Translated by Lee Siegel
Foreword by Sudipta Kaviraj
The “Gita·govínda” of Jaya·deva is a lyrical account of the illicit springtime love affair of Krishna and Radha, a god and goddess manifesting on earth as a cowherd and milkmaid for the sake of relishing the sweet miseries and rapturous delights of erotic love. The narrative framing their bucolic songs was composed under royal patronage in northeastern India in the twelfth century. It was meant to be performed for connoisseurs of poetry and the erotic arts, for those refined aesthetes and sophisticated voluptuaries who, while being sensually engaged in the world, were, at the same time, devoted to Krishna as Lord of the Universe.
The text is at once celebration of the sumptuous vicissitudes of carnal love and the sublime transports of religious devotion, a literary merger and aesthetic reconciliation of those realms of emotion and experience. Erotic sentiments and religious sensibilities serve, and are served by, the pleasures of poetry. In the centuries following its composition, the courtly text became a vastly popular inspirational hymnal. Jaya·deva’s songs continue to be sung throughout India in fervent devotional adoration of Krishna.
Radha gazes at Krishna:
Long had he longed to make love to her,
his one true love, his only miss;
Love had made himself at home in him,
and his face beamed bounteous bliss;
Just as the moon churns up
the waves of a turbulent ocean,
So Radha’s face stirred up in him
tides of amorous emotion.
The splendid earrings grazing his lotus face
rivaled the sun for light
And he yearned all the more love when he saw her
lips aglow, her smile bright.
And Krishna commands Radha:
Let obliging words stream from your sweet mouth,
your face a moon, its nectar overflowing;
As if it were our separation, I’ll draw back the drape
that prevents your breasts from showing.
Smother love’s fervid flames,
press your breasts against my chest;
Your bristling bosom is hard to hold,
brimming with desire to be caressed.
As if l, love crazed were dead,
flesh charred by separation’s strife,
With your lips’ elixirs, wild, wild woman,
bring me, your slave, back to life.
256 pp. | ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-4078-1 |
ISBN-10: 0-8147-4078-2 |
Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation
About the Translator
Lee Siegel is Professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Hawai’i. He is the author of Love in a Dead Language.
About the Foreword Writer
Sudipta Kaviraj is Professor of South Asian Politics in the Department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Culture at Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books on South Asian society, culture and history, including The Unhappy Consciousness (1993), and has edited Politics in India (1998) and co-edited (with Sunil Khilnani) Civil Society: History and Possibilities (2000).