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JAYADEVA (late twelfth century?) was an Indian poet-saint who composed the dramatic lyrical poem Gītagovinda. Dedicated to the god Ka, the poem concentrates on Ka's love with the cowherdess Rādhā during a rite of spring. To express the complexities of divine and human love, Jayadeva uses the metaphor of intense earthly passion. The religious eroticism of the Gītagovinda earned sainthood for the poet and a wide audience for his poem.

There are conflicting traditions about Jayadeva's place of birth and region of poetic activity. Modern scholars of Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar have claimed him for their regions, but the most convincing evidence associates him with the Jagannātha cult of Puri in the latter half of the twelfth century. Although the poem originated in eastern India and remains most popular there, it spread throughout the Indian subcontinent in the centuries following its composition. As early as the thirteenth century it was quoted in a temple inscription in Gujarat (western India). Established commentatorial traditions and manuscripts exist in every part of India. The songs of the Gītagovinda are an important part of Vaiava devotional music and are still sung in temples from Orissa to Kerala. Its text represents one of the major subjects of Rajput painting.

Jayadeva is a name that the poet shares with Ka, the divine hero of his poem, whom he invokes in a song with the refrain "Jaya jayadeva hare" ("Triumph, God of Triumph, Hare!"). All versions of the legend of Jayadeva's life agree that he was born in a brahman family and became an accomplished student of Sanskrit and a skilled poet. However, he abandoned scholarship at a young age and adopted an ascetic life, devoting himself to God. As a wandering mendicant, he would not rest under any one tree for more than a night for fear that attachment to the place would violate his vow. His ascetic life ended when a brahman of Puri insisted that Jagannātha, Lord of the World, himself had ordained the marriage of Jayadeva with the brahman 's daughter Padmāvatī, who was dedicated as a dancing girl in the temple. Padmāvatī served her husband, who in turn shared her devotion to Jagannātha. As Jayadeva composed, Padmāvatī dancedand so the Gītagovinda was composed. In the process of composing the poem, Jayadeva conceived the climax of Ka's supplication to Rādhā as a command for her to place her foot on Ka's head in a symbolic gesture of victory. But in deference to Ka the poet hesitated to complete the couplet. He went to bathe, and in his absence Ka himself appeared, disguised as Jayadeva, and wrote down the couplet; the god then ate the food Padmāvatī had prepared for Jayadeva and left. When the poet returned, he realized that he had received divine grace by exalting Ka's love for Rādhā.

The poem's emotional drama unfolds in twelve movements of Sanskrit songs (padāvalī s) composed in recitative verses. The songs are meant to be sung with specific melodic patterns (rāga s) and rhythmic cycles (tāla s). They are sung by Ka, Rādhā, and Rādhā's friend, who acts as an intermediary between the lovers.

Critical acclaim of the poem within the Indian literary and religious culture has been high, but its frank eroticism has led many Indian commentators to interpret the love between Rādhā and Ka as an allegory of the human soul's love for God. Through the centuries learned and popular audiences alike have appreciated the emotional lyricism expressed by the Gītagovinda in its variations on the theme of the passion felt by separated lovers.


Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. and trans. Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva's Gītagovinda. New York, 1977.

Sandahl-Forgue, Stella. Le Gītagovinda: Tradition et innovation dans le kavya. Stockholm, 1977.

Siegel, Lee. Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions, as Exemplified in the Gītagovinda of Jayadeva. London, 1978.

New Sources

Jayadeva and Gitagovinda in the Traditions of Orissa. Edited by Dinanath Pathy, Bhagaban Panda, and Bijaya Kumar Rath. New Delhi, 1995.

Barbara Stoler Miller (1987)

Revised Bibliography