Gita-govinda

(Song of the cowherd)
   by Jayadeva
(12th century)
   The Gita-govinda is a collection of Indian pastoral lyric verses dramatizing the love affair of Krishna (an incarnation of the god Vishnu) with the cowherdess Rādhā, a love that was interpreted as an ALLEGORY of the love of the human soul for god. The dramatic poem was one of the last important Indian devotional works (or bhakti) written in Sanskrit, and proved highly influential on the later development of literature in regional languages of India, particularly in Bengal, where it fired the imagination of later Vaishnavist poets (devotees of the lord Vishnu) such as VIDYāPATI.
   Tradition associates the poem’s author, Jayadeva, with a temple of the god Jagannath in the city of Puri in eastern India. Padmavati, Jayadeva’s wife, was purportedly a dancer in the temple, and the Gitagovinda has been sung and interpreted in dance at the Jagannath temple for at least five centuries. The text of the Gita-govinda tells the love story in 24 cantos. The romantic tale is introduced in the beginning, but the next few cantos make it clear that Krishna is no mortal lover, but divine. The poem returns to its romantic love theme, creating an appropriate mood by invoking images of the spring. But when Krishna spreads his love among several other cowherd girls, Rādhā becomes jealous and reacts with fury to Krishna’s approach. Realizing her desire to have him exclusively to herself, Krishna eases Rādhā ’s anger and persuades her that he loves her truly. The reconciled couple passionately reunite in their love, and the poem ends as Krishna seems set on granting Rādhā ’s every wish.
   Clearly Jayadeva’s intent is for the poem to be read on two levels at once. On the literal level, the poem is a satisfying love story. On the allegorical level, one sees the ecstasy of mystical union with the divine, and then, in Rādhā, the intense desire for the god’s exclusive love wins him to her. The human desire for god is presented as not simply one-sided: The god, too, needs and desires unity with the human soul, indeed is not complete without the devotion of human love.And ultimately god’s love for the human soul is unrestrained and manifest in the desire to give human beings all their desire. The poem is a classic of spiritual longing and bliss, and remains, especially among modern Vaishnavists, a popular expression of spirituality.
   Bibliography
   ■ Ayengar, N. S. R., ed. and trans. Sacred Profanities: A Study of Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Original Sanskrit text with English translation. Delhi: Penman Publishers, 2000.
   ■ Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. and trans. Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.
   ■ Pathy, Dinanath, Bhagaban Panda, and Bijaya Kumar Rath. Jayadeva and Gitagovinda in the Traditions of Orissa. New Delhi: Harman Publishing House, 1995.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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