequently used a bhanita (a line) at the end of their verses in which they mentioned their names
There are a number of lyrics with the bhanita of Dina Chandidas, Baru Chandi- das and Dwija Chandidas. It is these different Bhanitas that have started the rival theories. Baru Chandidas, the author of Srikrishna Kirtan is commonly taken to be a man of Chatna.There is a vast difference both in language and inthoughts between the sweet soul-stirring padavalis of Chandidas depicting the lovebetween Lord Krishna and Radha and the recitals of Srikrishna Kirtan has not been able to capture the heart of Bengal.
There may have been another author of the name of Chandidas who had composed Srikrishna Kirtan. Another theory is that the poet shifted from Chatna to Nannur and Srikrishna Kirtan was his earlier composition. The site at Nannur where there is a temple of Bansuli or Bishalakshmi is like a stupa (mound). Peculiarly enough, this mound has not been protected under the Monuments Act nor have there been any planned and extensive excavations. The Calcutta University had done some excavations and some find was obtained.5
The circumference of the mound is about 550 feet and the height is about 17 feet. The small excavation that has been done suggests that there are five occupational levels within the mound and the lowest level is of the age of the Guptas. Gold coins of Gupta age besides earthen vessels, terracotta’s etc., have been found at other places in the village Nannur. The finds suggest that there was a high level of civilization and culture in this area even fifteen hundred years before. The later Pala period saw a full development of Vaishnavism.
Chandidas was born when the high incidence of Vaishnavism was as its peak. It is in this area that another immortal bard Jayadeva composed Geet Govinda. The advent of Chandidas towards what may be loosely described as the end of the Hindu age and the beginning of the Muslim age has a special significance. Chandidas was a tantrik and belonged to the Sahajiya cult of Tantricism but he had been inspired to write and sing lyrics which are marked by the stamp of universal appeal and which transcended the limits of any particular cult.
The padavalis of Chandidas have inspired the later poets and philosophers of Bengal. It may be mentioned that Rabindra Nath Tagore was very much influenced by Chandidas. Bansuli Devi is one of the Mahavidyas according to the tantras. The image that is worshipped as Bansuli or Bishalakshmi Devi at Nannur is really a Bagiswari image. Bagiswari and Saraswati are other Mahavidyas according to the tantras. Birbhum district is full of scattered images of Kali, Bhadra Kali and Chandi images.Chandidas being born and brought up at Nannur, which was a centre for the Sahajiya cult, became eclectic and came to be an ardent worshipper ofBishalakshmi Devi.
Pilgrims who visit Kenduvilva village and purify themselves by seeing the temple hallowed with the memory of Jayadeva also visit Nannur to hear the recitals of the padavalis of Chandidas.Chandidas was a landmark not only for his lyrical poetry but also for his contribution to Vaishnavism by his songs based on Parakiya Rasa. It is necessary to describe briefly what this is. Parakiya Rasa has been described to form the essence of Vaishnava theology. Parakiya Rasa is also akin to the Sahajiya cult, which means the romantic worship of a woman other than one's own wife.
In the words of Dr.D.C.Sen: "When Buddhism declined in India, and Hinduism had not yet risen on her horizon in the full- ness of its glorious revival, when the idea of a higher life inspired by a keen sense of mortality and introspection, which was dominant spirit of Buddhism, declined into scepticism and sensually, and when devotion an absolute trust in God, which characterized the Pauranci Hinduism, was yet unknown, in the twilight of the transition- period, mystic rituals of Tantricism ruled Buddishtic and Hindus communities all over India. The Bamachari Tantriks perpetrated wanton crimes in the name of religion, and the vast literature they have left us lays down codes for those initiated in the creed, which totally upset the moral fabric of society.
The Sahajiya-cult owed its origin to the Bamachari Buddhists. A process of rituals in which young and beautiful women were required to be loved and worshipped sought for salvation. In sexual love there is surely a higher side which points to love divine. The Sahajiya-cult was originally based upon this idea."6
The Sahajiya creed of Vaishnavism had its great exponent in Chandidas. Chandidas himself in a poem had mentioned: "Every one speaks of Sahajiya--but alas! Who knows its real meaning? One who has crossed the region of darkness (passions) can alone have the light of Sahajiya."
According to Chandidas the object of Parakiya love must remain chaste and she must sacrifice herself entirely to love but not to any desire.
She should be prepared to plunge herself headlong into a sea of abuse but should be quite indifferent both to pleasure and pain. The poet himself knew that he was playing with fire. To indulge freely in love and at the same time to guard her against sexual vice is difficult of attainment. In a
poem he mentions:
"To be a true lover, one must be able to make a frog dance in the mouth of a snake" (which means the lover, while playing with dangerous passion, nay, while apparently running even to the very mouth of destruction, must posses the self- control to return unhurt). "This love may be attained by one who can suspend the highest peak of Mount Sumeru in the air with a thread, or bind an elephant with a gossamer."7
Chandidas is one the great exponents of Parakiya Rasa and Sahajiya cult which through his poems and through his love for a washerwoman, Rami, extolled that it was not in an ordinary man's power to control the surging passions of love and remain pure; but he expounds that salvation through this type of love may be attained.
The theme of Chandidas is well expressed in the following translation of a famous lyric of his: -
"O my love! I have taken refuge at any feet, knowing they have a cooling effect (on my burning heart). I adore your beauty beaming with holy maidenhood, which inspires no carnal desire. When I do not see you, my mind becomes restless; and as I see you, my heart is soothed. O
Washerwoman, my lady, you are to me what parents are too helpless children. The three prayers that a Brahman offers daily to his God, I offer to you.
You are to me as holy as Gayatri from which the Vedas originated. I know you to be the goddess Saraswati who inspires songs. I know you to be the goddess Parvati, the goddess of the mountains.You are the garland of my neck, myheaven and earth, my nether worlds, nay, my whole universe! You are the star of my eyes. With out you all is dark to me.
My eyes are soothed when I see you. The day I do not see your moon-like face, I remain like a dead man. I cannot, for a moment, forget your grace and beauty. O, tell me how I may deserve your favor! You are my sacred hymns and the essence of my prayers. My love for your maidenly beauty has not any element of physical desire in it. Says Chandidas, the love of the washerwoman is pure gold tested by touch-stone."8
It was, indeed, extremely difficult for the common man to follow Chandidas when he says: "Reduce your body to dry log (i.e., make it such as to be quite unmoved by passions). He that pervades the universe, unseen by all, is approachable only by him who knows the secret of pure love"9 This is why Chandidas is often misunderstood. This form of idealism-- apparently lawless and unhallowed, rapidly attained a highly spiritual form in Bengal while at the same time brought havoc by moral ruination to many.
Vaishnavism in Bengal scholastically adopted Parakiya as asymbol for the representation of the Divine love. What else could be the love of Radha, the princess, the daughter of king Brisa Bhanu and wife of Ayan Ghosh to fall in unfathom- able love with Krishna, a mere shepherd boy? A true Vaishnava interprets Radha with the human soul and Krishna as the incarnation of the love of God.
Chandidas was known as 'Pagla Chandi' or a mad Chandi. Here the word 'Pagla' could be said to be akin to the Persian word Diwana, a love-intoxicated lunatic. Chandi- das often addressed his beloved Rami, a washerwoman as mother and the society ex-communicated him and dismissed him from the priesthood of the temple of Bansuli.
According to legend, Nakula, the brother of Chandi influenced him to stand a Prayaschitta (atonement) and a feast to the society. When the feast was going on, Rami, the love-lorn washerwoman heard of it and rushed.She gazed at Chandidas and tears welled out in a stream from her eyes; in a moment Chandidas forgot what he was doing and he approached Rami just as a devout priest approaches the image of deity he worships.
It is said that some of the enlightened Brahmins saw the four arms of the Divine mother of the Universe shooting out in the washerwoman. In one of his later poems Chandidas openly addressed Rami as "Gayatri, the mother of the Vedas".
The temple at Nannur is of special appeal to the Vaishnava world and to all lovers of music and poetry.
Chandidas does not omit to depict any phase of human sentiment. His love poems fall under the classification usual to the Vaishnava love poems: Purva Raga or dawn of love; Dutya or a message of love; Abhisara or a secret love-tryst; Sambhoga milan or the meeting of the lover; Mathura or the final separation and Bhavas- Sammelana or a union in spirit.
The final imagination and devotion of the poet weaves out various plots by which Radha meets Krishna and it is only a lover that can describe the pangs of love as have been adopted with slight changes as
devotional songs and are sung in the churches in the Brahmo Samaj of Bengal during Divine Service. Devotees all over Bengal sings his songs in ecstasy of devotion.
much of this is from;
History of Bengali Language and Literature by Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen
[This message has been edited by jijaji (edited 11-15-2001).]