Sunday, September 01, 2013

The five essential verses of Gita Govinda (Intro)

I have written a great deal about the Gīta-govinda on this blog, but mostly bits and pieces without a coherent argument. Or at least, the argument has been expressed repeatedly but without being fully defended with evidence. So I am in the process of doing so now.

The general thesis is this: Prior to Rupa Goswami there are a number of different strands of the Radha-Krishna lila tradition. According to Krishnadas Kaviraj, who states it several times in his Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was particularly fond of five devotional works or authors through which he relished the rasas of bhakti to Krishna. To these five of course should be added the Bhāgavata itself.

caṇḍīdāsa, vidyāpati, rāyera nāṭaka-gīti,
karṇāmṛta, śrī-gīta-govinda
svarūpa-rāmānanda-sane, mahāprabhu rātri-dine,
gāya, śune — parama ānanda
Night and day, in the company of Swarup Damodar and Ramananda Ray, Mahaprabhu would sing or listen to the songs of Chandidas, Vidyapati, the musical play of Ramamananda (Jagannātha-vallabha), Karṇāmṛta, and Gīta-govinda (CC 2.2.77).
Of these, Chandi Das, Vidyapati and Gīta-govinda are only singled out in one other place, while the Gīta-govinda is mentioned specifically a total of six times in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (2.2.77, 2.10.115, 3.13.79, 3.15.83, 3.17.6, 3.17.62)

vidyāpati, caṇḍīdāsa, śrī-gīta-govinda
ei tina gīte karā'na prabhura ānanda
Vidyapati, Chandidas, and Gīta-govinda, the songs of these three brought great joy to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. (2.10.115, Cf. 3.17.6 which is similar)
And in one or two places, the Gīta-govinda is specially mentioned.

kṣaṇeke prabhura bāhya haila, svarūpere ājñā dila,
"svarūpa, kichu kara madhura gāna"
svarūpa gāya vidyāpati, gīta-govinda-gīti,
śuni' prabhura juḍāila kāṇa
After some time, the Lord returned to consciousness and he ordered Swarup Damodara, "Sing me a sweet song." The Swarup Damodar sang Vidyapati and the songs of the Gīta-govinda, giving satisfaction to the Lord's ears.  (3.17.62)
Although we have no reason to disbelieve Krishnadas's attestation of Mahaprabhu's pleasure in these works, none of his other biographers has mentioned these non-scriptural works and authors at all, what to speak of with such insistence and emphasis. I think that it can thus be assumed that Krishnadas is doing more than simply stating Mahaprabhu's love for them: he is underscoring these texts as sources of the rasa philosophy that Rupa Goswami promulgates in his two great works, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (BRS) and Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi (UN). And of the texts mentioned, it is no accident that the Gīta-govinda is mentioned more than any other.

The immediate place to begin in assessing Rupa Goswami's debt to the Gīta-govinda is by examining the various direct quotations from Jayadeva's work in his two treatises on bhakti-rasa. There are 19 such quotes, of which I am going to say that five should be considered particularly significant, to the point that I will call them the five essential verses of GG.

Here I would rather like to go off on a tangent, but will only do so briefly. Of the other four texts named as non-Puranic or non-scriptural sources of Rupa Goswami's formulation of madhura-bhakti-rasa, only the Sanskrit works are quoted. Chandidas and Vidyapati, writing in Bengali and Maithili respectively, are not quoted. I have discussed Chandidas extensively on this blog in an attempt to see what elements of his work did creep into Rupa Goswami's writings, and it seems to principally belong to the realm of certain narrative motifs, particularly the dāna-līlā. But it is my contention that GG has a much more significant influence, and that in particular will be demonstrated through these five verses.

The principal reason for this is that Rupa Goswami was engaged in a Sanskritizing project. In fact, to build his devotional rasa doctrine, three different streams needed to be synthesized. These are the folk or vernacular tradition, of which Chandidas is the most important, the religious or Puranic traditions of which the Bhāgavata is by far the most important, and the classical Sanskrit rasika or nāṭya-śāstra tradition. In this article, we are taking Gīta-govinda as the most influential work in this latter category, recognizing Jayadeva had already taken steps to fusing the devotional and the classical traditions.

The first of these would have been the non-scriptural popular folk performances exemplified by Chandidas, which was a vibrant rasa experience as found in the less educated village communities. Chandidas would also, it seems to me to be part of the vanguard of an emergent vernacular literature in Bengal. Although some lines of influence can be drawn from the GG to Chandidas, their ways have parted sufficiently, i.e., Chandidas is not interested in kāvya-śāstra orthodoxy, for them to be considered distinct and separate.

The second stream would have been the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (BhP), an important catalyst in these developments. [In my view] BhP was a late entry to the scene, probably being popularized only after Sridhar Swami had written his commentary and translations into Bengali started to be produced. Maladhara Basu's translation of the Bhāgavata's 10th book, Śrī-kṛṣṇa-vijaya, which according to Kaviraj, Chaitanya knew (CC 2.15.99-100), was completed just before Chaitanya's birth in the last quarter of the 15th century.

Now the third strand that goes into Rupa Goswami's imagining of Radha and Krishna, is the classical Sanskrit tradition. Here Gita-govinda is the principal link that connects classical portrayals of madhura-rasa to a particularly stylized portrayal of the Radha Krishna story. This is a new Radha Krishna myth that is substantially different from the BhP and at the same time less earthy, more sanitized and archetypal than Chandidas's Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana.

First of all, the structure of GG is based on a classical trope originally found in Bharata's Nāṭya-śāstra (22.211-217), that of the eight nāyikā avasthās, a cycle of eight states through which the heroine experiences a gamut of emotions in relation to her lover. In all probability there would have been works of this sort in the classical period that are now lost, as these avasthās form a natural dramatic flow, and each avasthā its own unique collection of tropes, but the GG is the only one of its sort that survives. So in GG, which itself seems to be indebted to folk traditions of its time also, Jayadeva invests his considerable poetic and musical skills to marry classical Sanskrit themes to the Radha Krishna story by reshaping it according to the cycle of eight states of the heroine into a new myth of Radha and Krishna.

The eight stages are as follows:

1. abhisārikā:  the heroine goes to the trysting place to meet her lover;
2. vāsaka-sajjā: she dresses and decorates the bower where they are to meet;
3. utkaṇṭhitā: her anxiety increases as his arrival is delayed;
4. khaṇḍitā: her anger when his infidelity is exposed;
5. vipralabdhā: her suffering as the quarrel separates them;
6. kalahāntaritā: remorse and forgiveness;
7. proṣita-bhartṛkā: when the lover is separated and far away,
8. svādhīna-bhartṛkā: when the heroine's lover is totally dependent on her.

Of these eight situations, only the seventh is not applicable in GG, though it finds a place in most other accounts of Radha and Krishna, including those of BhP and Chandidas. We will try to show in the course of this article how the eight heroine cycle takes the form of a powerful myth of divine love that is the principal source of Rupa Goswami's vision of the Divine Couple.

Rupa Goswami's quotes of GG

Jayadeva himself did not write a treatise on the subject on madhura-rasa, or on bhakti, etc. Although he takes the clear position at the beginning of GG, seeing Krishna as the source of all the avataras (rather than Vishnu), we do not have a clear understanding of his theology. Rupa Goswami would have had to draw his conclusions entirely from the implications of the GG text.

The immediate place to begin in assessing Rupa Goswami's debt to the Gīta-govinda is to examine the various direct quotations from Jayadeva's work in his own theoretical works on bhakti-rasa. There are nineteen such quotes, of which five can be considered particularly significant. Three taken from the early portions of GG are found in the brief summary of madhura-rasa given in BRS (3.5); the other two are in UN, both taken from the 12th and last chapter of GG. The other fourteen quotes are mostly in the context of uddīpanas, sāttvikas, anubhāvas and vyabhicārīs, which are pretty much neutral where bhakti-rasa and rasa theory are concerned.

The five verses that we will focus on in this article are significant for their role in giving Rupa's work on madhura-rasa its particular orientation. This can also be shown by the very position of these verses in both Rupa's work and in the Gīta-govinda itself.

When introducing the subject in BRS, the first verse Rupa quotes is GG 1.48. Moreover, the same verse comes at the end of the first chapter of GG, where it plays the important role of summarizing the introduction and setting the scene for the action that is to follow.

The very last verse Rupa quotes at the conclusion of his dissertation at end of UN (15.256) is also taken from GG (12.14). So the first and last verses quoted in his entire lengthy discussion of madhura-rasa come from GG.

The concluding verse of the GG story (12.27) describing Radharani as the svādhīna-bhartṛkā is also included in this group of five verses.

From this it seems as though Rupa Goswami has used quotes from GG to form bookends for his work on madhura-rasa, and similarly by putting verses from both the beginning and end of Jayadeva's work in his analysis of the subject, he is highlighting a kind of mutual inclusiveness of the two works.

The two other verses also play significant and pivotal role in Rupa Goswami's understanding and organization of the līlā, picking up on he basic originality of the GG story, as well as the roles of Krishna and Radha respectively.

Verse 1: Krishna, the Embodiment of the Erotic Rasa
Verse 2: Krishna, the Lover of Radha
Verse 3: Radharani's māna
Verse 4: Radha, the empress of love.
Verse 5: Rasa-niṣpatti.


Anonymous said...

Radhe Radhe!

Thanks for this wonderful article Jagat-ji.

Perhaps it's my browser, but it appears that one section was not completed or is not displaying properly. It concerns the paragraph early in the essay ending, "In fact, to build his devotional rasa doctrine, three different streams needed to be synthesized. These are the folk tradition, the Bhagavata…" It seems that third item is not listed.

Please disregard if it is an issue on my end. Thanks just the same.

Best regards,

Anonymous said...


you might be interested in this new translation of the Gita Govinda