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Markanda Das – Odia Poet – His Work Keshab Koili

Markanda Das was a renowned poet of Odia literature during the 15th century CE. Also known as Markandadasa, he is the author of a singular work called Keshab Koili. The work has been commented upon by another famous Odia poet, Jagannatha Dasa of the 16th century CE, who was a great Vaishnava Bhakta. It was the most formative period in the history of the Odia language. Kesab Koili is a lyrical poem, suitable for singing. It consists of thirty four quatrains, each one of them beginning with one letter of the Odia alphabet for ka to ksha.

Koili means cuckoo; the poet addresses the cuckoo as Yashoda and pours out her feelings of separation from her beloved son Krishna. The poem is a depiction of a mother’s love for her child. It is set when Sri Krishna goes to Mathura from Gokula for taking part in the Dhanur Utsava, archery festival, at the invitation of his maternal uncle Kamsa.

The poem is the first of its kind in the Odia language. Its sweetness, richness and pathos blended with music made it very popular even in the remote villages of Odisha. It was also a study material for pupils in schools.

Kesab Koili was also a study material for pupils in schools. It served as a model for many later compositions titled Koili, the first one being the Artha Koili by Jagannatha Dasa, which gives a philosophical interpretation of Keshab Koili. This was followed by Jnanodaya Koili of Loknatha and Kanta Koili of Balarama Dasa (both of the 16th century CE), Baramasa Koili of Sankaradasa, Akrura Koili of Jagannatha, Yasoda Koili of Ramakrishna, Kanta Koili of Raghunatha Dasa, Sisu Bheda Koili of Bairagi Dasa, among others.

In Kesab Koili, one can see the use of anuprasa (alliteration), both at the beginning and at the end as also to the use of vatsalya rasa (parental affection).

The exact date or lineage of Markanda Das is not recorded. There is no sufficient data regarding his personal life.