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The Significance and Import of the Gitams in the Bhagavata Purana


The Purāṇas are replete with information on various topics like cosmology, geography, sociology, literary criticism and so on. Of the Purāṇas the Bhāgavatapurāṇa is most popular with the spread of the Bhakti Cult.

The Bhāgavatapurāṇa has many Stutis like the Kuntīstuti, Bhīṣmastuti, Prahlādastuti, Dhruvastuti, Gajendra-stuti, Mucukunda-stuti, Akrūra-stuti and so on.These stutis are generally the glories of the Lord uttered by the devotees in His presence.

The Kuntīstuti for instance is the outpouring gratitude of Kuntī to Lord Kṛṣṇa who had saved the foetus of Uttarā – parīkṣit, the only hope as the perpetuator of the Lineage of the Pāṇḍavas. The prayer of Kuntī to the Lord was to experience ‘that sorrow’ which would enable the Lord’s Darśana (I.8.25):

vipadaḥ santu naḥ śaśvattatra tatra jagadguro|
bhavato darśanaṁ yatsyādapunarbhavadarśanam||

The wish of mankind is to alleviate sorrow but on the contrary the prayer of Kuntī seeks sorrow. The reason for such an unusual prayer is also given by herself that the sorrow which will fetch the Lord’s vision or Darśana alone was sought in the prayer, for, the Darśana of the Lord alone would terminate the cycle of birth and death.

Similarly are the Bhīṣmastuti and the Prahlādastutis– both are hails to the Lord who made his physical presence for bestowing the Grace on His ardent Devotees Bhīṣma and Prahlāda. Both had the firm conviction in the Glories of the Lord. Bhīṣma had identified Kṛṣṇa to be the Supreme Lord and his stuti is full with this conviction. In the case of Prahlāda, the Lord wanted to prove the conviction of Prahlāda to be true and appeared before Him and his father – Hiranyakashipu. Thus both the devotees offered their heart-pourings in their stutis.

Thus the context of almost all of these stutis occurring in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa is the Darśana of the Lord wherein the devotee’s realisation of the Lords omniscient Glories and outpouring Love is evident.

Gītās like the UddhavaGītā, Ribhu Gītā, Jāyanteya Gītā, Śruti Gītā, Hamsa Gītā and others are mostly philosophical dialogues or teachings. For instance the Uddhava Gītā is an outcome of Uddhava’s prayers to the Lord to instruct him. Similarly the Śruti Gītā is rendered by Śuka to Parīkṣit at his enquiry as to how the Vedas (which consists of sound or words) could talk of the Lord who is beyond qualities of words or the sounds (Could not be described as the Lord is guṇātīta). The metaphysical concepts of philosophy are dealt with elaborately in these Gītās.

Apart from these there are many portions under the title of Gītams like the Rudra Gītam, Aila Gītam, Veṇu Gītam, Yugma Gītam and so on – all praising the Glories of the Lord and are philosophical. These differ from Gītās and Stutis in the aspect that these can be sung or set to the melodious notes.

A glance at these categories of praises further reveal that these are rendered to cater to the various classes of Devotees. A devotee pursuing the saguṇaupāsanā would be more interested in the stutis, while a person following the nirguṇaupāsanā or the jñānamārga would prefer and be benefitted by the highly philosophic Gītās and the one following Bhakti especially Śṛṅgāra Bhakti towards the Lord would be benefitted by the Gītams of the Gopis.

Understanding the term Gītā /Gītam:

Dr.V.Raghavan in his article on “The Greater Gītā”[1] remarks that Gītā is variously interpreted by the philosophic expounders and commentators taking suggestions from the meaning ‘Song’ and they emphasise that this scripture of the Hindus is not a difficult metaphysical text but that, like song, it appeals and produces ‘sāmarasya’ and so on. The feminine form is then justified as it is popular with the Bhagavadgītā which qualifies the noun Upaniṣadah.

The Gītams or the Devotional songs differ from the above that they could be sung and set to tune is known from the commentaries on the Bhāgavatapurāṇa.

Commenting upon the word Gītam, Vīrarāghava in his commentary–Bhāgavata-candrikā, explains that it is a praise sung to please the Lord(Bh.IV.24.77)  –

ततो मया यद्गीतं स्तोत्रं तस्य गीतात् भावे क्तः। गानाद्धेतोः सुप्रीतात् श्रेयसां . . .

Śrīdharasvāmin in his commentary Bhāvārthadīpikā introducing the 31st chapter in its benediction mentions that the prayer to Lord kṛṣṇa was sung by the Gopis called the GopīGītam:

एकत्रिंशे निशायां ताः पुनः पुलिनमागताः। कृष्णमेवानुगायन्त्यःप्रार्थयन्ते तदागमम्॥

The Gītams in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa:

The  Gītams in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa are Rudra Gītam (IV.24. śl. 16-79), Veṇu Gītam (X.21), Praṇaya Gītam(X.29), Gopī Gītam(X.31), Yugma Gītam (X.35),Karuṇa Or Viraha Gītam(X.39), Bhramara Gītam(X.47), Mahiṣīgītam (X.90), Bhikṣu Gītam (XI.23), Ailagītam(XI.26).

The above Gītams can be further regrouped as individual Gītams and the sets of Gītams. The Rudra Gītam, Bhikṣu Gītam and Ailagītam (XI.26) belong to the former category while the next six Gītams sung by the Gopis and the Mahiṣīgītam belong to the latter.

The Rudra Gītam is a beautiful prayer sung in praise of Lord Viṣṇu by Lord Rudra and taught by himself(Bh.IV.79)[2] to the ‘Pracetās’, the ten sons of Prācīnabarhis, all having the same name and performing the same deed of worshipping the Supreme Lord(Bh.IV.13)[3]. This song is a wonderful blend of both the devotional and the philosophical aspects. The Rudra Gītam begins with the salutations to Lord Vāsudeva in the ten  verses 33 to 43. It further develops saguṇaupāsanā in the next few verses and describes the form of Lord Hari (Bh.IV.45-52) whose vision is sought for (Bh.IV.44)[4]. The next few verses extol the path of devotion and the rest describe the nirguṇattva of the Lord dealing with the philosophical aspects.

The context of the Rudra Gītam in the Purāṇa is well placed where the Prācetasas are ardent adherents of penance wishing to realise the Supreme. They wander looking out for the right place for penance and incidentally meet Rudra who advises them to practise the chanting of the song taught by Him.

The  yearning devotee – here the ten Prācetasas – are well directed towards the Lord by the Guru – (here) Rudra. Also it is to be noted that the devotee is led from saguṇaupāsanā to nirguṇaupāsanā, bhakti to jñāna.

The six priceless Gītams by the Gopis:
The tenth skandha of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa describing the incarnation of Lord Kṛṣṇa is the main source of Bhakti cult. This skandha has six songs – all sung by the prime devotees of the Lord–the Gopis. VeṇuGītam (X.21), Praṇayagītam (X.29), Gopī Gītam (X.31), Yugma Gītam (X.35), Karuṇa Or Viraha Gītam (X.39), Bhramara Gītam (X.47).

Context

The gopis had witnessed the exploits of the little Kṛṣṇa all through the years and without any distinction of age, all the women of Vraja and Vrindavan were attracted to the Lord. Over the years the Gopis had realised that Kṛṣṇa was Lord incarnate. They wished to be always in the company of the Lord and could not bear separation from Him. The six songs starting with the VeṇuGītam describe the fervour with which the Gopis loved the Lord.

Veṇu Gītam(X.21)

The advent of the autumn season and the captivating melodious notes of the flute played by Kṛṣṇa aggravated the Love in the Gopis who gathered in small groups and described the deeds of Kṛṣṇa ( X.21. 3-4)[5]. They could picturise in their mind the form of the Lord. They praised the fortune of the forest and the grazeland, the river Yamunā, the trees, animals, birds and mountains which could see, hear and feel the touch of the Lord wherever he wandered about. They wondered at the merits acquired by the bamboo which as the flute had the fortune to drink the nectar of the Lords Lips (X.21.9)[6]. Thus they engrossed[7] themselves in describing the Lords deeds and the great merit of all animates and in-animates which were fortunate to come in contact with the Lord in one way or the other.

Praṇayagītam(X.29)

The context of Praṇayagītam is the Rāsakrīḍā which is the most popular song in the Bhakti cult. The 29th chapter deals with the Rāsakrīḍā.The concluding portion of the Rāsakrīḍā, are the pleadings of the Gopis revealing their true Love to the Lord which is termed Praṇayagītam.

In one of the full moon nights of the autumn season Kṛṣṇa plays the Lute wishing to have a love sport and test the Gopis. He looks at the multitude of the Gopis who have ventured out at the night to meet him in the forests on hearing the enchanting melodious notes of the flute(X.29.4)[8]. The Lord enquires the Gopis about the propreity in coming to meet him and be in His company which would put their fidelity to question(X.29.26)[9].  Thus when the Lord urged them to return back to their dwellings the Love struck women folk unable to bear the shafts of cupid plead to the Lord to accept them. This verily is the Praṇayagītam.

The Gopis also reveal that they had identified him to be the Supreme while all other worldly relations only generated sorrow(X.29.33)[10]. Thus they pray to the Lord to alleviate their agony of Love.

The Gopis Love towards the Lord was all consuming that all their ego was dissolved. They were prepared to transgress all norms of morality and even face ostracism of society.

The Purport of the Gītam is that when a devotee follows the Bhakti of Nāyaka-Nayikā bhāva then the questions on fidelity may arise.  As an answer to such situations the vedantic teachings that the Lord alone is the Nāyaka and other living beings are the Nayikās is brought out. Also it is taught that the Supreme Being is the very nature of Bliss and all the material joys are inferior. It is well expressed in the song of the Gopis that all the bondings and relations of the world are but ephemeral and source of sorrow and the relation with the Lord alone is eternal and blissful. Such a narration is more apt in preaching the concept that the Lord is the only Nāyaka of all the living beings.

Gopī Gītam(X.31)

The next in sequence of the songs is the Gopī Gītam. After the Lord is convinced with the devotion and Love of the Gopis they spend the night in the love sport (X.29.46).When the Gopis had been enjoying the great pleasures in the company of the Lord, pride popped up in their hearts that they were most dear to the Lord. Thus the Lord who wanted to bless them and remove their pride disappeared at once.Thus the Gopis unable to bear even a moments separation from the Lord Sing the Gopī  Gītam.

The Gopis seek the Lord in the night and announce to Him that they are his unbought slaves, they plead for His grace. They recollect the compassion showered by the Lord in protecting the Gopis in various calamities such as the poisoned waters of river Yamunā by the Kāliya, the demon Agha in guise of a snake, from the deluge rain and raging storm and so on. Thus they express their gratitude and indebtedness for saving them from all sources of fear, human and super human. Almost repeating many a times the Gopis express that they are the servants of the Lord with phrases as  (X.31.2) aśulkadāsikā (X.31.6) kiṅkarīḥsmano. They also acknowledge that Kṛṣṇa was God incarnate and that they knew him not just as the son of Yaśoda[11]. They were fully aware that repeating his name and deeds would remove their sins (X.31.9)[12]. They declare that for the Supreme Lord they have abandoned all their kith and kin(X.31.13)[13]. The most important message of the Gopis is that the Love towards the Lord has the greatest impact of making such devotees oblivious to every other allurement in this world (X.31.14)[14]. Thus the Gopis could not bear even a moments separation and declare – त्रुटिर्युगायते त्वामपश्यताम् । and that they live for Him alone – भवदायुषाम् नः ।

When the Gopis plead and yearn for the Lord, He then appears and graces them. The Gopis are made to repent and realise their pride.Then in the 33rd chapter, the Lord is described to have a beautiful love sport with the Gopis.

YugmaGītam(X.35)

The Yugma or Yugala Gītam  as mentioned by Śrīdharasvāmin (in the maṅgala śloka at the beginning of the 35th adhyāya)  is a song sung by the Gopis narrating the deeds of Kṛṣṇa when they were separated from him, who had been to the woods. Two verses together convey a meaning and hence called yugala gitam. Probably each Gopi narrates an incident or a deed of Kṛṣṇa in two verses. –

पञ्चत्रिंशे वनं याते कृष्णे गोकुलयोषितः।
युग्मश्लोकानुगीतेन निन्युर्दुःखेन वासरान्।।

One of the Gopis describes that as Kṛṣṇa plays His enchanting Flute even the Gods and demigods moving in the skies are attracted to His music; another Gopi describes as to how the birds and animals stoop and freeze like painted objects listening to the flute’s notes played by Kṛṣṇa; while yet another Gopi picturises as to how even the river appears to be stand still by His music. Next a Gopi wonders as to how the bees would swarm around the Tulsi around the Lord’s neck and buzz like a song sung for Him and engrossed in his music the swans and cranes in the lakes would stay still; another Gopi pours out the beauty and joy of the trees , plants and vines which would stoop with flowers and fruits listening to the Lords music; a Gopi hurriedly shares her part as to how the Clouds too played as accompaniment to Kṛṣṇas Flute with thunders and guarded Him from the sun acting as umbrellas; One of the Gopis remarked as to how Kṛṣṇa innovated new styles of playing the flute that all the Trinities were astonished and attracted by it. Another Gopi visualises as to how the earth was relieved with the stroll of Kṛṣṇa and how the royal marks in his feet were imprinted as he walked, while his majectic gait and playful glances made the Gopis agitated by cupid.Thus each Gopi narrating the beautiful moments spent and visualised by them in the company of Kṛṣṇa makes them pass the days of separation from Him.

Thus the Yugala Gita gives the picture of the Gopis who were completely engrossed in the thought of Kṛṣṇa throughout the day when he was away grazing the cattle. The Gopis had now attained the state mentioned in the Bhagavadgītā (IX.22) of constant contemplation –

अनन्याश्चिन्तयन्तो मां ये जनाः पर्युपासते ।
तेषां नित्याभियुक्तानां योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम् ॥

Karuṇa Or Viraha Gītam(X.39. 19-30)

The context of this song is that Akrura, the messenger of Kamsa has arrive at Gokula to take Kṛṣṇa to the city of Mathura. Nanda anounces that Kṛṣṇa would depart the village the very next day. This news comes as a thunderbolt on the Gopis as it was not known when Kṛṣṇa would return. This separation was  the real separation, for, in the earlier occations it was well known that at dusk Kṛṣṇa would return. But here it was the King’s command and the duration of their separation was not at all known. Hence the Gopis remark ‘it is like the unending darkness’ – गोप्यः कथं न्वतितरेम तमो दुरन्तम्।

They also knew that once Kṛṣṇa goes to the city he would be captivated by the beauty and clever women of the city. The panic stricken women wailed melodiously, says the narrator – Śuka (X.39.31c)- विसृज्य लज्जां रुरुदुः स्म सुस्वरम्.

Bhramara Gītam(X.47)

Kṛṣṇa who has established Himself in Mathura, sends his dear friend Uddhava with a message to the Gopis. The Gopis from far off looking at the similarity of the dress and dressings mistake Uddhava who arrives at Brindavan to be their Lord. Once they receive Uddhava formally, the Gopis who were always engrossed in his thoughts and deeds speak out their mind to Uddhava. With a sense of decorum, Uddhava being the friend of the Lord, they could not express their love pangs to him directly and hence a clever Gopi in the pretext of addressing the bee reproaches Kṛṣṇa who had completely abandoned the Gopis who were his slaves. They compliment and feel that the city women had the greatest blessing of being in Kṛṣṇa’s company. The yearnings of the Gopis to have a glimpse of their Lord in this Gītam moves even the heart of Uddhava who had expected the Gopis to be uncultured, now struck with their Devotion and Love that he remarks and prays to the Lord to be born as a bush or a creeper or a plant in Brindavan so that the dust of the feet of the Holy Gopis would sometimes fall on Him (X.47. 61)[15].

The Significance and import

Thus these six Gītams of the Gopis are beautiful instructions to a devotee, woven as a story and expressed in the best medium of a song. The evolution of a devotee from the mundane level to the spiritual level is seen through these Gītams. Thus in the Veṇu Gītam, the attraction of the Gopis towards the Lord is yet in the initial phase. The Gopis attracted to the musical flute of the Lord talk about His beautiful form and the blessing bestowed on the woods where he played the flute.But they did not venture out.

In the Praṇayagītam(X.29), their conviction in Kṛṣṇa had become so strong that they transgressed all the norms of the society to reach out to the Lord. They dared to go out at midnight in the woods to be in the company of the Lord. When the Lord himself questions about the propreity of their act,  they express their true Love towards the Lord and their discovery of His true nature as being the Supreme Lord.

In the Gopī Gītam(X.31), every plant, the jasmine, the creeper and other animate or in animate being was sought help by the Gopis to know  the where abouts of Kṛṣṇa who had suddenly disappeared from amidst them. Their pride of having the exclusive company of the Lord was put down by the Lord. Thus a devotee who treads the Path of devotion is sure to be blessed by the Lord but when the pride of being able to get his Grace appears the Lord immediately teaches a lesson. Thus pride has to be overcome.

The minds of Gopis being engrossed in the Lord even when they are engaged in their worldly duties is brought out in the Yugma Gītam(X.35). Thus a true devotee has to evolve to a stage where he has to do all his duties and yet be in the meditation of the Lord by completely surrendering every thing to Him is imparted in this song.This is the stage which acts as prelude to the devotee to move from saguṇa upāsanā to nirguṇa upāsanā.

So far the Gopis had experienced a temporary separation of  a few hours when he took the cattle out for grazing. The Gopis knew that they could see the Lord at the end of the day. But when Kṛṣṇa is set to go to Mathura they realise that this separation was for a longer period or a permanent one. Thus in the Karuṇa or Viraha Gītam(X.39) they express their helplessness and plead with the Lord not to depart. In the Bhramara Gītam(X.47)the True Love of the Gopis towards the Lord is endorsed even by Uddhava.

Thus these six Gītams are best illustrations of the praṇaya bhakti and also the Bhakti-lakṣaṇa stated by Prahlāda (VII.5.23) – listening (to the Lords Glories), Singing, meditating, Serving, worshipping, saluting, service and friendship with the Lord:

श्रवणं कीर्तनं विष्णोः स्मरणं पादसेवनम्।
अर्चनं वन्दनं दास्यं सख्यमात्मनिवेदनम्॥
इति पुंसार्पिता विष्णौ भक्तिश्चेन्नवलक्षणा।

Similar to the Gopī Gītams is the Mahiṣīgītam (X.90) in which all the sixteen thousand queens express their love and yearning in separation from their Lord Kṛṣṇa.

The next two Gītams illustrate the ephemeral nature of the materialistic world and the futility of wealth.

Bhikṣu Gītam (XI.23)

The Bhikṣu Gītam forms a part of the Uddhava Gītā. This is the narration of a wealthy person who was miserly, involved in sensual pleasures and a moody man (XI.23.4-5)[16]. This man loses all his wealth and realises the futility of wealth and the impermanence of the ways of the world. He attains realisation by penance and his derivations about Life are beautifully recorded in this song.

This episode emphasises the futility of wealth, kith and kin and all other materialistic aspects of life in a very impactful manner. The concept of māyā and that all bondages are but futile declared in the Advaita texts are presented in the most impactful manner in this narration. The regular and repeated reading of this Gītam will surely lead a man to Self-realisation.

 Aila Gītam (XI.26)

The Aila Gītam represents the life of an amourous king Aila and his repentance of being deluded by sensual pleasures and later attainment of the Realisation(IX.26.25)[17] by penance. This is supposed to be a popular folksong(XI.26.4)[18].

These Gītams are reflective of the jīvātman’s yearning for the Paramātman. The representation of these Vedāntic thoughts in various stories appeal to devotees and help them gain confidence and conviction in the Devotional path that at any point of time, or at any circumstance he/she is in, can attain the Supreme Bliss.

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Footnotes:

 

[1] ‘Greater Gītā’ ,Raghavan, V. JOR. XII.pp.86-122.ptd.The Madras Law Journal, Madras, 1940,

[2] गीतं मयेदं नरदेवनन्दनाः परस्य पुंसः परमात्मनः स्तवम्।
जपन्त एकाग्रधियस्तपो महत् चरध्वमन्ते तत आप्स्यथेप्सितम्॥

[3] प्राचीनबर्हिषः पुत्राः शतद्रुत्यां दशाभवन् । तुल्यनाम व्रताः सर्वे धर्मस्नाताः प्रचेतसः॥

[4] दर्शनं नो दिदृक्षूणां देहि भागवतार्चितम् ।रूपं प्रियतमम् स्वानां सर्वेन्द्रियगुणाञ्जनम्॥

[5] तद् व्रजस्त्रिय आश्रुत्य वेणुगीतं स्मरोदयम् ।काश्चित्परोक्षं  कृष्णस्य स्वसखीभ्योऽन्ववर्णयन् ॥
तद्वर्णयितुमारब्धाः स्मरन्त्यः कृष्णचेष्टितम् ।नाशकन् स्मरवेगेन विक्षिप्तमनसो नृप ॥

[6] गोप्यः किमाचरदयं कुशलं स्म वेणुर्दामोदराधरसुधामपि गोपिकानाम् ।
भुङ्क्ते स्वयं यदवशिष्टरसं ह्रदिन्यो हृष्यत्त्वचोऽश्रु मुमुचुस्तरवो यथार्यः॥

[7] एवंविधा भगवतो या वृन्दावनचारिणः।वर्णयन्त्यो मिथो गोप्यः क्रीडास्तन्मयतां ययुः॥

[8] निशम्य गीतं तदनङ्गवर्धनं व्रजस्त्रियः कृष्णगृहीतमानसाः।
आजग्मुरन्योन्यमलक्षितोद्यमाः स यत्र कान्तो जवलोलकुण्डलाः॥

[9] अस्वर्ग्यमयशस्यं च फल्गु कृछ्रं भयावहम् । जुगुप्सितं च सर्वत्र औपपत्यं कुलस्त्रियाः॥

[10] कुर्वन्ति हि त्वयि रतिं कुशलाः स्व आत्मन्नित्यप्रिये पतिसुतादिभिरार्तिदैः किम् ॥
तन्नः प्रसीद परमेश्वर मा स्म छिन्द्याआशां धृतां त्वयि चिरादरविन्दनेत्र॥

[11] न खलु गोपिकानन्दनो भवानखिलदेहिनामन्तरात्मदृक्।
विखनसार्थितो विश्वगुप्तये सख उदेयिवान्सात्वतां कुले॥

[12] तव कथामृतं तप्तजीवनं कविभिरीडितं कल्मषापहम्।
श्रवणमङ्गलं श्रीमदाततं  भुवि गृणन्ति ते भूरिदा जनाः॥

[13] पतिसुतान्वयभ्रातृबान्धवानतिविलङ्घ्य तेऽन्त्यच्युतागताः।
गतिविदस्तवोद्गीतमोहिताः कितव योषितः कस्त्यजेन्निशि॥

[14] सुरतवर्धनं शोकनाशनं स्वरितवेणुना सुष्ठु चुम्बितम्।
इतररागविस्मारणं नृणां वितर वीर नस्तेऽधरामृतम्॥ १४॥

[15] आसामहो चरणरेणुजुषामहं स्यांवृन्दावने किमपि गुल्मलतौषधीनाम्।
या दुस्त्यजं स्वजनमार्यपथं च हित्वा भेजुर्मुकुन्दपदवीं श्रुतिभिर्विमृग्याम्॥

[16] कथयन्ति महत्पुण्यमितिहासमिहोद्धव।तमहं वर्णयिष्यामि निबोध सुसमाहितः॥
केनचिद् भिक्षुणा गीतं परिभूतेन दुर्जनैः। स्मरता धृतियुक्तेन विपाकं निजकर्मणा॥

[17] एवं प्रगायन् नृपदेवदेवः स उर्वशीलोकमथो विहाय।आत्मानमात्मन्यवगम्य मां वै उपारमज्ज्ञानविधूतमोहः ॥

[18] ऐलः सम्राडिमां गाथामगायत बृहच्छ्रवाः। उर्वशीविरहान्मुह्यन् निर्विण्णः शोकसंयमे॥

Bibiography

Bhāgavatapurāṇa, Gorakhpur Press, Gorakhpur,1994.

Journal of Oriental Research Vol. XII., Greater Gītā’ ,Dr.V. Raghavan, ptd. By The Madras Law Journal, Madras, 1940.

This paper was presented as a part of a Conference on Puranas and Indic Knowledge Systems, organized by Indic Academy on 26th and 27th March 2021.

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