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The Gita Govinda: A Journey Into Realms Of Delight

Article of the Month - April 2007
Viewed 74002 times since 2nd Oct, 2008

...Continued from Page 1

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THE THEME OF THE GITA GOVINDA

Nand asks Krishna to acccompany Radha to her home
Nand asks Krishna to acccompany Radha to her home

 

 

 

The theme of the Gita Govinda is relatively simple. One evening, when Nand was strolling in the forest along with Krishna, Radha and others, dark clouds gathered in the sky. Seeing signs of fear on Krishna’s face, Nand asked Radha to take him home.

 

 

 

 

DASAVATARA STOTRA
DASAVATARA STOTRA

 

 

 

The verse is also interpreted to mean that frightened Krishna, not Nand, himself asked Radha to take him home. When on way, in an arbour on Yamuna’s bank, Krishna made love with Radha. This verse, with no apparent link with the rest of the poem, is the seed of the theme. In the rest of the 'Ashtapadi', a verse comprising eight stanzas, though this one has eleven, Jayadeva prays Saraswati and ten Vaishnava incarnations to enable him to compose his poem and extol Hari.

 

 

 

 

The actual theme reveals in the second part of this Canto. Krishna is out in the forest celebrating the festival of Vasant and dallying with Gopis. Radha, hit by Love-god’s arrows, too, is searching Krishna, her lover, everywhere but fails to find him. Around then, her trusted Sakhi informs her how Krishna is engaged in love with other Gopis. Initially, it hurts Radha and she condemns him for his infidelity but the heat of passion subdues her and forgiving his folly she asks her friend to search him and bring him to her.

Radha and Krishna - Illustration to the Gita Govinda
Radha and Krishna - Illustration to the Gita Govinda

Radha’s Sakhi goes to Krishna, describes to him Radha’s sad plight, her love for him and implores him to go with her and have love with Radha. Krishna declines but asks her to bring Radha to his bower and indulges again into his love-game with other Gopis. Sakhi goes back to Radha. At first, Krishna’s attitude infuriates her but then renewed shots of Love-god’s arrows and Sakhi’s persuasive words compel her to agree. However, weakened by the fever of love and day’s long wandering the feeble Radha tumbles down the moment she attempts to walk. The compassionate Sakhi again goes to Krishna but only to have the same cool response. The whole night Krishna keeps dancing and making love with Gopis. In the morning the red-eyed Krishna encounters Radha who chides him for his infidelity and pitiless attitude. By now, Krishna had realised his folly and felt repentant. The Love-god, too, had renewed his offensive on him. He conciliates Radha and retires with her into the forest.

The Slaying of Madhu and Kaitabh
The Slaying of Madhu and Kaitabh

 

In an arbour, wreathed with garlands of flowers, on the bed of Kadamba leaves, they make love, and in the love-war passes the whole night. Radha, as if avenging his neglect of her, was often on offensive riding over him. Costumes had deserted her body, ornaments had fallen and hair dishevelled. In the morning, she commands him to re-arrange her ornaments and comb with his fingers her dishevelled hair, and the enslaved Hari, who defeated Madhu, the mighty demon,

 

 

Arrange My Tresses My Love
Arrange My Tresses My Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

but himself defeated by Radha’s love, complies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GITA GOVINDA: A SINGER'S PLEASURE BUT A PAINTER'S PROBLEM

Krishna Theatre In India
Krishna Theatre In India

 

 

 

Krishna’s mundane ‘Lila’ and Jayadeva’s unique way of presenting it turned, in his lifetime itself, into the theme of ‘Yatra’, itinerancy, which itinerant performers, while moving from village to village, sang and staged by it His ‘Lila’. Stagecraft was then a live-tradition and Gita Govinda was found to suit it best. The bands of these singers could sing it to the prescribed ‘Raga’, ‘Tala’ and ‘Laya’, produce body gestures, assume various forms and enact the ‘Lila. ‘Jayadeva’s epical expansion of a relatively simple theme and musical stretch of each verbal phrase were not much of a challenge to the stage art.

 

 

 

 

Gita Govinda on Palm Leaf (Ancient Orissa)
Gita Govinda on Palm Leaf (Ancient Orissa)

However, it was not so for a painter who sought to transform them into the art of canvas; and more so when his canvas was a piece of simple palm-leaf or tree-bark. A palm-leaf could reproduce anatomical figures and even their gestures, but it could not have such variety of colours, their tonal depth and iconographic precision, which were essential for revealing a ‘bhava’, emotion, something that was the very spirit of the Gita Govinda.

In India, palm-leaf as the medium of painting preceded paper and the Gita Govinda, too, might have been its theme, as it continues till date. But, epical expansion of Gita Govinda's theme transformed into the vocabulary of colours, and its verbal phrase, into a pictorial phrase, only after the paper emerged as the new medium of painting. Now its every verbal phrase gave forth a picture, and its epical expansion, long series of its visual representations. As a result, some of the sets of the Gita Govinda paintings run into a greater number of folios than do those illustrating epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, though as compared to them, the Gita Govinda has neither that long chain of events nor that variety of situations.

TEXT-IMAGE RELATION: A NEW DIMENSION OF INDIAN PAINTING

The Gita Govinda was not a text which formal non-contextual imagery, such as was used in prior illustrative paintings, could illustrate. It required an image which revealed not only the contents of the text but also its sentiment, mood, situation, all shades of an emotion, anguish, anger, passionate yearnings, pathos and pleasure, as also its music, pastoral setting and spiritual ambience, and all in a chain, repeating the same imagery but discovering each time a different shade. The Gita Govinda paintings are the earliest illustrative paintings that seek to determine the character of image in relation to the text and emphasise the significance of text-image relationship, which provided to all subsequent illustrative paintings the basis for determining the character of their image.

The Gita Govinda paintings also pioneered the multiplicity of pictorial expressions of a single image, or a couple of them, and discovered in each farther and farther delight. As a matter of fact, no other text has inspired such multiple pictorial expressions, as has done Gita Govinda. The Gita Govinda paintings emerged as a new thing in each period, each region, under each patron and each traditional frame. Change in the taste of patronage might be seen revealing in the Gita Govinda paintings with mirror-image clarity.

Krishna Paints Radha's Breast
Krishna Paints Radha's Breast

Thus, Gita Govinda, despite that it presented many challenges to painters, was one of their most cherished themes all over and always, from the far west in Gujarat to the far east in Assam, and in Himalayan hills, Orissa, Bengal, Rajasthan and Central India. The illustrator was required to discover a pictorial imagery, which by its parallelism matched the verbal imagery, its similes and metaphors. He was required to treat the entire text, like a musician who took a particular phrase, expanded it into the time according to a ‘Raga’, classical mode of singing, and then returned to repetitive verse forming the ‘Sama’, the point where separate rhythms of the metrical cycle coincided. The illustrator of the Gita Govinda acted in a similar way. He identified such verbal phrase, which he could expand into an image and then more phrases and more images creating a cyclic chain of them. This gave to the Gita Govinda paintings their pictorial stretch, magnification and numeric width.

Text of the Gita Govinda little revealed tangible features of the image, which further enhanced illustrator’s difficulty. The illustrator was required to discover every time his own image and represent his own pictorial version of it. Depiction of bodily gestures was not a problem to a painter; but, to convert a gesture into a ‘Hava’, demeanour, which adequately revealed a ‘Bhava’, emotion, required great artistic skill. Narration or continuous flow of the verbal phrase could be matched with an alike flow of imagery, but the pictorial presentation of the text and its pictorial interpretation were two different things, especially when the text was pregnant with multiple shades of meaning, as was the Gita Govinda. The meaning in the Gita Govinda moved in parallel on sensuous and spiritual planes requiring the artist to discover a set of imagery, a pictorial idiom, which revealed the inherent unity of the apparent duality, the oneness of Krishna, the Supreme Self, and the otherness of Radha, the individual self. And painters, illustrating Gita Govinda, not only commendably did it but also discovered the technique, which enabled the subsequent Indian miniature painting to reveal in colours a multi-layered meaning such as revealed a text.

 

DIFFERENT SETS OF GITA GOVINDA IMAGERY

Vishvarupa, The Cosmic Man as Envisaged in the Bhagavad Gita
Vishvarupa, The Cosmic Man as Envisaged in the Bhagavad Gita

 

 

 

 

For a better understanding of stylistic variations of imagery in different sets of the Gita Govinda paintings, a preview of some major iconographic traditions of Krishna’s image would be helpful. Early Indian texts see Krishna in three forms, ‘Aradhya-rupa’, ‘Vishwa- rupa’ and ‘Saumya- rupa’, that is, his votive, cosmic and aesthetic images. ‘Saumya’ is also known as ‘Lalita’ or ‘Lila-rupa’. In texts, his ‘Vishwa-rupa’ is not a rarity, in visual arts, it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Sri Nath Ji at Nathdwara (Rajasthan)
Sri Nath Ji at Nathdwara (Rajasthan)

 

 

 

 

 

His major shrines and art forms have either his ‘Aradhya-rupa’ or his ‘Lila-rupa’. Perhaps with the only exception of the Puri shrine, his shrines in Gujarat, entire Rajasthan and other places enshrine his ‘Lila-rupa’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radha Krishna in a Garden Pavilion
Radha Krishna in a Garden Pavilion

In Rajasthan, his images abound in great stately splendour, the character of the land. The overall style of Rajasthani painting tends to have rigorously rendered minute details. This stately splendour, inclining towards sensualism, and minuteness of details define the image or rather the overall character of the Rajasthani Gita Govinda paintings. It has used repetitive imagery in a single folio not so much for revealing the passage of time or narrative thrust as in quest of continuously repeating the same sensuous image over and again. Arbours in Mewar Gita Govinda paintings are adorned like a palace-garden pavilion prepared specially for a royal couple.

The Himalayan Hills have been broadly a Shaivite or Shakt belt and most of its shrines are devoted to the forms of Shiva or Devi. However, the art of the region had an intimate and intrinsic kind of relationship with Krishna. The Pahari painter saw in him a village lad roaming around his neighbourhood, and in Radha, coy village lass. The Pahari painter was little interested in his divinity. He was interested instead in his youthful acts of love and as the one around whom he could more befittingly portray his pastoral setting, the distinction of his land. This character of Pahari painting determines as much its image in the Gita Govinda paintings. Here as fresh is the face of nature as naпve is the charm of human face. The worlds of man and nature intermingle and comprise an integral whole. The Pahari artist has discovered the sensuous image of the Gita Govinda in enchanting aesthetic beauty and overall pastoral charm rather than in an act of sensualism.

Sri Jagannatha at Puri
Sri Jagannatha at Puri

 

 

Orissa, on the contrary, enshrined Krishna’s ‘Aradhya-rupa’ at its supreme Vaishnava shrine at Puri. Orissa imagery seems to have evolved out of some early folk worship cult. His image is flanked by the images of his brother Balarama and sister Subhadra.

 

 

 

 

 

Triad consisting of Samkarsana/Balarama, Ekanamsa
and Vasudeva Krsna. Mathura Museum No. 67.529
Triad consisting of Samkarsana/Balarama, Ekanamsa and Vasudeva Krsna. Mathura Museum No. 67.529

 

The group seems to represent the foremost of the Vrashnis. Early scriptures contain references of Vrashnis, the clan to which Krishna belonged, as worshipping their heroes. Three defaced Kushana sculptures from Mathura and a few subsequent terracottas have similar three figures, two male and one female, identified as Krishna, Balarama and Ekananga, the daughter of Yashoda, their sister

 

 

In Oriya tradition, Subhadra seems to have replaced Ekananga. Later, Krishna emerged in Orissa as Jagannatha, the lord of the creation, far above one of the incarnations of Vishnu. The source of such elevation of Krishna in Orissa is not known; but, interestingly, this is also the perception of the Gita Govinda. The eleventh verse of the first 'Ashtapadi', in Canto one, summarises the ten Vaishnava incarnations as those of Krishna, not Vishnu. Like the Oriya tradition, this 'Ashtapadi', too, does not include Krishna in ten Vaishnava incarnations. They both perceive these ten incarnations as the incarnations of Krishna, not Vishnu. Let scholars determine whether Jayadeva borrowed this perception from his land, Utkal, or the land from her son. Despite such elevation, Krishna's imagery retained its prior Vrashni character. The images of Vrashni-Trio, carved out of ordinary Neem wood by local carpenters, with no stately splendour around, still enshrine the Puri shrine. They have also retained their votive form.


References and Further Reading:

  • Losty, Jeremiah P. The Art of the Book in India.
  • Kapila Vatsyayan Mewari Gita-Govinda. National Museum, New Delhi, 1987.
  • Vatsyayan, Kapila. Jaur Gita Govinda.
  • Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bundi Gita Govinda.
  • Randhawa, M. S. Kangra Paintings of the Gita Govinda.
  • Keyt, George. Gita Govinda.
  • Kulkarni, Dr. V. M. (ed). Jayadeva's Gitagovinda.
  • Mishra, Vidyanivas. Radha Madhav Ranga Rangi.
  • Dvivedi, Acharya Shiva Prasad. Gitagovindakavyam.
  • Daljeet, Dr. and Jain, P. C. Indian Miniature Painting : Manifestation of a Creative Mind.

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  • I love this story, gives me great insight of indian culture particularly the stories that goes along the line of Orissi dances. I hope you dance...
    by dance4everDANS on 15th Apr 2012
  • It is bit difficult for Behgali's to give up that claim -- which persisted for decades with assistance from their master friends -- the British. Birbhum district and Puri -- what is this made up connection?
    by Tony (tonyrana200@yahoo.com) on 18th Nov 2009
  • Jayadeva himself referred to Utkala (Orissa) as his land. Jayadeva also describes his birthplace being by the sea. This can be in Puri, Orissa, not in landlocked Birbhum in Bengal.

    Western Indologists Prof. Thomas E. Donaldson and Prof. Barbara S. Miller have asserted that Jayadeva was born in Orissa.

    There is consensus among experts including Bengali ones (Sengupta, Chakrabarty, Sen) that Jayadeva was born near Puri, in Orissa, not Bengal.

    Excavations in Kenduli village, near Puri reveal the birth of Jayadeva there. Moreover, there is a statue that the villagers today revere as "Jayadeva".

    Numerous poets in the 16 and 17th centuries refer to Jayadeva as a Utkala (Orissa) brahmin.

    Jayadeva's lyrics have had more profound influence in Orissa, and even in south India than in Bengal. Jayadeva never was associated with Bengali 'Baul' music. But the Odissi dance is entirely based on Jayadeva's composition.

    Only in religious websites like this, of questionable historical authenticity, will one find the anachronistic and fallacious statement concerning Jayadeva's birthplace.

    The Birbhum birthplace is a HOAX. An attempt by early chauvinistic Bengali "historians" to render everything "Aamader so-and-so"!

    Jayadeva was born in Kenduli Sasan in Orissa. Period!
    by Sanjoy (sinubabu@gmail.com) on 23rd Apr 2009
  • The detailed explanation of this article made me so pleasent minded and the great beautiful pictures are mind blowing and takes us to heavenly feelings.
    by YAMUNASURYANARAYANA on 4th Sep 2008
  • It is curious that although Jayadeva himself refers to Utkal (which is Orissa) as his land of origin, the article advocakes "Kenduli in Birbhum, Bengal" is Jayadeva's birthplace. The truth is, Jayadeva was born in Kenduli or Kendubilva in Orissa, not Bengal. The names Kendu, Kendubilva etc are Oriya names. Even today, Kendubilva or Kendu leaves are obtained from Orissa (for making Biri).

    by Chintamani Rath on 27th Apr 2008
  • really a great job ,wonderful,mind blowing material
    by mrs yamuna and mrs shubhasachin on 28th Oct 2007
  • Another great article, this time on my very favorite lyric, for its beautiful language,and the ecstasy of very human Krishna and Radha. By the way, I have read it in so many versions, but the best in english is Barbara Stoller Miller's, especially her introduction and analysis of this beloved classic. Strongly recommend it.
    by Mukunda Rao on 26th Apr 2007
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