(A look at the Gita Govindam)

Dr. P. P. Narayanaswami

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<< Read Part I

UttukkADu vE"nkaTakavi's tribute to JayadEva 

UttukkADu venkaTa kavi, the well-known pre-trinity composer, and an ardent devotee of Lord K.rSNa, has showered praise, and paid glorious tribute to JayadEva through his popular composition, “padmAvatI ramaNam” in rAgam pUrvikalyANi.  This k.rti, in simple Sanskrit, essentially summarizes all one has to know about JayadEva and his great contribution, the gIta gOvindam.

padmAvatI ramaNam 

 rAgam: pUrvikalyANi   tALam: tripuTa


  padmAvati ramaNam jayadEva kavirAja

bhOja dEva suta padmapAda smaraNam kuru mAnasa


yad-gOpI vadanEndu pada candra cakOram shrI


  kindubilva sadanam ati ati divya mangaLa vadanam

sundarAnga shubha shObhita madanam

sumukhi rAmAdEvi priyakara sutanum


 saha paNDita samUhasEvyam

shata manmata jita mahanIyam

satata k.rSNa prEma rasamagna

samAna rahita gIta gOvinda kAvyam

 The phrase  “yad gOpI vadanEndu”  in the anupallavi is perhaps a reference to the following popular dhyAna shlOkam on Lord K.rSNa, that is chanted in south Indian bhajans, prior to the rendition of  an aSTapadi or two.

yadgOpIvadanEndumaNDanamabhUt kastUikApatrakaM

yallakSmIkucashAtakuMbhakalashE  vyAgOcamindIvaram |

yannirvANavidhAnasAdhanavidhau siddhA~njanaM yoginAM

tannashyAmaLamAvirastu h.rdayE k.rSNAbhidhAnaM mahaH ||

The popularity of gIta gOvindam

JayadEva’s dramatic lyrical poem, gIta gOvindam is a unique work and one of the finest sources of religious inspiration in medieval and contemporary VaiSNavism.  In Puri, it was already incorporated in the daily temple rituals  for Lord JagannAtha. An inscription in Oriya, carved on the left side of the JagannAtha doorway, and dated 1499 A.D., prescribes these rituals.  Despite its origin in eastern India, it spread throughout India within the next few centuries, and was first quoted in temple inscriptions in Gujarat, within a century. A stone inscription of King  shar”ngadEva vAghEla of Anahillapattan (1291 A.D.) opens with JayadEva’s invocation to K.rSNa on the ten incarnations (first aSTapadi).             In Bengal, the singing of gIta gOvindam is mandatory at the spring fair in the village of Kenduli.  In Nepal, it is sung during the spring celebration in which worship is offered to Lord KAma (cupid) and his consort, Rati. GIta gOvindam forms an integral part of the most important devotional music, saMkIrtanam, in Gujarat, Orissa, Bengal, and all four southern states in India. Rajput paintings, and Kerala dance forms were inspired by gIta gOvindam as early as the sixteenth century. The sOpAnam music of kathakaLi dances in Kerala features selected aSTapadi gItams. Many mystics like Saint Caitanya, and bhakta mIrAbai and a host of others have been profoundly influenced by this love poem. Audiences throughout the world have placed this poetry at a high pedestal with appreciation for the emotional lyricism replete in every verse.  Whether it is heard in the JagannAtha Temple in Puri, or K.rSNa temple in GuruvAyUr, or in a south Indian bhajan, the sensuous imagery of these songs are of a special kind that invoke the madhura bAva (sweetness) and bhakti rasam (devotion) in the minds of every listener.

Synopsis of the plot

The theme of gIta gOvindam is sh.r”:ngaram (erotic), dramatizing the rAsa lIla (sacred love-play) of Lord K.rSNa with the cowherdess RAdha. The agony of separation from a lover (viraha tApam) is predominantly depicted. The entire story takes place during a single night, and only three characters are involved, namely Lord K.rSNa, RAdha, and a sakhi (a chambermaid, who plays the role of a messenger between the hero and heroine).

In the opening sargam, in the first aSTapadi, Lord K.rSNa, the supreme and transcendent Lord of the universe, is praised through his ten avartAras (incarnations).  JaydEva presents the ten forms as: mInasharIra (fish), kacchapa sharIra (tortoise), shUkara sharIra (boar), naraharirUpa (half-man, half-lion), vAmana rUpa (dwarf), bh.rgupatirUpa (parashurAma), haladharartUpa (plowman BalarAma), buddha sharIra ( Buddha),  and kalki sharIta (Kalki).

The story begins with a fine description of the erotic spring season.  K.rSna plays the rAsa lIla with the gOpis, and captivates them with his muraLI gAna (flute music).  His love-plays are then narrated by her companions to RAdha, who was waiting for his coming at the banks of river Yamuna. Separated from K.rSNa due to her jealousy, she recounts the time she was first united with the Lord.  K.rSNa soon becomes disenchanted with other gOpis, and begins to long for RAdha;  The sakhi (friend) then describes RAdha's love-torn agony to him.  K.rSNa requests the sakhi to bring RAdha to him. The anxiety of K.rSNa is conveyed to Radha, and the sakhi asks her to re-join him. But RAdha is too feeble from longing to move. The sakhi returns to K.rSNa  and describe RAdha's sufferings, and  convinces him to go to her. Then, K.rSNA deplays and RAdha laments; When she sees the sakhi without K.rSNa, she feels that Lord is playing with others.  At dawn, finally, K.rSNa arrives, and bows to her feet, but she scolds him in a fit of jealousy.   K.rSNa withdraws, and the friends chide RAdha for her pride and vanity, and once again urge Radha to follow K.rSNa. Then, K.rSNa returns to appease her with loving words and tender flattery.  Finally, RAdha pursues him and is entrapped by his beauty.  K.rSNa beckons her to bed and they reconcile. In the morning, RAdha discheveled from the playful battle of love asks K.rSNa to dress her and re-do her ornaments and makeup and he complies.

The allegorical significance of this story is highly philosophical, and is to be interpreted in a higher plan as follows:  RAdha is the human soul (jIvAtma) and is longing to unite with the supreme Lord (paramAtma) for everlasting bliss. The role of sakhi is to be  viewed as that of a guru who guides the individual soul through the path to supreme knowledge.

The structure of gIta gOvindam

The entire poem is deceptively simple in style and choice of words.  There are 12 sargams (chapters).  Each sargam starts with a few shlOkams, and one or two songs arranged in several couplets and a refraining line to be recited after each couplet.  These songs are known by several names, gItam, prabandham, or aSTapadi, since most (but not all) employ eight couplets.  JayadEva himself calls them "padAvali"s  (madhura kOmala padAvalIMsargam 1).  Since the title of the work is “gIta gOvindam”, it is more appropriate to refer to these songs as gItams. We shall use the terms “gItam”  and “aSTapadi” interchangeably. There are more verses that follow each gItam.  The number of shlOkams vary anywhere from 70 to a maximum of 92, depending on the particular edition we are looking at.

The names of the 12 sargams, and the break-down of the gItams in each chapter  are as follows:




No. of shlOkams


sAmOda dAmOdaram

1, 2, 3, 4



akLesha kEshavam

5, 6



mugdha madhusUdhanam




snigdha madhusUdhanam

8, 9



sAkAMkSa puNDarIkam

10, 11



kuNTha vaikuNTham




nAgara nArAyaNam




vilakSya lakSmIpati




manda mukundam




Catura caturbhujam




sAnanda dAmOdaram




suprIta pItAMbaram







(The number of shlOkams differ in various publications, but the maximum number available is shown above).

The shlOkams  in gIta gOvindam


The Four Opening shlOkams

The work commences with four shlOkams that set the proper mood and atmosphere for the plot.

mEghairmEduram ambaram vanabhuvaH shyAmAH tamAladrumaiH

naktaM bhIrurayaM tvamEva tadimaM rAdhE g.rhaM prApaya |

itthaM nandanidEshashcalitayOH pratyadhvaku~njadrumam

rAdAmAdhavayOrjayanti yamunAkUlE rahaHkElayaH ||1 ||

Meaning:  The sky is thick with clouds; the forest area is dark with the tamAla trees; the night frightens him (K.rSNa); Oh RAdha! you take him home; This is the command from Nanda.  But, RAdha and MAdhava stray to the tree on the banks of river Yamuna, and their secret love sport prevails.

This is one of the most debated verses, with conflicting commentaries and interpretations of the exact meaning of the phrase “nanda nidEshita”. One commentator has devoted an entire chapter explaining the meaning of this particular shlOkam!

In the second verse, which serves as a colophon to the work, the author provides an introduction of himself:


padmAvatIcaraNacAraNacakravartI |


EtaM karOti jayadEvakaviH prabandham || 2 ||

Meaning: The poet JayadEva, the wandering bard, who is an abode of thoughts elaborated by the deeds of the  Goddess of speech (Sarasvati), who is at the feet of  PadmAvati, composes this great work comprising of the tales of the love plays of shrI and vAsudEva.

Then the poet goes on listing a host of talented scholars in whose company he is penning this work, thus assuring us of the superior quality of his work.

vAcaH pallavayatyumApatidharaH sandarbhashuddhiM giram

jAnItE jayadEva Eva sharanaH shlAghyO durUhUdrutE |

sh.r"ngArOttara satpramEyaracanairAcAryagOvardhana-

spardhI kOpi na vishrutaH shrutidharO dhOyI kavikSmApatiH || 3 ||

Meaning: Umapatidhara is eloquent and blossoms with speech; Sharana is famous for his subtle flowing verses; but only JayadEva knows the regular coherence of divine words;  no one rivals AcArya Govarddana for compositions that are in erotic mood and sacred truth; And DhOyI is the king of poets.

The poet, then declares that he is going to commence the composition, and prescribes the necessary qualifications to read the work: 

yadi harismaraNE sarasaM manO

yadi vilAsakalAsu kutUhalam |

madhura kOmala kAnta padAvalIM

shruNU tadA jayadEva sarasvatIM  || 4 ||

Meaning: If your mind is passionate in remembering Hari, if it is curious about the amorous plays, then listen to the speech of JayadEva, in the sweet tender loving string of verses

Go to Part III >>

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