Gita Govinda of Jayadeva and the Bhakti Movement

The effect of Gita Govinda has been central to the development of Vaishnavism.

Gita Govinda of Jayadeva and the Bhakti Movement

Far from the madding crowd and orchestration of religious fanaticism by a handful people across the world, the squat-little Kenduli Sasan lies peacefully nestled in Lord Govinda’s own land Odisha.

If the Sanskrit literature has a honeyed-silken touch, Gita Govinda is its finest example. It is at Kenduli Sasan where poet laureate Jayadeva composed Gita Govinda some 800 years ago. Time has not withered Gita Govinda even though eight long centuries have passed since Jayadeva composed it, Gita Govinda continues to remain as fresh as morning dew. This book was greatly instrumental in initiating the great Bhakti Movement in India which also influenced Sufism.

The elixir of Gita Govinda is Dasavatara Stotra, the sweetest possible Sanskrit hymn composed to explain the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. No wonder that Europeans, since 1792, as well have been inspired by the Gita Govinda: a time span of 227 years. In 1792, Sir William Jones translated Gita Govinda into English from Sanskrit. It was published by the Royal Asiatic Society of Calcutta. That was the beginning. In 1829 and 1837, it was translated in German and Latin respectively by Friedrick Rukert and C. Lassen.

The translation of Gita Govinda in other European languages nearly two centuries ago clearly testifies that Europeans had been taking a keen interest in Sanskrit and Hindu theology even in those days when the concept of comparative philosophy was virtually nonexistent in the world. The translation of Gita Govinda continues even today despite the fact that it is very difficult to express the meaning of the book in other languages than Sanskrit. This book is totally different from any other book in the Western world. Let us try to understand it.

Gita Govinda has 12 chapters and each of the chapters is further sub-divided into 24 divisions called Prabandhas. Prabandhas contain couplets grouped into eights in which the Raas or love of Radha and Krishna is depicted. This is called Ashtapadis. The Asthapadis form the core of Indian classical dancing, something that has been continuing since the days of Devadasis originating at least 1400 years ago.

Dasavatara Stotra is also depicted separately through all Indian dance forms and performed all over the world. Even some foreigners are learning it. Why? The answer is even if you do not know Sanskrit you would love to hum the hymn.

Gita Govinda was composed by Jayadeva for dance performances during the night worshipping of Lord Jagannath at Puri. Originally, the Devdasis would dance in the tune of Gita Govinda. In fact, worshipping the god through dances and songs is an ancient tradition of Hinduism that has enamoured thousands over the ages irrespective of their nationality.

Incidentally, Jayadeva’s wife Padmavati was also an accomplished dancer and a Devdasi.

From the mention of Jayadeva and his Gita Govinda by Chand Baradai, the court poet of Prithvi Raj Chauhan killed by Muslim ruler Muhammad Ghori in 1192 CE, it becomes crystal clear that the poet and his creation were known to the people of northern India in the past.

Dasavatara Stotra, the beginning of Gita Govinda, explains the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu in an extremely lyrical way. It even moved Chaitanya Deva so much so that he came to Kenduli Sasana which was known as Kenduvilla in those days.

Dasavatara Stotra is the centre point around which the Vaishnavite theory revolves. In Nepal, this is recited during the spring festivals and also sung daily in the Guruvayoor Temple of Lord Krishna in Kerala. Many people do not know that Guru Arjan Singh included two songs of Gita Govinda in the Adi Guru Grantha.

It is in Gita Govinda that we find the finest ever depiction of 12 different moods of Lord Krishna and also forms of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu. This, perhaps, is the only Sanskrit book in which Radha is projected as much more important than Krishna thus reflecting the superiority of women in Indian society when Jaydeva composed it 800 years ago.

As living historical evidence to the composition of Gita Govinda at Kenduli Sasan, we still have some brick-made temples and sculptures of the days when Jayadeva was alive. One of the sculptures is believed to be that of the poet laureate himself. Through the blessings of Lord Krishna, Kenduli Sasan was saved from the destruction of Kala Pahar, a Hindu-turned Muslim general who ransacked temples in Odisha and Bengal in 16th century CE.

Like other Muslim invaders, Kala Pahar damaged the Jagganath Temple of Puri, Konarak Sun Temple at Konarak and many other temples. Somehow or the other, he did not attack Kenduli Sasan thereby keeping intact the ancient temples and statue of Jayadeva.

In fact, Gita Govinda most successfully combated in arresting the waves of Islam as forced by Kala Pahar in the 16th century CE through the very strong waves of Bhakti Movement whose centre-point happened to be Lord Krishna. The description of the 12 divine moods of Lord Krishna in Gita Govinda is also the basis of Vaishnava stream.
The superiority of Bhakti as a form of worship stopped many people in India from getting converted to other religions. Peace as a way of life was accepted by them rather than being converted to other faiths that preach violence.

There is historical evidence that Gita Govinda was greatly instrumental in giving shape to the Vaishnava theory and the Bhakti Movement in India. In fact, the depiction of the 12 different moods of Lord Krishna forms the crux of the Vaishnava theory. These moods of Lord Krishna are often portrayed through dance forms.

12 Moods of Krishna As Portrayed in Gita Govinda

Krishna is portrayed as the Lord with many moods. In fact, he would also create his own Yogmaya or circumstances or conditions to juxtapose a particular situation. Often, the 12 moods of Lord Krishna depicted in Gita Govinda are themes of wonderful Indian classical dances. The many moods of Krishna are:

  1. Sāmodadāmodaram: Exuberant Krishna
  2. Akleshakeshavam: Krishna in Divine Happiness
  3. Mugdhamadhusūdanam: An Enamoured Krishna
  4. Snigdhamadhusūdanam: Tender Krishna
  5. Sākāṅkṣa puṇdarīkākṣham: Passionate Krishna
  6. Dhrṣta vaikuṇṭa: Krishna in his divinely audacious mood
  7. Nāgaranārāyana: Dexterous Krishna
  8. Vilakṣyalakṣmīpati: Apologetic Krishna
  9. Mugdhadamukunda: Unpretentious Krishna
  10. Chaturachaturbhuja: Wise Krishna
  11. Sānandadāmodaram: Joyful Krishna
  12. Suprītapītāmbara: Exultant Krishna

About Author: Amlan Chowdhury

Beginning his career with the Press Trust of India in 1979, Amlan Home Chowdhury served different media houses in senior journalistic positions in New Delhi and Mumbai. He served The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Free Press Journal and Afternoon Despatch and Courier. As a Feature Writer in Hindustan Times, the author wrote over 278 full-page research-based articles on Indian archaeology, art, literature, culture, and philosophy in a section styled as “Heritage”. The author holds a P.G. Diploma in Journalism from the Werner Lamberz College of Berlin in Germany. He has travelled extensively in India, Europe, Russia and Asia.

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