The Satsai (seven hundred verses) is a famous work of the early 17th century by poet Bihari. It contains couplets on devotion, morality and love. Considered an important work in Ritikaal of Hindi literature, it is today as celebrated as Jayadev’s Geetgovind.
The origin of Bihari Satsai is rather intriguing. Raja Jai Singh of Amber was lost in his young wife’s love neglecting State duties and his other wives. Some ministers and his senior wife coaxed Bihari to send a couplet hidden amidst the petals meant for the king’s bed. Reading these lines, the king regained his senses. He asked Bihari to write a couplet for him every day, and he would award him a gold coin each time.
Thus, the collection Bihari Satsai was born - out of the need of a poet to impress, and that of the State to have its king back from quagmire of sensual pleasures.
Shri Sudarshan Kumar Kapur is an educationist with vast and varied experience in the field of education. He has profound interest in cultural heritage, religious history and aesthetics. He has penned over a dozen university level books and half a dozen definitional dictionaries.
He was born on July 31, 1931 at Jalalpur Jattan, Distt Gujarat in erstwhile West Punjab.
It is a matter of great pride that we, Indians, have inherited a glorious literary, cultural and spiritual heritage. In our heritage, as Chakravarti Rajagopalachari once said, “We inherit a body of thought which, in the opinion of those best fitted to judge, is the product of the highest efforts of intellect and imagination that ever turned in that direction. ... and for which India is famous through out the civilized world.” But it is a matter for great regret that young men and women of our schools, colleges and universities know very much less about it. Perhaps our education does not provide enough opportunities to them to discover and explore the existing mines and mines of this precious and perennial treasure.
While pursuing my postgraduate degree m English m early 1960s, the courses composed study of several English eminent poets mauling Milton, Pope, Thomson, Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson, etc besides other things pertaining to the field of English literature. All these poets belonging to the West acquired international reputation, thanks to the efforts of British rulers and British Educational Institutions. Since then, this question was lurking in my mind whether we cannot fumed one amongst our own poet laureates in our national language, Hindi, or any other Indian language who could match the excellence of this art of poetry written by popular English and European poets. It was in 1973 or so that I chanced to read a small book The Veiled Moon, Translations of Bihari Satsai, by Amar Nath Tha published by Indian Council for cultural Relations (ICCR), New Delhi I discovered that illustrious Professor Dr Amar Nath Jha could render in English only 200
couplets out of the seven hundred and odd couplets of Bihari Satsai, when his sudden death prevented him from completing the translation of the whole Classic. At that moment, I thought that I would translate all the seven hundred and odd Hindi dohas or couplets of Bihari Satsai into English, whenever the circumstances permitted. It was this small book that motivated me to go through the whole text of Satsai as given in Lal Chandrika by Lallu Lal and brought out by the pioneer ideologist Dr. Grierson in i896. It was almost after 25 years that I decided to translate my dream into action.
Translating the Bihari Satsai into English has been an exhilarating, elevating and enjoyable experience, which took me more than five years in doing so. I consider this humble effort of mine to be a labour of love. I hope that this would provide a window to English-knowing world, in this country and abroad, to peep into the rich literary and cultural heritage we possess and of which every Indian can be proud of.
In writing this transition-cum-commentary, I have benefited from Hindi commentaries and research done by scholars on Bihari Satsai. I feel indebted to them all. I wish to express my special thanks to Shri Krishna Dutt Paliwal, who reviewed the pre-publication draft, for his useful and candid suggestions.
Lastly, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Publications Division for the immense pains its team has taken in bringing this book to its present shape.
Satsai, a set of seven hundred and odd couplets, written by Bihari (1595-1665 A.D.), is a seventeenth century classic of Hindi poetry. It is rather the best collection of short lyrics in Hindi.
Bihari occupies a unique and distinguished place in the history of medieval Hindi poetry In popularity, as a poet, Bihari ranks in the top-most class, He is a poet who perfected the fine art of poetry to entertain the circle of his highly cultivated class readers of his age. Rich in thought content and dominated by the force of an extraordinary transparent talent, his poetry has endless variety and Colors. In just seven hundred and odd couplets he has taken a permanent place among the eminent poets of this country. There are on his poetry about 50 commentaries in Hindi, two in Sanskrit, one in Persian, one in Gujarati and one in Urdu. This commentary is perhaps the first in English. Bihari’s work is in the best tradition of our classical literature in Sanskrit and Prakrit having Hala’s Gatha Saptashatika and Amaruk Shataka as its predecessors.
Bihari has been described as a poet of mature eroticism. His poetry is deeply sensuous and amorous. His eroticism is however playful and tender. In his poetry one finds vivid descriptions of human form, fleeting glimpses of charm in women, of beauty in nature. Above all he writes on the pleasures of senses, the graces of fine art and all that constitutes the art of 1ving. His work is an excellent exposition of the cultural ethos of his times.
His keen observation, his descriptive power, his flight of fancy, his sharp and intricate imagery, his capacity of compressing a thought within a phrase, his delineation of every shade of feeling, his delicate touches of pathos and humour, his ability to invest philosophy with bright raiment, his subtle and suggestive diction — all are matchless.
Bihari is unrivalled in the poetic craft. Instead of using the epic medium, he chose Doha (couplet), one of the briefest forms as a medium of poetic expression and gave it a literary stature. His strength lies in putting the maximum of the images and ideas in this compact minimal framework of two small lines and in attaining a matchless artistic and poetic excellence. The beauty of these verses is that each couplet is a self-contained unit, complete in itself. Laconic in words and pithy in meaning, each couplet presents a complete picture or a whole idea or an entire mood. Each couplet stands separate and can be relished separately. In the words of Mr. J.C. Mathur, two important qualities of his verses are ‘restraint over the devices of expression and balance between design and spontaneity.’ And yet through hundreds of them there is continuity of thought and harmony of atmosphere.
The verses of Bihari centre round the eternally young and fresh figures of Radha and Krishna but are capable of universal application. The love of Radha and Krishna was not carnal, it was highly devotional. There are many couplets where one notices a devotee attaining a stage beyond love and devotion which is indistinguishable from the highest piety, and interpret Vaishnavism. Yet the main theme of Bihari’s poetry is Eros. Each verse is like a miniature painting. Obviously, many of his verses became the themes of miniature paintings of I8 and i9 centuries A number of Court artists
Belonging to Kangra, Rajput and Mughal schools worked on them in their respective styles. Some of the paintings in different styles are available in museums at Delhi, Delhi, Bundi, Udaipur, Varanasi, etc. A few of them are fashion statements of the time and the present-day fashion designers can learn a lesson or two from them.
Bihari practiced poetry as a fine art to entertain himself and his highly cultivated audience. The Great pioneer indologist Dr. G. A. Grierson was perfectly right when he when he observed, “ I Know nothing like his verses in any European language… Each verse is a perfectly polished jewel”.
This translation is based on the Text as given in Lal Chandrika by Lallu Lal. Bihari deals with an unimaginable range of sublects in his 700 and odd couplets. Each couplet has some thing compact to tell or describe. They include themes such as description of Cap-a-pie, i.e, Limbs of body (Couplet number 440 onwards), description of Seasons (Couplet number 565 onwards), Home-Truths, Nature of men (Couplet number 591 onwards), Rasas/Moods (Couplet number 650 onwards)etc.
Thus Bihari Satsai is an authentic document of the social, cultutal and religious order and the proverbial philosophy that obtained at his time.
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