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Based on “New Perspectives on Jayadeva and Sri Geetagovinda”, “Tradition and Spirituality, Exploring the Mantras of Geetagovinda, Sri Jagannatha, Sri Jayadeva and Srikshetra” and other writings and additional inputs by Dr Subas Pani
originally featured in
© Dr Subas Pani & Sri Geetagovinda Pratisthana

Jayadeva lived in the late eleventh and the first half of the twelfth century. He was a contemporary of Chodagangadeva of Eastern Ganga dynasty who built a vast empire stretching from Ganga to Godavari. He is remembered for constructing the present temple of Jagannatha at Puri that has remained the fulcrum of the life and culture of the Oriya nation for centuries.

Jayadeva was born at Kenduli, a sasana village predominantly inhabited by Brahmins, in the Prachi valley in the Puri region. The identification of this village with Kenduvila referred to by Jayadeva in Geetagovinda has now been conclusively established.

From available historical evidence, hagiological literature and local traditions one can get the following sketch of his life. Jayadeva had a scholarly inclination early in his life. He refers to himself as Pandita Kavi in Geetagovinda. In his youth he seems to have developed detachment from worldly affairs and moved to Srikshetra, Puri not far from his village. Located on the Eastern shores of India, Puri has been well known for its great sanctity from ancient times. For various historical reasons this became the centre of a great renaissance and vibrant cultural activities during Jayadevas lifetime. Largely due to the construction of the great Vaishnavite temple as also the royal patronage of one of the most powerful emperors of those times, Puri became an oasis of Indian heritage. It attracted scholars, sculptors, musicians and dancers alike.

In Puri Jayadeva most probably lived in a humble cottage engaged in scholarly and literary pursuits and was deeply devoted to Jagannatha-Krishna for whom the emperor, his contemporary, was constructing a grand monument. This new temple soaring to a height of more than two hundred feet and richly embellished with exquisite sculptures was an architectural marvel rivaling in glory the great Lingaraja temple built by Keshari kings at Bhubaneswar and the Vrihadeswara temple at Tanjavur being built by Chodagangas grandfather. Although the emperor was tolerant of all faiths the new temple marks the ascendancy of Vaishnavism and more importantly the flowering of the Krishna consciousness as well as the integration of the faith, beliefs and culture of the aborigine tribes into the tradition and rituals of the new presiding deity. The emperor is also the first Ganga king to dedicate his empire to Jagannatha and considered himself a rauta or a regent – a symbolic acceptance of divine supremacy and the subordination of the temporal to the spiritual. Jayadeva thus lived in very exciting times when the popular faith was undergoing a major transformation as was also the royal policies and patronage. It was perhaps preordained that major dramatic developments would also overtake Jayadevas personal life.

Devasharma, a Brahmin from the Kalinga region, had brought his daughter Padmavati to Puri to offer her as a devadasi, a dancer dedicated to the temple of Jagannatha. During her ritual dedication at the temple, the high priest indicated the divine desire of Jagannatha to have him married to Jayadeva as a fulfilment of the promise made by Devasharma. Jayadeva, was reluctant to be enmeshed in worldly affairs and take on the responsibilities of marriage. Eventually he relented and accepted Padmavati as his wife. She was an accomplished singer and dancer. Jayadeva was a master musician and choreographer, in addition to being a poetic genius. He was not only a great pandita kavi or scholar-poet but also a gandharva kala vishaarada or an expert in the performing arts. The marriage of Padmavati and Jayadeva ordained by Lord Jagannatha inspired a great creative collaboration of the dancer and her muse. Jayadeva composed the songs and Padmavati rendered these in her dance. Thus was born an immortal composition, a lyrical masterpiece, a musical epic and a monument of pure devotion-Geetagovinda, literally the songs of the Dark Lord Govinda or Krishna–Jagannatha. Jayadeva was revered as a saint-poet in his own life time. He is believed to have spent some time at Mukhalingam, the ancient capital of Ganga kings in the company of the sani sampradaya, a traditional community of temple dancers and musicians. There he absorbed the best of the Kalinga style of South Indian musical traditions. Combining this with the Odra-Magadhi style that had flourished in the central part of Orissa, Jayadeva helped in the harmonious synthesis of the Southern and Eastern traditions of Indian music. This led to the evolution and development of the unique style of Odissi music and dance in the precincts of the great temple of Jagannatha at Puri.

It is most likely that Jayadevas Geetagovinda was performed for the first time on the momentous occasion of the dedication of the new temple of Jagannatha. This also marked the declaration by the emperor that his eldest son Kamarnava would succeed him. One can only imagine the grand spectacle of the singing of Geetagovinda by Jayadeva and enactment of the same in dance by Padmavati in the temple precincts on this historic moment. In all likelihood Jayadeva and Padmavati also enjoyed the privilege of proximate service to the presiding deity of this new temple. Chandradatta describes Jayadeva as a Purushottama pujaka, a servitor of Jagannatha.

Jayadeva was highly respected and revered in his own lifetime as a saint poet. He seems to have accompanied the head of the Shringeri peetha on a pilgrimage across the country. He was also witness to the offering of donations to the Lingaraja temple by one Medama Devi in his advanced age. According to local traditions Jayadeva established the Dasavataara Matha in the North-eastern fringe of the temple town, close to the sacred site of the location of the present Gundicha temple and the Yagyan Nrisingha temple.
Jayadeva is held in high esteem in the literary and musical traditions of India. He wrote in very simple language close to that spoken by the lay public and laid the foundation of literature in modern Oriya and other languages. He also adopted the matra chhanda or syllabic rhythmic patterns for his lyrical composition ideally suited for easy adaptation for singing and dancing. These were quite revolutionary and innovative approaches but these hold the secret of the great popularity of his songs almost from the time of their composition. The regular performance of Geetagovinda in the Puri temple also no doubt played an important role in making this immensely popular among pilgrims and devotees. Almost within years of its composition it became known throughout the length and breadth of the country and has retained its equal popularity among commoners and connoisseurs.

Geetagovinda is the favourite music of Lord Jagannatha since the time of its original offering by the poet and his dancer wife to their Dark Darling within the temple precincts. Since then it has become an integral part of the temple rituals and is known as the Geetagovinda Seva. The Lord hears the songs of Geetagovinda and is adorned with Odissi textile with words of Geetagovinda woven into it, Geetagovinda Khandua, at the time of his evening make-up known as Bada Simhara and during the evening ritual prayers - Sanjha dhupa. Such is the intimate and tender relationship of Jagannatha, Jayadeva and Geetagovinda.

Geetagovinda Seva, in all likelihood, is one of the original seva continuing since the time of Chodagangadeva. Jayadeva and Padmavati were perhaps the original privilege holders, enjoying the right to perform this seva. The nature of the seva was to entertain Lord Jagannatha with singing the songs from Sri Geetagovinda and their representation in dance performances. This seva has survived the vicissitudes of history for over a 1000 years and finds mention in the catalogue prepared in the 1950 by the state government and continues even today, albeit only in a symbolic form. The seva, which was perhaps, a composite one originally, has since evolved into many components such as Binakara seva, Madali seva and Mahari seva etc.

Jayadeva enjoyed special privileges as a favourite of Lord Jagannatha and was among his Angila sevakas – a category of servitors who have the privilege of performing service in close proximity, literally with the privilege of touching His Body. This is a rare privilege and granted only to the natives of Orissa and preserved and guarded rather zealously by the traditional priests.

Several legends are associated with the fondness of Sri Jagannatha for Sri Geetagovinda. Once the Lord followed a gardener maid singing Sri Geetagovinda and when about to be found out, ran back to the Srimandira, tearing his silken garments on the way. Later this was discovered and the emperor honoured the gardener maid. There is another tradition about a royal imitation of Sri Geetagovinda with which the emperor sought to replace Jayadevas composition. However when the Lords preference was ascertained by placing both the works on the bejewelled throne, the Lord chose Jayadevas work and the royal composition was lying on the floor.

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.

Details & sketch of Jayadeva by S.Rajam