(A look at the Gita Govindam)

Dr. P. P. Narayanaswami

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The title of this article refers to the refraining lines that appear at the end of each of the eight couplets in the second aSTapadi,  

shrita kamalAkuca maNDala dh.rta kuNDala

 kalitalalitavanamAla jaya jayadEva harE

Here, the poet Jayadeva, happily shares one of the names of Lord K.rSNa. What are these aSTapadis?  How many are there?  What are their salient features?  We shall attempt to answer these questions.

ASTapadi, as it is popularly known, is often heard in karNATilk music concerts, in the post pallavi segment, and one such piece is invariably included in all south Indian bhajans. These aSTapadis are not mere songs with eight padas (literally, feet). They form part of gIta gOvindam, a kAvyam, in fact a mahA kAvyam, composed by the saint poet Shri Jayadeva.  It consists of 12 sargams (chapters) comprising of 24 gItams (or aSTapadis) and around 92 highly poetic shlOkams in chaste Sanskrit, sprinkled in between.


In Sanskrit PDF

In diacritical English PDF


The composer is a wandering saint, JayadEva, who calls himself a poet (kavi) at numerous places in this poem (e.g. “jayadEva kavi bhAratI”, “shrI jayadEva kavEridam”). He lived in the 12th century. He was born in a village “kindubilva", which is perhaps the village Kenduli near Puri in Orissa, or Kindubilva in Birbhum district in Bengal. Some authors believe it is a village near Jenjharpur in Mithila. In the last lines of the seventh aSTapadi, in sargam 3, we find a reference to this geographical location:

varNitam jayadEvakEna harEridam pravaNena |

kindubilva samudra sambhava rohiNI ramaNEna ||

In the final sargam of gIta gOvindam, JayadEva states that he was born to  BhOja dEva and rAmA dEvi:

"shrIbhOjadEvaprabhavasya, rAmAdEvIsutashrI jayadEvakasya"

Though he was a wandering minstrel, due to a divine prophecy, he married PadmAvati, and lived as a householder, in the service of Lord JagannAtha. He was a disciple of GOvardhanAcArya. His scholarship in sanskrit was immense, with a powerful diction. He was an eminent writer, who wrote the drama called `prasanna rAghava'' and many other classical work.  But, he is always remembered for the great work, “gIta gOvindam”, which he composed as an ardent devotee, with his heart and soul dedicated to the lotus feet of Lord K.rSNa.

This time frame is soon after saint RAmAnuja preached vaiSNavism in Orissa. King LakSmaNasEna (1179 AD – 1205 AD), who became  a devoted vaiSNavite, was a liberal patron of the Sanskrit language.  JaydEva was  his court poet. In one of the opening shlOkams of gIta gOvindam., JayadEva states that he is in the company of the   scholarly poets, UmApatidhara, SharaNa, GOvardhana and DhOyi, all of whom lived during the same period. The work "sadukti karNAm.rtam" composed by shrIdaradAsa (1205 AD) mentions all these poets, and also includes several shlOkams that are attributed to JayadEva.

Some anecdotes in JayadEva's life

Jayadeva was proficient in vEdic knowledge, and he started the life as an ascetic. In another part of the town, there lived one Devasharma, who prayed to Lord JagannAtha of Puri for a child, promising that his first child would be offered to Lord JagannAtha.  When the beautiful PadmAvati was born, the parents were delighted, but also distraught that they had to offer her to the temple.  But, true to their word, they raised her, and when she came of age, took her to the temple dressed like a bride and offered her to Lord JagannAtha. PadmAvati stayed in the temple that night.  Meanwhile, Lord JagannAtha came in the dream to the chief priest of the temple, and asked him to take PadmAvati to JayadEva living like a hermit on the banks of the river Kinduli, and get her married to him. Next morning DEvasharma took PadmAvati to Jayadeva and narrated the dream.  Though reluctant at first, JayadEva finally yielded to marry Padmavati, since it was the wish of Lord JagannAtha.  JayadEva mentions PadmAvati at several places in gIta gOvindam (example: “padmAvatI caraNa cAraNa cakravartI”). It is said that JayadEva would compose and sing each aSTapadi, and PadmAvati would dance to them at the feet of Lord JagannAtha. The couple lived a long and happy romantic life in the service of Lord JagannAtha.

JayadEva composd gIta gOvindam and offered it to the feet of the Lord.  His patron, King LakSmaNasEna, who has also composed many devotional poems, was a bit jealous  of JayadEva’s fame, ordered that  no one was to sing anything except his  own compositions. The anecdote goes that when the King brought the compositions of himself and JayadEva before Lord JagannAtha, the Lord  chose only the gIta gOvindam as his favourite. Thus, convinced of the superiority of the gIta gOvindam, the King shed his ego and took JayadEva as his spiritual advisor.

The next anecdote is more well-known, and is mentioned in numerous places, including the “vAggEyakAra caritamu” chapter in “Sa”ngIta SampradAya Pradarshini” of SubbarAma DikSitar. This poet JayadEva, was composing the eighth couplet in the nineteenth aSTapadi, and the thought came that he should use the following lines.

smaragaraLa khaNDanam mama shirasi maNDdanam

dEhi pada pallava mudAram

(place your foot on my head – a sublime flower destroying the poison of love)

Hesitating a little, and without writing it down immediately, he handed the tAlapatram (dry palm leaf that was used for writing, during those times) to his wife PadmAvati, oiled his head, and went to the river to take his bath. Soon after, Lord K.rSNa, disguised as JayadEva, came to PadmAvati, with oiled head, got the tAlapatram and the pen, and wrote the very same wording as the one originally occurred to JayadEva, and left. After sometime, JayadEva returned and asked for the tAlapatram. When he was told that he just came a few minutes ago, took the tAlapatram and wrote something, curiously, he looked at it and saw the very same words he had planned to write. He clearly knew it was Lord JagannAtha who must have done this prank. He was overjoyed, and told her “Oh! PadmAvati, the Lord has appeared before you; how can I praise your good fortune?" In  the eighth line of that aSTapadi, he states:

"jayati padmAvatIramaNa jayadEva kavi bhAratIbhaNitamatishAtam"

In the 21st aSTapadi, again, in the last stanza, he wrote:

vihita padmAavatI sukha samAjE

kuru murArE ma"ngaLashatAni

bhaNati jayadEva kavirAjE

(These are the only places in the gItam segment, where he specifically mentions his wife PadmAvati).

There are numerous other stories that are often heard  in the Orissa region, most of them describing some sort of miracles associated with the life of JayadEva, re-affirming his unparalleled devotion to Lord K.rSNa.

Go to Part II >>

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