The Blahcksheep

The Blahcksheep

the blahck sheep logo

Rewriting the Gita Govinda for My Grandmother

In this satirical piece, the author rewrites excerpts from Jayadev’s ‘Gita Govinda,’ a 12th century love poem about Radha and Krishna to make it more palatable to her religious grandmother. In the process, she exposes the inconsistencies and fears of the Hindu Right-Wing.


Sometime after the term break, right after I finally began to settle into the University Regime, I was asked to move to my grandmother’s house for a good two weeks. While I was mostly excited to spend time with her, two quite unrelated facts tempered down that excitement: my inability to concentrate wearing earphones and a certain Monday morning course about gender and sexuality. Which meant, dear, old, innocent Granny would be corrupted beyond repair. 

Granny belonged to the generation where sanctity was everything. She was the kind of woman who’d been pushed into managing a household before she could fully manage herself, shuttling between a chauvinistic husband who often seemed to forget she existed and raising a girl child to fit the standards of society. Naturally, she found solace in her God. What was born out of sheer loneliness transformed into a custom her day couldn’t start without. So, every morning at sharp 6:30, the Gita Govinda blared from the tiny speaker at the bottom of a phone she was still learning how to use, as she clapped her hands along the beat, with her silvering hair covered in a demure saree. Up until very recently, I had assumed that the Gita Govinda was just another in a long list of devotional songs that sang the praises of the lord. I was mostly atheist, and consequently, the family disappointment; I was never expected to be a part of these morning concerts. It was only when Granny bid my attendance, did I bother to make an appearance. 

These were the first two weeks Granny and I would have been alone, barring the occasional house help who came in to cook burnt dal and mushy rice. My presence in the morning aarti became an unspoken norm, even if my role was only that of a mediocre DJ, starting and ending with clicking on a YouTube video everyday. It was only a few days later that my half-asleep eyes registered the “Jayadeva” in the title of this video. I realized with a start that by a hilarious turn of events, my oh-so-intolerant Granny was listening to divine erotica. I wondered if I should tell her what the lyrics meant, but then thought better of it: I prized my cheeks more than I let on. I decided I’d do her a favor and re-write her beloved morning aarti audio track to ring truer to her vision of bhakti:

Sinful Radha 

“And God said, Let clouds cover Heaven 

The fruit tree yielding tamales must darken good Light 

Radha feared the darkness He called Night 

As her LORD, the God guide her home 

They left at His order and decree 

As good, earth-sprung trees passed their way 

Until Radha’s secret passions led her astray 

And the LORD God said, shall ye not do so 

Thou shalt not uncover nakedness foriegn to you 

For only Truth must triumph at the Jamuna bank. 

Thou must turn ye heart away from sin, it is thy enemy 

I am the LORD, your God 

Ye shall do me reverence, keep mine ordinances 

To remember this, ye shall enrich thy soul: 

Radha’s sin does now bring forth sorrow 

The Sixty-ninth song, sung with Raga “Anmyakari”

As my creation shall arouse unknowing faith.

My LORD, may thou bless me with thy all-mighty hand on my head

Accept peace offerings I make with will in thy Holy name 

Listen to my song as I pray to the delight of your heart. 

My LORD, I draw on blindfolds to the blackness of the world 

The laws thou bestow on mankind dost struck me like arrows 

Listen to my song as I pray to the delight of your heart. 

My LORD, my ears reflect restlessness to hear your good Truth

For I dare not, must not sayest thou name in Falsehood 

Listen to my song as I pray to the delight of your heart. 

My LORD, I pin back my hair under undecorated veils 

With painted foreheads bowed in thy Supreme feet 

Listen to my song as I pray to the delight of your heart. 

“Bless me with your hand! 

Put color on my head! 

Protect my nakedness! 

Accept flowers in thy feet! 

Tie hands with divine thread 

And toe rings in my feet!” 

As your most devout disciple 

Does what the LORD shall say. 

On August 30, 2021, the Indian Express published an article reporting an incident common enough to demand no more than 3 short paragraphs explaining it. And while the incident seems much larger than the print space it was allocated, the sentiment that prompted it was not unusual: “objectionable” appears exactly 5 times in the less-than-250 word article. Despite this recurrence, exactly what seemed “objectionable” to the VHP outfit remains ambiguous. Was it the mere existence of what is identified to be a sex-manual? Was it a visual publication of an activity restricted to closed doors and marriages? Or was it the insinuation that a much loved Hindu deity indulged in pleasures of the flesh himself? 

The depictions of Radha and Krishna having sex puncture this narrative of equating sexual desire with sin. The repeated notion that even thinking about sex outside a reproductive set-up is morally inappropirate, and therefore dirty, would stand null if a God around which a large sect of this religion revolved was shown to be ‘doing it’ too. A book elucidating this kind of knowledge must thus be burnt as punishment disguised under “protest” (The Indian Express). Meanwhile, the Gita Govinda openly talks about Radha’s “beautiful loins” (Jayadeva, 24.18.1) while still enjoying the status of a bhajan. What this seems to say is that “Hinduism” is not universal: it isn’t a singular ideology to be imposed on everyone. The Bajrang Dal however, with their violent “marks of protest” (The Indian Express), attempt to snuff out this multiplicity, establishing their version of Hinduism as the universal “Truth”.

The rewrite above is designed to address these inconsistencies through satire. This Gitagovinda 2.0 is one that would fit this singularity the Bajrang Dal fixates upon. The “new-and-improved” version borrows the sort of rigidity and obsession with controlling one’s sexual desires we see in the Bible, in order to resonate more with today’s world. 

Jayadeva’s version equated sexuality with purity and divinity, with lines like: Let blissful men of wisdom purify the world by singing his Gitagovinda (Jayadeva, 24.21.6-7) 

The rewritten one, however, substitutes these ideas by linking sexuality to sin instead, where “Radha’s sin” brings “sorrow” and inspires punishment. It preaches utter devotion to God, and establishes his orders as absolute and infallible. The Biblical God lays down a set of “ordinances” for mankind to follow, so as to avoid “wickedness” (18:17). Most of the rules revolve around restricting sexual activity, and making clear distinctions between what is considered “pure” and “impure”. 

The Bajrang Dal follows suit. Their divisive tendencies seem to seep into everything, from religion and caste to gender and sexuality. Making clear distinctions between “pure” and “impure” in this case, becomes “chastity” and “sexual activity” respectively, where the former becomes the gold standard in society, and the latter, a beacon for punishment. 

The original on the other hand, often gave Radha, a mere mortal, more power over Krishna himself. She openly describes her sexual desires and orders Krishna to “paint a leaf design” (Jayadeva, 24.12.2) on her breasts and “fix flowers” (24.17.1) in her hair. The power dynamic undergoes a paradigmatic shift in this newer version, where Radha becomes—much like Granny—the picture-perfect devotee with pinned back hair and “painted foreheads” bowing in reverence to Krishna, her “LORD”. Her demand for sexual play turns into a submissive “pray” offered to her Lord, who’s superiority remains absolute. 

This, again, echoes the Biblical sentiment of pure reverence to their “LORD, the God” (Leviticus, 18:30). Another example of this would be when Radha’s “LORD” guides her away from sin, whereas the original shows Radha taking Krishna home at “Nanda’s orders” (Jayadeva, 1.1.5). The switch is a comment on today’s patriarchal mentality, where men intrinsically become superior to women, as the latter needs the former to save and “guide” her. We see this superiority in the Bible too, where Adam is made “in God’s image” (Genesis, 1:27) while Eve, in the shadow of man. 

The rewrite thus attempts to question this disparity between power dynamics between genders, the idea of “purity”, the absolutism we now associate with God, as well as the relationship between a Hindu text and the Bible. But most of all, the rewrite attempts to bring out a rather uncomfortable similarity (at least for the Bajrang Dal workers) between this singular “Hindu” ideology so averse to mixtures, and the sacred text of a religion they otherize. 

Could this be a comment of how even religion seems to be reeling from the effects of colonization? Perhaps—knowledge, like sexuality, seems limitless, and there are some answers I just don’t have.

References

  1. Service, Express News. “Objectionable Depiction of Lord Krishna’: Bajrang Dal Workers Burn Book.” The Indian Express, 30 Aug. 2021.
  2. Jayadeva, and Barbara Stoler Miller. Gītagovinda Of Jayadeva: Love Song of the Dark Lord. Motilal Banarsidass, 1984

Ananya Surana

Ananya Surana

Ananya is an 18 year old student in love with all things literature. She makes great decisions when it comes to movie nights, but with life? Not so much.

Spread the love