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The Gitagovinda of Jayadeva Love Song of the Dark Lord

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Item Code: NAB051
Author: Barbara Stoler Miller
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9788120803671
Pages: 245
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.7" x 5.8"
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Book Description
About the BooK: Jayadeva's dramatic lyrical poem Gitagovinda is a unique work in Indian literature and a source of inspiration in both medieval and contemporary Vaisnavism. It concentrates on Krsna's love with the Cowherdess Radha. Intense earthly passion is the example Jayadeva uses to express the complexities of divine and human love. It describes the loves of Krsna and Radha in twelve cantos containing twenty-four songs. The songs are sung by Krsna or Radha or by Radha's maid and are connected by brief narrative or descriptive passages. The appropriate musical mode and rhythm for each song are noted in the text. This poem is really a kind of drama, of the ragakavya type, since it is usually acted. Critical acclaim of the poem has been high, but its frank eroticism has led many Indian commentators to interpret the love between Radha and Krsna as an allegory of the human soul's love for God. Learned and popular audiences in India and elsewhere have continued to appreciate the emotional lyricism the poem expresses in its variations on the theme of separated lover's passion.


Jayadeva's dramatic lyrical poem Gitagovinda is a unique work in Indian literature and a source of religious inspiration in both medieval and contemporary Vaishnavism. The poem is dedicated in devotion to the god Krishna. It concentrates on Krishna's love with the cowherdess Radha in a rite of spring. Intense earthly passion is the example Jayadeva uses to express the complexities of divine and human love.

Although the poem originated in eastern India in the twelfth century and remains most popular there, it spread throughout the subcontinent in the centuries following its composition. As early as the thirteenth century it was quoted in a temple inscription in Gujarat, in western India. Established traditions of commentary and manuscripts exist in every part of India. Its songs are an important part of the devotional music and literature of Orissa, Bengal, and South India. The songs were introduced into Kerala in the sixteenth century and are still sung in temples there. Portions of the poem represent one of the major subjects in medieval Rajput paintings.

Critical acclaim of the poem has been high, but its frank eroticism has led many Indian commentators to interpret the love between Radha and Krishna as an allegory of the human soul's love for God. The condemnation of Jayadeva's eroticism made by the seventeenth-century esthetician Jagannatha in his Rasagangadhara (Kavyamala 12, Bombay, 1888, p. 52) is exceptional. Learned and popular audiences in India and elsewhere have continued to appreciate the emotional lyricism the poem expresses in its variations on the theme of separated lovers' passion.

Commenting on F. H. van Dalberg's German rendering of the Gita-govinda, Goethe wrote, "What struck me as remarkable are the extremely varied motives by which an extremely simple subject is made endless" (note to Schiller dated Jan. 22, 1802, quoted from Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller, translated by L. D. Schmitz, London, 1909, vol. 2, p. 395). Dalberg's version was based on the first English translation of the Gitagovinda by William Jones, published in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, in 1792 and reprinted in London in Asiatik Researches, 3 (1799), 185-207. A verse translation by the German poet Friedrich Ruckert, begun in 1829 and revised according to the edited Sanskrit text and Latin translation of C. Lassen (Bonn, 1836), 128 ff.

The poem has also been translated into most modern Indian languages and many other modern European languages. Notable English versions include Edwin Arnold's The Indian Song of Songs (London, 1875); George Keyt's Sri Jayadeva's Gita Govinda: The Loves of Krsna and Radha (Bombay, 1940); S. Lakshminarasimha Sastri's The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva (Madras, 1956); Duncan Greenlees' Theosophical rendering The Song of Divine Love (Madras, 1962), and Monica Varma's "trans-creation," The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, published by Writers Workshop (Calcutta, 1968).

My own interest in the Gitagovinda began when I heard it sung in Orissi style in the home of Sulakshana and Debi Prasanna Pattanayak in Poona in 1966 and attempted to translate some of the songs. None of the available translations seemed to convey the literary richness or the religious significance of the original. My early work toward a verse translation of the poem convinced me that my English version should be based on a critical edition of the text and an extensive study of the traditions associated with the poem at various levels of Indian culture.

While I have concentrated my effort on textual aspects of the Gita-govinda, I have also gathered and studied substantial material relevant to its cultural contexts. I have heard and recorded the songs of the poem in different musical versions in Orissa, Bengal, Bihar, Madras, Mysore, and Kerala, as well as Nepal. Because of the role of the songs in the nightly worship of the deity in Jagannatha Temple at Puri, they are venerated and sung throughout Orissa. Their performance is an essential aspect of Orissi dance, which has developed through the religious art of temple dancers called Maharis who still dance Gitagovinda songs before Jagannatha. The significance of the legendary life of Jayadeva that identifies the poet's muse as a temple dancer of Puri is discussed in the first section of my introduction. I have learned much about the emotional content of the poem from watching Sanjukta Panigrahi and Ritha Devi perform Gitagovinda songs in Orissi style. I spent many pleasant hours in Cuttack in consultation with Kalicharan Patnaik and Akshaya Mohanty discussing and listening to the music of Gitagovinda. A seventeenth-century palm-leaf manuscript of the text, with the commentary Sarvanga-sundari and superb illustrations, was examined in the collection of Kalicharan.

In Bengal, the singing of Gitagovinda is especially prominent at an annual spring fair in the village of Kenduli in Birbhum district, which is identified as the birthplace of Jayadeva in Bengali tradition. The influence of the poem on the devotional music of Bengal is analyzed in an article by Swami Prajnananada entitled "The Gitagovinda-padagana in the Background of the Padavali-kirtan of Bengal," published in the Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 36 (1965), 176-82.

In Nepal, and Gitagovinda is sung during the spring celebration in honor of the goddess Sarasvati, in which worship is offered to the god of love, Kamadeva, and his consort. I did not hear an actual performance, but learned about it in a talk with the father of my friend Dr. Prasanna Chandra Gautam, who read the description and chanted a portion of the poem from his Brahman family's old manual of annual ceremonies, entitled Varsikavratapaddhati. In the Bir Library collection in the National Archives in Kathmandu, I found the earliest known manuscripts of the Gitagovinda, dated 567 and 616 in the Nepali era (ca. A.D. 1447 and 1496). Norvin Hein discusses the theatrical renderin of the Gitagovinda in regions where Sakta influence prevails, with special reference to its performance in Nepal and Bihar (The Miracle Plays of Mathura, New Haven, 1972, pp. 267-71). He quotes the account of Sylvain Levi of an evening performance by popular players in Kathmandu on March 7, 1898, in which the plot and songs were based on the Gitagovinda.

In much of South India the poem is sung according to the classical Karnatic system of music. An edition of the text with musical notation according to this system by Semmangudi R. Sreenivasa Iyer was published by the Sanskrit College Committee, Tripunithura, Kerala, in 1963. The text is prefaced by this note: "Ashtapadi, as the poem is popularly known, is sung daily in many of the temples of Kerala, as the pious Hindus consider it a devotional song of the highest order. It is also sung invariably during Kathakali performances, but the way of singing in Kerala is different from that of Bhajanapaddhati which has been adopted by Mr. Sreenivasa Iyer." With the help of the music scholar K. P. S. Menon of Calicut, I was able to hear Gitagovinda songs as they are sung by members of a drummer caste in the courtyard of Guruvayur and other temples of Kerala while certain rituals are being performed by Brahman priests within the sanctuary. Mr. Menon also provided me with an English text of Rama Varma's nineteenth-century version of the Gitagovinda. Based karam, was edited by K. Raghavan Pillai and published in the Kerala University Malayalam Series (Trivandrum, 1964). The text came to my attention through a review of it by L. S. Rajagopalan in the Journal of the Music Academy, Madras, 37 (1966), 221-22. Mr. Rajagopalan's correspondence with me on the performance of the Gitagovinda in Kerala temples has provided many suggestions for further work on this subject.

In order to better understand the lyrical structure of the Gitagovinda, I have studied the theory and practice of both classical Hindusthani and classical Karnatic music. I studied the North Indian flute with Vasant Rai, a disciple of Allaudin Khan and the director of Alam School of North Indian Music in New York, and I took lessons on South Indian flute with V. Deshikachar at the Mysore College of Fine Arts. I have consulted a text of the Gitagovinda with annotations of the gestures (abhinaya) for every word in the first seventeen songs of the poem; this was edited by K. Vasudeva Sastri and published in the Tanjore Sarawati Mahal Series (Tanjore, 1950). Certain songs belong to the current repertoire of Bharata Natyam, and I relished the opportunity to watch and analyze some of these in the classes of Venkatalakshmyamma, also at the Mysore College of Fine Arts. These studies have informed my translation and analysis of the poem, but I have not attempted a technical discussion of its music and dance performances in deference to the excellent work by scholars in this area. In March 1967 Sangeet Natak Akademi and Lalit Kala Akademi sponsored a conference in New Delhi entitled "Geet Govind Celebrations." Published conference papers by C.S. Pant, Premlata Sharma, N. S. Ramachandran, Dilip Kumar Mukherjee, Rukmini Devi, and E. Nilakanta Singh analyze aspects of music and dance associated with the poem. Kapila Vatsyayan, author of the excellent book Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts (New Delhi, 1968), is currently preparing an extensive study of the poem's expression in Indian music, dance, and the plastic arts. She presented a general paper on the subject at the International Sanskrit Conference in Delhi in 1972 that is scheduled for publication in the proceedings of that conference. Her analysis of the Gitagovinda in Manipuri dance, presented at the Manipur Sahitya Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1973, is being prepared for publication.

My appreciation for the visual imagery of the Gitagovinda has been enhanced by published volumes of paintings from various schools. these include R. P. N. Sinha's Geeta Govind in Basholi School of Indian Painting (New Delhi, 1958); M.S. Randhawa's Kangra Paintings of the Gita-govinda (New Delhi, 1963); and Moti Chandra's two portfolios in the Lalita Kala Series, both entitled Gitagovinda (New Delhi, 1965).

In my introduction, I have tried to analyze and trace the sources of formal and thematic elements that have been relevant to my understanding of Jayadeva's poetic creation. I have not tried to survey the wide influence of the poem on later Indian religious literature, poetry, and the arts. Work promises to complement the present volume. The importance of the Gitagovinda in later Bengali Vaishnavism is well documented in the studies of Dasgupta, De, Dimock, and Harekrishna Mukhopadhyaya cited in the notes to sections two and three of the introduction. Its place in the broader development of Indian religious eroticism is central to a recent Oxford University doctoral thesis by Lee Siegel, entitled "Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva" (Oxford, 1975). Several scholars have compiled descriptive lists of the literary imitations of the Gitagovinda: V. W. Karmbelkar, "Three More Imitations of the Gitagovinda," Indian Historical Quarterly, 25, no. 2 (1949), 95-101; K. N. Mahapatra, "Some Imitations of the Gitagovindam," The Orissa Historical Research Journal, 15, nos. 3 and 4 (1971), 95-130; V. Raghavan, "In the Footsteps of Jayadeva: Nanjaraja's Sangita Gangadhara," unpublished typescript of 1972, revised from an article published in The Hindu, Madras, in 1936.

Documentation of my critical study of the Gitagovinda is presented, with the edited Sanskrit text, only in the hardcover edition of this book. It seemed unreasonable to increase the size of the paperback edition with material that would be of interest only to scholars. The hardcover edition also includes a glossary of Sanskrit words: This too is intended mainly for scholarly readers. Because the vocabulary of the poem is highly concentrated, the glossary serves as an alternative to repetitive textual notes. The translation is not directly annotated. I hope that the detailed discussions of the poem in various sections of the introduction will provide all that necessary for the general reader to enjoy and understand my English version of Jayadeva's poetry. The discussions are supplemented by extensive bibliographic and textual notes. Because the bibliography differs so much from section to section, no general list of references is given. In preparing both the glossary and the introduction, as well as the translation itself, I have depended heavily on the interpretations and analyses of various commentators. The contents of selected commentaries are described as part of the evidence for the critical edition. References to variant interpretations of ambiguous phrases and technical terms are found in the glossary and the notes to the introduction.

The research for this book has taken me to India three times. My search for manuscripts in the summer of 1971 was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Philosophical Society. A grant from the American Council of Learned Societies enabled me to spend time in Madras and Orissa in January 1973 to consult manuscript in the Adyar Library, the Orissa State Museum, and the Raghunandan Library, and the experience performances of the Gitagovinda. My residence at Mysore University during the winter of 1974-75 was supported by the American Institute of Indian Studies. A Gaggenheim Fellowship for "A Textual and Contextual Study of Medieval Sanskrit Poetry and its Modern Inerpretations" give me time to consider the Gitagovinda in the broader context of medieval literature and to explore theories of the relationship between religion and art in Indian civilization. It also enabled me to work in Nepal in the autumn of 1974.

In the five years I have spent gathering and preparing the Gitagovinda material for publication, many people have given me invaluable help. My special thanks are to the Pattanayaks, who have often shared with me and my family the warmth and cultural life of their home. My formal affiliation at Mysore University was with the Central Institute of Indian Languages, of which Dr. Pattanayak is the director; the resources of the institute greatly facilitated my work. In Mysore, I was also helped by research scholars at the Oriental Institute greatly facilitated my work. In Mysore, I was also helped by research scholars at the Oriental Institute and the Office of the Chief Epigraphist. I enjoyed many hours at the Oriental Institute discussing Sanskrit kavya and analyzing aspects of the Gitagovinda with H. V. my critical edition was typeset at Sree Kantha Power Press, publishers of the Sanskrit newspaper Sudharma. Without his gracious help, this book would not be in its present form. Thanks are due to Theodore Riccardi, Lynn Bennett, and Gabriel Campbell for their help in locating and identifying the Nepali materials that have been so central to my critical text; and also to Neil Gross, who patiently collated the references for the glossary.

I am indebted to Daniel H. H. Ingalls for the example of his own work and for his encouragement of this translation through the endless revisions I submitted to his attention. For their generous and detailed criticism at various stages of the translation, I thank Susan Bergholz, Edwin Gerow, Jeffrey Masson, Agueda Pizarro, David Rubin, Burton Watson, and my husband James. William Bernhardt, Karen Mitchell, and Andree Mounier of Colombia University Press have all contributed to the conception and form of the book; I appreciate their skills and standards.

James and Gwenn have shared my travels in the Indian subcontinent and much of my adventure in studying the Gitagovinda. Their appreciation for the music of Jayadeva's poem and for my involvement with it have made this work pleasurable.

About the Author:

Barbara Stoler Miller was professor of Oriental Studies at Barnard College Columbia University. She was a student of the late Professor W. Norman Brown. She had travelled widely throughout the Indian subcontinent and lived here to study Sanskrit and Indian music and art. Dr. Miller's other published works include The Hermit and the Love-Thief: Sanskrit Poems of Bharatrihari and Bilhana and Theater of Memory: The plays of Kalidasa. She had also edited Exploring India's Sacred Art: Selected Writings of Stella Karmrisch published by Motilal Banarsidass.

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