The Krsnagiti of Manaveda: A Rare Book

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Item Code: NAC083
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Centre For The Arts, MOTILAL BANARSIDASS PUBLISHERS PVT. LTD.
Author: C.S. Swaminathan Sudha Gopalakrishnan
Language: Sanskrit Text with English Translation
Edition: 1997
ISBN: 8120814789
Pages: 373 (21 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.5 Inch X 7.5 Inch
Weight 1.20 kg
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Book Description
From the Jacket

The Krsnagiti is a lyrical and devotional poem composed by Manaveda, Zamorin of Kozhikode (17th cent. A.D.). The poem composed in Sanskrit celebrates the life of Krsna from his incarnation (avatara) to his ascent to Heaven (svargarohana). Composed in eight parts and perhaps modelled on Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda and written in the form of a monologue addressed to Krsna, the poem is suffused with the sentiment of spiritual devotion (bhakti). It enumerates the story of the Lord and eulogises His Lilas on the earth. Moreover, it is the source-text for Krishnattam, the votive dance-drama affiliated to the Guruvayur temple in central Kerala.

The Krsnagiti makes a significant contribution of Kerala to the corpus of Sanskrit devotional literature in India. The sentiment of bhakti which pervades the entire poem assumes unique lyrical and dramatic power and invests Krishnattam with immense histrionic possibilities. The dual experience of the poem, as literary work and as a source text for a live performance tradition, makes it interesting for the reader and the spectator alike.

The edition published here presents the text of the Krsnagiti in Devanagari for the first time with a lucid English translation.

Dr. C.R. SWAMINATHAN did his M.A. in Sanskrit; M. Litt. from Madras University; Ph.D. from Delhi University; and Acharya from Darbhanga Sanskrit University. Dr. Swaminathan worked as Librarian in the Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras. He joined Government of India in 1961 and retired as Deputy Educational Adviser (Sanskrit) in 1985. After his retirement he worked as Consultant in IGNCA for four years. As Deputy Educational Adviser (Sanskrit), he was instrumental in initiating many new schemes for the propagation of Sanskrit and Vedic studies. Besides several Sanskrit poetic compositions, he is the author of other works in English and Sanskrit including his dissertation, A Comparative Study of Gita Bhasyas (Sahitya Parishad, Lucknow). He has also critically edited and translated the Satapathabrahmaua of the Kanva recension for IGNCA.

Dr. Scotia GOPALAKRISHNAN took her doctoral degree in Comparative Drama, the Classical Indian and Western theories of comedy, with special reference to the plays of Bhasa and Shakespeare. She worked in the Sahitya Akademi as Assistant Editor of the Encylapaedia 0f Indian Literature. Later, she was the Project Officer of the Encyclopaedia of the Arts in Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCAs, New Delhi and is, at present, Coordinator of a research project called Metaphors of Indian Arts” in IGNCA. Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan has done intensive research on the dance and drama traditions of Kerala, especially that of Kutiyattam, Krishnattam and Kathakali. Her papers on different aspects of these performing arts have appeared in several leading research journals in India. She has completed the translation Of the text and theatre manual of the Nalacaritam, a famous Kathakali play.


Kerala is a veritable treasure-house of art-forms, from the simplest to the sophisticated, from the tribal, the rural, to the urban. The antiquity of some of these forms can be traced back to almost prehistoric times. The enigma lies in the continuity of tradition and Kerala’s ability both to sustain these continuities and to bring in change, transformation, even metamorphosis. Here, one can witness the most complex Vedic rituals, the tradition of the Rgveda and the Samaveda and participate in the simplest Mopla songs, witness the martial arts of Velakali and Puliyarakali and be amazed at the elaborate Teyyam and Theriyattams, Motiyettu, Aiyappan soul-stirring happenings and be moved by the aesthetics of the Syrian Christian rituals. Historically, there was a time when the Bhagavata cult was predominant, whether in the lush-green forests, the Kavus or in temples. Gradually, the themes of the epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata—penetrated into both literature and the other arts. This was coeval with the emergence of the Malayalam literature and the many versions of the two epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana in different parts of India. Each region interpreted and modified, as it does today, the archetypals of the epics, to suit its distinctive socio-cultural milieu and norms of morality and ethics. Many examples can be cited of this process of pan-Indian archetypal and their regional and local versions. The continuity with antiquity could be maintained because change and modification were possible.

The entry of the myth and legends of Krsna and the establishment of Vaisnava centres and Krsna worship in Kerala and in Malayalam literature is as fascinating as mysterious. Although, the Harivamsa was known and the Bhakti movement was pervasive, its manifestation in different parts of India and in diverse literatures covers a period of many centuries. In course of time there was a specific and unique flavour. The Srimad-Bhagavata, specially the 8th and the 10th books attracted writers, painters, musicians and dancers for the immense scope that this text could provide for interpreting the phenomenon of life through the motif of Lila. Soon after the Gita-Govinda was composed somewhere in Eastern India—possibly, Orissa or Bengal, in the course of about 300 or 400 years, the two streams—the Krsna of the Srimad-Bhagavata and the Krsna of the Gita-Govinda—singly and together, inspired poetry, drama, painting and ritual. Sometimes amalgams took place, and a new content and form were created. Sudha Gopalakrishnan has referred, in her Introduction, to the popularity of Cerusseri’s Krsnagatha and to the monumental contribution of Eluttachan.

The Krsnagiti, the text attributed to the poet Manaveda of the l7th century, is one such important example of the coming together of several cultural streams to create a new whole. Whenever such new creations come into being, they are attributed to visions or dreams, in short, an unusual happening; Krsnagiti is no exception. While it draws upon the Puranic myths of the life of Krsna, it does not restrict itself to the single source of either the Visnu-purana or the Srimad-Bhagavata. Many subtle changes and innovations are introduced. Also, while the Rasa or Rasakrida is described, it does not deal with Radha and Krsna. Only in form, it adopts the format of the Gita- Govinda—memory, recollection, separation, hope and disappointment and union. The Krsna of the Krsnagiti is the Lord incarnate and his Lilas, narrated as monologue with a sense of deep devotion and ecstatic surrender. How- ever, like the Gita-Govinda it mentions ragas and talas. It was rendered in the distinctive style of Kerala music, known as astapadiattam or now known as sopana. Krsnattam, the dance drama form, is based on the text. Moving from the ambience of the courts of the Zamorins of Cochin, it is today performed in the precincts of the temple courtyard of Guruvayur. While the Gita— Govinda is sung within the sanctum of the temple, the series of dance-dramas based on the Krsnagiti are performed, night after night, in the courtyard.

For the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the text of the Krsnagiti was relevant because it exemplified the Indian phenomenon of interregional dialogue and that of continuity and change. Also, the text of the Krsnagiti is still used as the libretto for the dance—drama form "Krsnattam’s performed today. Although the Krsnattam is the precursor of the better known Ramanattam and Kathakali, it has not received as much recognition and attention. Scholars, such as, Bharata Iyer, Pisharodi, Clifford Jones and Zairelli, have written on the performance of Kathakali. Critical literature on Krsnattam is meagre, comprising a few articles and one book by Shri A.C.G. Raja who was associated with the Krsnattam troupe for twenty years and the latest, Martha Bush Ashtone’s book on Krsnattam. Despite these valuable monographs, a properly edited and translated text of the Krsnagiti was necessary to bring out the relationship between the text and the performance. Now that a definitive text is available, it is hoped that further detailed work will be done.

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts had requested Dr. C.R. Swaminathan, one of the first Consultants of the IGNCA, to undertake this work. I would like to thank Dr. Swaminathan for preparing the text and the translation. Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan, who joined the Institution later, gave much of her time and energy in checking and revising the first draft. I am happy that the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is in a position to publish this in the Kalamulasastra Series as its 20th Volume. This text will be of interest, both to scholars as also the performing artists.

As has been mentioned above, the Krsnattam is regularly performed in the environs of the Guruvayur Temple. Sangeet Natak Akademi has meticulously documented the performance. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is grateful to the Sangeet Natak Akademi for allowing us to publish a selection of their documentation.


The Krisnagiti, the lyrico-dramatic text written by Manaveda in the 17th century holds an important place in the history of Kerala. Apart from its literary and devotional significance it is also the source-text for Krsnattam, the sacred dance-drama enacted as a votive offering now in the Guruvayur temple in Central Kerala.

Kerala has a rich and varied tradition of performing arts, which is deeply rooted and integrated with its culture. Ranging from the classical art forms like Kutiyattam, Krsnattam and Kathakali, to the folk, ritualistic and popular arts like Tullah Teyyam, Mutiyettu and Patayani, they co-exist and complement each other.

Among the performing arts of Kerala, Krsnattam is a highly evolved dance- drama which celebrates the legend of Krsna. The Sanskrit work Krsnagiti) dealing with the life of Krsna from his incarnation (avatara) to the ascent to heaven (svargarohana), is inextricably linked to the sentiment of spiritual devotion (bhakti). The aesthetic value of the text as well as of the art form has to be viewed from the perspective of bhakti and posited against the backdrop of its socio-cultural milieu.

The wave of Vaisnavism that took roots in North India roughly by the twelfth century spread all over India and took on a different colour with Caitanya and his followers, where bhakti became a simple human quest for the divine, irrespective of caste or class differences. Many literary works extolling Krsna appeared during that time. The twelfth century work Gita-Govinda by Jayadeva was a source-spring for several poets, painters, (lancers, singers and choreographers across India. The poem describing the eternal love between Radha and Krsna had several imitations and adaptations in Sanskrit and all the major regional languages of India.

By the sixteenth century, the movement of bhakti had several repercussions in South India also. In Kerala, it started perhaps as a reaction to the declining socio-cultural and religious condition. This movement had its impact on the literature and art of the period also. The literature of the period was inspired by a search for the divine. The legend of became popular with Cerusseri’s Krsnagatha. Tuncat Ramanujan Eluttaccan (c. 1495-1575) was a poet of intense devotional fervour, who made bhakti accessible to all castes and classes. His Adhyatmaramayanam, Mahabharatam and Devimahatmyam written in Malayalam treated 0/mkii as a means to mukti (spiritual emancipation). Another prominent poet was Melputtur Narayana Bhattatiri who epitomised the Bhagavata story in 1000 Slokas in his Sanskrit work Narayaniyam. His poem, celebrating Lord Krsna, the presiding deity of the Guruvayur temple is in the form of a direct appeal to the Lord, seeking his favour in removing the oppressive illness (he was a gout patient) and praying for ultimate salvation.

In contrast to Melputtur Bhattatiri’s intellectualism was Puntanam Nambutiri’s Jnanappana (The Song of Knowledge) set in colloquial, home- spun Malayalam, surcharged with the feeling of mystical wonder. (At the death of his only child, he muses in the poem: “When the infant Krsna pervades the heart, what is the need for another child!”). It is no exaggeration that his poems dealing with bhakti, jnana and vairagya (detachment from material pleasures) are well-known in every Malayali household.

Legend goes that Manaveda wrote Krsnagiti after having a vision of Lord Krsna. The poem is written in the form of a monologue addressed to Krsna, enumerating the story of the Lord and eulogising his sports (lila) on the earth. At several places, the poem turns into a direct communion, and the poet speaks to the deity in the first person singular, as for example in describing Krsna’s childhood: My lord, my mind clings to you in the form of a naked little child enchanting womenfolk, with your hair falling on your shoulders that support the world, with a girdle hanging loosely on your waist, with childish incoherent speech, with the radiance of a host of bees and engaged in various sports.

The whole poem is richly interspersed with stutis (eulogies) addressed to the Lord. The narrative sequence in the poem stops at several places, when devotional fervour takes over. Narration has in fact only a second role to play. The poet has done considerable selection and editing of the material at his disposal. The childhood sports of Krsna leading up to the divine dance of Rasa have been described in detail, but other major events are condensed or curtailed, perhaps to suit the purpose of drama. The entire Gita has been epitomised in a few Slokas. The purpose of the poem is not to attain the philosophical heights of certain portions of the Bhagavata, but to celebrate the pervading experience of bhakti. The long extended and sometimes repetitive stutis are in a mood of total devotion and self—surrender.

In composing his poem, Manaveda seems to have been inspired by some of his predecessors. The influence of the Gila-Govinda is clearly discernible in the Krsnagiti. On the lines of Astapadi (as the Gita-Govinda came to be referred to in Kerala), Manaveda has divided his story into eight sequences – Avataram, Kaliyamardanam, Rasakrida, Kamasavadham, Svayamvaram, his poem follows the two-tier structure of slokas (narrative link passages) and the literary style, the adoption of the device of direct address to the deity and technical aspects like the choice of metre. The figurative use of languages and the resonant sound pattern, with linguistic devices like alliteration, enhance the literary quality of the text as well as reveal its histrionic potential.


Foreword vii
Introduction xi
Text and Translation
Incarnation (Avataram) 2
Suppression of Kaliya (Kaliyamardanam) 62
The Divine Dance of Rasa (Rasakrida) 116
The Slaying of Kamsa (Kamsavadham) 186
Marriage (Svayamvaram) 224
Battle Witth Bana (Banayuddham) 254
The Slaying of Vivida (Vividavadham) 290
Ascent to Heaven (Svargarohanam) 314
Illustrations 351
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