Gitagovinda, the well known dance-drama ranks in poetic beauty on a level with, if not higher than, the works of Kalidasa and others. The author Jayadeva is a saint well-known for his deep devotion to Lord Jagannatha. He appears to have lived in the 12th century. He was born in Bengal but he made Puri his home. The story of Gita Govinda briefly told, is the love episode of a single night between Sri Krishna and Radha on the banks of the Yamuna. It has long been the practice among devotees in our country, to sing the Bala-Leelas of Sri Krishna, and enact them with or without dance. In the Tamil land also, we find mention, in some of the early classics like 'Silappadhikaram', of shepherd girls dancing the "Rasa dance" (Dancing in circle) one of them personating Krishna and others the Gopies. It is called in Tamil "Aychiyar Kuravai”.
Sri Jayadeva therefore only followed the traditional practice, when he sang the sringara leelas of Krishna in the 24 Ashtapadies, or songs in eight line, and about 60 slokas in different meters. He has devidcd the work into 12 Adhyayas.
In the first two Ashtapadies the 10 Avatars of Maha- vishnuand some incidents in the more important Avatars are described. Next comes a fine description of Vasanta Ritu (spring season). Krishna and the Gopies are then described as dancing the Rasa Dance. Sri Krishna captivates the Gopies with his muraligana and his superbly attractive from. He moves freely among the Gopies indulging in all kinds of love pranks. Radha with whom Krishna had already made a tryst waits for his coming in the bower on the banks of the Yamuna. She waits long but Krishna does not arrive. Her companion who goes out on a reconnoitring mission comes back to tell Radha that Sri Krishna is at the height of his love-sports with the Gopies in Rasa Dance. On hearing this, and getting it confirmed by actually seeing from a distance, she under- goes the deepest pangs of disappointed love and gives vent to her feelings in her out bursts to her companion. Who conforts her and gives her hope The latter starts to find Krishna and inform him. of the love-pangs of Radha Krishna meets her half-way and says that he would rather stay there and that the messenger might lead Radha to that place. On hearing this, Radha, already stricken with the severe pangs of love, feels unequal to the task of vending her way in the dark, to Krishna. In the mean- while Krishna himself arrives at the bower of Radha. Radha, after having felt the keenest disappointment, is now wroth against Krishna, and Krishna pleads with all the resource fulness he could command: Radha points to the unmistakable marks of his campaign of love, and Krishna- blinks and has perforce to retire. When once Krishna had departed Radha is stricken with love-pangs of redoubled severity and she accuses herself for her folly in thus rebuking Krishna away.
Her companion offers to mediate, softens her feeling and leads her to Sri Krishna who is now awaiting Radha's coming, with the pangs of love no less intense than Radha, and they are reconciled. This is the story of the Ashta-padies and Slokas of Gitagovinda.
Each Ashtapadi is composed in a different Raga. The ragas and Talas are all mentioned by the author himself. But the modes in which they were sung in the days of Sri Jayadeva have all changed beyond recognition in modern practice both in the north and in the south. And at the present day, the Ashtapadies have been assigned particular ragas according to latter-day
Sampradaya both in the North and in the South.
It is a noteworthy feature of the 'shtapadies that they have all been composed for the express purpose of being used for Nritya (Dance with Abhinaya). This is indicated by the reference, in the text of the Ashtapadi, to the fact that Sri Jayadeva sang these Ashtapadies to the accompaniment of Nritya by his devoted wife, Padamavati. He calls himself in introductory verse No. 2 'an expert in directing the feet of Padmavathi in her dance.' (Padmavathi Charana charana Chakravarthi); and again be refers to the collabration of Padmavati in his recital in Ashtapadi 21 (Vihita Padmavati Sukha Samaje Bhanati Jayadeva Kavirajaraje).
Having thus been composed for the express purpose of Nritya, the Abhinaya for all the pieces must have been determined and preserved by tradition. But the traditional' practice has suffered by the general break of tradition due to the foreign invasion and foreign influence. Fortunately for us however, the Abhinaya for every word is found in two manuscripts, preserved in the Saraswati Mahal. But in both t he manuscripts, the text breaks off at the 17th Ashtapadi. Incomplete as it is, it is presented to the public on account of the rarity and value of genuine traditional practice of Nritya. The fact that the Abhinaya given here agrees well with the practice of the Art in the Tanjore District which is now the home of the purest tradition of Bharata Natya, is itself sufficient to conclude that the work is pretty old. This conclusion is strengthened by another circumstance. Both the manuscripts are in paper and pretty old. Palmleaf has solely been in use in the Tamil and Telugu land in general and in Tanjore in particular, till the advent of the Maharattas and the British. The fact that both these manuscripts are in paper show that both are from North India. After the advent of the Afghans and Moghuls, pure tradition of Bharata Nritya had been mixed up with Persian forms in North India. But this work contains the Bharatha Natya tradition in a very pure form. It is therefore clear that this work must have been composed before the mixing up of the Indian and Persian styles of Dance, under the Afghan and Mughal rule of the 14th to 17th century in Northern India. It is extremely probable that this work was composed by the direct disciples of Sri Jayadeva himself or those just after them.
The gestures that are found in this work are simple, highly expressive, and graceful, and they follow the technique laid down by Bharata in the Natya Sastra. The movements and gestures chiefly to be found in this work are included in the 26 Asamyutahastas (Single-hand- mudras), 13 Samyutahastas (mudras by using both the hands), the 4 hasta-karanas (winding movements), and the 13 movements of the head. Their difinitions and use are to be found in the Natya Sastra chapters 8, 9 and 100 They are also explained in the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikesvara. The latter work is now available in print with a translation in English. Abhinaya of Gita Govinda which is now presented in this series will, it is hoped, serve as a reference book of the practice of Abinaya according to Bharata.
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