Each ashtapadi song is set in a special raga an Indian musical mode and tala. It is a rhyme of eternal love and supreme devotion. The literal meaning of "ashtapadi" is "eight steps. Gita Govinda was composed in the 12th century by Indian poet Jayadeva from Kenduli Sasan, a village near the famous temple city of Puri in Sanskrit language.
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It is replete with elements conducive to bhakti rasa—music and dance. It was composed by Jayadeva at the Jagannatha Kshetra of Puri, while his wife, Padmavati, danced to its music. Both music and dance are among the sixty-four kinds of offerings made to god at the time of pooja or worship. Of these, music and dance have very intense, personal significance. The Lord is of the form of music. The art of dance is a mingling of music with the ambient air. The Supreme Being, the Paramatma, is of the form of music.
Parashakti, the Supreme Energy, is of the form of air which is favourable to convey sound or music. It is this concept that appeared embodied in the form of Radhakrishna and performed several lilas in order to lead the hearts of devotees into maturity.
In general, Lilas enchant every one. However, the deep esoteric significance of these lilas is enjoyed only by the most enlightened of devotees. It is such a devotee who is a parama-ekanti the highest among the enlightened , a jeevan mukta the liberated.
Vedavyasa was one such bhakta. He gave the world deep, precious philosophical thoughts, through the eighteen puranas. The Ashtapadi was composed with these two texts as its source. Sri Krishna is with his wife Viraja in Goloka. When Radha, on hearing about this, comes there in anger, Krishna turns Viraja into a river and hides himself.
However, she would not be appeased. I plead with you. Krishna, then, goes back to his love sport with Viraja. Radha, who could not bear to be separated from Krishna, sends her apologies to Krishna through a friend.
On receiving this message, Radha sets out to meet Krishna. However, Sudhama, who is still angry with Radha, bars her entry into the place. Radha curses him to become an asura and he, in turn, curses her that she would be separated from Bhagavan Krishna. At this point, the Lord Himself comes out and effects a reconciliation between them.
Sudhama is to be born as Shankachuda, would be killed by Shiva and would return to Goloka. Radha would be born as the daughter of Vrishabanu. They were to live on earth for a while and then return to Goloka. This is the story sung by Jayadeva in the 24 verses of the Ashtapadi.
Based on the ratio of a thousand verses for each of the 24 letters, Valmiki composed the Ramayana in 24, verses. On a similar scale, Sri Thyagaraja Swamigal composed 24, keerthanas. Jayadeva, on the same basis, composed 24 Ashtapadis. Since it is a song gita about Govinda, it is called the Gitagovinda. Since it is composed in eight padas in keeping with rhythms of dance , it is also called the Ashtapadi. Several slokas are added to the songs in the beginning and in the end.
Many writers have specified the raga and tala in which these verses are set. Yet others sing these as taught by their gurus. Since it is considered a Kavya, a work of poetry, it is divided into sargas or chapters, like other kavyas such as the Raghuvamsha.
This work has been composed in twelve sargas, bearing the Dvadashakshari mantra twelve-syllable mantra of Krishna. The names given by Jayadeva to each of these sargas are also unique and meaningful. They bestow grace upon devotees. Samoda Damodaran: He who gives joy to the mother who tied him to a mortar. Aklesha Keshavan: He who protected Brahma and Shiva. Mukta Madhusudanan: He who punished Madhu, the asura who was enslaved by Moha.
Snigdha Madhusudanan: He who revealed his beauteous form to Madhu and Kaitabha. Sakanksha Pundarikakshan: He who awaits the arrival of his devotees with eyes wide open. Nagara Narayanan: He who can appeal to people of a city, though He had lived in a village among Gopis cowherdesses.
Vilakshya Lakshmipati: He who accepts every one who seeks his Grace as Lakshmi herself. Mukta Mukundan: The Guru who bestows a unique experience. Chatura Chaturbhujan: He who has four arms which grant all the goals of human life. Sannada Govindan: He who brings joy to cowherds and to every one on earth.
Supreeta Pitambaran: He who, pleased by the devotion of his devotees, bestows upon them the Pitambara the yellow garment worn by Him. These meaningful names explain the import of the Ashtapadi clearly.
We have no knowledge of Moksha and the unknown is to be reached through the known. Moksha is unalloyed bliss and all other pleasures we experience are but drops of this Ocean of Bliss. This bliss is purely experiential. This is fallacious. This Nayaka-Nayaki Bhava is akin to the relationship between the Jiva and Ishwara, in aspects such as the experience of union and devotion. This Nayaka-Nayaki Bhava is not exclusive to our religion alone; it is found in Christianity and Islam too.
Prema Bhakti is, thus, portrayed in the songs of the Thevaram, the Divya Prabhandam and in the songs of many other devotees. Though these appear to be erotic in nature, they are replete with ideas from the Vedantas and so are sung even by renunciates. The jiva is separated from the Paramatman and suffers several sorrows such as birth, death, old age, hunger and disease. By the grace of the Lord, the jiva finds a good acharya, who guides him aright and leads him to union with the Lord.
The Padma Purana serves as a precedent to this.
O God, in the form of the Kalki! For the destruction of the wicked, you carry a meteor-like sword in your hand, trailing a train of disaster to them. Hari, God of the World, Victory to Thee! O God, who took ten forms!
It is replete with elements conducive to bhakti rasa—music and dance. It was composed by Jayadeva at the Jagannatha Kshetra of Puri, while his wife, Padmavati, danced to its music. Both music and dance are among the sixty-four kinds of offerings made to god at the time of pooja or worship. Of these, music and dance have very intense, personal significance. The Lord is of the form of music.