Gita Govinda Kavyam, a lyrical dance drama composed in simplified Sanskrit by celebrated poet Jayadeva of Orissa in the twelfth century, is regarded as a unique phenomenon in the annals of world literature. Outwardly it describes the love, separation, longing and union of Radha and Krishna, the cosmic duo, in the mystical forest of Vrindavan, along the bank of river Yamuna. Metaphysically, it connotes the yearning of the individual soul (Jivatma) for the mystical union with the divine soul (paramatma).

The spiritual essence, mystical imports, sensual overtones, aesthetic depictions and lyrical fluidity of Gita Govinda have bewildered scholars, mystified saints, enlightened devotees and have involved people at large emotionally and sentimentally. It has, over centuries, influenced religious faith and beliefs, culture and traditions, literature and poetics, music and dance forms and has inspired creativity in the form of art, architecture, painting and sculpture.

Singing of Gita Govinda as a devotional song, before Deities in temples and religious shrines has been traditionalized for centuries. It used to be the main topic for singing and dancing by Devadasis in the Jagannath temple at Puri. All classical dance forms in India include some astapadis of Gita Govinda in their repertoire for enactment and expression of sentiments (bhava). The dramaturgy and poetics in Gita Govinda have been skillfully crafted to touch the innermost core of heart and inspire noblest emotions.

One of the unique features of Gita Govinda Kavyam is the skillful depiction of the tangible and intangible elements of nature as stimulants (uddipana bibhava) in effecting change of emotions, sentiment and psyche of characters, and in developing the theme. Jayadev has referred to about forty species of plants (trees, shrubs, herbs, climbers and aquatics) which produce colourful flowers, besides mountains, forests, animals, birds, reptiles, beetles, river, lake, sky, clouds, rainbow, lightening, sun, moon, stars, darkness, etc. in describing the aesthetic landscape and as mood setters in expressing feelings.

Depiction of natural environment

In the introductory verse of Gita Govinda, Jayadeva has used the elements of nature as a backdrop to initiate the drama and to indicate the form and content of the Kavyam.

“Megheir meduram ambaram banabhubah Shyamah tamala drumeir Naktam viruhu ayam tumeba tadimam Radhe ! gruham prapaya It/mm Nanda nidesatab chalitayoh Pratyaddhua kunja drumam Radha Madhavayorjayanti Jamuna Kule Rahah kelayah”

[Nanda tells Oh Radha! the sky is covered with smooth black clouds, the forest of Tamala trees presents a blue hue, it is dark, to which my cowardice son is afraid of. Please guide him to reach home. With this direction from Nanda, Radha guided Madhava and enroute preceded to quite bowers, amidst dense trees, at the bank of river Yamuna and in the loneliness, they sported in mystically ecstatic dalliance. Let their mystic dalliance be victorious.]

Smooth dark clouds, dense forest, quiet bowers, river bank (cool breeze), lonely place, dark night, all these elements of nature are considered as stimulants of loving feelings (sringar rasa), which played upon Radha and Madhava.

Depictions of elements influencing emotions

In developing the theme, Jayadev has selected Spring season as the time for enactment of the drama, when nature becomes vibrant with a fresh countenance, bedecked with blossoms of colours and gets loaded with nectarous essence that emit a variety of fragrance, scent, perfume and aroma. Soothing wild sounds and pleasant movements pervade the air. In the transcendental drama, these elements influence emotions and trigger desire for enjoyment. The following verses of Gita Govinda are a few examples.

“Lalita labariga lata parisilana komala Malaya samire Madhukara nikara karambita kokila kujita kunja kutire Biharati Hari ha sarasa basante Nrutyatiyubatijanena samam sakhi birahijanasya durante”

[The cool southerly mountain breeze softly embraces the pleasant vines of Labanga lata (Quamoclit sp.) and carries its aroma to all beings. In the creeper huts, hum the honeybees and cry the cuckoos, filling the forest with melodious sound. In this spring season, when the blooms and fragrance of flowers arouse the senses in all beings, Hari dances with the young women and sports with them. It is a cruel time for those staying away from the loved ones.]

The description of cool breeze embracing vines symbolically depict the embrace of Nayaka and Nayika and the melodious wild sounds and aroma as stimulants to arouse mood.

“Mrugamada sourabha rabhasa basambada naba dala mala tamale yubajana hrudaya bidarana manasija nakharuchi kinsuka jale”

[The fresh leaves of Tamala (Garcenea sp.) emit aroma, that fills the air, like the scent of deer musk. The red Kinsuk (Flame of the forest) with it spiked blossoms, tear at the young hearts, like the nails of Manasija (God of love).]

Red colour symbolically denotes the heat of mind (kama) and aroma triggers the heat.

“Madan Mahipati kanaka danda ruchi keshar kusuma bikase Mi//ta si/imukha patali pata/a kruta smara truna vilashe”

[Madana (The god of love), rules this earth in spring season and like the golden rod of the decorative umbrella over his head, blooms Keshara kusuma (Mesua ferrea) with its saffron flower pistils. The Silimukha (black beetles) sit on the yellow Patali (Trumpet flowers – sterospermum suaveolense) to suck honey, which appear like the arrow heads in the quiver of Smara (God of love)]

“Bigalita lazzita jagadabalokana taruna karuna kruta hase Birahi nikuntana kunta mukhakruti ketaki danturitashe”

[Intense mood has caused all beings to abandon shyness. Looking at their plight, the tender buds of trees bloom into laughter. Ketaki (Pandanous sp.) has spiked its blossom like spears, to wound the deserted lovers.]

“Madhavika parimala Lalite naba malati jati sugandhau Munimanasampi mohanakarini taruna karana bandhau”

[The strong scent of the flowers Madhavi, Malati Jati (Hiptage sp. and Jasmine sp.) etc. pervade the air, enchanting, even the meditating hermits (Munis), who feel again the passion of intimate bonds of youth, which they had abandoned.]

Jayadeva has gradually effected the change of colour and smell through the verses cited above. The red of Kinsuka (Flame of forest) has been replaced by the saffron of Nagakeshar (Mesua ferrea), dull yellow of Patali (Sterospermum suaveolense), bright yellow of Ketaki (Pandanous sp.) and finally by the white of Madhavi, Malati, Jati (Hiptage and Jasmine sp.). The aroma has been changed to perfume, to fragrance, to strong scent. Simultaneously he has indicated gradual transition of emotion from the red heat of Kama to brightness and peace of mind through pink, yellow and white.

“Spuradati mukta lata pan rambhana mukulita pulakita chute Vrindavana bipina parisara parigata Yamunajala pute”

[The mango tree has bloomed with pleasure, due to the firm embrace and entwining of the freely swinging and trembling vines of Madhavi lata. The forest areas of Vrindavan has been consecrated with the waters of Yamuna, where dances Hari].

Both sensuous and sacred aspects have been hinted here which have significant impact on human emotions and psyche. The embrace (Panirambhana) of creeper and tree symbolizes the unrestraint (Mukta) embrace of lovers (Nayak and Nayika) which result in blooming of pleasure (Mukulita and pulakita), a step in the path of achieving supreme bliss (Paramananda). The tremble or horripilation (romance) depicts the “sattvik bhava”. This could be attained at a sacred (Puta) place like Vrindavana, where meanders river Yamuna, with holy waters, which are means for salvation.

Depiction of transcendental affection

“Dura vidalita malli balli chanchat paraga Prakatati pata baseir basayan kananani Iha hi dahati cheetah ketaki gandha bandhuh Prasara dasama bana prana bad gandha baha”

[The strongly scented pollen dust, emanating from the partly bloomed Maui balli (Jasmine sp.), permeate the air, filling the forest with fragrance. The cool mountain breeze (gandha baha), a friend of Ketaki scent and the soul of the arrow of Kamadeva (God of love), blows here and burns the minds of deserted lovers.

After highlighting the stimulant effects of colour and fragrance, in the verses cited above, Jayadeva touches upon the delicate pollen dust (Paraga), a stronger stimulant, which evokes the Bibhavas of Bipralambha Sringar (aspects of the agony of separation).

“Unmilana madhu gandha Iubdha madhupa byadhuta chutankura Kridata kokila kakali kalakalei rudgima karnajwara niyante pathike katham kathamapi dhyana badhana khyana prapta prana sama samagama rasoullashei rami basara”

[In spring time, with numerous plants in bloom, the smell of honey permeate the air, which attract wanton bees. With their frisky touch, in sucking honey, quiver and sway the mango inflorescences. The cuckoos crowd the trees, feast upon the tender buds and sing with joy in the melodious fifth note. The revelry of cuckoos, cause a fevered state, in the ears of the lonely travelers and arouse the sweet memory of their beloved ones. They spend the days, meditating upon the pleasure of intimate moments, they had enjoyed back home with their sweet hearts.]

When the springtime re-emerges after a long gap of one-year, the lowly creatures, bees and cuckoos, get the chance of union with their cherished subjects, the blossoms and buds, for whom they had awaited eagerly.

Depictions of aesthetic panorama

“Adyotsanga basat bhujanga kabala kieshadi besa chalam Praleya plabane chhayanusarati shrikhanda sailanilah kin cha snigdha rasala mauli mukula nyalokya harsodaya dunmilanti kuhuh kuhuriti kalottalaha pikanam girah”

[The southerly breeze, blowing from the sandal wood mountains, proceeds to Himalayas with the desire to bathe in the snow caps, to get rid of the pains of poison, emitted continuously to it, by the serpents, residing in the hollows of large sandal wood trees.

The cuckoos revel joyously at the appearance of delicate buds and blooms of inflorescence aver the head of mango trees.]

In this verse, Jayadeva presents a picture of the geographical landscape of India, from the mountainous peninsular region, rich in sandal wood forest, the Gangetic plains, rich in mango groves, to the snow capped Himalayan peaks in the north.

By referring to elements of nature like sandal wood mountains (cool scented breeze), snakes and suffering of pain (due to poison), snow (coolant), delicate buds of mango and reveling of cuckoos (onset of Spring), Jayadev symbolically hints at the state of mind of separated souls in the mode of vipralambha sringar.

“Duralokab soka stoka stabaka naba kashoka kalika bikashah kasaropabana pabariopi byathayati Api bhramyad bhrungi ranita ramaniya na mukula Prasuti schutanam sakhi sikharaniyam sukhayati.”

[With intense agony due to separation from Krishna, Radha tells Sakhi, that a simple glance at the Ashoka (Saraca indica) tree, takes away the pains of separation (Virahajwala). But now looking at its freshly bloomed flower bunches, only intensifies my pain, as does the cool breeze, blowing form the forests surrounding the lake. The soothing hum of wanton bees, sucking honey from the blooms at the top of mango trees, gives me pleasure neither.]

It is Jayadev’s unique way of presenting the state of mind of separated lovers referring to the elements of nature.

Depiction of agony of separation

“Abaso bipinayate priyasakhi malapi jalayate tapopi swasitena daba dahan jwala kalapayate sapi twad birahena hanta harini rupayate ha katham Kandarpopi yamayate bira chayancha sardula bikriditam”

[Due to separation from Krishna, Radha being emancipated and colourless behaves like a doe and considers her house as the jungle. The group of companions (sakhis) as trap nets (snare) preventing her from moving out. The burning pain of her body exhaled as sighs appear like the rage of forest fire. Her state of mind is like that of a timid frightened doe about to be killed. She considers Kandarpa (God of love) as Yama (Messenger of death), because, like a tiger attacking a helpless doe, cut off from all sides by trapnet and fire, Kandarpa sports with her mind and inflicts pain.]

In this verse Jayadev, through elements of nature, describes the outer and inner state of Radha’s suffering from the agony of separation.

“Nindati chandana mindu kirana manu bindati kheda madhiram byala nllaya milanena garala miba kalayati malaya samiram sa birahe taba dina Madhva ! manasija bisikha bhayadiba bhabanaya twayi lina”

[The soft sandal paste and the moon beams burn and scorch her. The touch of soft mountain breeze (Malaya Samira) blowing from the sandal wood forest gives the feel of venom, of poisonous serpents. Fearing the arrows of Manasija (God of love), Radha meditates and clings to Madhava.]

Radha’s state of mind, due to dissertation by Krishna, is presented here through the intangible elements of nature.

Depiction of beauty of woman’s body (Radha)

“Bandhuka dyuti bandhava ayam adharh snigdho madhuka chhabir Gando schandi ! chakasti nila nandana shri mochanam lochanam Nasavyeti tila prasuna padabi kundavadanti ! priye! Praya stwan mukha sebaya vijayate biswam sa puspayudha”

[Her moist lips are the crimson red of Vandhuka (autumn flower), her face has the fresh lustre of honey coloured Madhuka (Madhuca latifolia), her eyes are aglow like blue lotus (Nila nandana – Nelumbo sp.), her nose resembles sesame flower (Tila prasuna), her teeth gleam like the white jasmine (Kunda). Adorning her face with these flowers and worshipping her God of love (Puspayudha) has conquered this world.]

Jayadev presents here another word picture of colours. Every limb of Radha is an aspect of nature aglow, visions of coloured flowers and perfume of many hues. Jayadev in several other verses of Gita Govinda has used simile of natural elements in describing the beauty and state of Radha. A few examples are cited below:

“Nilanalinava mapi tanwi ! taba lochanam dharayati kokanada rupam.”

[The blue lily-eyed beauty, who has turned like scarlet lotus with anger. ]

“Sthala kamala ganjanam mama hrudaya ranjanam”

Sthala kamala (Earth lotus) is belittled by the colour of the foot of Radha which colours my heart.

“Vilasha kusuma sukumar dehe” [Revel oh Radha ! with your tender body like flowers.] “Vasante vasanti kusuma sukumari abayabei Bhramanti kantare bahubihita krushnanu saranei”

Gita Govinda kavyam comprise of 12 cantos, 24 Prabhandas (Astapadis) and 72 verses (slokas). Jayadev has referred to both tangible and intangible elements of nature in almost all descriptions, similes and alliterations. A brief indication only is given in this paper.