In the Gita Govinda, one must be able to look through the graphic eroticism to truly see the religious message presented by Jayadeva. Unlike other Indian religious texts or teachings such as the Dhammapada and The Laws of Manu, which are more direct in delivering their messages the Gita Govinda uses symbols to illustrate its religious principles.
The Gita Govinda is an example of Bhakti or devotional Hinduism. In the Gita, Rada’s love for Krishna the supreme incarnation of Vishnu represents man’s ability to have a personal relationship with his god. The images presented and the messages of the Gita Govinda are quite different from Buddhist and Upanishadic teachings but one can still see aspects of their influence on the Bhakti tradition.
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The form of both the Dhammapada and The Laws of Manu is more along the lines of teacher reciting rules and consequences if rules are broken to a group of students or knowledge seekers. The Gita Govinda on the other hand is a poem with a very special meter that should be accompanied by a dancer and music when recited. The Gita is much less direct in its messages which are told through an erotic love story. The Gita can reach a greater audience than the other previously mentioned works simply because of its appeal as a story as well as an art.
In the Dhammapada and Laws of Manu passion and desire are seen as evil. This view is not shared in the Gita Govinda where Rada’s passion for Krishna is the constant theme and focus of the poem. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says things such as “…passion will break through the unguarded mind.” (Dhammapada 36) while Manu, in the Laws of Manu comments on desire saying, “Acting out of desire is not approved of…” (Laws of Manu 16) Rada’s desire to be with Krishna and to share his love becomes her only reason for wanting to live. This devotion to Krishna is what eventually brings them back together and is also what defines the Bhakti religious movement in Hinduism.
In the Gita Govinda, the idea that Krishna is not simply the supreme deity but also that he is capable of having a one on one spiritual relationship with a human is what makes this religious story unique. In The Laws of Manu, we hear of how sacrifices are to be made to the gods however, there is no talk of the same one-on-one relationship between any deity and man.
Also in contrast the reference to the milkmaids in the Gita is meant to signify members of the lower caste and their ability to have a place as any other caste in Bhakti religious practices. (class notes) Rada herself being a milkmaid shows that even the closest relationship with a deity could be had by all castes unlike what is depicted in The Laws of Manu, where only the upper caste and mainly Brahmans priests could have the highest religious standing.
One idea of the Gita is that all have the same ability to relate with god personally just as Rada did. This is similar to the Buddhist belief that a Brahman was not just a person that participated in ascetic acts or was born in the upper caste. The Buddhist belief that all castes can reach spiritual goals is very similar to that of Bhakti Hinduism. While the goals are different Buddhism and Bhakti do not discriminate against lower caste groups, both believe that all man regardless of caste can reach salvation.
One way in which Krishna is seen to mirror Buddha is seen in this passage from the Gita ” Moved by deep compassion, you condemn the Vedic way that ordains animal slaughter in the rites of sacrifice. You take the form as the enlightened Buddha, Krishna.” (Gita 71) The Brahmans in The Laws of Manu still performed the blood sacrifices, which were considered to be vital to their faith.
Bhakti also shares significant similarities and differences with Buddhism and the Upanishadic way in its view of how to reach salvation. In Hinayana Buddhism, the Buddha was seen as a mortal and great teacher. A Hinayana Buddhist that understood the four noble truths and followed the eight-fold path and lived a monastic life could obtain nirvana and stop the cycle of rebirth. This concept differs from Bhakti in that it has no supreme deity and that its path to salvation is by deeds and not love or devotion.
Mayahana Buddhism, on the other hand, does recognize the Buddha as a divine figure and while the four noble truths and eight-fold path are important aspects of their faith, devotion to Buddha is stress with greater importance and can lead to heaven and salvation. This idea closely relates to Bhakti in that a divine figure is at its center and that by devotion to that deity one can obtain salvation.
Looking at the Upanishadic way as seen in The Laws of Manu we see no supreme deity that leads to salvation. Only the upper caste members that acquire the necessary knowledge and insight after studying with a guru, memorizing the Vedas and practicing all the right sacrifices according to the Vedas obtain salvation. This idea with upper-caste can only reach salvation viewpoint differs from both Buddhism and Bhakti.
In the Gita Govinda, Rada’s faith and complete devotion to Krishna helped her obtain supreme love and salvation. The Gita illustrates this quite clearly through Rada’s struggle and never-ending love for Krishna. Even when her lover was gone and she thought he might not return, she never stopped loving him and she always kept her faith that one day he would return. In the arms of Krishna Rada finds her salvation. This erotic tale is the basis for the Bhakti tradition in which love and devotion to Krishna lead to salvation.
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