Poetic Supermen & Villains: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Masculine Cosmopolitanism in Early Modern North India & Nepal

Dates & times

Fri 2 September 2022, 3.00pm–4.30pm


Online event

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Watch the video recording of this online seminar on Vimeo.

This presentation will explore how memory, music, and masculinity were packaged and transmitted across time and spaces in a uniquely Maithili manner.

A thief in the night, a jilted lover, a noble king, and discerning princes – the heroes, villains, and characters that populate the landscape of early Maithili literature are compelling. These captivating characters and the language associated with their poetic tradition, Maithili, were formalised by the multilingual poet-scholar-saint Vidyāpati Ṭhākura (c. 1360-1450 CE).

Vidyāpati is most famous for his vernacular songs in Maithili on courtly love and ethical life, but his characterisations of the supuruṣa (‘the good man’) and the dujana ( ‘the wicked man’) are further developed in the poet’s collection of stories on defining manhood in Sanskrit (the Puruṣa-Parīkṣā, or ‘The Test of Manhood’) and his historical narrative on war and politics in Avahaṭṭha (the Kīrttilatā, or ‘The Vine of Glory’).

Vidyāpati’s mapping of Mithila on the political, historical, and social geographies of fifteenth century India can be outlined by holistically analysing Vidyāpati’s multi-lingual corpus. The political and caste elite of Mithila were invested in constructing a brand of masculinity that blended warrior and intellectual moralities and aesthetic ideals. As a new political power within the region, these elites sought to plug into a network of historical and contemporary ‘peers’ to solidify their own local prestige and identity.

Vidyāpati’s model of idealised masculinity proved effective for the Maithil court, and this model, along with its associated vernacular language of Maithili, was imported by other regional powers in subsequent centuries. This phenomenon was widespread in Eastern South Asia but was particularly direct among the Malla kings of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal.



Dr Chris Diamond is a Lecturer at the School of Culture, History & Language in the ANU College of Asia the Pacific. Chris’ current project concerns the literary legacy of a medieval multi-lingual poet from the North Indian region of Mithila, Vidyapati (c. 1370-1450). His, at the time, new vernacular language of song and poetry became a standardized classical style across Nepal, the Eastern Gangetic Plains, Bengal, and further afield.

Christopher is currently working on a new edition and translation of some of the oldest manuscript that contain this poet’s songs and a critical analysis of the ways kings and brahmins in Nepal and Bihar employed them to project their own power and prestige. 



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