From the Jacket
The Krsnagiti is a lyrical and devotional poem composed by Manaveda, Zamorin of Kozhikode (17th cent. A.D.). The poem composed in Sanskrit celebrates the life of Krsna from his incarnation (avatara) to his ascent to Heaven (svargarohana). Composed in eight parts and perhaps modelled on Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda and written in the form of a monologue addressed to Krsna, the poem is suffused with the sentiment of spiritual devotion (bhakti). It enumerates the story of the Lord and eulogises His Lilas on the earth. Moreover, it is the source-text for Krishnattam, the votive dance-drama affiliated to the Guruvayur temple in central Kerala.
The Krsnagiti makes a significant contribution of Kerala to the corpus of Sanskrit devotional literature in India. The sentiment of bhakti which pervades the entire poem assumes unique lyrical and dramatic power and invests Krishnattam with immense histrionic possibilities. The dual experience of the poem, as literary work and as a source text for a live performance tradition, makes it interesting for the reader and the spectator alike.
The edition published here presents the text of the Krsnagiti in Devanagari for the first time with a lucid English translation.
Dr. C.R. SWAMINATHAN did his M.A. in Sanskrit; M. Litt. from Madras University; Ph.D. from Delhi University; and Acharya from Darbhanga Sanskrit University. Dr. Swaminathan worked as Librarian in the Oriental Manuscripts Library, Madras. He joined Government of India in 1961 and retired as Deputy Educational Adviser (Sanskrit) in 1985. After his retirement he worked as Consultant in IGNCA for four years. As Deputy Educational Adviser (Sanskrit), he was instrumental in initiating many new schemes for the propagation of Sanskrit and Vedic studies. Besides several Sanskrit poetic compositions, he is the author of other works in English and Sanskrit including his dissertation, A Comparative Study of Gita Bhasyas (Sahitya Parishad, Lucknow). He has also critically edited and translated the Satapathabrahmaua of the Kanva recension for IGNCA.
Dr. Scotia GOPALAKRISHNAN took her doctoral degree in Comparative Drama, the Classical Indian and Western theories of comedy, with special reference to the plays of Bhasa and Shakespeare. She worked in the Sahitya Akademi as Assistant Editor of the Encylapaedia 0f Indian Literature. Later, she was the Project Officer of the Encyclopaedia of the Arts in Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCAs, New Delhi and is, at present, Coordinator of a research project called Metaphors of Indian Arts” in IGNCA. Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan has done intensive research on the dance and drama traditions of Kerala, especially that of Kutiyattam, Krishnattam and Kathakali. Her papers on different aspects of these performing arts have appeared in several leading research journals in India. She has completed the translation Of the text and theatre manual of the Nalacaritam, a famous Kathakali play.
Kerala is a veritable treasure-house of art-forms, from the simplest to the sophisticated, from the tribal, the rural, to the urban. The antiquity of some of these forms can be traced back to almost prehistoric times. The enigma lies in the continuity of tradition and Kerala’s ability both to sustain these continuities and to bring in change, transformation, even metamorphosis. Here, one can witness the most complex Vedic rituals, the tradition of the Rgveda and the Samaveda and participate in the simplest Mopla songs, witness the martial arts of Velakali and Puliyarakali and be amazed at the elaborate Teyyam and Theriyattams, Motiyettu, Aiyappan soul-stirring happenings and be moved by the aesthetics of the Syrian Christian rituals. Historically, there was a time when the Bhagavata cult was predominant, whether in the lush-green forests, the Kavus or in temples. Gradually, the themes of the epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata—penetrated into both literature and the other arts. This was coeval with the emergence of the Malayalam literature and the many versions of the two epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana in different parts of India. Each region interpreted and modified, as it does today, the archetypals of the epics, to suit its distinctive socio-cultural milieu and norms of morality and ethics. Many examples can be cited of this process of pan-Indian archetypal and their regional and local versions. The continuity with antiquity could be maintained because change and modification were possible.
The entry of the myth and legends of Krsna and the establishment of Vaisnava centres and Krsna worship in Kerala and in Malayalam literature is as fascinating as mysterious. Although, the Harivamsa was known and the Bhakti movement was pervasive, its manifestation in different parts of India and in diverse literatures covers a period of many centuries. In course of time there was a specific and unique flavour. The Srimad-Bhagavata, specially the 8th and the 10th books attracted writers, painters, musicians and dancers for the immense scope that this text could provide for interpreting the phenomenon of life through the motif of Lila. Soon after the Gita-Govinda was composed somewhere in Eastern India—possibly, Orissa or Bengal, in the course of about 300 or 400 years, the two streams—the Krsna of the Srimad-Bhagavata and the Krsna of the Gita-Govinda—singly and together, inspired poetry, drama, painting and ritual. Sometimes amalgams took place, and a new content and form were created. Sudha Gopalakrishnan has referred, in her Introduction, to the popularity of Cerusseri’s Krsnagatha and to the monumental contribution of Eluttachan.
The Krsnagiti, the text attributed to the poet Manaveda of the l7th century, is one such important example of the coming together of several cultural streams to create a new whole. Whenever such new creations come into being, they are attributed to visions or dreams, in short, an unusual happening; Krsnagiti is no exception. While it draws upon the Puranic myths of the life of Krsna, it does not restrict itself to the single source of either the Visnu-purana or the Srimad-Bhagavata. Many subtle changes and innovations are introduced. Also, while the Rasa or Rasakrida is described, it does not deal with Radha and Krsna. Only in form, it adopts the format of the Gita- Govinda—memory, recollection, separation, hope and disappointment and union. The Krsna of the Krsnagiti is the Lord incarnate and his Lilas, narrated as monologue with a sense of deep devotion and ecstatic surrender. How- ever, like the Gita-Govinda it mentions ragas and talas. It was rendered in the distinctive style of Kerala music, known as astapadiattam or now known as sopana. Krsnattam, the dance drama form, is based on the text. Moving from the ambience of the courts of the Zamorins of Cochin, it is today performed in the precincts of the temple courtyard of Guruvayur. While the Gita— Govinda is sung within the sanctum of the temple, the series of dance-dramas based on the Krsnagiti are performed, night after night, in the courtyard.
For the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the text of the Krsnagiti was relevant because it exemplified the Indian phenomenon of interregional dialogue and that of continuity and change. Also, the text of the Krsnagiti is still used as the libretto for the dance—drama form "Krsnattam’s performed today. Although the Krsnattam is the precursor of the better known Ramanattam and Kathakali, it has not received as much recognition and attention. Scholars, such as, Bharata Iyer, Pisharodi, Clifford Jones and Zairelli, have written on the performance of Kathakali. Critical literature on Krsnattam is meagre, comprising a few articles and one book by Shri A.C.G. Raja who was associated with the Krsnattam troupe for twenty years and the latest, Martha Bush Ashtone’s book on Krsnattam. Despite these valuable monographs, a properly edited