Gita Govinda

The Gita Govinda, a lyrical epic or epical lyric, by Shri Jayadeva, a Sanskrit poet of the last quarter of the twelfth century, is a poem with a unique and far different significance in entire Indian literature, before or after. Not merely a piece of writing, the Gita Govinda was an instrument that completely revolutionised, or rather re-vitalised, Vaishnavism, which encumbered by inner conflict of different Brahmanical sects . Instead of metaphysical dogmatism, the Gita Govinda discovered Vaishnavism in love, devotion and absolute submission, the instruments that dispelled duality and led the self to unite with the Supreme Self Krishna the Supreme Cowherd

What the Gita Govinda presented was a completely changed perception of Vaishnavism. It neither looked for a divine aura nor for a monarchical frame, which had so far defined its Vaishnava God or even Krishna as one of the Vaishnava incarnations. Jayadeva had seen that Indian kingship, once possessed of divine aura, was unable to sustain against Islamic onslaught and was fast waning. Maybe, he hence thought it better to separate his God from this monarchical frame and let Him be one like masses. This not only humanised Him but also turned an abstract concept into a living reality that one could feel and realise. The Gita Govinda hence wove its theme around Krishna, its hero, who it conceived as a humble cattle-grazing cowherd, very much like others, and enshrined in him Vaishnava Godship. This transformed Vaishnavism into a thing of masses.

Contrary to Puranic position, the Gita Govinda attributes all Vaishnava incarnations to Krishna, not Vishnu. Here Krishna is seen as the prime manifestation of God incarnating in various forms. Each incarnation has a specific role but Krishna hasn’t any, not even his crusade against evil forces.

He is realised in love and in his love reveals the supreme good; all fetters break and the loved one unites with him in absolute oneness. In a sense, Gita Govinda is a broad metaphor, which reveals in sensuous love the factum of spiritual unity. Initially, Krishna loves his favoured one, Radha. Later, he makes love with others reaching him. Radha, the favoured one, separated from him, is annoyed for his infidelity but her longing to unite with him is endless. Krishna realises the wrong he did to Radha who has always loved him. Repentant he meets her and the two unite in perpetuity.

Metaphorically, Krishna is the Supreme Self and Radha, the individual. Initially they are one, but in the course of time separated from each other. The individual self’s longing to unite with the Supreme Self is incessant. However, they unite only when it pleases the Supreme Self. This sums up Vaishnavism. Anything beyond it is irrelevant. In simultaneity to its deep philosophical meaning and theistic thrust, the Gita Govinda is endowed with a very high level of lyricism and sensuality.

About Odissi

Odissi dance is a 2000 year old continuous Indian classical dance tradition.    Spirituality being at the core of Indian art. Evolved out of spiritual passions, art in India has gone hand in hand with religious movements since time immemorial. Be it sculpture, architecture, painting, dance or music. The theme of the art is rooted in the spiritual. The theme is as much spiritual as aesthetic.

This unbroken tradition of pleasing the divine to attune ones higher self to devotion has been done through music and dance. The history of odissi dance has floated on the waves of different religious movements throughout time. Each phase has brought something new and innovative.

Odissi is a classical dance style which traces its origins to the 2nd century BC in the eastern shores of India, now called Orissa.

It was performed as a daily ritual by the Maharis (temple dancers) before the images of gods. The tradition reached its pinnacle between the 12th and the 16th century AD. Invasions into Orissa sparked off the beginning of its decline. However, a tradition of Gotipuas (young pre puberty boys dressed as women) nevertheless continued. Music, literature and grammar were passed from mother to daughter, guru to disciple.

It was only after India’s independence in 1947 that Odissi as we know it today came into its own. Elements were culled from the mahari and gotipua traditions, temple sculpture and ancient texts and painstakingly recreated and redefined

The matter of interest in the details of all above is the complete marriage of Gitagovinda with the  odissi dance form. It was in the 16th century itself that it was made compulsory to have the gitagovinda as the only literary text to be danced and sung in the Jagannath temple in Puri. It has been an ongoing continued tradition to this day.


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