That mysterious first verse of Gita Govinda

The first verse of the Gīta-govinda has been a source of confusion to scholars and devotees probably since it first appeared. There are a number of problems with it, all of which can be summarized as "it does not fit" what we know about the Radha-Krishna story in any source, Puranic or folk, prior to GG. Moreover, it seems to have little to do directly with the rest of GG.

To begin with, here is the verse:

meghair meduram ambaraṁ vana-bhuvaḥ śyāmās tamāla-drumair
naktaṁ bhīrur ayaṁ tvam eva tad imaṁ rādhe gṛhaṁ prāpaya |
itthaṁ nanda-nideśataś calitayoḥ praty-adhva-kuñja-drumaṁ
rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti yamunā-kūle rahaḥ-kelayaḥ ||1||

Lee Siegel:
The sky is densely clouded, the forest grounds are dark with tamala trees; at night he [Krishna] is afraid. Radha, you alone must take him home. This is Nanda's command, but Radha and Madhava stray to a tree in the grove by the path and on the bank of the Yamuna, their secret love games prevail.

Barbara Stoller Miller:
Clouds thicken the sky.
Tamala trees darken the forest.
The night frightens him.
Radha, you take him home.
They leave at Nanda's order,
Passing trees in thickets on the way,
Until secret passions of Radha and Madhava
Triumph on the Jumna riverbank.

The first observation we need to make about the opening verse of the GG is the similarity that it has to two other verses that have the exact same provenance, namely the court of the Sena kings of Bengal. These two verses are found in the Sad-ukti-karṇāmṛta as well as in Rupa Goswami's own collection, Padyāvali. Like the GG verse, these two both have rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti in the beginning of the fourth quarter of a verse in the śārdūla-vikrīḍita.

Although it is impossible to make any certain conclusions, it would appear to me that this may have been the result of a poetic contest in which certain conditions were set, the concluding line being primary among them. By examining the verses we can see a little more what the conditions would have been.

kṛṣṇa tvad-vanamālayā saha-kṛtaṁ kenāpi kuñjāntare
gopī-kuntala-barha-dāma tad idaṁ prāptaṁ mayā gṛhyatām |
itthaṁ dugdha-mukhena gopa-śiśunākhyāne trapā-namrayo
rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti valita-smerālasā dṛṣṭayaḥ ||
A cowherd child, so young he was still breastfeeding , said, "Krishna, in some forest bower I found this wreath of peacock feathers for a gopi's braid that someone has entangled in your garland of forest flowers. Please take it back." May Radha and Madhava's awkward, smiling and languishing looks, lowered in embarrassment, be ever victorious. (Padyāvalī 202, SKM 1.55.2)
And perhaps even closer in spirit is this one by Keshava Sen, one of Lakshman Sen's sons,

āhūtādya mayotsave niśi gṛhaṁ śūnyaṁ vimucyāgatā
kṣīvaḥ preṣya-janaḥ kathaṁ kula-vadhūr ekākinī yāsyati |
vatsa tvaṁ tad imāṁ nayālayam iti śrutvā yaśodā-giro
rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti madhura-smerālasā dṛṣṭayaḥ
"I invited Radha to a party today. She left the house empty and came here at night and the servants [who accompanied her] are all intoxicated. How can a chaste wife like her go about alone? So, my child, you please take her home." May Radha and Madhava's sweet, smiling, languishing looks, on hearing these words of Yashoda, be ever victorious. (Padyāvalī 206, SKM 1.54.5)
So the theme that clearly runs through the three verses is to have Radha and Madhava be reminded or even given the occasion to make love as a result of statements made by someone unaware of what is going on, in particular the parents.

There are other verses of this kind in the two collections mentioned here, so it appears to have been a popular theme. Another type of verse in the genre would be those that have Krishna as a baby showing some signs of sexual awareness (śaiśave tāruṇyam). So in that vein, it appears that the prima facie reading of the verse is correct. This is Nanda's comment, spoken in ignorance.

Whatever the case, it would seem to me, judging from not only these verses but from many of the others dating from the same period, and even from the same milieu as the above (for which Sad-ukti-karṇāmṛta is a particularly helpful source), that there was a spirited freedom from the letter of the Puranic accounts and that attempts were being made to use the raw material of the Radha-Krishna legends to create rasika poetry in the dhvani style, where the external meaning is deliberately obscure and meant to raise questions, imply contradictions, etc., that will charm the reader.

Those who accept this understanding of the verse generally point to some later Puranas, such as Brahma-vaivarta (BVP), where this theme of Nanda telling an older Radha to take Krishna home is expanded upon.

There are many reasons why we do not accept BVP as an old work. Its language and subject matter all point to a later provenance. Most scholars agree that the story as told there is likely derived from the GG and is intended as an explanation, and not the other way around.

Anyone who is in the habit of reading Sanskrit – or any language for that matter -- comes to recognize linguistic styles. No one would mistake Chaucer or Shakespeare for Hemingway. Nowhere is this more evident than in the difference in language from the classical period, from the end of which the Bhagavata is usually dated, from that of BVP or the heavily interpolated Padma Purana, which come in the late medieval period. So to pretend that these texts are sources for the GG version is just not going to be acceptable.

Jiva Goswami [writing in the latter portion of the 16th century] argues in his commentary to UN 5.10-11 that GG 12.27, since it talks about Lakshmi and her choosing Narayan as her husband, and equates Radha with Lakshmi, there is no possibility of parakīyā being real.

tvām aprāpya mayi svayaṁvara-parāṁ kṣīroda-tīrodare
śaṅke sundari kālakūṭam apiban mūḍho mṛḍānī-patiḥ |
itthaṁ pūrva-kathābhir anya-manasā vikṣipya vakṣo’ñcalaṁ
rādhāyāḥ stana-korakopari-milan-netro hariḥ pātu vaḥ ||
"It seems to me that Shiva drank the ocean of poison because he had become so bewildered after you chose me on the shores of the Milk Ocean and rejected him." By recounting these events from a previous life, Krishna distracted Radha and cast aside the cloth that covered her breast and gazed at the nipples of her breasts. May that Lord Hari protect you. (GG 12.27)
Therefore, Jiva says, in the first verse of the GG "Radha is envisioned as a young girl slightly older than Krishna" (sā śrī-kṛṣṇāt kiñcid eva prauḍhā kumārīti matam). This of course is different from the Brahma-vaivarta version, where Radha is considerably older and Krishna a mere babe. Then when they are alone, Krishna suddenly is transformed into a youth and the two then spend a night of Brahma in various rahaḥ-kelayaḥ.

At any rate, Jiva Goswami accepts the version that Nanda is speaking to a somewhat older unmarried girl when he asks her to take Krishna home. Presumably he would not have asked a married woman to do so. Whichever premise one takes here (i.e., What ages are they? How old is Radha? How old Krishna? Is she married? etc.), the verse only works if Nanda Maharaj is innocent of his facilitating their lovemaking, which presumably he would not do if he was in any way suspicious. Therefore, Jiva Goswami's conclusion does not seem particularly necessary.

Please note also that Jiva Goswami does not cite BVP for support, even though the story as told there leads to a marriage between Radha and Krishna, taking the word "home" from the verse in the way the commentator Kumbhakarna takes it: Gṛha means gṛhiṇī according to the dictum that "A house is not a home, but a wife is what makes a home." (na gṛhaṁ gṛham ity āhur gṛhiṇī gṛham ucyate). So "take him home" means "make him your husband (gṛhiṇīmān).

Hariraya Goswami of the Vallabha sampradaya (17th century) mentions the first verse of GG in his 41 Śikṣā-patra (4.10-11) in the context of Krishna's contradictory qualities (viruddha-dharmāśrayatva). He states that although Krishna is never older than 11 in Vrindavan, he still has pastimes as an adolescent such as the rāsa-līlā. He uses this verse as an illustration of how Krishna's divinity makes such an impossibility possible.

As a side note, Gopishwar, the Brajabhasha commentator, recounts the apocryphal story that Nanda Baba brought 16,000 unmarried girls from Goḍadeśa (Bengal?) to give to King Kamsa, but because they were following the puṣṭi-mārga and wanted to serve his son, he kept them in Braj.

We now turn to three commentaries that reject the prima facie explanation given above. King Kumbhakarna of Mewar is, as far as I know, one of the earliest to comment on GG, though his dates are given as 1433-1468. The other two commentaries are of Caitanya Das, who lived in the first part of the 17th century, and another ascribed to Prabodhananda Saraswati, about which I have some reservations. If indeed Prabodhananda is the author, then this text would be dated to the first half of the 16th century.

Now let us look at Kumbhakarna's commentary. KK is interesting because he appears to be the first to reject the prima facie reading, which he cites and refutes. The salient points of the rejected interpretation, are summarized by Kumbhakarna as follows:
  • Krishna is a fearful and dependent infant who needs to be taken home. (nāyakasya śiśutvena paravaśatvaṁ)
  • Radha is seen as an older woman, a nurse figure. (tasyāś ca dhātrītvaṁ)
  • Nanda is acting as a go-between for their union. (nandasya ca dūtī-karma)
  • The impeti for the erotic mood, namely darkness, clouds, etc. are taken as causes of the fearful rasa (śṛṅgāra-vibhāvānāṁ bhayānaka-hetutvaṁ)
  • All of which contradict the principal mood of the GG (nirūpita-rasasyānyathātvaṁ cāpadyate)
KK's solution is to take the first two lines of the verse to be Krishna's own speech. There is a convention in Sanskrit that out of humility one sometimes talks of oneself in the third person (ayam, imam in this verse); nanda-nideśataś is explained as "away from Nanda." He says there are three meanings for nideśa: speech, order and proximity. He prefers the latter meaning to the second, which is what most people follow.

The word "fearful" should be taken to mean "I am so afflicted by the attacks of loving desire that I am afraid I cannot tolerate it." (bhīrur ity ebhir bhāva-hetubhiḥ smarāhatīḥ soḍhum asamarthaḥ). The clouds and darkness, etc., are thus to be considered uddīpanas for śṛṅgāra-rasa. Since GG is dominated by this rasa, only someone who has misunderstood would interpret the verse in a way that brings Nanda -- who is otherwise irrelevant to the story -- into the picture, for this one and only time. Nanda's presence creates a contradiction in rasas.

Chaitanya Das says that these are a sakhi's words. He takes the word nanda to mean "giving joy." So the sakhi's instruction gives Radha and Krishna joy.

"O Radhe ! At night, meaning on a previous night, Krishna left you and went dancing and singing with other women, and this offense to you has made him afraid. He is fearful that you will think of him as a womanizer who just wants to have every woman love him. This is causing him great suffering so please [forgive him] and take him 'home', i.e., to the flower forest bower. He will there show himself to be completely devoted to you."

CD also adopts the idea that "home" is a hint at lovemaking. He further argues that the conditions, i.e., the darkness of the forest and the clouds, etc., are uddīpanas, and mentioning them has the purpose of saying it is dark and no one will see anything.

Prabodhananda's commentary is the lengthiest and he also quotes KK extensively as an alternative interpretation. He tells the following story: "Once upon a time, in a manner appropriate to the kind of close family relationship that existed between Vrishabhanu and Nanda Maharaj's families, Radha brought Krishna to Barsana to milk their cows. Of course she had the underlying purpose of being with him. Nanda Maharaj happened by at that time and observed that clouds had come and said to Radha with loving anger, 'My dear girl, Radhe, since you brought him here, you take him back home." This is the explanation of the emphatic eva following tvam, which is best translated as "you alone."

Prabodhananda notes that Krishna often milks Vrishabhanu's cows while Nanda Maharaj's cows are milked by Sridama, etc. (śrī-vṛṣabhānor gavāṁ kṛṣṇa-vatsalānāṁ dohanaṁ śrī-kṛṣṇaḥ karoti, bhagavat-priyāṇāṁ śrī-vrajeśvarasya gavāṁ śrīdāmādinā kriyata iti |)

Prabodhananda also remarks that some people read nanda-nideśataḥ as nandani-deśataḥ, claiming that there is a sakhi named Nandani, with deśataḥ meaning instructions. But he says that since no such sakhi is mentioned in any text, it cannot be accepted.

However, he gives another alternative meaning, in which nanda means joy-giving. It is a narmokti or humorous statement. Since such an instruction given by a friend, giving direction to engage in the very activities they desire, would enhance their pleasure. The signs of coming darkness, etc., are seen as incitements to erotic love, especially the clouds are mentioned in 10.21.16 as being Krishna's friends.

So Prabodhananda has accepted all three possibilities: It could be Nanda, a sakhi, or Krishna himself who speaks the words of the first two lines.

More discussion found here.


dr.jaya said…
In Sri Krishna Janma Khanda of Brahma Vaivarta Purana (Sanskrit) of Sri Veda Vyasa, Shri Radha-Krishna-vivaha(The Wedding of Shri Radha-Krishna) is described .. The first opening verse of that chapter is very similar to this verse of Gita Govinda ..
dr.jaya said…
Prior to reciting the Ashtapadis, many artists offer these humble prayers .. paying respects to the Saint Jayadeva. raadhaamanoramaramaavararaasaliila
gaanaamR^itaikabhaNitaM kaviraajaraajam.h .
padmaavatiipriyatamaM praNatosmi nityam.h ..
The enchanting divine sport of Radha and Krishna set to nectarlike music by the king of great poets, the abode of Divine Love in the worship of Madhava, to him, the Darling of Padmavati, I bow daily.
shriigopalavilaasinii valayasadratnaadimugdhaakR^iti
shriiraadhaapatipaadapadmabhajanaanandaabdhimagno.anisham.h ..
loke satkaviraajaraaja iti yaH khyaato dayaambhonidhiH
taM vande jayadevasadgurumahaM padmaavatiivallabham.h ..
O Master of the courtly poets! An epitome of divine grace, who is forever immersed in the ocean of joy of worshipping the lotus feet of the Lord of Radhika, the Paramor Gem encircled by the passionate cowherdesses! ..
My salutations to You, O my Preceptor Jayadeva, the Beloved of Padmavati devi ...
Anonymous said…
Namaskara any comment on the dating of Jayadeva ? have not found any on the blog.

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