Generations have marveled at the exquisite beauty, lyricism and literary value of
Geetagovinda. At once sacred and profane, its appeal is universal. While an inimitable
felicity of diction and an intensity of passion distinguish the work in its original Sanskrit,
no less significant is Jayadeva’s intensity of devotion to Hari. The work portrays the nuances
and complexities of love in all its dimensions. Krishna and Radha, as portrayed by Jayadeva,
endear themselves to the reader by their human and divine attributes. Jayadeva’s Krishan is
human in his follies while divine in his intensity of love. Radha is infallible as a goddess
in devotion while human in her susceptibility to anger and grief.
By its celestial perfection and extraordinary beauty, Geetagovinda has always challenged and
lured translators and commentators. Every generation deserves to rediscover the eternal spell
and charm of this great work that combines sensuqus beauty with devotional fervour.
K. Jayakumar is a poet, author and translator, who write in English and Malayalam. Among his
important translations into Malayalam are Gitanjali of Tagore, The Prophet and Jesus, the Son
of Man, by Kahlil Gibran, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and One Hundred Poems of Rumi. He has
published two books poems in English, Seduction of the Soul and in the Interlude of remembered
rains and four anthologies of poems in Malayalam. He is also a popular lyric writer in
Malayalam. He has scripted a few films and directed a film for children. He is also a painter
who has held several exhibitions.
A civil servant by profession, he is currently working in the Government of Kerala.
Geetagovinda by Jayadeva has fascinated generations of poets, scholars and general readers.
This poetry of unmatched lyrical beauty and multiple dimensions has a universal appeal as a
kavya of extraordinary literary value and a work of great spiritual significance. Its
spirituality is remarkable for the deft blending of the sacred and the sensual. In fact, the
work prompts us to redefine our notions of the sacred and the profane. Even when scholars
disagree on the spiritual symbolism of the poem, Geetagovinda continues to be a poetic marvel
by the enchanting moods of sringara it depicts and the sweetness of the rasa it generates. Its
imagery and cadence are alluring and the diction is unparalleled in elegance. Above all, the
sense of mystery about the reality of the narrative, enveloped in beauty and passion, makes it
a source of eternal fascination.
Whatever be the interpretations of the poem, there is no doubt that Jayadeva’s engagement with
Krishna is of a devotional nature. Therefore to completely discount the spiritual dimension of
the poem would be violating the intent of the poet. Then what might have been the purpose of
couching narrative in rather explicit sensuous and erotic imagery? Was it to shock and attract
the reader? Or was it a conscious act of inducing a catharsis as the erotically embellished
pagodas of Konark and Khajuraho attmpt? It would be futile to elicit a definitive answer. The
search for such answers has only enhanced the mystery of the poem.
The appeal of Geetagovinda is not confined to literature. It has inspired several schools of
paintings, particularly the miniature traditions. By the 17th century, Geetagovinda themes
began to be painted in Mughal style and later they began to inspire artists or Rajasthan and
Gujarat. However the refinement and perfection was reached in the Basholi and Kangra Paintings
by the middle of the 18th century. The tradition of palm leaf paintings (patachitras) of
Orissa flowered by its influence.
The cadence and lyrical quality along with the dramatic nature of the songs have endeared
Geetagovinda to almost all types of classical dances as well. In fact, its verses have played
an unmistakable role in the revival of many a dance form. There is no other work in Indian
literature that is uniformly accepted and adapted by the various dance forms ranging from
Bhartanatyam to Kathak and Manipur to Mohiniyattam, not to mention Odissi. All these forms
have not only adapted Jayadeva’s verses but have internalized them as their essential
repertoire. Apart from the emotional appeal and the scope for abhinaya, the capacity of these
songs to be amenable to different styles of musical rendition and dancing styles is yet
another reason for their popularity among the different dance forms, disregarding distances of
space and time.
As a religious work its sanctity has not been eroded by the almost continuous allegations of
profanity. Devotional singing of Geetagovinda continues to be an integral part of not only the
Puri Jagannadha temple, but of the temples as far away as in Kerala. The poem has traveled all
over India either as a religious text or as a source of inspiration to painters, musicians and
dancers. In its pan-Indian appeal and reach, Geetagovinda is behind only to Ramayana,
Mahabharata and perhaps Bhagavad Gita.
The Kavya essentially narrates the various stages of love between Radha and Krishna in the
verdant setting of Vrindavan. There are only three characters, Radha, Krishna and a Sakhi.
Through twenty-four songs, interspersed with short slokas, the narrative moves on from the
stage of expectation to despondency, anger, reconciliation, exhilaration and ecstasy. The
songs have different points of view. Some by sakhi, some by Radha and others by Krishna.
Different scenes portray Krishna and Radha in diverse emotional situations. Sometimes he is
surrounded by Gopies, at other times he waits crestfallen and remorseful and yet at another
time he is enjoying with Radha, professing total love and devotion to her. Are these scenes
real? Or are they nothing more than fantasies of Radha and sakhi? Or is the sakhi herself a
symbol of the suppressed eloquence of Radha? Is Krishna at the time of the narration old
enough for all these amorous adventures? The poem, which opens with Nandagopa asking Radha to
escort Krishna through the darkening woods, the young lad being scared, gives adequate hint
about the age of Krishna. Are the following sections wild fantasies? Or is our prudery trying
to find morally convenient interpretations? Or could it be that the whole poem is an allegory
of the eternal dalliance of the devotee and God?
Radha has become synonymous with premabhakti. It has been pointed out that the character of
Radha does not find mention in any of the epics. However the reference to a favored gopi in
Bhagavata has led some scholars to infer it as Radha. The word Radha seems to have derived
from the word ‘aradhita’, which means ‘one who worships’. Tribal and folk influences too must
have provided a favourable background for Jayadeva to shape a heroine as special, as
passionate and as devoted as Radha. Though there might have been earlier allusions, the credit
for creation a wholesome character of Radha as the heroine of Geetagovinda goes almost
entirely to Jayadeva. Geetagovinda established Radha as the heroine of Geetagovinda goes
almost entirely to Jayadeva. Geetagovinda established Radha as the consort of Krishna. Today
she is the universal symbol of unswerving love and devotion.
Geetagovinda has inspired hundreds of translations and countless adaptations, imitations and
commentaries. It has a deceptive simplicity and bewitching beauty that allure translators and
commentators towards it. Once captivated, they realize the magnitude and complexity of the
task. No sooner a translator is lured into the mystery of its theme and the magnificence of
its narration than Geetagovinda acquires the form of an ocean too vast to cross or a mountain
too steep to climb. Firstly the original verses exude such an abundance of beauty that it
constantly reminds the translator of the limited success he can hope to claim. The cultural
environment of Geetagovinda is so rooted in Sanskrit that the translator inevitably makes
compromises and approximations. Eminent scholars beginning with William Jones and Edwin Arnold
have translated this work. In recent times, the translation by Barbara Stroller Miller has
been well acclaimed. Besides, translations by Indian scholars continue to be published.
In spite of all this, I dared to embark upon this translation, emboldened by a few
motivations. The first was the desire to meet the challenge of translating a poem, which is
essentially beyond translation. The other was the urge to capture the typically Indian nuances
of love and the cultural habitat of the poem, which, it appears to me, is difficult for a
non-Indian translator to imbibe, let alone translate. Finally, I was persuaded by the wish to
present this eternal poem to the contemporary reading public in a syntax and diction that are
familiar to them. For this reason, I have avoided attempts to rhyme. It has been my conviction
that a stanza in a well-rhymed iambic pentameter is the surest way to kill the appetite of a
contemporary reader of poetry. Every great work needs to be rediscovered by every generation
in an idiom that matches its comfort level. That is precisely what I have attempted in this
As this book reaches the readers, a modest sense of satisfaction as well as a great sense of
awe overpower me. This awe has its source in the realization of the depth and complexity of
this kavya, masked by a veneer of simplicity. The sense of accomplishment arises from the fact
that, finally this translation is reaching the readers for critical appraisal. I thank Dr.
Sudha Gopalakrishnan, who promptly and kindly wrote an elegant foreword. Thanks are also due
to Dr. Nirmalkanti Bhattacharjee of Sahitya Akademi and Shri S.C. Bhalla of Central
Secretariat Library for supporting me with materials. I should thank Dr. Sandhya Purecha, the
dancer-scholar, for her insights and Ms. Ranjana Gauhar, the Odissi exponent, for her
encouragement. Finally, I thank Shri Sanjay Arya of Subhi Publications for bringing out this
book with the care and concern it deserves.
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