Gitagovinda (KRISHNA in songs) is a SANSKRIT poem written by the 12th-century poet JAYADEVA. Made up of 12 chapters containing 24 songs, the Gitago-vinda traces the passionate love affair of the young, handsome cowherd Krishna and his married lover RADHA, a young woman who also herds cows (GOPI). Both sacred and profane, the work details the love play of the fickle god with Radha, Radha’s pain in separation from him, his eventual pain in separation from her, and their passionate reunion.
   In theological terms, Radha is the devotee who seeks God, tastes the sweet pleasure of mystic union, and then is abandoned only to have the love renewed in further mystical experience. In later Vaishnavite theology Radha was seen as an extension of the fullness of the divine, who was (mysteriously) both identical and separate from him. Radha, then, becomes the energy of Krishna that allows him to experience and impart joy. This explains why in Gitagovinda god himself is seen to yearn for the devotee (Radha) in parting. Krishna needs the devotee nearly as much as the devotee needs Krishna.
   Gitagovinda is a masterpiece of Sanskrit literature that was very influential among the Vaishnavites of Bengal. It was considered to be CHAITANYA’s favorite work, and stories tell of his relish for the songs of this book. It also influenced the Vaishnavite Sahajiyas, a tantra-influenced sect that saw sexuality as an expression of Krishna’s liaisons with Radha. The Sahajiyas esoteric prac-tice joined a man with a woman not his wife as part of the realization of the mysterious union of Radha and Krishna.
   Further reading: Barbara Stoler Miller, ed. and trans., Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977); Lee Siegel, Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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