Natalie Savelyeva

Symbolism in Gita Govindam

"Jiva Brahma Aikya Vedanta Rahasya" or the "Union of the individual soul with the Universal soul" is in brief the theme and the essence of Gita Govindam [3].

Radha (Nayaki or Jivatma), Krishna (Nayaka or Paramatma) and Sakhi (the friend or preceptor who leads the devotee on to the path of Mukti or liberation) are the main characters of this poem. The mutual love of Radha and Krishna, represents the concept of Madhura Bhakti (adoration of the God), which is the essence of Vaishnava cult.

Note: unlike purely religious texts, Gita Govindam is not centered on the God, but on relation between Radha, the human proper, and Krishna, superhuman character. This is the story of two opposites merging together. The initial situation (conflict) is shown though the eyes of Radha, then from Krishna’s point of view, then Sakhi comes in and acts as shuttle warping from Radha to Krishna, and finally all Gopies come to the scene and express their vision of the situation. Two worlds meet and come very close to each other. They reflect each other, as two mirrors, creating a mess of reflections, and go apart for a while as if trying to understand if it is right or not feel so strong, to come so close, to become one forever... Life and environment, represented by Sakhi, gopies, forests and seasons, need to interfere and point out what is right and valuable, and what does not matter.

Human love sublimated to utmost level, so it becomes comparable with love to God, the story told by the poet, his wife and the God himself (it is believed, that the last stanzas of famous Ashtapadi "Priye charushi" were written by Krishna himself, while Jayadeva was brooding on how to finish the line sitting on the banks of the river.)

Very keen observation was made by Jon Higgins, in his book "The Music of Bharata Natyam" [13], he defines "…Hindu conception of love as both passion and freedom from passion. When the tide of unfulfilled passion threatens to overwhelm her, the heroine seeks refuge in a state of spiritual tranquility altogether free of distress. The implication seems to be that one my acquire real knowledge of god by first undertaking the tortuous search for human love."

Passion sublimated

Final union with the God is considered as the only and utmost purpose of human life. Human is to be born, experience care of your parents, fall in love with this world, the nature; experience affection though friendship. Human is destined to fall in love with this world and this life in order to create a new life, give love to others and fall in love with God at last. Human should realize himself or herself, realize his/her embedded ability to love and create life - and come back to the source of this ability. This is the meaning of life on the Earth, the way of experience, which leads the soul to the final unity with Universal spirit.

Passionate love of one human being for another one is overwhelming and all-consuming experience. "Mutual ecstasy of impassioned lovers" is the only experience comparable to final union with the God. "In the embrace of his beloved, a man forgets the whole world — everything both within and without" [5].

Thus, Krishna’s sporting with Gopies has two sides. He appears as the one who experiences romantic love, "the most exalted experience in life" [5], and who gives experience of romantic love in its highest and the most intense form (Krishna is described as being the most handsome, proficient in love and the most desirable among all the lovers.) At the other side, his purpose is to show the way of salvation through impassioned adoration of God.

"In Jayadeva’s environment of springtime (Sarasavasanta), Radha and Krishna are vehicles (Vibhava) for the universalization of erotic emotion. These youthful figures with gleaming flesh and lotus-petal eyes manifest signs of emotion (vyabhicaribhava, sattvikabhava) to communicate the passion of their separation. For Jayadeva, their longing and reunion is the concrete example of religious experience in which the disquieting distinction between "I" and "mine" versus "you" and "yours" is calmed. The esthetic experience of their love is the means for breaking the imaginary barrier dividing human from divine." [8]

Dr. Pappu Venugopala [14] explains meaning of Bhakti in the context of Gita Govindam as follows:

"Narada in his bhakti sutras defines bhakti as "the fear of being separated again" (punarvislesha bheerutvam parama bhakti rucyate). This means, that once you feel closer to God you don’t want any distance from him, that is bhakti."

Jayadeva’s ashtapadis express the intimate power of the Divine love in contrast to Ras Leela, where devotion to God is part of social intercourse and God showers benevolence on all devotees without distinction.

Ras Leela or Rasa Krida

The point of God playing with feelings of human being is to evoke hidden power of love, to let it pour out free, in all intensity and to direct this power to highest levels of existence. Beautiful metaphor of sublimation! Why the poets and spectators realized so keenly this very complicated intrinsic process? The reality and conditions of life made them to find the answer, as it is very well noticed in [5]:

Another side of Leela (play) is transformation of "human pragmatic" into "human spontaneous", or the "human creative", release of boundaries of necessity. According to Hindu beliefs, such humans belong to divine sphere. Free spirit creates not because of necessity, but because creation is its nature. He seeks no purpose, no reward, and no goal. This idea of expedience without purpose (introduced in West by Immanuel Kant in his third major work on aesthetics), in Hinduism is reflected in such concepts as Leela and Krida, and could be described as follows:

"In Hindu cult, particularly in Bhakti cults, the mark of a great devotee is often the "uselessness" of his life. This is especially clear in the lives of the saints, who frequently behave like children, madmen, or drunkards and who are often depicted as being incapable of looking after themselves in the pragmatic world. As members of their society, they are quite unproductive. Their lives are mere ornaments. They are often incapable of sustained work or of acting in an orderly manner at all. They do not act according to the laws of cause and effect, so their actions appear motiveless and aimless. Indeed, they are in many ways like the gods because they do not work but play. ... The saints have transcended the human condition and have entered the divine sphere, and an important indication of this fact is the spontaneous and superfluous nature of their lives." [9]

Krisna and Cowgirls

"The Godhead, the unity which could multiply itself into plurality." [2]

Note: Gopies are embodiment of plurality, God is the Unity and gopies are parts of this unity. God recreates himself and the formless or one form is seen in the multiple forms and merges back in the formless or the one form. This is symbolism of Ras Leela.

"From the tenth century onwards, however, a tightening of domestic morals had set in, a tightening which was further intensified by the Muslim invasions of the twelfth and thirteen centuries. Romance as an actual experience became more difficult of attainment and this was exacerbated by standard views of marriage. In early India, marriage had been regarded as a contract between families and romantic love between husband and wife as an accidental, even an unexpected product of what was basically a utilitarian agreement. With the seclusion of women and the laying of even greater stress on wifely chastity, romantic love was increasingly denied. Yet the need for romance remained and we can see in the prevalence of love-poetry a substitute for wishes repressed in actual life. It is precisely this role which the story of Krishna the cowherd lover now came to perform. Krishna, being God, had been beyond morals and hence had practiced conduct which, if indulged by men, might have been wrong. He had given practical expression to romantic longings and had behaved with all the passionate freedom normally stifled by social duty, conjugal ethics and family morals." [5]

Krishna as cowherd is spontaneous, irresponsible and free. So is his love for the cowgirls, free and voluntary. His whole life among the cowherds is simple, natural and pleasing. Cowgirls adore Krishna, as through him they feel all pleasures of life and sheer joy of being alive:

"Krishna’s flute symbolizes the call of God which caused the souls of men (the cowgirls) to forsake their worldly attachments and rush to love him.… In circular dance (Ras Leela), by inducing every cowgirl to think that she and she alone was his partner, Krishna was proving how God is available to all. …In deserting their husbands and homes and willfully committing adultery, Radha and the cowgirls were therefore setting God above home and duty, they were leaving everything for love of God and surrendering their honor, were providing the most potent symbol of what devotion meant." [5]

Radha

Krishna, as the God and incarnation of Vishnu (Narayana) is given prime place in Bhagavata Purana and other texts. But what is the story of Radha? When she enters the "mythological stage" and takes the special place near to Krishna as his first love?

Radha is not given any prominent or even definite place in Puranas. As it pointed out in [8]: "Until Jayadeva made her the heroine of his poem, she appeared only in stray verses scattered through various Puranas, anthologies in Prakrit and Sanskrit poetry, works of literary esthetics, grammar, poetry, drama, and a few inscriptions."

The name of "Radha" is derived from Sanskrit "radhas", which is Vedic literature has meaning of "perfection", "success", and even "wealth." God Indra is called "Radhaspati" (Lord of success). According to [8], "in Mahabharata and various Puranas, the rivalry between Indra and Visnu/Krishna results in transference of elements of Indra’s great power to Vishnu/Krisna. Among these elements are female powers associated with Indra, such as Sri in the episode of the churning the ocean." [8] Thus, Krishna became the Lord of Success (radhaspati) by winning Radha, the female personification of radhas.

There are no direct references to Radha in Harivamsa, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana. Radha is mentioned by name and referred to in Brahmavaivarta and Padma puranas (written later on, after 12 century).

There is one story of secret relationship of Krishna with one gopie given in Bhagavata Purana: "On one occasion in Bhagavata Purana, Krishna disappears taking with him a single girl, how they then make love together in a forest bower and how when the girl tires and begs Krishna to carry her, he abruptly leaves her. The girl’s name is not mentioned but enough is said to suggest that she is Krishna’s favorite." [5] (The explanation of such behavior is, that possessive attitude is not appropriate for humble devotee, thus such pervasive female should realize and conquer her selfish ambitions first.)

In Tamil Alvar poetry of Andal and Nammalvar, Nappinnai is mentioned as daughter-in-law of Nandagopal and wife of Krishna. She is incarnation of Visnu’s consort Niladevi. In tIe ritual dance called "kuravai" Krishna dances with his wife Nappinnai. This is another analogy of Radha, mentioned in Prakrit and Sanskrit literature later on.

"In Gita Govindam, Radha is neither as wife nor a worshipping rustic playmate. She is an intense, solitary, proud female who complements and reflects the mood of Krishna’s passion. She is Krishna’s partner in a secret and exclusive love, contrasted in the poem with the circular Rasa dance Krishna performs with the entire group of cowherdesses. Krishna disappears after this dance, deserting the cowherdesses; but he stays with Radha to admire and ornament her. Her relationship with Krishna culminates in their union and mutual "victory" (jaya) over each other. In Jayadeva’s view, the profound intimacy of Krishna’s concentration on Radha, in contrast with the diffusion of erotic energy in his play with the cowherdesses, is the perfection of Krishna’s nature." [8]

In Gita Govindam the personality of Radha is given the prominent place. This personality itself makes her to fall in love, suffer torture of ambivalent feelings and finally, empowered with love and attachment to her beloved, to overcome possessive and illusionary intentions and reunite with her beloved on the higher level of understanding.

Why Radha feels so painfully this innocent sporting of Krishna with Gopies? He did it many times before. She was very well aware of his juvenile nature since childhood. The thing is, after the two are bound with this "red rope" of passion, the world is changed for the both. French proverb declares the love as "egoism-a-dua", when the two get immersed into passion and see nothing but each other. The world stops revolving and even time stops running in his/her absence. Release of sleeping power of passion, suppressed in ordinary life, makes the two forget everything, but ecstatic happiness of sharing this flow of strong feelings. Passion is like a candle put in between two mirrors. It creates endless continuum of reflections, imaginary world inhabited with mutual reflections only. The mirrors (he and she) move closer, the fairy world of reflections intensifies and multiplies fire of the candle. They see this magic light in the eyes of each other. They experience perfect harmony. Them both feel like two creators, who have found the niche in reality and escaped out, to their own world of dreams... Narrow Lata kunja (forest bower) becomes their only universe.

That’s how Radha feels it. That’s how Krishna’s human side feels it. But Krishna is not only human. He is multi-dimensional being, the God walking on the Earth. He is in charge of living creatures, their well being and happiness. His nature is to give out love, for everybody, without discretion. He dances with Gopies and makes each of them behold him as her only beloved, her own source of happiness.

When Radha herself was just a Gopie, she liked this way of his. But released passion and actuated deep love have changed everything. She is not the Radha she used to be before. As in the story told in Bhagavata Purana, Krishna took her out of her world, to some other reality, the Universe of the Two, where there is no place for other humans. In Bhagavata Purana the girl further asks Krishna to carry her, i.e. keep her incorporated in this happy Universe of intimate love forever, and carry with himself wherever his heavenly way calls him… This is like to sleep forever in arms of beloved and see only his eyes in sweet dreams.

This is not the life Krishna, as the God, wishes for his devotees. Love is creative, thus it should give fruits and make this world better. He leaves this happy locus of sweet dreams abruptly, leaving the girl her freedom of choice - to follow him in real world, or stay forever in the world of her dreams.

And the real world requires his attention and his love as well. Now it is Radha’s turn to "carry" him, i.e. to find solution, to balance their urge for each other with demands of reality.

Here Sakhi comes into picture. Intensity of love relationship supersedes all other connections – parents, relatives - no relationship is comparable with this special "red bond", but one. Close friendship with somebody, who understands you better then yourself. Who has been with you since the very first steps of yours. Who shared all your experiences, all your memories, all your secrets. Who knows everything about you, and still loves you. Your friend, Sakhi. Again, as in childhood, when you only started walking and she was supporting your first shaky steps, now Sakhi supports Radha’s steps back in along the way to her beloved, this time in real life.

Thus, the context of the plot of Gita Govindam is given. And there the drama begins, the story of Radha and Krishna estrangement caused by his love for other girls, Radha’s anguish and Krishna’s neglect, Radha’s sorrow and Krishna’s regret, Radha’s withdrawal and Krishna’s remorse, and finally mutual rapture of the two which brings them back to each other, making thus their love complete.

Significance of Dasavataram as Purvaranga

"God creates this world, enters into it and like an actor who assumes different roles on the stage performs various acts" (Bhagvad Purana)

"Creation, preservation and destruction constitute an eternal cycle of existence. Hari, that is Visnu, represents the principle of preservation and continuity of life. He is a supreme being, sublime source of eternal bliss, the entire universe is just a manifestation of his power. He assumes many forms to destroy evil, protect the good and restore the glory of Dharma."(Bhagavad Gita 4.8).

(Note: "Hari" literary means "the tawny one", but Vaisnava commentators interpret it to mean "the destroyer of pain", derived from the Sanskrit root "hri". Hari is a common name of Visnu in his cosmic form and various incarnations in the epics and Puranas.)

Jayadeva (which is also one of the names of Vishnu, meaning "Lord of Triumph") composed his poem to be danced before Lord Jagannatha ar Puri. In Orissa, Krishna is worshiped as Jagannatha, composite Buddhist, Shaivite and Vaishnavite form. The poem was composed purposely for being staged as full fledged dance-drama. The inscriptions certify the fact: Gajapi ruler Prataorudradeva’s inscription at Jagannatha temple of 1499 AD states that Gita Govindam Nat should be performed before the deity by dancing girls [2].

Dashavatar ashtapadi appears at the beginning of the poem and forms Purvaranga of the dance-drama.

In refrain of Dashavatari Ashtapadi, the Lord is addressed as Jagadisha, which means "Lord of the World" [8], and indicates Krishna as cosmic supreme soul.

Dasadidharupa means "having a tenfold form." It indicates that Krishna is at once all of the tem forms of cosmic power he assumes in his awesome aspect (Aisvarya) in order to save the world. The same meant by Dasakritkrita. The ten forms of Jagadisa are a variant of the ten incarnations of Vishnu.

In Gita Govinda Dasavataram the incarnations are identified as follows [8]:

  1. Minasarira or fish-form, which rescued human brood while deluge (according to Satapatha Brahmana). Gita Govindam refers to theft of Vedas from Brahma by sea demon, as Brahma is entering the sleep of cosmic dissolution. Hari takes on the form of a fish and, by means of deluge, destroys the demon and recovers the Vedas.
  2. Kacchaparupa or tortoise-from. Gita Govindam refers to creative power of the giant tortoise (Satapatha Brahmana), which supports Mandara mountain when Gods and demons churn the sea to obtain Amrita (elixir of immortality.)
  3. Sukararupa or boar-form, this giant boar rescues the earth by raising it out of the ocean depths on one of his tusks.
  4. Naraharirupa or man-lion-form, which destroys Hiranyakashipu (infidel king) who threatened his own son Prahlada with death because of Prahlada’s devotion to Hari.
  5. Vamanarupa or dwarf-form, when Hari assumes his cosmic shape and travels earth, atmosphere and heaven. Gita Govindam refers to Hari’s wet feet, which the demon Bali (usurper of Indra’s power) in his hospitality has washed to welcome the guest.
  6. Bhriguparirupa or the form of Bhrigu chief better known as Parasurama or "axe-wielding Rama", who establishes the order in the world by putting an end to the tyranny of the warrior class.
  7. Ramasarira or the form of charming Ramachandra, the hero of Ramayana and Mahabharata (Ramopakhyana section), Whose purpose was destruction of ten-headed demon king Ravana and his general Dusana (the corrupting one).
  8. Haladhararupa or the form of plowman Balarama, elder brother of Krishna (both brothers represent parts of Visnu – Balarama his while hair and Krishna his black hair). Balarama is known by his addiction to wine (as Krishna to women). Gita Govindam refers to the episode when he drunkenly orders Yamuna river to move close so he can sport here. When the river fails to obey, he throws his weapon, the plowshare, into her and makes the river bent to him.
  9. Buddhasarira or the form of "enlightened one", i.e. Gautama Buddha. He is not considered as incarnation in Mahabharata and Harivamsa, but appears in later texts of Puranas. He emphasized moral values and opposed Vedic tradition of sacrificing living creatures.
  10. Kalkisarira or the form of avenger Kalki who appears with blazing sword on a white hoarse at the the end of Kali Yuga to punish sinners.

The myths associated with avataras are found already in Vedic literature. The root of Vamanavatar can be traced back to Rigveda and Shatapatha Brahmana. According to Brahmanas and Aranyakas it was Prajapati who assumed the forms of Matsya, Kurma and Varaha.

Taittitriya Aranyaka says that the earth was raised out of primordial waters by Prajapati in the form of a hundred armed black boar (Varaha).

As per Sharapatha Brahmana it was Prajapati in the form of fish (Matsya) who saved Manu (the first human) from the great deluge.

Worship of Dashavatar took many forms in the course of time. Bhavishya and Vishnu Puranas tell about Dashavatar Vrata when the images of ten incarnations are worshiped to attain Vishnuloka after death.

Puranas prescribe to use dance, drama, music to appease the Gods. Bharata Muni says that drama is the best service one can offer to Vishnu.

"The Gods are never so pleased on being worshipped with scents and garlands, as they are delighted with the performance of dramas" (NS, XXXVI.81-2)

In Bhagavata Purana Vishnu says that the devotees should on festive religious occasions enact his Leelas (playful activities, often denotes dances) before his image in the temple.

Correspondingly, temple worship ritual comprised dramatic performance, via dance and music. Thus, worship of Dashavatar influenced and fostered development of numerous dramatic forms.

In Dashavatari plays referred to by Marathi poet Ramdas (contemporary of Shivaji Emperor) male actors took part of enchanting females performing incarnations of Visnu in graceful and bewitching style.

In Karnataka Yakshagana Theater (also known as Dashavatar Ata) presented mythical stories connected with ten incarnations (the earliest Yakshagana play is "Viratparva" of 1564 AD). In Mangal geet (sung in the end of Yakshagana plays) all ten incarnations are mentioned and propitiated.

The Second Maratha ruler of Tanjore Shahraj Bhosale (1674-171 AD, also known as Kavibhoja) wrote "Pancabhasavilas", a play in five languages, where five heroines representing five languages sing song in praise of ten incarnations of Visnu.

Presentation of Dashavatar dance in the Purvaranga of Vaisnava plays was undertaken by an single actor (Sutradhar, called Bhagavat Dashavatari). In certain dance-dramas of Bhagavatas Dashavatar was included in Purvaranga (after which one or another incarnation, or related story was performed more elaborately).

Krishna Attam and later on Kathakali of Kerala also borrowed this tradition of performing Dashavatar as introductory item.

Bhagavata Mela and later on Kuchipudi of Andhra also include Dashavatar as part of dramas (for example, in Bhamakalapam the heroine Satyabhama mentions ten incarnations of Vishnu while describing Krishna and his actions, this portion is known as Dashavatarabhinayam).

Dashavatars are described in Purvaranga of Lalit, dramatic form of Maharashtra.

Dashavatar plays of Goa and Konkan (introduced during Vijayanagara times and influenced by Yakshagana of Karnataka) depict all ten incarnations in elaborated form (through Buddha and Kalki avataras are not shown on the stage directly, only referred to; while Rama and Krishna incarnations are given the most important positions).

Thus, tradition of performing Dashavatar existed in Jayadeva’s time. By including Dashavatar ashatapadi in Purvaranga of Gita Govinda, Jayadeva influenced many dramatic styles evolved later on.

What is the meaning of performing Dashavataras of Vishnu in the context of Gita Govinda?

According to explanation given by Janardhanan Sir, Vishnu should first be referred to as Paramatma, protector of the universe. Thus, his indirect appearance in drama via description of his cosmic, universal activities should create atmosphere and prepare the minds of spectators before appearance of actual incarnation of Krishna on the stage.

Janardhanan Sir also emphasized the necessity to remind spectators that the major purpose of God’s coming down to Earth in human form is to protect Dharma, as ultimate, universal law, the law which protects life and all living beings and guides them on the way of salvation.

According to [8], the awesome aspect of Krishna, which ten forms vividly portray, recedes as Krishna’s lover-hero (nayaka) is elaborated in the poem to dramatize his honey (Madhurya) in relation to Radha. But the cosmic power remains a background for the intimacy of the lovers through the poem. The intimacy offers a dimension of cosmic power on which human perception can focus. The complex and powerful manifestations of cosmic reality are concentrated in emotions that are carefully patterned for aesthetic experience. Invocation of Dasavatara (ten-fold form of Krishna) expresses the mood of wonder (Adbhuta rasa), whose presence is essential for transformation and expression of the mood of erotic romance (Sringara rasa).

Symbolism of Tirasila explained by Janardhanan sir

Tirasila is the rectangular curtain, held by two persons in front of the character entering the stage. The holders enter the stage and move along to the center (as usual) in simple dance steps. The character hidden behind tirasila thus that only feet and jingles are seen. This creates very special effect - as if the character descends the stage bit by bit, as if materializes itself from another reality.

The symbolical meaning of Tirasila, as Janardganan Sir explained, is cover of Maya or illusion. In Gita Govindam this symbolism is extended. Tirasila is used elaborately while Partra Pravesham (entrance) of Sri Krishna. At beginning a number of Gopies appear from behind the Tirasila. Then Gopies perform Dashavataram, i.e. depict universal aspect of Krishna — during this scene we feel his presence as all pervasive Visnu, the protector of the Universe.

After Dashavataram is over, Tirasila comes back once more — this time Sri Krishna appears from behind it. His appearance is dashing (as Janardhanan Sir emphasized). Krishna comes on the stage in all his divine glory, straightforward from the heaven (as we felt him in Dashavataram). The same moment Gopies remove Tirasila in a quick movement — by his appearance Sri Krishna removes Maya, illusion. Then he enters the stage under palanquin, surrounded by four Gopies which symbolize feminine principle, which helps Krishna to fulfill his mission on the earth as Samoda Damodara (the one who gives enjoyment, happiness and delight to his devotees).

After Pravesham is over, the palanquin is also removed and six Gopies describe the story of Krishna’s birth and conclude description by recalling one of Krishna’s names, "Hamsa" (swan). The story behind it is that Indian swans fly to Himalayas, to the lake of Manasa to mate. Swan is the symbol of Manas (intelligence, realization and wisdom). Thus, devotees and sages are like swans who fly to Krishna (mentally) as the swans fly to the lake of Manas.

Symbolism of Lata Kunja (forest bower)

"Clouds thicken the sky,

Tamala trees darken the forest.

The night frightens him.

Radha, you take him home!"

They leave at Nanda’s order,

Passing trees in thickets on the way,

Until secret passions of Radha and Madhava

Triumph on the Jumna riverbank.

(commencing verse of Gita Govinda)

Krishna’s fear, night, darkness, dark clouds are the symbols of Kali Yuga, for which the union of Radha and Krishna is the cure [8]. Even the name of "Krishna" (the dark one) is symbolic, as presents him as cosmic power of the Dark Age.

Secret union of Radha-Madhava first takes place in a forest bower, Lata Kunja, on river side. Further separation, estrangement, inner and outer battles lead them back to the same quiet bower, where the final reunion takes place. Thus, here the bower is the secret place of divine love, the beginning and the end of their journey.

Thus, in Rukmini Devi dance drama the bower is given the only and central place among stage decoration. Back curtain designed for this dance drama is simple. There is a small niche in the center of the curtain, covered with bowing branches and creepers from up and sides. This niche is present on the stage from the very beginning continuously, up to the end. As the token of love in beginning, place of memories (in case of Radha), place for hiding (in case of Krishna’s brooding over the situation), the hope connecting together all episodes, and the place of final triumph of love, which after being in secret, and going through many seductions of the world became even stronger, finally reaches the highest stage of bliss, which brings human conscious and soul up to divine levels of existence.

Stage props for the first production of Gita Govindam were designed by K. Srinivasulu, the father of Chithra Akka, who is in charge of costumes at Kalakshetra up to now.

Gita Govindam - Dance Drama by Rukmini Devi Arundale

Gita Govindam dance drama was produced in 1959. This was called by Rukmini Devi "A Dance Poem".

According to S. Sarada Teacher, Rukmini Devi was not very sure if she is able to stage Gita Govindam. In her article on Bharatanatym [7], she gives her vision of Sringara in dance as follows:

"Perhaps my interpretation of Sringara was different from the way in which most people conceived of it. Sringara is not sensuality. It also means a love of great kind, such as the love of Radha for Krishna as depicted in Gita Govindam. In fact devotion itself is love in a higher form. Even sex is not coarse in its right place, Children are born of sexual relationship, but it is not only sex but love that creates a child. So if it has been said that I am against Sringara, I can only say that the inference is wrong. But there are certain types of padas that I have objected to. From one vidwan I learnt the old padam Tamaraksha with a lot of sancari bhavas of the languishing nayika separated from her lover. She describes not only her love but the whole process of physical contact and in gestures at that! To depict such things is unthinkable for me. A famous man gave me a book on sancari bhava. When I read it I just felt sick." [7]

"The predominant emotion of (Indian) arts is rati, the basic attraction which transforms into Sringara, the experience of love in aesthetic rapture. … Love and sex being important experiences of life, they (ancient sculptors) saw the former as a pre-taste of the ultimate bliss, a metaphor and a pathway to that ultimate reality. Sex they viewed as the creative principle inherent in man which could be worshipped as the divine cosmic energy of creativity." [13]

S Sarada teacher in her memories [6] describes the process of Gita Govindam staging as follows:

"K.S. Ramaswami Sastri, a Sanskrit scholar, a good friend of Rukmini Devi and a member of Kalakshetra, was suggesting to Rukmini Devi insistently to produce Gita Govindam, as a dance-drama. She hesitated saying it might not be suitable as there were hardly any dramatic incidents, apart from the expression of Sringara between Radha and Sri Krishna, and the dutika bhava of the Sakhi, which are depicted in Bharatanatya recitals! But much later she decided to produce it, perhaps because Sankara Menon was often reciting slokas from Gita Govindam with great relish and admired the excellence of this prabandham." [Full Note by Sarada Teacher is attached in Appndix III.]

Venkatachala Sastri and Adinarayana Sarma along with S. Sarada teacher selected caranas of Ashtapadis to be performed.

Papanasam Sivan spent several years in Sri Sadguruswami’s sacred centre situated near Kumbakonam at Marudanallur. Bodhendra Swamin of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham was the originator of the present Bhajana Paddhati and Sadguruswamin lived one century after him. Sri Venkata Ramaswami, well known as Sadguruswami, with numerous sishyas, went all over the country singing the Ashtapadis and spreading Bhakti cult. Thus, Papanasam Sivan was very well acquainted with the ragas, talas and varnamettus (tunes), to which the Ashtapadis are sung in traditional worship and Bhajans to this day.

Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma, who had been singing Ashtapadis regularly, with C.R. Srinivasa Aiyangar, and Alamelu Jayarama Aiyar, in the month of Margazhi, every year, helped Papanasam Sivan with notation and teaching the songs. He also composed Sollukattu Swaras for dance.

"Rukmini Devi’s visualization of divinity in Sringara, enabled her to create the master piece Gita Govindam as a "dance poem." This production entrances spectators and transports them to a spiritual world, establishing rapport between them and the Divine or rather enkindles Divine spark in each of them." [6]

First performance of Gita Govindam

The premiere of Gita Govindam took place in 1960. That time the Kalakshetra, International Academy of Arts, was located in Adyar, in the premises of Theosophical society. The first performance was given at the Open Theater of the Theosophical society, surrounded by serene ambience of Theosophical gardens.

Balagopalan sir took part of Krishna, Shanta Dhananjayan was Radha and Sharada Hoffman played Sakhi. In her reminiscences, Shanta Akka says that Rukmini Devi selection of her for taking part of Radha was a kind of unexpected. Shanta was taller then young Balagopalan, who was chosen to perform Krishna. He was a young boy that time, and Rukmini Devi noticed his sincere and touching abhinaya and selected him to perform Krishna.

Shanta Akka recalls this incident in her interview given to Shobha Warrier:

"I cannot forget the dance dramas she produced. When she decided to cast me as Radha in Gita Govindam, I was shocked! I was taller and bigger than my classmates. Balagopal, the boy who was chosen to play Krishna, was much shorter than me. I wondered why she cast me. But she had an eye for details that others don’t notice. According to the story, Radha is supposed to be older but had to look innocent. She cast my own teacher, Sarada (Hoffman), as my sakhi. This intrigued me even more. The sakhi in the story is like a guru who has to help the two souls to come together."

"I was elated to be chosen as Radha, but I was scared as well. I had to live up to Athai’s expectations. She used to call me and the musician to her house at night to practice the ashtapadis (verses about Lord Krishna).Since it was a sringara kavya and I was just 15, she also taught me the more mature aspects of abhinaya (gestures). When I look back now, I realize how fortunate I was to have learnt directly under her."

Sharada Hoffman (she married Peter Hoffman in 1960), was Shanta Akka’s teacher in dance. Nevertheless, as many colleagues of Chinna Sharada teacher point out, she never hesitated to perform second and even occasional parts along with her own students. Dhananjayan sir says in his interview given to Sruti Magazine, "She never sulked about performing along with her junior students in small insignificant roles. When Gita Govindam was produced, she let Shanta to do the main part of Radha while she was only the sakhi. She saw to it that Shanta did her part in the best manner possible, giving her relentless practice, even during unearthly hours."

Dhananjayan sir also recollects the story of his friendship with Balagopalan sir and how the latter was selected for taking part of Krishna in Gita Govindam:

"We were inseparable pair in the Kalakshetra campus. I do not remember a single clash between the two of us. In fact, I have been like an elder brother to him even through we are of the same age. As he was playful and childish, I had to reprimand him on occasion and guide him. I was serious about my studies, a quick learner, and remembered my lessons well, while Balagopal seemed more interested in sports, cinema, cycling, sometimes driving someone’s motorbike or car and getting into trouble! But he had a knack of making friends and an innocent charm which endeared him to all. No one could be angry with him for a long. He was quite harmless "Romeo" as his name suggests, probably that is why Athai cast him in the role of Krishna in Gita Govindam, and my sweetheart Shanta as Radha."

Dr. G. Sundari in her interview to Sruti magazine, recalls "Balagopalan is dark, short and small in stature, But he was one of Kalakshetra’s notable and valued dancers who, with his very expressive large eyes and facile bhava, became the characters he was enacting. ... As a student, Balagopalan was always full of verve and mischief. When he had to be in class, sometimes, i found him atop of a tree and had to bring him down! Balagopalan knew even as a boy how to win everyone’s attention and sympathy with his engaging smile." ’

Papanasam Sivan sung himself for the first performance of Gita Govindam. Nattuvangam was executed by Smt. Kamalarani, the first female nattuvanar of Kalakshetra. Further on, female vocal part was performed by many singers, including Savitri Jagannatha Rao in 1986. Male vocal part was taken by Sri Sai Shankar sir and Hari Prasad sir.

Costumes

The costumes of Radha and gopies are very simple. Radha wears blue skirt, blue and yellow blouse and blue davani (blue color is the color of Krishna, whose complexion is dark as evening clouds). Her Sakhi wears pink skirt with pink blouse and yellow davani (yellow color indicates her nature as spiritual guardian of Radha).

Gopies wear the same skirts, of very simple design, with white central pieces (Janardhanan sir noticed, that white color is symbol of purity, as white flowers of Kadamba tree, under which Krishna often played his games.)

Decorations of Gopies, Radha and Sakhi are very simple as well. They do not wear talai saman or even a tikka. The head is elegantly decorated by flowers (as they are village dwellers, and the best decoration given by Nature itself is white and orange flowers of Jasmine, Kadamba tree and creeper leaves.) They wear simple jimmki and bangles, and two necklaces (small, under neck, and simple chest necklace.)

When Gopies and Sakhi decorate Radha before her reunion with Krishna, they put more elaborate jewellery on her, including silver Golusu (anklet). Tender sound of this Golusu should tell Krishna the happy news of his beloved approaching...

Costume of Krishna is very traditional. He wears crown made of peacock feathers, yellow dhoti with blue waist band (yellow color is the color of Visnu, symbolizes spiritual liberation, wisdom and protective nature of Narayana towards all living beings, born and supported by Him as by sun rays.)

Appreciation of Two Ashtapadis

Ashtapadis of Gita Govindam are examples of ancient Prabandhas, compositions which were used in ancient Sanskrit dramas. Unique character of this poetical composition is, that it was composed especially to be staged as a dance drama. Jayadeva mentions the names of the ragas and talas for each Ashtapadi. Poetical metre of each Ashtapadi is described by Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao [14] as follows.

There are 72 verses included in the Gita Govindam followed by 24 ashtapadis. Each Ashtapadi is started with a Dhruvapada (one of five essential angas or constituting parts of Prabandha, which corresponds to Pallavi (refrain) in Carnatic music). This is followed by 8 padas (stanzas), which correspond to Caranas (couplets of the song). In the last stanza the name of the author is given (this is also very old tradition, prescribed by the rules of Prabandha and adhered up to our time, as "mudra" of composer is usually mentioned in the last line of Anupallavi, which serves as a connecting couplet in Carnatic compositions). Nineteen of 24 ashtapadis are set to four beat metre (lines of 7 four measures, i.e. 7x4). Five ashtapadis are set to 3 five beat measures, but the first line of each couplet is lengthened by the addition of a final heavy syllable.

Rase Harimiha

The seed of drama is the moment when Radha sees Krishna playing and flirting with other Gopies. This scene breaks the harmony of her intimate relationships with Krishna. She feels rejected, her heart pulls her forward to Krishna, and her mind withdraws her back. She loves him more then her own life, but her eyes see that he prefers to be with another girls. In Ashtapadi starting from Dhruvapada "Rase Harimiha" all the spectrum of ambivalent feelings of the heroine is portrayed. This emotional transformation takes place in a minute. To be in love or without love – this question divides simple and innocent soul into two confronting parties. Inner conflict of loving heart (which symbolizes altruistic love without any need of reward, just for the sake of loving) and judging mind (which reflects the fact that Radha is an individual, the woman who seeks love as intimate relationship with another human, the man.)

This Ashtapadi is the fifth song of Canto II (Careless Krishna.) Three Caranas of this Ashtapadi are presented in Rukmini Devi's dance drama. Radha and Sakhi are the only character on the stage. Radha addresses her Sakhi and tells her what she feels.

Ashtapadi starts with refrain:

rase hari miha vihita vilasam smarati mano mama krita parihasam

"My heart recalls Hari in his love dance, playing seductively, laughing and mocking me."

Radha enters the stage as the heroine, who is filled with love, who radiates love all round. The first word of this Ashtapadi is RASE, which means spring time. This is the season when all the nature wakes up, flowers are blooming, i.e. nature itself reflects radiating, shining joy of life and love, and Radha's heart resounds to this festivity of spring time. But, suddenly she sees something which makes her mind upset and hurts her heart. She beloved Krishna is too busy flirting with the other girls. He does not greet her as his beloved, but does not even notice her leaving the circle of dancing Gopies. Here the drama begins. Radha, overfilled with ambivalent feelings, vulnerable and powerful in her love, withdraws and hides in forest. Here she meets for Sakhi and tells her the story.

In the first Caranam Radha describes the image of her beloved, whom she cannot escape from thinking of. This quick picture of Krishna, playing with Gopies, is imprinted in her mind.

sancara dadhara suddha madhura dhvani mukharita mohana vamsam |

calita drigancala cancala mauli kapola vilola vatamsam ||

"Sweet notes from his alluring flute are like nectar flowing from his lips. His restless wanton eyes glance and when his head sways bejeweled earrings sway from side to side against his charming cheeks."

"My heart recalls Hari in his love dance, playing seductively, laughing and mocking me."

In the second Caranam Radha recalls Krishna in another context - how she felt him when they were together:

candrakacaru mayurasikhandaka mandalavalayita kesam |

pracura purandara dhanuranuranjita meduramudira suvesam ||

"A circle of peacock plumes caressed by moonlight crowns his hair. The fine cloth on his cloud-like body is like a rainbow which shines over the dark clouds high above."

"My heart recalls Hari in his love dance, playing seductively, laughing and mocking me."

In the last Carnam she recalls their secret meetings and how Krishna used to compose her:

visadakadambatale militam kalikalusabhayam samayantam |

mamapi kimapi tarangadanangadrisa manasa ramayantam ||

"Meeting me under a flowering tree, he calms my fear of dark time, delighting me by his quick glancing looks full of passion penetrating deeply into my heart."

"My heart recalls Hari in his love dance, playing seductively, laughing and mocking me."

The refrain is repeated after each Carana as if the heart-beat itself, when conversation between Radha and Sakhi is suspended for a minute, when Radha have finished important sentence of confession and keeps silent for a minute to catch the breath, the Sakhi is so attentive and still, that even heart-beat can be heard.

Maamiyam Calita

The another touching Ashtapadi is "Maamiyam Calita". This Ashtapadi is found in the Canto III (Bewindered Krishna-Madhusudana, the slayer of Madhu demon), Scene 7, Song 7.

In this Ashtapadi Krishna recalls Radha, autumnal dance (saradiya rasa lila), how he left all Gopies and had met alone with Radha, and how he arranged her hair… He realizes that this intense feeling of love rose great desire and power in him, which he had to pour out, which he shared with other gopies... but in this spring time dance full of zest, he had lost something... the essence of his love turned away and left him alone in crowd, full of pleasure, but deprived of happiness...

maamiyam calita vilokaya vritam vadhoonicayena

"She saw me surrounded in the crowd of women and went away."

saaparadhataya mayaapi navaarita atibhayena

"I was too ashamed too afraid to stop her."

hari hari hataadarataya gataa saa kupiteva

"Damn me! My wanton ways made her leave in anger."

kim karishyati kim vadishyati saa ciram virahena

"What will she do? What will she say for deserting her this long?"

kim dhanena janena kim mama jeevitena gruhena

"What is the use of wealth or people or my life or my home?"

Rukmini Devi choreographed this scene as follows. Krishna is supposed to be Lata Kunja, the forest bower. He is on the left side of the stage. Lonely pale spot light illuminates his figure. All other lights are down. Krishna is as if captured in narrow space of Lata Kunja. Using simple dance steps, he moves in a small circle, as if brooding over his feelings without realizing where his legs are bring him to. He is circling inside the dim spot of light as if searching for something - either something inside this narrow circle (himself) or some way outside? He is not sure himself.

This is very interesting scene. In the context of Bhakti (when human soul seeks unity with God and suffers from separation), the God himself suffers the pangs of separation and seeks unity with his ardent devotee...

Appendix I. Note by Rukmini Devi on the Production (Kalakshetra Art Festival 1986-1987) [10]

It is with mixed happiness and hesitation that I present Gita Govindam. Years ago, Vidwan Bahadur K.S. Ramaswami Sastri suggested that I should produce Gita Govindam. I have felt doubtful as to its ultimate success as there is in it hardly a story in terms of human action. The story is the story of human soul. Yet I know that this marvelous poem was composed for the dance and that for centuries it inspired people to a height of devotion to the Supreme teacher.

Having known Brahmasri Papanasam Sivan for long, I decided to take advantage of his presence to learn the music and to compose the dance for Gita Govindam which I have now translated as a dance poem. Mr. Sivan has the direct touch and belongs to the South Indian atmosphere. I fully believe that this is as near as possible to the original style as composed by Jayadeva. First of all, the music of Gita Govindam was sung all over India in his time. Secondly, I have been to Orissa and my contact with the art of that State has convinced me that the music and dance there are more akin to the Carnatic tradition than to the North Indian. There was only Indian Art in Jayadeva’s time and it is the Muslim invasion which gave a new character to the art of that part of India which was affected by Islamic influence. History and the evidence of my own ears, eyes and intuition make me feel that the music and dance of Jayadeva are more South Indian then we generally assume.

I have not had enough time to do all I can in this composition. I hope to improve it as time goes on. The story of Krishna is set in Brindavana, the music was composed in Bengal or Orissa and the dancers are mostly South Indian. So i have tired to give it an Indian character and it follows no tradition as far as the production is concerned. The dance itself is of course in traditional Bharata Natya style with a touch of folk art owing to the fact that Krishna in Brindavana dancing with the Gopies, probably used no classical technique. The costumes are my invention and my purpose has been to create an elevating atmosphere, truly to represent to essential purity of feeling in this poem of deep human love and superhuman emotion. I have had to leave out much from the poetry as i had to limit the production to two hours. But i did this with regret for i have been exquisitely inspired by the beauty of every line of this poem.

My young students are too young fully to understand the inner nature of this work but they are able at least to express its innocence, purity and sweetness. I have not so far found a dancer to express the highest and deepest emotions of human love yet making it sublime and divine. Either expression or purity is sacrificed to some extent. I am thankful to Mr. Sivan who is a great poet, scholar, musician and composer for teaching the music and for helping all of us to understand the spirit of Gita Govindam. Shri Rajagopala Sarma of Turiyur, who is himself a singer of the Ashtapadis, has assisted both Mr. Sivan and me. Mr. Sarma learned directly under the late Mr. C.R. Srinivasa Iyengar. I am deeply grateful to him also for his invaluable help. Through the words of the poem and the music, I have been helped to feel Radha and Krishna. I can almost say that I now know why and how the Lord won the hearts of all people.

Appendix II. Note by Papanasam Sivan on music of Ashtapadis (Kalakshetra Art Festival 1986-1987) [10]

How Gita Govindam was sung at the age of Jayadeva is a matter for research. Just as Sri Tyagaraja’s music is cultivated with greater devotion and fervor in the Tamil country than in Andhra, Gita Govindam has a greater vogue, musically, for dance purposes and worship, in South India then in the North. It has been sung in a well defined and accepted form in south India for the last two hundred and fifty years.

This form was created by Sri Venkata Ramaswami, well known as Sadguruswami. He, with numerous sishyas, went singing the Ashtapadis all over the country spreading Bhakti cult. Bodhendra Swamin of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham was the originator of the present Bhajana Paddhati and Sadguruswamin lived one century after him. In Sadguruswami’s bhajans, the Ashtapadis were given the central place. The ragas, talas and varnamettus (tunes), to which the Ashtapadis were sung in his times, are used in traditional worship and Bhajans to this day. At the same time, it may well be supposed that there was in Jayadeva’s time and for a long time after, not that wide divergence between the northern and southern styles of singing. Even today the religious dancing in Orissa is very similar to the south Indian style. In those days there may have been a similar likeness in the case of the music also and Sadguruswamin may well have caught the authentic echo on the traditional mode in the home of Gita Govindam and stabilized it in his land in his own way. Of course, it must be remembered that the ragas given by Jayadeva himself for each Ashtapadi do not correspond to the ragas which are used in the south Indian scheme. However, there may have been a greater correspondence of styles.

The Ashtapadis have been sung in the pure classical Carnatic style for the past three centuries and it is our duty to present this pure traditional form without changing the varnamettus according to individual taste.

Sri Sadguruswami’s sacred centre is situated near Kumbakonam at Marudanallur. He was a follower of Bodhendra Swamin who has already been mentioned. His mother tongue was Telugu and he selected as his successor, one Kalyanaramaswami, A Tamilian, whose grandson, also a Kalyanaramaswami, used to sing the Ashtapadis in Bhajans. I lived with him in the Mutt at Marudanallur for three years and enjoyed the wonderful devotional music which he sang. After 1911, I used to sing as an accompanist to Sri Periakulanadaim son of the second Kalyanaswami. Sri Periakulanadaim was a famous exponent of Harikathakalakshepam and even a great musician of the stature of Konerirajapuram Vaidhyanatha Aiyar used to accompany him in Harikathas. Sri Rengu Aiyangar, the well known mridangam player, still happily with us, has also accompanied Periakundai on the mridangam.

Having been in such close contact with this great tradition, I am deeply moved by this production of Gita Govindam as a Dance Poem by Srimati Rukmini Devi and am happy to help her in the production in appreciation of her great efforts to preserve and encourage traditional art forms.

Appendix III. Note by S Sarada Teacher on production of Gita Govindam [6]

S Sarada Teacher in her memories [6] describes the process of Gita Govindam staging as follows:

"K.S. Ramaswami Sastri, a Sanskrit scholar, a good friend of Rukmini Devi and a member of Kalakshetra, was suggesting to Rukmini Devi insistently to produce Gita Govindam, as a dance-drama. She hesitated saying it might not be suitable as there were hardly any dramatic incidents, apart from the expression of Sringara between Radha and Sri Krishna, and the dutika bhava of the Sakhi, which are depicted in Bharatanatya recitals! But much later she decided to produce it, perhaps because Sankara Menon was often reciting slokas from Gita Govindam with great relish and admired the excellence of this prabandham. I had not been encouraged by my grandmother to read these works of Sringara, especially the Gita Govindam. But because of Sankara Menon’s interpretation of this beautiful work, I read this book. So, when K.S. Ramaswami Sastri who was a close friend of my grandfather, Pandit Subramanya Sastri of Tanjore was very eager that it should be staged as a dance-drama, especially by Rukmini Devi , I was hoping she would consent." [6]

"When it was decided that it should be produced, I had already noted which of the charanams of the Ashtapadis could be used for the dance composition. Venkatachala Sastri and Adinarayana Sarma also carefully chose with me the charanams which could be used. Papanasam Sivan had known the traditional tunes for these songs, which were current in South India for more then 250 years, And were used in bhajans and Radha Kalyana mahotsavas in the temples and Matams. Papanasam Sivan had learnt these songs in the classical Carnatic style at the Marudanallur Matam near Kumbakonam, where he had lived for three years. He taught us the music in his inimitable way, with the full import of deep bhava. Sivan composed sollukattu swaras for many songs. Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sarma, who had been singing Ashtapadis regularly, with C.R. Srinivasa Aiyangar, and Alamelu Jayarama Aiyar, in the month of Margazhi, every year, enthusiastically helped Sivan in teaching us and in writing the songs in musical notation. He also composed some very apt sollukattu swaras as and when required as he was a teacher in Kalakshetra and available for to help and compose, then and there. " [6]

"When Rukmini Devi was composing Gita Govindam, I did not introduce the meaning given in commentary bringing out the various interpretations for the same words or dhvani (associated deeper import of bhavas presented by the poet.) But when she was composing the lines, she brought out the final shapes of bhavas and meaning intuitively. This understanding of the intention of the great poet was a wonder to me. When she was composing Rasa Lila dance, the second time, she was composing only nritta for the extra charanams for the dance without any explanation given to her, But the actions of gopies and Sri Krishna given in those lines, where reflected in those dance movements of nrittas and enactments. I have seen again and again on many occasions, this intuitive capacity of Rukmini Devi while she was composing with spontaneity in many of the dance-dramas. " [6]

"Rukmini Devi’s visualization of divinity in Sringara, enabled her to create the master piece Gita Govindam as a "dance poem." This production entrances spectators and transports them to a spiritual world, establishing rapport between them and the Divine or rather enkindles Divine spark in each of them." [6]

Appendix IV. Synopsis of Gita Govindam (Kalakshetra Art Festival 1986-1987) [10]

Radha sees Krishna singing and dancing in the company of other Gopies. Heart-broken at his neglect, she sends her Sakhi (companion) to ask him to come to her. Meanwhile Krishna also realizes his mistake and longs to be reunited with Radha. But in her loneliness, Radha imagines that Krishna forgetting her is happy in the company of another Gopi. angered by this though, she rejects her beloved Krishna when he comes to her. Radha’s Sakhi is shocked by this childish behavior and upbraids her. Radha then realizes her mistake and is reunited with Krishna.

Before the dance proper begins, there are the usual stotras or verses in praise of the Guru and of Vighneswara. Then there is the great first sloka in which Nanda requests Radha to take Krishna home from Brindavana before the evening darkens into night. This is followed by Jayadeva’s introduction of himself as the author of the poem.

Scene 1

The Gopies make their appearance and describe the ten Avataras of Krishna. The next Ashtapadi is used as the Patra Pravesam or the introduction of Sri Krishna. The Gopies accompany Him on the stage singing and dancing after which they disappear.

Scene 2

Radha enters with the Sakhi. Her heart is full of Krishna and for a moment she stands apart thinking of him. At this moment the Sakhi points out to her, Krishna dancing in the distance with the Gopies in the Rasa kreeda. Radha is sorrowful that Krishna should prefer others to her. As the two friends walk away from the stage, Krishna and the Gopies appear dancing. The Rasa kreeda is performed and slowly Krishna and the dancers disappear.

Scene 3

Radha and her friend come in. Radha sits in a fragrant bower and bewails Krishna’s behavior. She entreats the Sakhi to go as her messenger to Krishna and convey to him her longing for him.

Scene 4

Krishna enters, conscious of the fact that He has neglected Radha who is, therefore, now angry with him. He remembers her love and beauty and prays to be re-united with her. at this moment the Sakhi enters and tells him how Radha is longing for him, how she rejects sandal paste and even shuns the cool delight of moonbeams. These things have become intolerable for her because of his absence. She describes in detail the lonely condition of Radha. Krishna asks her to go to her friend and bring her to the bower.

Scene 5

According to his injunction, the Sakhi goes to Radha and tells her how Krishna suffers in her absence from him and implores her to lose to time but to go to him without delay. But Radha, worn out with sorrow of parting, is unable to go to her lover. So the Sakhi goes back to Krishna and informs him of Radha’s condition, she she is as one bemused, looking in all directions awaiting his coming and going through all the delight of his presence in imagination.

Scene 6

The Sakhi returns and Radha, seeing by her face that he is not coming, is sad. She sees him in her imagination with another Gopi. She describes the beauty of this imaginary Gopi and says that through her friend has not spoken of Krishna’s love for this girl, she knows that he does love her. She describes the scene she sees in her imagination of Krishna and this girl in Brindavana.

Scene 7

At this moment, Krishna comes and bows to her feet begging her pardon but she spurns him and asks him, to go back to her who has made him happy all this time. She says that for one with a boyhood history of killing women, beginning with Poothana, it is no wonder that even now he wonders the forest seeking to destroy young girls. When he goes away, the Sakhi upbraids Radha for having sent him away. She says Radha’s friends will laugh at her for her childish behavior. Krishna comes again and, sensing the change in her attitude wrought by the advice of her friends, bows before her, begs her to speak to him. In abject submission he asks her to place her feet on his head as an ornament and as an antidote to the poison of desire which is consuming him. The Sakhi requests Radha to go to Krishna. They get her ready to go to Krishna and she approaches him, her feel moving to the music of her anklets. Krishna, his mind fixed on Radha alone, delights in seeing the beauty of her face, and is happy that at last she has come to him. Radha is equally happy and asks Krishna to put her ornaments on her.

Scene 8

This production ends with this scene of the union of Radha and Krishna.

Appendix V. Plot of Gita Govindam explained by S. Sarada teacher [6]

Invocation

The invocatory verses are sung and the Ganesha Kautuvam for this play is in Gambhira Nata and three slokas, Meghar Medutam, Vagdevata Charita, and Yadi Hari Samharana are sung in Gambhira Nata with suitable Sollukattus with the same rhythmic metre as the slokas.

Dasavatara Ashtapadi

The Dasavatara Ashtapadi in Saurashtram is used as Patrapravesham for six gopies with a sollukattu verse in the first kalai.

Two gopies appear with the tirasila held by two other gopies. They move to the front dancing behind the tirasila. This resembles an invocatory nrittam.

The tirasila holders leave by the left doorway of the stage as the second pair of gopies, who has help tirasila previously, enter behind the tirasila held by another pair of gopies, from the left doorway to the front of the stage and they dance to the same sollukattu swaram, the invocatory nrittam.

The tirasila holders leave by the right doorway of the stage. The other two remain standing in their position.

Then the third pair, who had held the tirasila just then, come behind the tirasila help by the other pair to the front center and dance this invocatory nrittam.

The tirasila is removed and all the six continue their nrittam to the same sollukattu swaram now sung in the first and second tempos in a simple. Attractive formation, and they do abhinaya to the stanzas describing the

Ten incarnations of Visnu with a short sollukattu swaram of each avataram for each to which they do different nrittams for each of the stanza and cross over to another position. They do abhinaya to the last stanza, and when it is sung again, the group moves round dancing tattumettu doing abhinaya and leave.

The sloka Vedanuddharate is sung.

Sri Krishna’s Patrapravesham

Then the next Ashtapadi, "Srita Kamala" is used for Sri Krishna’s patrapravesham with the tirasila held by two gopies and a square vithanam (palanquin) with four poles held by four gopies over Him.

The nrittam for this song is done by Sri Krishna with the vithanam held over his head and the holders of the vithanam move along with him, to dance steps, tattimettus and the also go round Sri Krishna.

Then the vithanama is removed. This same song with swaras is used for nritta and abhinaya.

After the nritta is danced by all the gopies for the first swara with group movements, three pairs of gopies do abhinaya.

Then all of them dance to the second swara, with harmonious group movements and the fourth charanam is taken for abhinaya by four gopies.

Then all of them dance to the sollukattu swaram in two tempos at the end of the song.

Appearance of Radha

Radha and her sakhi appear in a combined posture from behind tirasila to the ashtapadi in Vasanta, "Lalita Lavalga" after the avartharika sloka "Vasante Vasanti kusume", describing Radha’s pining is sung by the musicians.

The patrapravesham dance is very picturesque with a sollukattu swaram. Radha and Sakhi depicts beauties of nature in spring season.

Krishna dance with Gopies

Sakhi shows to Radha Sri Krishna, who is dancing and playing with gopies to ashtapadi "Haririha Mugdhavadhu Nikare" in Kamavardhani. To the same song we see Sri Krishna dancing with six gopies.

This folk-like group dance was enriched later, by Rukmini Devi, with more intricate nrittas and abhinayas with rhythmical patterns, added to sollukattu swaras with tisra and chaturasra bhedas. This is used as a separate group dance in our variety programs.

Radha and Sakhi watch this group dance in the beginning and leave quietly.

Radha feel dejected

Radha, overcome by jealousy, goes, sits under a bower of creepers and broods thinking of Sri Krishna’s beauty and his loving actions. This Todi ashtapadi was composed as a varnam and was danced by Rukmini Devi in her solo Bharatanatya performances, with suitable teermanas. Two swaras were composed by Papanasam Sivan for her solo performance. He himself sang for Rukmini Devi’s dance recitals. These two swaras were used here in this dance-drama for nritta, for this ashtapadi in Todi.

To the next ashtapadi in Kambhodi, Radha requests her Sakhi to bring about her reunion with Sri Krishna. Here she describes delicately her first meeting with Sri Krishna.

Distress of Krishna

Sri Krishna appears full of remorse. He searches for her here, and not finding her, he goes to a creeper bower on the banks of Yamuna. He laments to himself to the sollukattu swaram, reflecting his dejection; he does a Nritta suited to the mood of pining and sits down at the end of the sollukattu.

To the ashtapadi "Mamiyam Chalita" in Bouli he expresses his distress for not stopping Radha from going away from him. He sees a vision of Radha and pleads with the vision to pardon him and not to vanish. He would never do any wrong to Radha hereafter.

When he sits in dejection, the companion of Radha comes to him. In two asthapadis she describes the emaciated condition of Radha!

Anguish of Radha

In the asthapadi in Saurashtram misrachapu with sollukattu swara, Radha blames sandal paste for "burning" her.

She paints the picture of the Lord of Love in order to pray to him to bring union between her and Sri Krishna.

In the second asthapadi in Desakshi, she describes her emaciated condition; she is unable to bear even the weight of the string of pearls. She sits still in one place, brooding. She utters the name of Hari like a mantra used by the dying, thinking she is going to die, because of the sufferings of separation.

Intervention of Sakhi

Sakhi dances to sollukattu swaram. There she portrays the suffering of Radha, evoking Sri Krishna’s sympathy and love. Sri Krishna asks her to bring Radha to him with suitable words of persuasion. He would be waiting for her in the same place where Sakhi found him.

Here Sri Krishna stays on the right side of the stage, with the lights dimmed on that side and the left side lights are brightened when Radha enters and sits. This shows that the Lord’s attention is centered fully on devotee and he waits for the human soul to extricate itself from the instincts of samsara.

Sakhi goes to her and describes the sorrow of Sri Krishna on his separation from her. In ashtapadi in Kedaragowla the sakhi advises Radha to go to Sri Krishna without delay, as he is awaiting her arrival in the meeting place, where the essence of love for the Lord, which if the supreme bliss is pervading. He is waiting eagerly for Radha, who represents the seeking soul.

When he hears the faint sound of rustling dry leaves or the sound of the wings of birds at dusk, he hopefully looks in that direction, thinking Radha is coming. This beautiful sentiment of the Lords concern for the human soul is brought out, in this dance, as intended by the great poet Jayadeva, whose poetry is sung even by Yogis and ascetics.

At the same time the Sringara rasa is also expressed in the abhinaya of this song, Radha’s companion tells to her to remove the anklets, which will make a jiggling noise when there is need for silence, and to wear a blue garb to go into the darkness in order to be camouflaged.

The great Hari was waiting. She should decorate herself as time was passing quickly. She should harry to the side of Hari and fulfill his desire to be united with him. She does a nrittam to this song.

The Sakhi tries to lead Radha to Krishna, but Radha who has become very weak by her pining, is unable to walk further. So Sakhi has to leave her behind in a bower and go to Sri Krishna. She described pining of Radha in ashtapadi in Sankarabaranam, "Pasyati Disi". Here she shows in abhinaya the condition of Radha, where Radha imagines herself to be Sri Krishna and decorates herself like him. The great idea of devout poet is brought out fully in this dance.

Despair of Radha

Radha is left alone and she loses faith even in her sakhi. She laments in ashtapadi in Ahiri "Hari has not come as he had promised. Even my sakhi has deceived me. To attain Sri Krishna I have traversed the difficult path and suffered greatly. My heart is pierced with the arrows of Manmada. To whom can I go for refuge?"

Then seeking sakhi who had returned and who was silent and unable to console her, Radha in ashtapadi in Saranga is suspicious that Sri Krishna is likely to be sporting with another gopi, who was more worthy then herself.

Here Rukmini Devi’s placing of Sri Krishna on the stage, simultaneously thinking of Radha, brings out the spiritual aspect of the love theme and the supreme love of the Lord for his devotees tied down by Samsara Vasanas, the instincts of attachments, selfish and possessive passions, etc. When their love for Him becomes greater than their personal feelings, all these instincts fade away, and they become purified. These philosophical truths are indicated in this dance-drama.

Radha in the ashtapadi in Saveri says "Another Gopi is being decorated by Sri Krishna with a Tilakam on her forehead. He is sporting with her on the sandy banks of Yamuna."

In the song in Punnagavarali, Radha says, "The another Gopi who is enjoying the company of Sri Krishna, will not suffer like me." She spends the whole night, nursed and pacified by her companion.

Retort of Radha

Next morning Sri Krishna rises from his side of the stage, and walking in a winding way, he reaches Radha and tries to pacify her by prostrating to her!

She rises with indignation, thinking only of her suffering caused by Sri Krishna’s neglect. She asks him to go away, saying that the beautiful redness of his lotus-like eyes only showed that he had been awake, sporting with another girl. He had become notorious for killing Putana, a girl. He was roaming the forest to bring destruction to innocent women.

She does a nrittam indicative of rejection to sollukattu swaram of this ashtapadi.

Rukmini Devi’s composition of this song was difficult to execute for Shanta, who enacted the part of Radha. Rukmini Devi taught her this ashtapadi having special rehearsals for this portrayal, and she herself showed her how to do it. Later Kala took this part and for her Rukmini Devi also special rehearsals for this song. Krishnaveni has taken this part many times. Shanta Devi, who was one of our students, also had taken this part. All of them had special rehearsals with Rukmini Devi for this song. She changed a little the manner of abhinaya to suit each one of them! Sakhi tries to pacify Radha and pleads with her not to talk angrily to Sri Krishna. Sri Krishna goes away disappointed.

Remorse of Radha

The whole of the next scene is very picturesquely conceived. Now Radha feels remorse for sending away Sri Krishna. Her four friends enter dancing to a Teermanam sollukattu and do nritta in a square formation. They tell her that she should go to Sri Krishna who was awaiting her. What greater happiness could she derive inside her house? She should not show her displeasure towards Sri Krishna.

Her companion says, "Why are you dejected and crying? All your friends are laughing at you for sending Sri Krishna away and crying now in remorse. Let him come and speak to you. Why should you suffer?"

One girl to a sloka "Snigdheyat Parushasi" describes her behavior towards Sri Krishna and says when he showed love she was indignant and rough. When he prostrated before her she was stiff. When he showed affection she showed hostility. So it was only fit that she should feel the sandal paste as poisonous, the moon’s rays as hot as the sun rays, ice as fire and all sports as pain suffered in hell!

Repentance of Krishna

Sri Krishna comes to Radha and the companions stand aside in different positions on the stage. Sri Krishna, in an aside to the famous Sanjivini ashtapadi in Mukhari, "Vadasi Yadi Kinchidapi", Sri Krishna asks Radha to place her tender feet on his head, which like the medicinal herb, will remove the poison of separation from her which burns him. Then Sri Krishna leaves.

Facilitation by Gopies

Three companions dance to sollukattu swaram of the next song in Kalyani and ask Radha to go to Sri Krishna, who has prostrated before her, and who was awaiting her arrival. This is a joyous dance with humor. To ashtapadi in Ghanta, in pairs, the gopies take Radha by the hand and advise her to and pray to Sri Krishna to bless her.

The first pair of gopies stands on each side of Radha in the left side of the stage and do abhinaya to description of beautiful creeper bower, where Sri Krishna is awaiting her. They advise her to enter the bower. They pray to Sri Krishna to give her his blessing. The next pair of gopies moves and stands on either side of Radha, who is led to the middle of the stage. They suggest that she should enjoy the music of Sri Krishna springing out of love and sing in unison with him. The third pair of gopies stand on either side of Radha and lead her to the right side of the stage. They show the coils on top of creeper bower and say that Radha, with beautiful shining teeth, will sport and joy with Sri Krishna. These formations create pictorial beauty on the stage. Then all of them hold their hands together and proceed in a line, looking forward, to leave with graceful gait.

Reunion of Radha and Krishna

The tirasila is held before the central opening of the back curtain, the gopies stand in a group in front of this, turning back towards tirasila to the sloka "Sa Sasadhvasa Sanandaam;" they look aside.

The main sakhi describes to ashtapadi in Madhyamavati Sri Krishna’s joy in seeing Radha. They sit in a circle.

Tirasila is removed from behind the opening of the back curtain. Sri Krishna and Radha are seen seated together. To ashtapadi in Mayamalavagoula Sri Krishna welcomes Radha and requests her to place her feet, tender as the sprouts spread on the couch, which will be shamed by softness of her feet. He declares himself as the supreme Lord Narayana, who had followed her throughout her life and now bids her to follow him in harmony.

Tirasila is again raised covering Sri Krishna and Radha. Gopies get up and do abhinaya and tattimettu to ashtapadi in Madhyamavati. Then they do group dance to swaram in Madhyamavati with simultaneous recitation of sollukattu jati. This is a fitting finale to this unique dance-drama.

Mangalam song is in 24th ashtapadi in Mangala Kausiki in tisram. Then phalasruti sloka "Yad gandharva kalasu" is sung in Madhyamavati.

References

  1. Gita Govinda with Abhinaya. ed. K. Vasudeva Sastri. Thanjavur: Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji Sarasvati Mahal Library Society, 1950
  2. Religion And Theatre by Manohar Laxman Varadpande, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1983
  3. Romance Of The Raga by Vijaya Moorthy, Shakti Malik Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 2001
  4. Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: Devraj to Jyoti, Volume 2, by Amaresh Datta, Sahitya Academy, New Delhi, 1988
  5. The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry (Illustrated Edition) by W. G. Archer, The Echo Library, Middlesex, England, 2007
  6. S Sarada: Reminiscences of Rukmini Devi dance dramas, Madras, 1983
  7. Rukmini Devi: A Quest for Beauty. ed by Gowri Ramnarayan, Sruti Magazine, Issue 7, May 2012
  8. Gitagovinda of Jayadeva: Love Song of the Dark Lord by Jayadeva, Barbara Stoler Miller, Columbia University Press, 1977
  9. The Divine Player: A Study of Krishna Leela by David R. Kinsley, Motilal Banarsidass Indological Publishers and Booksellers, Delhi, 1979
  10. Kalakshetra Art Festival 1986-1987, publication of festival schedule and programs.
  11. Sruti magazine, issue 313, October 2010 (featuring the cover story of Balagopalan sir)
  12. Sruti magazine, issue 293, February 2009 (featuring the cover story of Sharada Hoffman)
  13. The Music of Bharata Natyam by Jon B. Higgins, American Institute of Indian Studies, Oxford & IBN Publishing Co PVT. LTD, New Delhi, 1993
  14. Krishna Bhakti and the Musical worth of Jayadeva’s Ashtapadis by Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao, Srikrishnagana Sabha Archives, 1991 (www.krishnaganasabha.org)
X