Jayadeva
(late 12th–early 13th centuries)
   Sanskrit poet
   As with most poets, scholars, and saints in the Indian tradition, very little is verifiably known about the life of Jayadeva, the prolific Sanskrit writer best known for the devotional work GITA-GOVINDA. All that we know is gleaned from hints in the author’s poetry, hints that often are subject to several interpretations. Some say that he was born in Kenduli village on the Ajaya River in the Birbhum District of West Bengal. Others say his birthplace was Kenduli village on the Praci River in the Puri District of Orissa. Other claims are made for the same village in Bihar and Maha-rashtra. It is evident that the poet was a Vaish-navite. Jayadeva’s patron while he composed the Gitagovinda was King Lakshmanasena of Bengal (1179–1209 C.E.).
   Jayadeva, as did many poets before him, became a saint for Vaishnavites. In the 17th cen-tury Nabhadas wrote a Hindi text called Bhakta-mala, which retold the lives and miracles of many poet-saints, including Jayadeva. The stories are meant to inspire worship of VISHNU, while show-ing that the poet-saints, as ideal devotees, were themselves worthy of worship. In fact, they refer to the poet-saints as AVATARS of Vishnu, in the looser sense of the term—they are incarnations of the god for the purpose of showing all people the way to devotion.
   The following is a selection from the hagiog-raphy:
   1. When Jayadeva was still a child, his par-ents had to surrender their house to a neighbor. One day it caught fire; as soon as the boy ran inside, the fire extinguished itself.
   2. It is said that Jayadeva was left as an orphan as a child. He lived in rags and survived on water alone, but he sang the praises of God wherever he went. He was said to be so ascetic that he preferred not to write poetry, but instead to perfect his soul. It is said that he did not even carry writing implements, which he felt were luxuries. He would not even sleep under the same tree two nights in a row, lest he become too attached to earthly delights and fail to think of God.
   3. In order to lure him away from asceticism and to get him to write the Gitagovinda, God arranged for Jayadeva to marry a wife, Padmavati. She taught him human love, so that he could write about the divine love of Radha and KRISHNA.
   4. Once in devotion to Krishna Jayadeva made a pilgrimage to Puri. On the way he fell down, fainting from thirst. It is said that Krishna in the form of a cowherd rescued him, gave him water and milk, and fanned him. It is said that Jayadeva composed his poem, the Gitagovinda, after having a direct vision of Krishna playing his flute.
   5. Once Jayadeva went to the home of a merchant to be his GURU or teacher. On the way home he was accosted by two thieves. Jayadeva told them to take what they wanted. They did so and then cut off his hands and feet and threw him into a pit. Jayadeva went into a trance, worship-ping God and thinking of the irrelevance of the body. The king happened to pass by as the mutilated Jayadeva was singing the songs of the Gitagovinda from the pit. When the king got him out of the pit and asked how he had come to have his hands and feet amputated, Jayadeva said that he had been born that way. The king asked to become Jayadeva’s disciple then began making obeisance to every devotee, giving service and alms to every SADHU or holy man. The thieves who had robbed Jayadeva heard of the king’s generosity and went to him. Jayadeva asked the king to take special care of them. The thieves, fearing a stategem, told the king that Jayadeva had lost his hands and feet in another court because of the evils he had committed there. Krishna could not bear hearing this calumny against Jayadeva and the earth opened up and swallowed the thieves before everyone’s eyes.
   Further reading: Lee Siegel, Sacred and Profane Dimen-sions of Love in the Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva (London: Oxford University Press, 1978).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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