Thursday, July 28, 2011

Geeta Govinda

--Its Historical Association with the Puri Jagannatha Temple.

Several saints have been born all over the world who have established through their living examples that the Divine could be attained in this very life itself through the Path of Love [Prema Marga] in the form of devotional mysticism. The basis for this philosophy is the relation between the Jeevatma [Individual Soul] and the Paramatma [Supreme Being]. This is possible, however, if only one looks beyond worldly relationships. The lives of saints like Tyagaraja, Purandaradasa, Andal, Meera etc are a few illustrative examples. Jayadeva, the creator of the immortal love lyric in Sanskrit ‘Geetha Govinda’ [also known as Ashtapadi] belongs to this category of saints.

Jayadeva who belongs to the 12th century A.D. was born in a small village called Kindubilva in West Bengal. He was almost the front runner in the Bengal Vaishnava School of Bhakti Movement. He therefore took up Divine Love as the main topic of his poem Geetha Govinda. The composition contains no dialogue in the sense that all the three characters involved namely Radha, Krishna and a Sakhi [Friend] are engaged mostly in monologue. In order to depict Divine Love, Jayadeva has chosen the two main characters as Radha and Krishna. Radha symbolizes Jeevatma [Individual soul] and Krishna represents Paramatma [Supreme Being]. This love is explained by the fact that God cannot remain alone and he wants companionship. He therefore creates the male and the female. He makes Himself the lover and the soul as His beloved. With a view to making this concept better understood and appreciated, He prepares a stage for the meeting of the lovers---seeking of the bridegroom by the bride--- which results in a spiritual message and communion. As the course of love is never smooth, the scene necessarily includes a lot of suffering and sacrifice on the part of the lovers such as the pangs of separation.

The concept of explaining Divine Love in the form of a dialogue between a bride and a bridegroom is not confined to India alone. The famous American philosopher
R.W.Emerson says “God is the bride and bridegroom of the soul. Heaven is not the paring up of the two but the communion of the souls”. Throughout the ages mystics from various countries have given expression to their yearnings of love as a bride to the bridegroom and have sought possession of Him. In our own Vedantic tradition we address the Sun God who gives us light and life as the husband of the universe as a spouse. Our own Krishna Bhaktas like the Alwars, Andal, Meera etc have spoken of God as a lover. St.John said “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God and God in him: He that dwelleth not, knoweth no God for God is love”.

The Geetha Govinda is traditionally associated with the Puri Jagannatha Temple where it is still rendered in the form of a dance with all the abhinayas, as it was originally done by Jayadeva and his dancer wife Padmavathi. A well-known treatise on ‘Temple Archives of Lord Jagannatha’ says that one Narasimha Deva, belonging to the Ganga dynasty and ruling over Orissa in the 12th century , was the first person to introduce singing of the Geetha Govinda in the service of Lord Jagannatha. Another king of the same dynasty by name Kamarnava Deva who succeeded him, it is said, would not touch even a drop of water without hearing the Geetha Govinda being recited in front of the Lord. It is therefore amply clear that the Puri Jagannatha Temple has always held the Geetha Govinda in high esteem and reverence. Moreover, the royalty always gave its attention and patronage to the singing of Geetha Govinda.

According to the Treatise, the royal dynasty clearly defined the rituals and services to the Lord along with the specific duties to be performed by the various personnel engaged for the various services to the Deity. The functionaries were called Sevakas and their rights, duties and privileges were clearly codified. The Sevakas belonged to different castes and were all more or less equal in importance in relation to the Lord They were interdependent and were mutually connected by a vast network of rituals and services. As the worship of the Lord was conducted by as many as 36 different communities, it was termed as ‘Chhatisa Niyoga’ [Niyoga means collective service]

For quite a few centuries, in spite of national and political calamities, the mode of worship continued as originally prescribed. Subsequently when Orissa came under the Mughal rule, the Puri Temple was subjected to many assaults by the Muslims. As a result, the deities had to be shifted many times to a place of safety in the nearby dark forest and then brought back. Occasionally they had to be buried underground for protection from these invaders. During these days of external aggression, the usual rituals and services were suspended till the threat of aggression ceased. After the Marathas conquered Orissa in 1751, they restored the services and rituals to Lord Jagannatha as originally performed.. They also appointed officials to supervise the day to day conduct of worship to Lord Jagannatha.

In 1803 Orissa [including Puri] came under British rule. An English officer by name Mr.C.Grom was appointed as an officer to look after the administration of the Puri Temple. He has prepared a report on the temple which speaks of 36 distinct units of service to the Lord to be performed every day and to be managed by a contingent of 250 persons. In this list of elaborate services and rituals, specific mention has been made about the recital of the Geetha Govinda before the sanctum accompanied by the dance of the Devadasi attached to the temple. The temple Devadasis were treated as employees of the state and were granted all rights and privileges meant for royal officers. This practice of engaging the services of the Devadasis in the temple had been started right from the days of the Ganga dynasty in the 12th century who initiated the system of worship.

As a digression it may be noted that Tantric texts like Tantra Sara and Siddha Yamala list as many as 64 ‘Upacharas’[ services to God] to be done to the deity every day in all major temples. One among the 64 services is ‘Nartana and Geetha Vadya’ [presenting music and dance]. The Devadasis were engaged in the temples for this specific service. Tradition has it that Devadasis were engaged even when the Puri Temple was built and consecrated by Raja Indradyumana thousands of years ago. According to Mrinalini Sarabhai, well-known dancer of the country:
“When the great Temple of Puri was being built, Raja Indradyumna sent a special invitation to Brahma to inaugurate the temple. With Brahma came many other deities as also the celestial dancers Urvashi and Rambha. During the consecration and installation of Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subahdra, who were carried in three beautiful
chariots, musicians sang while the Apsara women danced. Dancers attached to the Puri temple trace their heritage to these two heavenly dancers who brought the dance to the earth. The dancers were called ‘Maharis’ and according to tradition when the Lord was offered the Naivedya during the pooja time, it was only the dancer and her Pakhwaj player [Pakhwaj is a wooden musical instrument similar to Mridangam] who were entitled to be present along with the Raja Guru who represented the king.”

With the advent of the British rule in India, they codified the service details of the Puri Jagannatha Temple in1803 and the singing of Geetha Govinda to the accompaniment of dance was recognized as an indispensable phase of worship. The Geetha Govinda was sung every evening in the inner shrine called ‘Jaya Vijaya Dwara’. The Devadasis were called Maharis and their dance was called ‘Mahari Dance’ which in course of time evolved into Odissi dance.

After the Government of Orissa passed the ‘Sri Jagannatha Temple Act-1956’
all the ritual services to the Lord have been brought into the zone of legal jurisdiction. According to the provisions of this Act, there are now 119 Services which have been specified and which includes the singing of Geetha Govinda.

As a lyrical devotional poetry of the highest caliber, Geetha Govinda’s contribution to literature is in the shape of a dance drama of rare quality. It has also brought credit to the institution of Devadasis in which girls were dedicated to the temples as wedded to the Lord for performance of dance and singing music in temples. Even though the institution of Devadasis had started much earlier, it nevertheless lacked taste and grace till the advent of Geetha Govinda. Thereafter the popularity of the services of the Devadasis went to such an extent that Natyamandirs [Stages for temple dances] became an integral part of temple architecture

From the point of view of inspiration and expression, Geetha Govinda retains its own unique position in Sanskrit literature even after 800 years of its composition. Its appeal has always been three-dimensional namely poetry, music and spiritual content. Even from the point of literary musical and dramatical aspects, Geetha Govinda is an exceptionally popular composition. No wonder many critics have called it a ‘Prabandha Kavya’.


Article No.549--Geetha Govinda of Jayadeva--Its HistoricalAssociation with the Puri Jagannatha Temple.
Created: Friday, January 8, 2010 8:22 PM


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