From Gita-Govinda to Synaesthesia via Niradbabu

Amit Shankar Saha

(Edior-in-Chief, EKL Review)


Hinduism: A Religion to Live By (B. I. Publications/ Oxford University Press, 1979)



Between quirky irreverence and besotted scholarship Nirad C. Chaudhuri in his book Hinduism: A Religion to Live By displays a kind of insight that interests someone like me who is neither a scholar of history nor that of religion. It is about the twelfth-century text of Jayadeva, Gita-Govinda, “a famous poem of theKrishna cult written in Bengal” (130), where Niradbabu brings into focus, apart from the erotic aspects of it, the fact that “in form it isa song-cycle like Schubert’s Schone Mullerin or Winterreise, with precise directions about the melody and time for every aria” (276). The text of the poem depicts one day in the life of Radha and Krishna and is short enough to occupy “42 demy-octavo pages” (277) if printed in large font without commentaries. According to Niradbabu:

The aria is in the second cycle, and is to be sung in the Gurjari melody. In it, unable to endure her distress any more, Radha asksher friend: ‘O Sakhi, make Krishna have coitus with me, for I aminflamed with the desire for it’, and then she recites in six strophesher anticipation of what will happen to her on the one hand and to Krishna on the other, when he arrives. (278)

Leaving aside Nirad babu’s mocking of Surendra Nath Das-Gupta, S. P. A. Ayyar and Edwin Arnold for bowdlerizing the text by suggesting it to be about the spiritual union of man and god, the interesting point to note is that he makes important reference to the aspect of sound that is essential to poetry. Nirad babu explicates the auditory sensation that is produced by Jayadeva’s poem by referring to the sounds that emanate from the movement of limbs, friction, tinkling of anklets, bells and other ornaments during the act of coitus. Thereby, Gita-Govinda creates an atmosphere of sound indicative of the scenes that it suggests. When he says that “the soundsmade by her [Radha] girdle with its little bells and the additional fact thatits string is broken indicate, three commentators say, that she isexecuting the movement known in the Kamasutra as prenkholita” (279) it indicates an important fact that poetry can create imagery through sound. Even though it is in vogue and poetry is often identified with painting, it is a flawed analogy because poetry cannot be read in its entirety at one moment in time unlike a painting which can be seen in its entirety in one moment in time. There is a difference in the modes of perception of these two forms of art. Whereas, with music the analogy fits perfectly because both can be perceived in parts at a time that gives a sensation of wholeness at the end. What I am getting at is that the imagist aspect of poetry instead of just being a creation of visual parameters must also be mediated through sound. Herein lies the essential synaesthetic quality of poetry where the sense of sight is stimulated through auditory stimuli. 

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