1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bihārī-Lāl

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BIHĀRĪ-LĀL, a name famous in Hindustani literature as the author of the Sat-saī, 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-bhāshā, 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 Rādhā, the chief of the Gōpīs or cowherd maidens of Braj, and her divine lover, the son of Vasudēva. 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 Mathurā. His father was named Kēsab Rāy; he was a twiceborn (Dwija) by caste, which is generally understood to mean that he was a Brāhman, though some assert that he belonged to the mixed caste, now called Rāy, sprung from the offspring of a Brāhman father by a Kshatriya mother. A couplet in the Sat-saī states that it was completed in A.D. 1662. It is certain that his patron, whom he calls Jai Shāh, was the Rājā of Āmbēr or Jaipur, known as Mīrzā Jai Singh, who ruled from 1617 to 1667 during the reigns of the emperors Jahāngīr, Shāh Jahān and Aurangzēb. A couplet (No. 705) appears to refer to an event which occurred in 1665, and in which Rājā Jai Singh was concerned. For this prince the couplets were composed, and for each dōhā 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 Shāh, the third son of the emperor Aurangzēb (1653-1707), and hence called the A‘zam-shāhī; 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 Musalmān patrons. The collection has also twice been translated into Sanskrit.

The best-known commentary is that of Lallū-jī-Lāl, entitled the Lāla-chandrikā. 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.)