• By R P N Sinha
  • July 8, 2022
  • Know about Jayadeva (Odisha) and his masterpiece Geeta Govinda including its contribution.

A most characteristic feature of mystic experiences is that they are universal. In all ages and all times there have been saints testifying to the truth of mystic relationship between the human soul and Divinity. The human soul’s yearning for God or the Supreme Being provides the basis for this relationship of love. The intensity of emotion roused by unfathomable devotional urge transcends all carnal desires as the common people understand it. 


The thirst of the soul for union with the object of devotion is limitless, so that this yearning alone seems real and all else fades out of the ken of the devotees’ consciousness. 


It is this irresistible yearning and sublime bliss of the mystic union which made the Gopis of Vrindavan break all barriers, mental and social, in their pursuit of Lord Krishna. The love of the Gopis, Radha being principal among them, for Krishna has presented for the people of this country for ages, a practical ideal of devotion and divine attachment. This has been the theme of a large number of literary works in our literature.


Geeta Govind of Jayadeva is acknowledgedly one of the best among them. By virtue of the excellence of its poetry, its mystic and its devotional fervour, Geeta Govind has had a profound effect on our Bhakti literature and thought.


First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan.


Such is the fascination which every word of that great devotional lyric, Geeta Govind has for human ears. Sir Edwin Arnold called it the ‘song of songs’ and there is no denying that in sweetness, poetic beauty, expressiveness, choice of words and in fact all that goes to make a great lyric, Geeta Govind is unsurpassed. Few poetical compositions have ever acquired such an abiding place in the hearts of men as this poem of medieval India. For centuries, the temples of this country and the courts of kings have hummed its melodious music. It has fascinated even foreigners, which is evident from the various translations made of it in verse by the poets of European languages in Latin, English, German and French. 


It constituted a landmark in the art of the composition of devotional lyrics in this country and had tremendous impact on the imagination of devotional poets; amongst those who trod the footprints of Jayadeva, its author, we recall the names of Vidyapati and Chandidas, poets of great eminence in the world of devotional poetry. Geeta Govind was to them the fountain-source of the Krishna bhakti cult.


Poet Jayadeva was born in a small village of Bengal, called Kindu Villwa, which falls now in the district of Birbhum. The year of his birth is not known. It is, however, commonly supposed that he was born sometime in the eleventh century A. D., when the Sena dynasty ruled in Bengal and a Khilji king sat on the throne of Delhi.


The name of his father was Bhojdeva and that of his mother, Ramadevi. Both died when he was very young. He married Padmavati, whose hand was offered to him under a tree in Puri by her father, a man of deep devotional bent, under a direction from Lord Jagannath, given to him in a vision. Padmavati, too, was a woman of a high religious temperament. The union proved to be very happy and his wife was a source of inspiration to the poet


Shortly after, he undertook a tour of Vrindavan (where Lord Krishna spent the early years of his life) and neighbouring places. It is said that when he visited Jaipur, he was wounded by some dacoits. Returning home, he stayed at the court of the then King of Bengal. Jayadeva’s wife predeceased him. Legend has it that on one occasion when he was away, the wife of the King whose court he adorned, jokingly told Padmavati that Jayadeva was dead. So deep was Padmavati’s sorrow, it is said, that she fell down dead. Jayadeva, when he heard of it, could not bear the terrible shock, and he left for his village, where he spent the rest of his life in loneliness. 


Jayadeva wrote his immortal lyric when he was in Puri. It acquired great fame even during his life-time and was sung all over India, especially in the South, where even today it maintains its ancient popularity. George Keyt has rightly said that ‘as a love poem Geeta Govind stands unrivalled in Indian literature’. 


The mystic love of Radha and Krishna has been described here in wordly imagery, for there is no other way in which it could be described. But the poet has, by his cryptic remarks, left no doubt as to the spiritual content of it; in fact, it is the yearning of the human soul to mingle with the Divine that is described in a metaphorical manner.


The desire of the moth for the star,

Of the night for the morrow,

The devotion to something afar

From the sphere of our sorrow.


It is the basis of the gopis’ love. That is how the deep pangs of separation which the gopis experienced become understandable. The fact that the cowherd Krishna was not even eight years of age when the love-drama with which his name is so closely associated was enacted in Vrindavan, is sufficient to cast aside all doubts of there being anything carnal about it. Of all men and women in Vrindavan, it was only the gopis who were permitted to participate in it; for them alone the love of Krishna, who was an incarnation of the Supreme Spirit, drove to infatuation. 


An intense desire to possess and mingle is the truest characteristic of love, and this is love which a devotee feels for the object of his devotion. Naturally, therefore, to love God, as a woman loves her beloved is considered the highest form of worship.


The attitude was designated by several names in Hindu devotional philosophy— Dampatybhava, Kantabhava, Gopibhava, Madhuryabhava, Parkiya­bhava..., all of which in the ultimate analysis mean the sweet feeling which a woman has for the object of her love. The highest personification of it is Radha. Such was the intensity of Radha’s love for Krishna that both have become inseparable in the sense that we cannot conceive of Radha without Krishna or of Krishna without Radha. In fact, Radha, according to Hindu conception, is the embodiment of Prakriti (negative energy), and Krishna of Purusha (positive energy), and both together go to make the whole. One cannot exist without the other. 

A frame narrative of Geeta Govinda 

The Geeta Govind has only three characters in it- Radha, Krishna and a lady-messenger or attendant of Radha’s. The subject-matter of the book is the pangs of love in separation. The dutika plays a very important role in it, for after carrying the messages of one to the other, not once or twice but repeatedly, she is able, ultimately, to bring the lovers together. She is like the guru who is responsible for uniting the human soul with the Divine.


The singing of the yearning of the soul for God and of God for the human soul, and depicting this longing in the symbol of Radha and Krishna, the immortal poet of the Geeta Govind has been a pathfinder for other poets to follow. His originality is to be measured by the success of his endeavour. In its lyrical purity, in the intensity of its emotion and drama, in mellifluousness of diction and in richness of imagery. Geeta Govind remains unsurpassed to the present day.


The Geeta Govind inspired not only poets but painters as well. Sitting amidst the Himalayan ranges, far away from the place where Jayadeva sang his celestial songs, the painters in the valleys of Jammu and Kangra depicted with their brush what poet Jayadeva had done with such exquisite finesse in words in his lyrical compositions. Apart from the fact that they are an example of a very high order of painting, they present before us a very vivid picture of the Radha­Krishna love-drama and are undoubtedly a rich heritage of ours.


The contribution of the Geeta Govind towards the development of Indian drama-especially in Bengal-was also considerable.


Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee in his introduction to Indian Drama, says: “In Eastern India, for example, we come across a kind of drama with elementary dialogues of two or more actors accompanied by songs, which seem to have made its appearance first in Bengal and Northern Bihar (Mithila) and then to have spread all over Eastern India-Assam, Orissa as well as Nepal. This was a new type, the germs of which are perhaps to be seen in the Geeta Govindof Jayadeva.”   


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 15 October 2017 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


Also read

1. Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda

2. Radha Temple at Barsana near Mathura


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