Gita Govindam – the ultimate romance

As I do a little research now to refresh my knowledge about Jayadeva and his Gita Govindam it comes as a pleasant surprise to know that Guru Granth Sahib has some of his verses even though these are not from Gita Govindam for which he is primarily known.

There is no dispute over the facts that Jayadeva’s Karmabhoomi was Odisha and his songs are part of the Jagannath temple rituals and are integral parts of Odissi dance and music. But Jayadeva must have been some kind of a national figure in those days. His fame has been such that it is a matter of pride to be associated with him. That is how three states – Odisha, Bengal and Bihar – each has a place that is supposed to be his place of birth. Like Rasagola, the legacy of Jayadeva is another sweet battle between Odisha and Bengal with Bihar occasionally coming into the picture.

The compositions in Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam are the most preferred non-Odia songs for the Odissi dancers. From my experience I can say that all the 24 songs in this book are so beautiful that it is difficult to rate one above another.

Gita Govindam songs are set to Indian classical raagas and are also known as astapadis. Even though these can be sung in all the three classical Indian styles, these are more popular among Odishi and Carnatic singers than their Hindustani counterparts. One possible reason for this could be that during Mughal rule Hindustani music drifted away from its vedic roots. Moreover, over the years unlike Odishi and Carnatic, Hindustani music became more note based and less composition based.

The first song in Gita Govindam is about the ten incarnations (dashavatara) of Lord Krishna. Yes, he depicts Lord Krishna as the source of the ten avatars in stead of Lord Vishnu which is the standard. In dashavataar of Lord Vishnu, Krishna is the eighth avatar. In Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam, Balarama replaces Krishna as the eighth avatar. Jayadeva’s ten avatars are: Mina (Fish), Kachhapa (Tortoise), Sukara (Boar), Narahari (Narasimha), Vamana, Vrigupati (Parasurama), Raghupati (Rama), Haladhara (Balarama), Buddha, and Kalki.

After remembering the leela (divine play) of Lord Krishna across various yugas or over a cosmic lifetime in the first chapter, Jayadeva gives intimate accounts of his rasaleela in dwapara yuga. Following the classical principles of Natyasastras, not only does he portray Sri Radha and Sri Krishna as the ideal and perfect heroine (Nayika) and hero (Nayaka), but also infuse the composition with elements of navarasa – the nine human emotions. Maybe, that is the reason sringara rasa or erotic elements are also part of the book.

It is observed that till the middle ages beginning from Kalidasa, Indian poets have been very bold in graphic physical description of the hero and the heroine and their activities. This is not restricted to Sanskrit poetry. The same is observed in classical literature of Odisha particularly in the the works of noted poets like Kabisamrat Upendra Bhanja and Kavisurya Baladeva Ratha.

So it is not that only the outer walls of the temples built in the middle ages contained bold graphic visuals of sringara rasa. It was there too in the works of the authors of that era as they tried to adhere to the principles of navarasa in their works.

Vaishnav devotees consider works like Gita Govindam as symbolic representations of Bhakti marga that emphasizes divine longing. In Narada Bhakti Sutra, bhakti is defined as the ultimate love (sa parama premarupa). In the path of bhakti the devotee starts with relative love to reach the state of transcendental love or absolute love. In the ultimate state the devotee becomes love.

As Sant Kabir Says:

प्रेम गली अति सांकरी, जा में दो न समाय
The lane of love is so narrow that it cannot accommodate two.

But that happens when the devotee has transcended relative love. The starting point has to be love for someone. It has to be a love that is relatable to the common man – the love for the child, the love for the beloved etc.

The sufis whose path is akin to bhakti marga also use the themes of love liberally in their songs. Ironically many of the songs used in Bollywood romantic films like tujhe dekh dekh jeena are actually sufi bhajans dedicated to the divine. The sufis even use the themes of intoxication as a symbolic representation of ecstatic feeling for the divine. The common men who have never experienced divine ecstasy can only relate to the usual physical ecstasy related with worldly love and intoxication.

Gita Govindam has influenced many authors. Some works of Odia poet Baladeba Ratha have similarities with Gita Govindam. These episodes of Krishna’s life with Radha have given rise to Radha Premaleela – a form of performing folk art which is very popular in the southern part of Odisha.

You may find plenty of astapadis or poems of Gita Govindam sung by various singers in various styles. I will end this post by sharing link to a favourite video:

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PS: Since we are in AtoZ season it will not be out of place to mention typical styles of classical Odia poetry compositions that followed a pattern based on the initial alphabets. The aforementioned Odia poets were masters of the game.

Kishora Chandrananda Champu, a set of 34 Odia poems, is similar in theme as that of Gita Govindam. Each poem corresponds to a particular Odia alphabet (consonant) and is known as the champu for that alphabet. Each line of the Ka Champu starts with alphabet Ka, Kha champu with Kha and so on. It was written by Kabisurya Baladeba Ratha. Another unique aspect of this composition is that each poem accompanied Sanskrit commentaries written by the same author.

Chautisha is another form of Odia poetry where the first alphabet of first stanza starts with Ka, the second with Kha and so on. Kabi Samrat Upendra Bhanja wrote an entire version of Ramayana known as ‘Baidehisha Bilasha’ where each line started with the alphabet Ba.

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Other notable texts starting with alphabet G are: Gheranda Samhita / Grahacāraṇibandhana / Ganita Tilaka / Ganita Kaumudi (Narayana Pandita) / Garuda Purana

This is the seventh post (alphabet G post) of Blogchatter AtoZ Challenge 2021. My theme this year is ‘The beauty of Sanskrit and Sanskrit texts’, where in I explore selected compositions in Sanskrit and also some unique aspects of Sanskrit language and texts. Join with me in my journey to understand India’s spiritual and intellectual heritage. All the posts of AtoZ Challenge 2021 can be accessed here.

25 thoughts on “Gita Govindam – the ultimate romance

  1. Interesting facts. I still wonder what was the source of information behind Jayadev’s Geet Govind? Haven’t heard of any other scripture talking about Balrama as an avatar of Sri Krishna.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a very detailed post. Dasha avtaar and the navras.. i knew of kalidas’ character portrayal but it was in geet govind too. Love the kabir doha and the mention of sufi link to the famous song. Came to know of geet govind in so much more detail
    Deepika Sharma

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  3. Pleasantly surprised to learn that the Guru Granth Sahib houses some of Jayadev’s verses. This was a wonderful post to read–so well written and comprehensively compiled.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have always heard of and known of Geeta Govinda but haven’t read it yet. Loved your detailed post and the Sufi love for divine. I am in awe of how well read, informative and well researched your posts are sir. Each post of yours enlightens so many things like I didn’t know that carnatic music compositions have take from Geeta Govinda etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. First of all, the embedded video of the astapadi sung by Ms. Nazia Aslam was so melodious that it just made my day. I am in awe of the depth of knowledge that you have shared in the post. Kudos to you, Sir. My sister had learned Odissi dance and that is when I came to know more about Dashavatara and such poetic expressions. Yes and about Champu, I have heard from my father. Odia literature is undoubtedly rich in every aspect making Odia come under the ambit of Classical language so very rightly.

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  6. Nice to read it again & again , while reading your Gitagobindam post , recalled the story how joydeb did not recall a perfect word to write in Gitagobindam poem & spend lots of time to recall at that time his wife told him to go for bath & had a lunch. Jaiden left for bath to a near by pond ,& left with out writing a proper word in Gitagobindam. When he reached at pond he realized he already had the in the early morning. Then he rushed to house & asked his about bath , wife replied he did not tell any thing about bath & lunch. Then many queries & going around his mind who told her to go for bath ?. Then he rushed to the Gitagobindam script & found that what he did not recall a perfect word to write is now filled with a beautiful word. Then realized it is Lord Jagganath filled the word which he was unable to find a perfect word.

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  7. Gita Govinda is Jayadeva’s magnum opus.
    Sad that other states are unnecessarily disputing Jayadeva’s place of birth, just like they are doing for Rasagola!
    The truth is – Jayadeva belonged to Odisha and composed this great work here.
    There are words in the epic that have “la” – pronunication/words not available in Odia, but NOT in neighboring languages!
    Odissi music is also based.
    Gita Govinda Khandua – an Ikat handloom of Odisha is still being handwoven with the verses – and it is Shree Jagannatha’s favourite garment.
    Have shared in my latest A2Z post.

    Liked by 1 person

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