|Gitagovinda and Devasthanakala,
a divine correlation in art
by Prabal Pramanik
Human consciousness aspiring to reach the ultimate through self-realization
in terms of devotion finds one of the greatest poetic expressions in Gitagovinda.
Gitagovinda, or the song of Govinda, allows presentation of human feelings of love and
devotion in the light of superhuman joy.
Love is depicted not just as gratification of physical senses but as a medium of
expression in the path of supreme devotion in this poetic form.
Gitagovinda gives an analytical presentation of a devotee's mind in allegorical forms when
depicting the moods of Radha in her Lila with Krishna.
Love that goes much deeper than any sensuous sensation and an adoration that forms a basis
of worship glows with an ardent light illuminating the soul.
Faith of the devotee as depicted by Radha's conviction that Krishna's is her own and that
she is with Krishna in a metaphysical manner even when Krishna is away and in the company
of other gopis is striking in its intensity.
In Rasa-Lila, where allegorically the Lord satisfies each gopi according to her personal
desires, the human feelings are portrayed through divine relationship of Lord and the
These human feelings create an empathy allowing the reader of this poetic form a feeling
of intimacy in a personal manner.
Gitagovinda follows the Vaishnava philosophy of reaching the ultimate from the immediate
utilizing the basic human urges.
The rhythm of this flowing classical poetic form, rich in alliteration, created for
musical presentation, has swayed souls throughout the centuries ever since it was
Easy flow of the "shlokas" emphasizing more on poetic rhetoric than on dry
grammatical craftsmanship enhances the appreciative quality of this literary form.
This poem is written in twelve parts or "Sargas" :-
1. Samodadamodara, 2. Akleshakeshava, 3. Mugdha Madhusudana, 4. Snigdha Madhusudana, 5.
Sakanksha Pundarikaksha, 6. Dhrishta Baikuntha 7. Nagara Narayana, 8. Bilaksha
Lakshmipati, 9. Mugdha Mukunda, 10. Mugdha Madhava, 11. Sananda Govinda, 12. Suprita
Each "Sarga" is emphasizing on a particular mood of the Lord, and
Radha in her devotional aspirations reacting to those moods.
Composed with absolute faith in the apparent and beyond, this poetic form is a
self-realization of the poet.
Although the story of Radha and Krishna was known through some literary works composed
before Jayadeva, most probably he was the first poet to describe this divine relationship
in such a magnitude and significance. Undoubtedly this soulstirring poetic form inspired
many literary expressions created by other poets later and gave Vaishnav philosophy a new
It is interesting to note that there are about forty annotations or "Tikas" of
Gitagovinda and these annotations were composed in different parts of India.
The emotional appeal of Gitagovinda found visual expression in fine miniature paintings of
Rajasthan created at a later age.
The Shlokas of Gitagovinda composed about eight hundred years ago give an idea of the high
mastery of the classical language and rhythm by the poet Jayadeva.
At the end part of Gitagovinda Jayadeva mentions his father Bhojdeva and mother Bamadevi.
From Gitagovinda we also know about Padmavati, his wife, for whom he showed his love by
calling himself "Padmavaticharanacharanachakravarti". We find the name of
"Parashara", Jayadeva's friend, to whom he dedicated Gitagovinda.
Jayadeva also gives in short an estimate of other eminent poets of eastern India
(Umapatidhari, Sharan, Acharya Gobardhan and Dhoyi) in an interesting manner, mentioning
the traits that distinguished these poets in the literary field.
We get a clear idea about Jayadeva's consciousness of the intellectual world in his age
and his own place in it from some shlokas in this literary work. Gitagovinda is meant to
be sung in a flowing melodious way and the presentation is made in such a specific manner.
The intensity of rasa in this poetic form depicts the sensual aspects of pleasure in Love
in a most uninhibited way. In fact this uninhibited manner of depicting sensual pleasure
may not be acceptable to those biased with social prejudices. We must remember, that the
relationship of Radha and Krishna is beyond social taboos and supersedes common earthly
values. Radha's "abhisara" or the allegorical journey of "Sadhaka" in
meditation in the way of "Sadhana" to unite the self with the ultimate in
"Sahasrara" illustrates "Yogasutra" in "Bhaktimarga" or the
path of devotion.
In Gitagovinda sensual pleasure is used as a "dharaka" or a carrier for the
devotional joy that goes beyond the limitations of the cruder sensual feelings.
To the people who are unable to comprehend any aspect of rasa beyond a crude carnal form,
Gitagovinda is only a literary work of sexual appeal, but the real philosophy of the
relationship of the devotee and the Lord unfolds to an understanding and oriented mind.
In Indian culture, we have often found examples of defining metaphysics with physical
allegories in art and literature both.
Beauty, love and sex can be viewed from many different angles depending on the attitude of
the viewer. In Indian literature and art, often allegories of desire have been used as a
medium to a state that transcends all craving through devotion. The devotion that Radha
had for Krishna in a metaphysical unity dissolves the line between the sensual and the
The gap in the time frame makes it difficult for an ordinary 21st century person to
emphasize with the feeling of devotion that is the main creative impulse in this lyric.
Devasthanakala paper cutting art, that was used to depict "Radha Krishna Lila"
for decorating Vaishnav temples during festivals is a medium especially suitable to render
a visual presentation of Gitagovinda. This rare form of art that requires the ability to
cutout complete compositions without the aid of drawings or tracings had been used in
Bengal, Orissa, Mathura and Vrindavan for hundreds of years, depends the intense
concentration of Yogic meditation for its successful execution. The paper cutting art
pieces that I created are made entirely from my imagery and are original compositions
involving rare technological expertise. My Devasthanakala paper cutting forms illustrate
how sensual scenes can be depicted without sexual grossness.
I have a complete set of these art-works that depict the eternal divine love.
This near-extinct decorative oriental art allows the viewer to enjoy the subtle moods of
the Divine "Lila" in a free flowing manner in keeping with the flowing rhythm of
In this aspect, it has been possible to reach a perfect co-relation between the visual and
literary forms of the "rasa" or the emotional entity through the visual
presentation of Gitagovinda in Devasthanakala paper cutting art.
Published in Indian Horizons
Indian Council For Cultural Relations
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