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Jayadevas Geetagovinda, composed in the twelfth century, is an Indian classic and a part of the world cultural heritage. It marks a watershed in the development of Sanskrit Kavya literature in the use of a simple and colloquial style that is much closer to the spoken language than the purely literary or ornate style of earlier works. It is also one of the best examples of padavali sangeeta-poems meant for singing and dancing rather than for reading and recitation. Geetagovinda is the precursor of modern dance-drama or geetinatya. It uses matra chhanda, with syllabic instants for rhythmic patterns, ideally suited for lyrical and musical rendition, and a form more popularly adopted by the Prakrut language spoken by the lay public unlike classical Sanskrit patronised by scholars and connoisseurs. Even as pure poetry this magnificent poem has few parallels in its use of metaphors, similes and alliterations which provide the readers and listeners a rich sensuous experience. Another major feature of Geetagovinda is its strong visual imagery-succinct word pictures of exquisite beauty. It is also the first major literary work to make use of regular ragas and talas for its twenty-four songs. Geetagovinda marks a major milestone in the evolution of Indian musical traditions. This aspect of Jayadevas classic is perhaps more important than its special place in Indian literature per se.

Geetagovinda exists at many levels. At an outer level, it presents the romantic tale of the love of Radha and Krishna. Vasanta Raasa, the mystic circular dance of Krishna with the Gopi maidens in the Vrindavana forest in the vernal season, is described by Jayadeva himself as play acting (kreeda). In its essence, it is Bhakti Sangeeta or devotional music, capturing the essence of Madhura Bhakti of Radha and Gopi maidens for Krishna. Simple and total surrender to the divine, marked by an intimate personal relationship through devotion, is the hallmark of this Madhura Bhakti.

The twenty-four songs and seventy-two slokas of Geetagovinda are weaved together through a strong narrative thread and an excellent dramatic structure. It presents the story of the love play of Radha and Krishna, their separation, sufferings, anger, annoyance, supplications and the final re-union. Each song depicts a situation, an expression of a mood and a dominant feeling or Rasa. The slokas are continuations of the songs or links providing choreographic instructions or transition from one song to the next.

Starting with the depiction of Krishna as a child afraid of the dark night as Nanda enjoins Radha to escort him home, Jayadeva first presents two songs of invocation in praise of Lord Jagannatha–Jagadeesha and Krishna–Vishnu. The first song, famous the world over as the song of the Ten Incarnations or Dasavataara is a jewel among all Sanskrit lyrical compositions. Each stanza is like a many splendoured gem and captures the entire mythology of one incarnation within the limits of a three line composition. It is important to note that Krishna is represented here not as one of the ten incarnations or avataaras but as their creator, as the supreme Lord or an avataari. In the second invocation song, Jayadeva sings the praise of Krishna–Vishnu but relies more on the colourful legends surrounding Krishnas life. In short Jayadeva quite clearly emphasises and reiterates the precept of Krishnastu Bhagavana swayam as presented in Shrimad Bhagavat. His Geetagovinda also played an important role in establishing the complete and total identification of Jagannatha with Krishna and in popular acceptance of Jagannatha faith.

Getting into the narrative proper, Jayadeva first presents the description Vasanta Raasa, the mystic circular dance of Krishna with the Gopi maidens in the verdant meadows of Vrindavana or the banks of Yamuna. A Sakhi (close companion) describes to Radha Krishnas dalliance with the Gopis, while presenting the many splendoured beauty of spring and fills her with an intense longing for union with her beloved Lord. Radha dwells on the memories of her Lord, his sweet countenance, his magic flute making dulcet notes and his great compassion. She remembers the many wonderful moments she spent in Krishnas company and her sweet experiences in her first meeting with her beloved Lord when he overcame her shyness with a hundred flattering words and finally they met in ecstatic union. Krishna, meanwhile, feels the pain of his separation from Radha and in a penitent mood blames himself for her angered annoyance. Remembering his slender sweetheart, he looks for her all around and supplicates the God of Love to not torment him any further. The Sakhi heightens his desires by describing how Radha is wasting herself in passionate longing for him, eagerly awaiting in the leafy arbours, preparing beds of soft blossoms for her union with him. Coming back to Radha, she tells her of the equally anguished moments suffered by Krishna longing for her company. At last when Krishna approaches Radha and offers his love, Radha, in an outburst of hurt feelings, rejects him and blames him for spending time with someone else and carrying tell-tale signs of their union. Her companions plead with her to not be so hard on her Lord. Krishna too, in elaborate supplication, pleads with her to shed her anger and satiate his burning passion. In the final atonement for his many indiscretions, he pleads with her to place her tender flower like feet on his head and suck away the venom of the Love God from his body. Radhas companions then intercede on Krishnas behalf and persuade her to join him. Radha finally overcomes her hurt and, unable to restrain her own passionate desire to meet her beloved Lord, proceeds to the beautiful arbour where Krishna eagerly awaits her. At last Radha and Krishna are united in ecstatic joy and engage themselves in myriad modes of amorous enjoyment. This narrative, presented through the twenty-four songs and seventy-two slokas of Geetagovinda, is only a medium to provide a dramatic structure and tension for a performance in dance and music.

The true significance of Geetagovinda is indicated by Jayadeva himself right at the beginning of the musical epic. In the very first sloka, by way of introduction of the subject and theme of his composition, or the traditional vastu pravesha, Jayadeva presents this as triumph of the mystic love play or rahah kelayah of Radha and Madhava on the banks of Yamuna. Jayadeva also refers to this as the tale of love of Sree or Laxmi and Vasudeva or Krisna–Vishnu. He clearly identifies the protagonists of his epic as Jagadeesha or the supreme divinity whom he treats as one and the same leelamaya Krishna and Radha whom he identifies with Kamala or Shree.

Later alluding to the Raasa dance in the Vrindavana forest in the concluding stanza of a song or bhanita, he speaks of adbhuata Keshava keli rahasya or the mystery of the strange romance of Krishna. In this mystic dance Krishna dances simultaneously with numerous Gopis and yet each Gopi feels that she is exclusively enjoying his company. Jayadeva explains this in a sloka that encapsulates its true essence.

Vishvesaamanuranjanena janayanaanandam indeevara
Shreni shyaamala komaleirupanayanangeiranangotsavam
Svachhandam vrajasundaribhirabhitah prattyngamaalingitah
Shringarah sakhi murtimaaniba madhau mugdho harih kreedati

Vishvesaamanuranjanena literally means to give delight to the whole universe. It is for this purpose and for janayan aanandam, or filling the entire universe with joy, that this leela or drama at the outer level has been created. Any attempt to understand this great mystery at the surface can be quite confusing. This leela is but a manifestation of an act of Supreme Grace. This is the showering of Divine Grace on the entire humanity, the whole universe. This is the act of love of indeevara shreni shyaamala-Krishna. He has a captivating darkness, as if all the sweetness of a bunch of blue lilies has been concentrated on his countenance. As if this was not enough, Jayadeva adds another adjective with telling effect-Komaleih!-an epithet implying that this darkness has a tender, soft and enchanting character. What Krishna is enacting through this mystic love play is only to shower his Love and Grace on entire humanity. The whole Geetagovinda is a play about Anangotsava. In his own body Krishna is manifesting this festival of Ananga or a celebration of love. He is dancing with Gopis who are like his ornaments. They embrace him, with absolute freedom, without restraint. Shringarah Sakhi murtimaaniba, the bodiless Ananga, the God of Love, in fact the feeling and concept of love, has acquired a body, a shape and an appearance when Krishna is engaged in the Raasa dance. He has created this leela for his own joy and also to bless the entire humanity. He is mugdho, engrossed in this whole performance. Like this Raasa dance, the whole of Geetagovinda is but a leela of Krishna–Jagannatha. Vishweshaamanuranjanena, to shower delight on the entire universe, Jagannatha–Krishna has created this joyous play-acting in which the Lord himself is a willing participant along with Radha and the Gopi maidens. This quintessential sloka of Geetagovinda has been described by Dr Subas Pani as a mantra. In fact, in this perspective, this sloka holds the key to a deeper understanding of Geetagovinda. The drama and romance is but an aid to weave the entire composition through a narrative thread with a human touch to which ordinary humans can relate easily and feel attracted. Right at the beginning of the composition, Jayadeva clearly states that Geetagovinda is an aid to the remembrance of Krishna-for Hari-smarana. He never lets the reader or the audience forget this central purpose of the composition and repeatedly emphasises it almost in each song, especially in the bhanita portions as elsewhere.

A truly immortal work of art, Geetagovinda is the perfect embodiment of Keats famous words "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." Even today the influence of Geetagovinda is quite powerful on the culture of Orissa. Notably, Odissi dance, now enjoying great revival, derives many themes from Jayadevas songs and the famous Dasavataara song is a part of the repertoire of every Odissi dance. Patta paintings and sculptures too draw inspiration from Geetagovinda. Text woven into the patterns of handloom silk cloth known as Geetagovinda Khandua, tie and dye silken cloth inscribed with words from Jayadevas composition, adorns Lord Jagannatha in his Badasinghaara ritual when he gives his grand audience every evening and later enjoys listening to the sweet songs of Jayadeva before retiring for the day. The culture of Orissa is replete with the influence of Geetagovinda. In every sense, Jayadevas Geetagovinda is a living monument and the essence of Orissas grand and ancient cultural heritage.

- Based on Geetagovinda, the Essence of Orissa, Tradition and Spirituality, Exploring the Mantras of Geetagovinda and other writings and additional inputs by Dr Subas Pani
originally featured in

© Dr Subas Pani and Sri Geetagovinda Pratisthana

Sampoorna Geetagovinda - the Music CDs
Sampoorna Geetagovinda presents the complete and unabridged version of Jayadeva's immortal creation. This is a major musical composition presenting the entire Geetagovinda - all the stanzas of each of its twenty-four songs, typically consisting of eight padas and hence called Ashtapadis, and all the seventy-two slokas-a unique and first ever offering. A group of scholars led by Dr Subas Pani, well-known scholar of Jayadeva and Geetagovinda, has finalised the authentic text of this musical epic after extensive research referring to several original tika or commentaries.