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Bihari-Lal

BIHARI-LAL, a name famous in Hindustani literature as the author of the Sat-sai, a collection of approximately seven hundred distichs, which is perhaps the most celebrated Hindi work of poetic art, as distinguished from narrative and simpler styles. The language is the form of Hindi called Braj-bhasha, spoken in the country about Mathura, where the poet lived. The couplets are inspired by the Krishna side of Vishnu-worship, and the majority of them take the shape of amorous utterances of Radha, the chief of the Gopis or cowherd maidens of Braj, and her divine lover, the son of Vasudeva. Each couplet is independent and complete in itself, and is a triumph of skill in compression of language, felicity of description, and rhetorical artifice. The distichs, in their collected form, are arranged, not in any sequence of narrative or dialogue, but according to the technical classification of the sentiments which they convey as set forth in the treatises on Indian rhetoric.

Little is known of the author beyond what he himself tells us. He was born in Gwalior, spent his boyhood in Bundēlkhand, and on his marriage settled in his father-in-law's household in Mathura. His father was named Kēsab Ray; he was a twiceborn (Dwija) by caste, which is generally understood to mean that he was a Brahman, though some assert that he belonged to the mixed caste, now called Ray, sprung from the offspring of a Brahman father by a Kshatriya mother. A couplet in the Sat-sai states that it was completed in A.D. 1662. It is certain that his patron, whom he calls Jai Shah, was the Raja of Ambēr or Jaipur, known as Mirza Jai Singh, who ruled from 1617 to 1667 during the reigns of the emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzēb. A couplet (No. 705) appears to refer to an event which occurred in 1665, and in which Raja Jai Singh was concerned. For this prince the couplets were composed, and for each dōha the poet is said to have received a gold piece worth sixteen rupees.

The collection very soon became celebrated. As the couplets are independent one of another, and were put together fortuitously as composed, many different recensions exist; but the standard is that settled by an assembly of poets under the direction of Prince A'zam Shah, the third son of the emperor Aurangzēb (1653-1707), and hence called the A'zam-shahi; it comprises 726 couplets. The estimation in which the work is held may be measured by the number of commentators who have devoted themselves to its elucidation, of whom Dr Grierson mentions seventeen. Two of them were Musalmans, and two other commentaries were composed for Musalman patrons. The collection has also twice been translated into Sanskrit.

The best-known commentary is that of Lallu-ji-Lal, entitled the Lala-chandrika. The author was employed by Dr Gilchrist in the College of Fort William, where he finished his commentary in 1818. A critical edition of it has been published by Dr G.A. Grierson (Calcutta, government of India Press, 1896).

(C. J. L.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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