The Critical Edition of the Kavitāvalī of Tulsīdās




The Kavitāvalī 1

The Manuscripts and the Recensions. 2

The Conventions and the Critical Apparatus. 2

Sample Pages. 3

Participants. 3

Publications. 3

Contact us. 3



The preparation of the critical edition of the Kavitāvalī of Tulsīdās aiming to document its transmission process and, through it, to uncover aspects of Tulsī's reception history is an international project undertaken by scholars from the University of Oxford and from Budapest within the framework of the South Asian Language and Literature Research Group of the British Association for South Asian Studies.

The Kavitāvalī

The Kavitāvalī is one of the most popular works of Tulsīdās (d. ?1623) considered by many as the greatest Hindi poet. It is a series of three to four hundred hundred free-standing quatrains loosely connected by the underlying fervent devotion to Rama. Although arranged into seven cantos according to the Ramayana tradition, it does not follow a linear epic structure but rather represents the aged Tulsī’s favourite themes sometimes with a more personal approach than found in his other works. The Kavitāvalī represents a major development of devotional traditions in two respects. Earlier bhakti poets conveyed their message most effectively in pads, which are songs with refrain composed orally in a flexible metre suitable for emotional expression through singing. Their compositions were committed to writing normally after an interval of oral transmission. The Kavitāvalī, however, is an originally written compilation produced in sophisticated kabitt forms, which by the late sixteenth century became one of the most popular vehicles of classicist poetry at the Mughal court. The collection gained its form(s) around the 1610s and 1620s and is one of the most beautiful examples of devotional poetry adapted both to courtly and to written cultures.


The arrangement of the first six kāṇḍas of the collection follows the Rama-story providing us with glimpses at some of its most enchanting points, while the Uttarakāṇḍa discards the linear structure and comprises poems celebrating Rama’s name, virtues or grace, descriptions of the dark Kali age, of places of pilgrimage, of the gopīs’ love for Krishna, of Shiva, prayers for release from calamities such as the pestilence in Benares, etc. Several poems expound Rama’s grace with reference to Tulsī himself. Even the first part of the Kavitāvalī is not strictly linear but rather like a series of miniature illustrations to an epic tale with which everyone is familiar.

The importance of its poetic form can be judged by the fact that in many manuscripts and early editions this collection is called Kabitt-Rāmāyaṇ ‘Ramayana in quatrains’ using the word kabitt in its broad sense of self-contained poem including the four-line syllabic kavitt, relying on sequences of stressed and unstressed syllables, the anapaestic or dactylic savaiyā, and the rare moraic jhūlnā and chappay stanzas (the latter broken into six lines in modern editions). The use of the kabitt form connected with the written tradition, the almost uniform sequence of poems as well as the nature and the relatively small number of the variant readings show that the extant texts stem from written versions and no phase of oral transmission was involved although oral tradition must have influenced it. (Even today many people know several of Tulsī’s quatrains by heart.) This collection has enjoyed immense popularity. Dozens of manuscripts are documented, which is probably a tiny part of the several hundreds prepared over the centuries. Since its first printed edition in 1815 the Kavitāvalī has been published about 120 times. Click to see a list of Kavitāvalī publications.

All modern editions and commentaries, including the ubiquitous Gita Press volumes, as well as the large number of critical studies, rely on the text published in the Tulsī-granthāvalī (1923), which in turn draws on Chakkanlal and Dvivedi's Gosvāmī tulasīdāskṛt dvādas granth (1886). The vulgate editions, however, have two serious shortcomings: they suggest that their text is the one composed by Tulsīdās and they neglect the textual development represented in the proliferation of variants. An examination of the manuscript material shows that the text written by Tulsīdās has undergone changes by the time it reached its modern vulgate form. In old handwritten books it was present in two recensions with a substantial difference in their length as they contain about 290 and 380 poems respectively. Some of its textual changes may go back to the poet's revisions and others to later scribal mistakes or conscious manipulation.

The Manuscripts and the Recensions

For a critical edition copies of 32 manuscripts have been collected from Panjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the United States. Reference to about 40 more have been found but some of them have disappeared and some are kept locked by their custodians.

An examination of the number of poems in the handwritten books available in complete form shows a variation of about ninety quatrains. On the basis of this, the manuscripts can be distributed into two groups of more or less the same size. The first group, the Longer Recension, comprises those that reach up to Uttarakāṇḍa 180 and normally include the Hanumānbāhuk and the second group, the Shorter Recension, has those that reach only up to Uttara 161 (or less) and do not include the Hanumānbāhuk. The two recensions can be further grouped into several sub-groups on the basis of their structural peculiarities. Click to see the grouping of the manuscripts.

Colophon of a manuscript

The final two quatrains (vulgate 7,163-164) and the colophon of an unconventional Kavitāvalī manuscript copied in 1827AD and now preserved at the Brij Cultural Research institute, Vrindaban

The Editorial Conventions and the Critical Apparatus

The edition is made on the basis of five old handwritten books dated from before 1800 with the addition of seven nineteenth-century and three undated manuscripts. CLICK HERE to see a list of collated manuscripts.

Since Brajbhasha orthography does not have strict rules, the research group has divised conventions to be able to differentiate between „zero variants” as well as minor, major and gross variants. „Zero variants” are not presented in any level of the apparatus. Minor variants are present only in the apparatus belonging to the old manuscripts, while major and gross variants are given both in old and recent manuscripts.

Sample Pages

CLICK HERE to see some sample pages of the edition. (Certain vowel signs may not appear fully in some browsers.)



o       Dániel Balogh (Budapest)

o       Imre Bangha (Oxford) (Project Coordinator)

o       Eszter Berki (Budapest)

o       Eszter Somogyi (Budapest)



Balogh, Dániel: Exploring the Transmission of the Kavitāvalī of Tulsīdās: A Statistical Analysis of Manuscript Relationships.’ In Csaba Dezső (ed.): Indian Languages and Texts through the Ages: Studies by Hungarian Indologists in honour of Prof. Csaba Töttössy. Manohar, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 257-284.

Bangha, Imre: ‘Anandghan, Broughton and Tulsidas: Report on Three Years.’ Research.’ In Winand M. Callewaert and Dieter Taillieu (eds.): Devotional Literature in South Asia: Current Research 1997–2000: Procedings of the Eighth International Conference on Early Literature in New Indo-Aryan Languages, Leuven, 23–26 August, 2000. Manohar, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 523-537.

Bangha, Imre: Dynamics of Textual Transmission in Pre-Modern India: The Kavitavali of Tulsidas.Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Vol. 24 Nr. 2 (2004), pp. 33-44.


Bangha, Imre: Videś mẽ kavitāvalīpāṭh-saṁpādan.’ (The text edition of the Kavitāvalī abroad). In Harimohan Mālvīy (ed.): Śrī Rāmlīlā-smārikā 2008. Śrī Patharcaṭṭī Rāmlīlā Kameṭī, Prayāg, 2008, pp. 163-4 [in Hindi].

Bangha, Imre: ‘Writing Devotion: Dynamics of Textual Transmission in the Kavitāvalī of Tulsīdās.’ in Pollock, Sheldon ed. Forms of knowledge in Early Modern South Asia. Duke University Press, Durham, pp. 257-332. Indian edition: Manohar, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 140-170.

Bangha, Imre and Mária Négyesi: ‘Apocrypha in the Eastern Manuscripts of Tulsīdās’s Kavitāvalī.’ In Csaba Dezső (ed.): Indian Languages and Texts through the Ages: Studies by Hungarian Indologists in honour of Prof. Csaba Töttössy. Manohar, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 285-306.

Contact us


With any observation please contact Imre Bangha.


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