Indian classical dances are rooted in mythology and borrow liberally from the literature be it Sanskrit or other classical languages such as Tamil, Telegu or Oriya. As such through the centuries many writers and poets have been adapted into the dance tradition, no one more often than the celebrated Sanskrit poet Jayadeva. Born in Kenduli, Orissa, in the 11th Century AD, Jayadeva’s greatly influenced not only the classical dance form of Odissi but Bharatnatyam and Carnatic music as well.
The ‘Gita Govinda’ is the best known composition of Jayadeva. It is a lyrical poetry that is organized into twelve chapters. Each chapter is further sub-divided into twenty four divisions called Prabandhas. The prabandhas contain couplets grouped into eights, called Ashtapadis. In this work, the author has tried to combine religious fervour with eroticism. It belongs to the medieval Vashnavism school of thought and describes the love games and pangs of separation of Radha and Krishna. The text details the concept of Asthanayika or the eight moods of the Herione, which is something we are working on currently, as I had written in one of my blogs a few weeks ago. Poet’s mastery in music and dance, his devotion to Vishnu and his understanding of erotica are the hallmarks of this masterpiece.
These ashtapadis are preceded and followed by verses in different meters, numbering about thirteen. By this he has shown his mastery over the science of metrics and his choice of words are appreciated by all the later poets. There are more than forty commentaries on this work, apart from regional versions and imitations. From this one can understand the popularity of this work. The lyrics of Gita Govinda have been set to devotional music throughout India. They have been adapted in dance and also in painting primarily due to its capacity to arouse the emotions of the audience. This is the very reason for its translations in all the Indian languages and in modern times into European languages. When you hear the Gita Govinda song or see its depiction by way dance postures, it invokes the interest and conveys a literary flavour and religious significance. It lends itself to be adapted to the different musical versions and dance performance. Because of its religious fervour, it was adapted by temple dancers. Originating in Orissa, it has traveled to Bengal, Gujarat, South India and even Nepal. Raga and tala came to be assigned to these lyrics and they used for different occasions to be sung or danced. The first English translation of the Gita Govinda was published by Sir William Jones in 1792, where Kalinga (ancient Orissa) is referred to as the origin of the text. Since then, the Gita Govinda has been translated to many languages throughout the world and is considered to be among the finest examples of Sanskrit poetry.
Jayadeva was instrumental in popularizing the Dasavatara, the ten incarnations of Vishnu in his composition, Dasakritikrite. Furthermore, the classic Tribhangi (three-fold) posture of Krishna playing the flute gained popularity due to him. An important feature of the Bhakti movement, hymns written by him are also incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy books of the Sikhs as Guru Nanak was greatly impressed by his works on his visit to Puri. Jayadeva also wrote Piyusha Lahari, a Sanskrit Goshti Rupaka. It was based on the romantic love between Radha and Krishna similar in line to Gita Govindam.
The illustrious poet also institutionalized the Devadasi system in Oriya temples. As mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, Devadasis were female dancers specially dedicated to the temple deity, and as a result of the great poet’s works, Oriya temples began to incorporate a separate Natamandira or dance hall, within their precincts for Odissi dance performances.
Indian classical dance and music tradition in numerous ways have been enriched by Jaideva, who thorough out his life wrote about the divine love of Krishna and his consort Radha but always believed that Radha was greater than Hari.