Remarkable is, the composers did not call these Sloka or Pada, words commonly used to mean verse; they named those Charyā – chants or song of their secret sadhana. “Pada” was added by MM Haraprasad Shastri, the researcher and publisher of the collection of Charyās. The composers of Charyāpada are Buddhist tantric Siddhas. We see, Siddha as a title were commonly used by Buddhist Tantrik sect and Saiva Nath Yogi sect. Was there any connection?
The manuscripts containing Charyāpada text was found in Nepal. We know stories about how MM Haraprasad Shastri found the Charyāgitikosh, which is a selection of only fifty verses with explanation by Munidatta (12th century AD), and how those were extracted. But isn’t it interesting that one selection of Buddist texts composed in Eastern India – comprising today’s Assam, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh are not traced where it was composed but found preserved in some other neighbouring country? Anyway, there were other verses of this class of Buddhist literature found in Eastern India. H M Shastri’s publication of 1916 included Dohākosh by Sarahapada (Sarahapa), Dohākosh by Kanhapada (Kanipa?), and Dakarnaba along with Charyāgitikosh.
How shall we translate the word “Charyā” in English – verse or lyrics? They were sung with fixed raga, taal, and tune as a part of secret devotional prayers of the venerated Buddhist preachers. The language of those lyrics was suitable to maintain that secrecy as well. This was some form of proto-Bengali and proto-Odia, proto-Assamese or Maithili, probably a version of Eastern Prākrit or colloquial language of old Eastern India, to which all later languages of this region are connected. Sandhyā bhāsā is the term used by Munidatta to name this language – but what does Sandhyā mean? Does Sandhyā signify the interim language between Prākrit and later languages or does it signify ambiguity of the language? Does the language determine the ‘nationality’ of its composers? Probably no – Kānhapāda was probably an advocate of Buddhist Tantrik philosophy from current Karnataka. Buddhism became the dominant religion of the subcontinent once, especially the region between Nalanda to Assam as well as Odisha, and Karnataka. Pundits migrated from one region to another and learned regional language.
How do we identify the names of the composers of these songs? Among the fifty songs of Charyāgitikosh, the name of Siddhacharya Kanhapada is associated with 13 verses, Bhusukupa with 8, Sarahapa with 4, Kukkuri pa with 3, Sabarpa and Lui pa with 2 each. Each of Dham pa, Jaynandi pa, Kankana pa, Birua pa, Gundari pa, Chatila pa, Kambalambara pa, Dombi pa, Mahidhara pa, Beena pa, Dendana pa, Ajadeva pa, Dhendhana pa, Darika pa, Bhade pa, Taraka pa, Shanti pa composed one song of this collection. But the explanation of Munidutta names some other poets like Nagarjuna pa, Hebajra pa, Charja pa, Dauri pa etc. where are there compositions? Probably those were included in the collection of the hundred poems which is not yet discovered.
In last hundred years, many old texts of Charyā-song are discovered from different parts of Asia. Some texts are re-translated in different languages. Buddhist literature and their thought process influenced not only later Hindu spiritual thought but also Islamic Sufi belief, destroying Bamiyan Buddha idol could not remove that influence of idol-worshippers on medieval Islam. But let’s not enter into those details – at least at this stage of our deciphering a class of thousand year old songs.
What makes those old songs interesting? Let’s check the content, e.g. the one composed by the Siddha Lui pa (Luipada?)
The body is like a tree with five branches;
Which is destroyed by a mind restless.
Bliss is found by attaining strength
Guru will take you to the route in depth.
Learn many ways of meditation –
Surpassing pain and satisfaction,
Evading sensory desires fruitless,
Mingle with eternal emptiness.
Lui has seen it clearly sitting on –
His two seats called moon and sun.
(one interpretation of Kayatarubara panchbi daala…)
Tantrik interpretations of the verses are different. We will not go through those in detail as we are not discussing Tantrik philosophy and practices here. Our purpose is to find how religious Tantric practices, which were supposed to be observed in secrecy, gave birth to distinct literary tradition in a large tract of Eastern India. We don’t know whether Tantric disciples achieved their target of attaining eternal bliss by withdrawing or closing sensory organs, but their poems remained interesting from the viewpoint of literary and social history.
Who is this Lui pa? The name is mentioned in many other texts of Tantric and Yoga texts, but how to be sure that all of them and this Charyā-composer Lui pa is the same person? Tantra texts assign him another name “Meenanath” or “Matsyendranath”. Meenanath is worshiped by Buddhists in Nepal and believed to be an Avatar of Avalokiteswar. But if Lui pa considered the guru of all Siddhas as mentioned in Tantras, then he existed during the Bengal-Magadha King Dharmapala’s regime in 8th century. Then there is no way of his being identical with Meenanath who is considered to be spiritual guru of Gorakshnath in Bengal (12th-14th century). Anyway even a serious effort to define date and time as well as identity of the composers leads only to fierce debate. Let’s read some interesting Charyā composed by another Siddha Kukkuri pa instead:
Vessel cannot be filled milking the tortoise
Crocodile can’t eat all tamarind from the trees
Courtyard becomes home – wife turns a saint
Thief steals the earring in the middle of the night
Father-in-law sleeps but wife remains awake
Where to find the earring for heaven’s sake!
Wife is scared of even a crow in daylight,
Moves out to make love when its night
When Kukkuri pa sings such a difficult song
Who can comprehend without instruction?
Kukkuripa existed in 8th or 9th century probably by end of Dharmapal’s or beginning of Devapala’s regime. People from Northern India believe he was from Nepal. Another belief associates his birthplace with Uttarakhand. The two books believed to be composed by him, are Yogabahvanopradesha and Srabapariccheda.