The Gita Govinda, a lyrical epic or epical lyric, by Shri Jayadeva, a Sanskrit poet of the last quarter of the twelfth century, is a poem with a unique and far different significance in entire Indian literature, before or after. Not merely a piece of writing, the Gita Govinda was an instrument that completely revolutionised, or rather re-vitalised, Vaishnavism, which encumbered by inner conflict of different Brahmanical sects and eroded by Islam and Islamic invasions frequently storming the subcontinent, was heading towards a point of collapse. Instead of metaphysical dogmatism, the Gita Govinda discovered Vaishnavism in love, devotion and absolute submission, the instruments that dispelled duality and led the self to unite with the Supreme Self.
What the Gita Govinda presented was a completely changed perception of Vaishnavism. It neither looked for a divine aura nor for a monarchical frame, which had so far defined its Vaishnava God or even Krishna as one of the Vaishnava incarnations. Jayadeva had seen that Indian kingship, once possessed of divine aura, was unable to sustain against Islamic onslaught and was fast waning. Maybe, he hence thought it better to separate his God from this monarchical frame and let Him be one like masses. This not only humanised Him but also turned an abstract concept into a living reality that one could feel and realise. The Gita Govinda hence wove its theme around Krishna, its hero, who it conceived as a humble cattle-grazing cowherd, very much like others, and enshrined in him Vaishnava Godship. This transformed Vaishnavism into a thing of masses.
Contrary to Puranic position, the Gita Govinda attributes all Vaishnava incarnations to Krishna, not Vishnu. Here Krishna is seen as the prime manifestation of God incarnating in various forms. Each incarnation has a specific role but Krishna hasn't any, not even his crusade against evil forces.
He is realised in love and in his love reveals the supreme good; all fetters break and the loved one unites with him in absolute oneness. In a sense, Gita Govinda is a broad metaphor, which reveals in sensuous love the factum of spiritual unity. Initially, Krishna loves his favoured one, Radha. Later, he makes love with others reaching him. Radha, the favoured one, separated from him, is annoyed for his infidelity but her longing to unite with him is endless. Krishna realises the wrong he did to Radha who has always loved him. Repentant he meets her and the two unite in perpetuity.
Metaphorically, Krishna is the Supreme Self and Radha, the individual. Initially they are one, but in the course of time separated from each other. The individual self's longing to unite with the Supreme Self is incessant. However, they unite only when it pleases the Supreme Self. This sums up Vaishnavism. Anything beyond it is irrelevant. In simultaneity to its deep philosophical meaning and theistic thrust, the Gita Govinda is endowed with a very high level of lyricism and sensuality.
The Gita Govinda's predecessor, Bhagavata Purana, had also seen Krishna as a cowherd boy, but it was just a phase of his life to terminate after he killed Kansa.
After this phase ended, he was even purified, re-ritualised and properly schooled, all to befit him in his monarchical frame. The cowherd phase did not have its traces ever after. He is not only portrayed as one of Vishnu's incarnations and with Vishnu-like divine aura but also reveals in him Vishnu's likeness and cosmic magnification. The Bhagavata Purana, a 'purana' - the holy scripture, was heard with folded hands and bowed to.
The Bhagavata Purana's Krishna commands not only respect for his divinity but slightly maintains a distance from others. The Gita Govinda was a lyric to inhale within, to be sung and danced to.
Jayadeva's Krishna, though the fountainhead of all Vaishnava incarnations, not one of them, is till end a cowherd running after cowherd maidens and himself, always within their reach. Love and love alone is the tie in between and the strength of both, the seeker and the sought.
Jayadeva, the poet who composed Gita Govinda, was one of the five jewels of king Lakshmanasen, the last Hindu ruler of Bengal who ruled from around 1175 A.D. to 1200 A.D. Most scholars consider hence this to be the date of the Gita Govinda, too, though a few of them take it back to around 1050 A. D. The five jewels of Lakshmanasena were his five court poets, Jayadeva, Govardhana, Dhoi, Sharana and Umapatidhara. In the opening section of the Gita Govinda, Jayadeva commends them all, and also Shrutidhara, his other colleague. The National Museum, New Delhi, has a painting in Sultanate style of around 1475-1500 A.D., portraying Jayadeva and these five poets seated around.
This miniature suggests that Jayadeva and his Gita Govinda had gained considerable popularity and had emerged as the painter’s theme by late 15th century itself, though no such early paintings are available now. The earliest reported Gita Govinda paintings are from Mewar from around 1590-1600 A.D.
Kenduli, a Birbhumi village in Bengal, has been identified as Jayadeva’s birthplace, though Jayadeva himself alluded to Utkal as his land. He mentions and pays homage to his father and mother, Bhojadeva and Ramadevi. He also commemorates his wife Padmavati. Each verse of the Gita Govinda is set to a ‘raga’ and ‘tala’, which suggests that Jayadeva had great competence in music.
The full title of Jayadeva's poem is Gitagovindakavyama. In its original sense, the term ‘kavyam’ meant broadly the 'prabandha kavya', a narrative poem. 'Prabandha-kavya' is arranged, as is the Gita Govinda, into cantos. The thrust of the Gita Govinda is not, however, narrative. Here events do not grow over a passage of time, as they do in a narrative. At the most growth has a mystic perspective. The first verse of the Gita Govinda is the seed out of which grow the sole leading sentiment of the poem. Seeing dark deep clouds gathered in the sky and fear in the eyes of child Krishna, Radha escorts him home. When passing across an arbour on Yamuna’s bank, he makes love with Radha.
In between the period, when he left with Radha and made love with her, the child Krishna grows to such manhood as gives him competence to make love with a far matured woman. It was obviously a mystic magnification, not a growth on the scale of time. Otherwise, too, the poem covers just two days, one of ‘vipralambha', separation, and other of ‘sambhoga’, union.
Thus, the Gita Govinda hardly has a narrative character. In fact, it is a composition beyond set norms of a genre, whatever, lyric, song, ballad, or poetic drama. Gita Govinda has a lot of dialogue and action, features of a drama; it comprises a series of moods and emotional situations, something of a lyrical ballad; its diction, similes, metaphors, rhymed and metered parts, imaginative fervour and lyrical quality make it a poem; and, with great musical quality, that it is endowed with, added to it, it becomes a song. Breeding a picture on each step, it is like a movie.
Its intense emotional quality makes it a nightingale’s song. Moving the interior, not exterior, it becomes a journey of mind, or emotional being, not body or brain. It breathes like a breeze and bounds like a rivulet. Love is its central theme and, whether monogamous or polygamous, its sanctity is always the same. It pains Radha that Krishna indulges in love with other Gopis. This ‘otherness’ of the Gopis is the cause of misery of Radha, the individual self. It on the contrary delights Krishna, as in him, in the Supreme Self, this ‘otherness’ of Gopis dissolves, merges and gets lost.
Obviously, with such generic width and mindset, Jayadeva could discover the hero of his poem in none else but Krishna. Krishna alone could be his source, theme and character to reveal a drama so mundane and so divine. Wreathed into his poetic diction and dissolved into his imagery, Krishna alone could land on his lips as his song, could sing for him and melt into his kavyam as its spirit and body. Krishna alone could be his ‘Geeta’, song, as he was Arjuna’s Gita in the Mahabharata; ‘Katha’ of the Bhagavata Purana; and later, ‘Pada’, a metered composition, of Surdasa, mincing and growing to the blind eyes step by step; strength of Mira, wandering along and tinkling incessantly from her ‘ghungharus’, bells; tears of the divine experience welling around the eyes of Chaitanya; ‘Marg’, path, of Vallabha; role-model of Keshava’s Rasikpriya; poets’ verbal transcript and painters’ pictorial transformation; ‘Aradhya’, object of worship, of the folded hands; ‘Nada’, sound of the drum, ‘Tala’, ‘Laya’ and ‘Mudrayen’, beat, rhythm and gestures of the performer; grace of the Ultimate; and stay of the transient. Obviously, whatever Jayadeva sang of him was the source of sensuous delight, but as much spiritually elevating and benedictory.
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