Sringara in Geeta Govinda

By Shekhar Shastri

“When there is union in the heart
There is no distance to cover.”
[Bhartrhari SringaraS.65]

 The journey to the heart is the most mysterious one; fraught with anticipation, suspense, dejection, obsession, and supreme delight – romance remains the perennial target of all living beings. The object of romance may differ, yet in the face of love, all other priorities evaporate.

In the ancient Sanskrit text, NatyaSastra, it is said, “Full of joy and bliss, all must bow down to the power of love.”[Bharata, NS. VI.46]. Even an emperor cannot declare sovereignty over love, he must earn it humbly. Thus, it is the stories of love that we seek in all texts, drama, movies, and songs. The litmus test of any art is in its effectiveness in generating that romance in our hearts, for it is the warmth of love alone that sustains in our memory till our last breath.

Sanskrit scholars delved deep into the subject of love, ‘Sringara’ – the shining golden horns that cannot be missed, always held at the crown of our heads. Shringara generates the highest form of delight among all emotions! [Anandavardhan, Dhvanyaloka, II.7]

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“Whatever is pure, bright and beautiful in the world, is often compared with sringara”. [NS]. When you see something special that catches your eyes favorably, what do say? “Lovely.”

Love is the ultimate benchmark of an experience, a person, or any other object. To this ‘Love’, we offer ourselves and embark on a journey through the medium of ancient Sanskrit texts that never fail to bring a smile to a reader’s lips and warmth in the hearts.

He plays your name to call you on his sweet flute.

He cherishes breeze-blown pollen that touched your fragile body.

In woods on the wind-swept Yamuna bank,

Krishna waits in wildflower gardens. [Jayadeva, Geeta-Govinda 11-1]

When a bird feather falls or a leaf stirs. He imagines your coming.

He makes the bed of love; he eyes your pathway anxiously.

In woods on the wind-swept Yamuna bank,

Krishna waits in wildflower gardens. [Jayadeva, Geeta-Govinda 11-3]

This is from ‘Geeta Govinda’, a 12th century lyrical poetry in Sanskrit by Jayadeva, celebrating the love between Krishna and the gopi Radha. You can listen to a musical rendition of this song ‘Dheerasameere’, sung by renowned music exponent Pt. RaghunathPanigrahi.

As a poet, playwright, dancer, actor, and a musician, one has to think carefully of how to reach the heart of the audience, the reader, the listener. Towards that end, there is ample guidance in the Sanskrit texts in the Natyasastra(dramaturgy) tradition.

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The Geeta Govinda is taking place as a dialogue between Krishna and Radha, sometimes directly and at times through the sakhi, the friend of Radha. The intended emotive response is one of love and romance which the audience must be bathed in, through the characters on the stage or the poetry – and Radha and Krishna are those stimuli to generate that experience for the viewer. Yet, the artist needs a context for the drama, and the sakhi, the gardens, cool breezes, and nights and clouds provide it.

In Sanskrit, the main cause of the experience is termed Alambanavibhava, and this context is called Uddipanvibhava. The chief emotion (SthayiBhava) to be delivered is Love, however, the journey has to have enough intrigue, uncertainty, twists and turns for it to be of sustained interest, and these are called the vyabhicharibhava. There are many other ingredients that the creative artist must infuse in order to lead the audience to the target of Sringara rasa; Geeta Govinda’s author Jayadeva was a genius in weaving all these aspects masterfully. No wonder Geeta Govinda is still being sung around the world 900 years after its composition.

The Geeta Govinda text has 24 songs (Prabandha-s), and each one is composed to a melodic structure (Raaga) and a rhythmic cycle (Taala), which has made it convenient for performers to sing and dance to these captivating images of cosmic love.

I have been teaching Sanskrit Love Poetry at MIT for the past few years and am surprised each time at how powerfully it impacts people from all over the world, most of whom know little or nothing about Sanskrit, or India. Since, love is an ever-present theme for all humans and the Sanskrit poets spoke a universal language with deep understanding of the human nature and the rhythm of life.

The ocean of Sanskrit Love poetry has no limits, yet we shall be taking tours of these fountains of nectars from time to time, hope you continue to tune in.