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Poet for Liberated Souls

The poems of Jayadeva so wonderfully describe Lord Krishna’s pastimes that Krishna Himself—as Lord Chaitanya—would swoon on hearing them.
Srila Vyasadeva compiled the Vedic literature some five thousand years ago, and since then many great devotees have created literary works following the conclusions of Vyasadeva’s writings and drawing on their own realizations. One such pure devotee was Jayadeva Goswami, who, in the twelfth century A.D., composed Gita-govinda, one of the greatest Vaishnava classics of all time.

Jayadeva was born in the village of Kenduli, West Bengal. His father’s name was Bhajadeva, and his mother’s Rama. Little is known about his early life, but it is said that he was a Sanskrit scholar at an early age and was inclined toward spiritual life. Some of his contemporaries have described him as “the incarnation of melody.”

As a young man, Jayadeva went to Jagannatha Puri after visiting many holy places. There he married a girl named Padmavati, who was devoted to the Deity of Lord Jagannatha (Krishna, “the Lord of the universe”). Jayadeva also developed deep love for the Lord. Inspired by the beauty of Puri and Lord Jagannatha, he composed Gita-govinda, and it quickly became the joy of the Vaishnava community.

At the time Gajapati Purushottamadev was the provincial king. He was openly envious of Jayadeva and soon posed an ill- fated challenge. The king considered himself a master poet, on a par with Jayadeva, and composed a work entitled Abhinava Gita-govinda. One day, he summoned his advisors and asked them to widely circulate his work, in an attempt to make it more popular than Jayadeva’s. The king’s own men, however, ridiculed his attempt, saying that it is impossible to compare a lamp to the sun.

Still, the king was relentless. A controversy soon arose, and the brahmanas (the king’s priests) decided that the matter would be settled by placing both manuscripts before the Deity of Lord Jagannatha for the night. By morning, they said, the Lord Himself would decide.

When the devotees went to greet the Deity the next day, they found Jayadeva’s Gita-govinda clasped against the Deity’s chest, and the king’s manuscript scattered about the floor. The decision was clear.

Jayadeva’s fame spread across India, his work being recited or sung in every major temple and royal court. So popular was his work that beginning in the fifteenth century, various schools of classical Indian art began to render it more than any other religious text. Gita-govinda was illustrated in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and the Punjab hills. Gujarat produced the earliest illustrated manuscript in 1450. The next significant Gita-govinda series was painted in 1590, and it is now on display in Bombay’s Prince of Wales Museum.

The great Mogul emperor Akbar was an admirer of Gita- govinda and commissioned a special illustrated manuscript, one of the most important renditions ever produced. His manuscript was done in Mogul style and showed a fascinating merger of religious and cultural milieus. Radharani, for instance, Lord Krishna’s eternal consort, was depicted in typical Mogul dress.

Later in life, Jayadeva became the court poet of King Lakshmanasena, the king of Bengal for the latter half of the twelfth century. The king’s patronage of Jayadeva added insult to injury for Gajapati Purushottamadev, who soon resigned from his post in Puri.

Jayadeva’s work became more famous as the years passed, and after he left this world, the words of his immortal Gita-govinda were inscribed on the Jaya- Vijaya doorway of the Jagannatha temple in Puri.

The most significant testament to the value of Jayadeva’s work is that it was fully appreciated by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who used to have it read to Him nightly. Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself in the role of a perfect devotee. Since God Himself is pleased with Jayadeva’s work, it must be considered consummate.

Consequently, Srila Prabhupada states that Jayadeva should be counted among the mahajanas. the great souls who come to this world on behalf of the Lord to show the proper methods of devotional service. This puts Jayadeva in the company of such exalted personalities as Brahma, Narada, and Prahlada. Jayadeva’s distinct position is revealed in the depth of his work. Gita-govinda deals with the intimate pastimes of Radha and Krishna, the ultimate in spiritual truth. Skillfully weaving pastoral drama with scriptural fact through the medium of Sanskrit melody, Jayadeva brings to life every nuance of spiritual love, in union and in separation.

Still, as the perfect teacher, Jayadeva is careful, for he does not want his readers to mistake the loving pastimes of Radha and Krishna for lusty exchanges. The interaction of Radha and Krishna is the most wholesome spiritual relationship, of which material relationships are but a perverted counterpart.

To prevent misconceptions, great Vaishnava teachers throughout history have recommended the reading of basic spiritual texts, such as the Bhagavad-gita, before one approaches the esoteric pastimes of Radha and Krishna. And even then, one requires the direction of a bonafide spiritual master coming in disciplic succession. Otherwise, one is sure to misinterpret the teachings. Srila Prabhupada, in fact, has written that the esoteric works of Jayadeva and others like him should be read only by liberated souls.

Jayadeva begins his Gita-govinda with a beautiful prayer, entitled Dashavatara Stotra: “The Prayer to the Ten Incarnations.” In this prayer, he reminds his readers of Lord Krishna’s divinity, hoping to allay their possible misinterpretation of the pastimes of the Lord recounted in the book. In the last verse of Dasavatara Stotra, Jayadeva summarizes the activities of ten incarnations of Lord Krishna:

O Lord Krishna, I offer my obeisances unto You, the Supreme Lord. You appear in the form of the following ten incarnations. In the form of Matsya, You rescue the Vedas, and as Kurma, You bear the Mandara Mountain on Your back. As Varaha, You lift the earth with Your tusk, and in the form of Nrsimha, You tear open the chest of the demon Hiranyakashipu. In the form of Vamana, You trick Bali by asking him for only three steps of land, and then You take away the whole universe by expanding Your steps. As Parasurama, You slay all the wicked kings, and as Ramacandra, You conquer the evil king Ravana. In the form of Balarama, You carry a plow, with which You subdue the wicked and draw toward You the river Yamuna. As Lord Buddha, You show compassion to all living beings, and at the end of the present age, Kali- yuga, You appear as Kalki to destroy the lowest among men.