The Sikh Religion/Volume 6/Life and Hymns of Jaidev

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There were two distinguished men called Jaidev, whose lives and acts are frequently confounded in Indian chronicles and biographies. One was a metaphysician and scholar who is said to have lived at the court of Vikramaditya. It is related of him that when a boy at school he was able to learn in a day as much as his schoolfellows could in a fortnight. Hence he was called Pakshadhar Misra. It is not with him we are at present concerned.

The Jaidev whose hymns are found in the Granth Sahib is the celebrated Sanskrit poet who wrote the Gitgovind. His father was Bhoidev, a Brahman of Kanauj, and his mother Bamdevi. He was born at Kenduli, about twenty miles from Suri, in the modern district of Birbhum in Lower Bengal. He became the most famous of the five distinguished poets who lived at the court of Lakshman Sen, king of Bengal, who dates from the year 1170 of the Christian era. The five poets were called the five jewels of Lakshman Sen's court, and so proud was the monarch of them that he erected a monument to preserve their names to succeeding ages. The specialities of the five poets are thus described by Jaidev himself :—

Umapatidhara excelleth in word painting ;
Jayadeva alone knoweth purity of style ;
Sarana is praised for extempore rendering of difficult passages ;
Govardhana surpasseth in description of love ;
No one is so famed as the king of poets Dhoyi for remembering what he hath once heard.

Very little is known of Jaidev's early life. It is certain that from his youth he was a diligent student of Sanskrit literature, and developed rare poetical talents. He is described by the author of the Bhagat Mal as an incarnation and treasury of melody, on which, however, he, owing to his ascetic habits, long preferred to feast his own soul rather than communicate to the world the splendid gifts he possessed. He wandered in several countries, provided with only a water-pot and dressed in the patched coat of a mendicant. Even pens, ink, and paper, generally so indispensable to literary men, were luxuries which he did not allow himself. Such was his determination to love nothing but God, that he would not sleep for two nights in succession under the same tree, lest he should conceive an undue preference for it and forget his Creator.

It pleased God, with the object, it is stated, of saving the human race, to withdraw Jaidev from his ascetic life. For this purpose, the chronicler relates, God devised the following expedient. An Agnihotri Brahman of Jagannath, to whom a beautiful daughter named Padamavati had been born as the result of many offerings and prayers, brought her up with the object of dedicating her as a dancing girl to the local idol. Her father duly conducted her to the idol and was ordered to take her away and bestow her on the great saint Jaidev. On this she was taken to him, and he was in formed of the divine decision in his favour. Jaidev reasoned with the Brahman, and told him he ought to give his daughter to some more wealthy man, who would be more suitable for her than a homeless ascetic like himself. The Brahman replied that he could not disobey God's order. Jaidev rejoined, 'God is master and omnipotent. He may have thousands and tens of thousands of wives, but one for me is the same as a hundred thousand ;' that is, he had no more need or ability to maintain one than he had a hundred thousand. After further discussion, in which the Brahman failed, notwithstanding the exercise of all his powers of persuasion, he left his daughter with Jaidev. Before his departure he told her it was impious to act in opposition to the will of God. She was to remain with Jaidev, and obey him according to the instructions laid down for wives in the Hindu sacred writings.

The tender girl remained with Jaidev and attended on him like his shadow. He is said to have represented to her the futility of living with him : 'Thou art wise,' he said; 'endeavour to do some thing to improve thy position ; I have no power to maintain and cherish thee.' She replied, 'What power hath this poor creature ? Thou canst do as thou pleasest. I am a sacrifice unto thee and shall never leave thee.' On this Jaidev believed that God was forcing him into the alliance, and he reconciled himself to the situation. As the first preparation for domestic life he built a hut for his spouse, set up an idol in it, and applied himself to its worship. He then began the composition of the celebrated poem the Gitgovind. This is believed to have been his second composition, his first being a drama called Rasana Raghava. A third work attributed to him is Chandralok, an essay on the graces of style.

The fact appears to be that the mantling fire of Jaidev's genius sought for an outlet, that with experience of life a change came over his religious opinions, that he resolved no longer to play the hermit, but accept the wife offered him, distinguish himself, and seek for worldly fame and its pleasures. God has been introduced ex machinâ into the narrative to save Jaidev from the charges of inconsistency and submission to human passion.

The Gitgovind is well known in both hemispheres. It has been translated into English prose and paraphrased in English verse. [1] It is perhaps a solitary instance of a great popular poem composed in a dead language. In the twelfth century of the Christian era Sanskrit was, it is true, used as Latin was at the same time in Europe, but the great age had passed away when Sanskrit was a living language the only recognized Indian vehicle of men's thoughts and aspirations. The Gitgovind is still not only remembered, but nightly chanted in the Karnatik countries and other parts of India, because it is ostensibly a love song and its strains are sweet and find a responsive echo in the human heart.[2]

During the composition of the Gitgovind Jaidev represented Radhika the heroine as pouting because Krishan the hero had followed other loves. Krishan alters his ways, and applies himself to the task of appeasing her and apologizing for his conduct. The poet was preparing to make Krishan address his lady love : Adorn my head by putting on it the lotus leaves of thy feet, which are an antidote to the poison of Cupid/ when he reflected that it would be a dishonour to his god if any woman were to put her feet on his head. While thus reflecting the poet ceased to write, and went to bathe, intending subsequently to alter the sentence into more conformity with the relative positions of the hero and heroine.

What was Jaidev's surprise when on returning from his bath he found the verse completed exactly as he had subsequently intended ! He asked his wife how it had occurred. She told him he had returned himself, and having written the verse gone away again. Upon this Jaidev knew that Krishan him self had written the verse, and thus hallowed the composition. The fame of the event and of the poem spread far and wide, and Jaidev obtained the high renown he had so earnestly sought.

Satvika, King of Urisa (Orissa) at the time, was also a poet and learned man. He had accidentally selected for a poem the same subject as Jaidev, and he appears to have produced a work of respectable merit, which he directed his Brahmans to copy and circulate. In reply they showed him the composition of Jaidev. They meant by this that the Raja's poem was as nothing in comparison with Jaidev's. As well compare a lamp with the sun. The Raja in his pride could not accept the Brahmans criticism, but caused both poems to be placed in the temple of his capital, and promised to abide by the decision of the idol as to which was superior.

The idol rejected the king's Gitgovind and took to his heart that of Jaidev. Upon this the Raja thinking himself greatly dishonoured was overcome by shame and jealousy, and set out to drown himself. Krishan is said to have taken pity on him. He appeared to him and told him it would be a vain and foolish act to put an end to his life. It was very clear that his poetical merit did not equal that of Jaidev, but, to compensate him for his disappointment, Krishan ordered that one of the Raja's verses should be inserted in each of the twelve cantos of Jaidev's poem, and both compositions should thus go forth to the world and down to distant ages. This was accordingly done.

The estimation in which the Gitgovind was held may be gathered from the following anecdote. A gardener's daughter while one day gathering egg plants was singing with great zest the following verse from the fifth canto of the poem :-

The zephyr gently bloweth on the banks of the Yamuna while Krishan tarrieth in the grove.

On this, it is said, the idol of Jagannath followed her wherever she went, with the object of feasting his heart on the dulcet strains. The idol wore only a thin jacket which was torn by the brambles. When the king went to worship and saw the condition of the idol's dress, he in astonishment asked the priests the cause. When the Raja learned what had occurred, he was perfectly satisfied of the superiority of the product of Jaidev's genius, and issued a proclamation that the Gitgovind should only be read in a clean and purified place, as Jagannath, the lord of the world, himself was in the habit of going to listen to it.

Not only Hindus, but men of all creeds were enchanted with the composition. It is related that a Mughal, on hearing of the divine honours paid to the work, used to peruse it with the greatest delight. One day while riding he was singing its verses, when he fell into an ecstasy of pleasure, and thought that, though a Moslem, he felt communion with Krishan. Oriental chroniclers are enthusiastic in their praises of Jaidev. All other poets are compared to petty kings while he is the great chakrawarti or poetical monarch of the world. As the moon cannot be concealed by the stars, as the eagle cannot be surpassed by any bird in flight, as Indar attracts notice in the midst of the gods, so is Jaidev's fame conspicuous in the world. It may be added that Jaidev himself does not appear to have been in sensible of his own merits. At the conclusion of the Gitgovind he writes, 'Whatever is delightful in the modes of music, whatever is exquisite in the sweet art of love let the happy and wise learn from the song of Jaidev.'[3]

Notwithstanding the lusciousness and sensuous beauty of several parts of the Gitgovind, there can be no doubt that Jaidev intended the poem as an elaborate religious allegory. This, too, is insisted on by the author of the Bhagat Mal, who states that the love scenes and rhetorical graces of the poet are not to be understood in the sense that persons of evil minds and dispositions attach to them. Radhika the heroine is heavenly wisdom. The milkmaids who divert Krishan from his allegiance to her, are the senses of smell, sight, touch, taste, and hearing. Krishan represented as pursuing them is the human soul, which attaches itself to earthly pleasures. The return of Krishan to his first love is the return of the repentant sinner to God, which gives joy in heaven.

After the completion of the poem Jaidev went to travel and visited Bindraban and Jaipur. To the latter place its king had given him a pressing invitation. While on those travels it is related that he met a party of thags. He knew what they were from their ready offer to accompany him on his journey. Without more ado he pulled out his purse and gave them all the money and valuables he possessed, thus reasoning, 'Wealth is the basis of sin ; gluttony produceth disease ; and love of the world purchaseth pain, so it is proper to discard all three.'

The thags at once suspected him. They had not been accustomed to obtain men's wealth without a struggle or without at least having made a request for it, and they concluded from Jaidev's readiness to part with his money, that he merely designed to have them arrested on their return to the city. One of them proposed to put him to death, but another said that would be a meaningless act. They only required his wealth, and that they had obtained. It was at last decided that they should cut off his hands and throw him into a narrow and dark well, and this was accordingly done.

Jaidev, it is said, meekly accepted the treatment he had received as a fate predestined for him, and applied himself to divine contemplation and the utterance of God's name. It chanced that Karaunch, the King of Utkal, passed that way, and hearing that Jaidev was in the well caused him to be extricated. Jaidev was so little revengeful for the injuries he had sustained, that, in reply to the king's inquiries as to the cause of his mutilation, he told him he had been born so. The king became convinced that Jaidev was a saint, and congratulated himself on his good fortune in meeting such a man. The king had him conveyed to his capital where he was treated with all honour and respect, and a house set apart for him. He was, moreover, provided with food and every article of comfort. The king himself offered to become his servant, and, with hands clasped in the Oriental attitude of supplication, begged Jaidev to say what duty he could render him. Jaidev had one request to make, and that was that the king should serve holy men and not him. In happy faith and with open heart the king obeyed and performed menial service for the saints of God who were waiting at his gate.[4] The fact that the king was performing such services was noised abroad and the thags, among others, heard of it. They assumed the guise of religious men and proceeded to the monarch's gate. This led to an interview with Jaidev. He recognized them, and told the king that they were his brethren and very holy persons. Fortunate was the king in having been favoured with a sight of them, and devoutly ought he to serve and minister unto them. The king took them into his palace, and lavished on them every honour that Oriental politeness and hospitality could suggest.

The thags, however, recognizing Jaidev, were troubled for their safety, and applied for permission to depart. This was finally granted, and Jaidev dismissed them with a large present of money and a convoy of soldiers for their protection. On the way the soldiers fell into conversation with their charge. They remarked that they had never before seen visitors to the king so heartily and kindly treated, and they inquired in what relationship the men they were escorting stood to Jaidev. The thags replied : 'What shall we say ? It is not a fit thing to tell.' The soldiers promised them perfect secrecy. The thags then proceeded to exercise their inventive faculties developed by long practice. They said that Jaidev and they had been servants of a king. For some offence Jaidev had been condemned to death, and they had been appointed his executioners. They merely, however, cut off his hands and thus saved his life. Through gratitude for that favour Jaidev induced the king to pay them such extraordinary attention. It is said that God could no longer endure the fabrication of false charges against His saint. The ground opened beneath the feet of the thags, and they sank into the pit of hell.

The soldiers in amazement returned to Jaidev and told him what had occurred. He began to tremble with pity for the thags, and made a gesture as if rubbing his hands—the Oriental attitude expressive of grief—whereupon, it is related, new hands sprouted from his body. The soldiers went and informed the king of the two miracles their eyes had beheld. The king proceeded to Jaidev and performed before him the prostration due to saints. He begged Jaidev to explain how the incidents had occurred. The saint for a long time refused, but, when greatly pressed by the king, gave him a detailed account of all the circumstances. The king's faith in Jaidev had now reached its utmost limit, and he knew that the man before him in the guise of a saint was really a divine incarnation. It is the usual custom of saints when they receive evil always to return good, even as bad men return evil for evil, so the king deemed his conclusion warranted by the forgiving conduct of Jaidev.

Jaidev felt a longing for home and told the king of his determination to take his leave. The king put his head on the saint's feet, and represented to him that his country had turned to God and the practice of virtue, since it had been trodden by his holy feet. If the saint were to depart, the king's subjects would turn away from their faith. He therefore implored him to defer his departure. As a further inducement to Jaidev to abide with him, he went himself and brought Padamavati so that the saint's happiness might be complete, and his distant home forgotten. Padamavati was installed in the royal palace, and the queen received stringent orders to perform all menial offices for her.

While Padamavati resided at the court the queen's brother died, and his wife was burned with him on the funeral pyre. One day when the queen was boasting of the wonderful devotion of her sister-in-law, Padamavati smiled. When asked the reason she replied, 'To burn oneself alive with one's husband's corpse is far from being the acme of affection. True affection and love require a woman to sacrifice herself directly she even heareth of her husband's death.' 'In the present age,' replied the queen, 'thou alone art such a Sati,' a word defined by the author of the Bhagat Mal as a woman who considereth her husband a god and hath no concern with any other deity. Not feeling flattered by the well-nigh unapproachable standard of conjugal devotion which alone Padamavati considered as worthy of admiration, the queen determined to put her to the test at the first opportunity.

One day when Jaidev was absent from home, the queen arranged that one of the royal servants in pretended haste was to come to her when with Padamavati, and inform the latter that Jaidev had been attacked and killed in the forest by a tiger. On the servant coming to where they were seated and repeating this carefully tutored story, Padamavati swooned and fell lifeless to the ground.[5]

The queen who had brought about this disaster, turned pale and became distracted at the unexpected turn of events. She was severely rebuked by the king when he heard of the occurrence. Life became bitter to her, and she made preparations for death on a funeral pyre which she had constructed. When the circumstances were communicated to Jaidev, he appeared in time to hinder the immolation of the queen, and approaching the dead Padamavati sang his well-known ashtapadis. To the surprise and joy of all, she was restored to life, it is said, and joined her husband in his song. Jaidev and his wife by this time had had sufficient experience of regal life. They were glad to abandon all state and return to their lowly home at Kenduli, where they enjoyed the society of saints and transferred their idolatrous devotion to the love and homage of the one true God.

On the anniversary of Jaidev's birth a religious fair is held at Kenduli, the poet's birthplace, and is attended by thousands of Vaishnavs who celebrate the occasion by assembling round his cenotaph for worship, and singing the most sublime portions of his immortal songs.

The following hymns of Jaidev in far other style and manner, and written in the popular language of his time, are found in the Granth Sahib.



God's attributes, moral injunctions, and the inutility of Hindu forms of worship —

Before all things was the Being who is unrivalled and endued with permanence and similar attributes ;[6]
Who is supremely wonderful, distinct from nature, incomprehensible, and pervadeth creation.
Repeat only the beloved God's name,
Which is ambrosia and the essence of all things.
By remembering Him the fear of birth, old age, and death afflicteth us not.
If thou desire the defeat of the god of death and his train, praise and bless God, and do good works.
God is equally in the present, past, and future, imperishable, and supremely happy.

O man, if thou seek to do good acts, renounce greed and the coveting of another's house,[7]
Together with all evil deeds and evil inclinations, and seek the protection of God.
Embrace the service of God alone in thought, deed, and word.
What availeth the practice of jog, sacrifice, alms, and penance ?
O man, utter the name of God, the Bestower of all supernatural power.
Jaidev hath come openly into the asylum of Him who is in the present and the past, who is contained in all things.


The following hymn, which in the original is perhaps one of the most difficult of human compositions, is given to illustrate the practice of jog. [8]

I drew up my breath by the left nostril, I fixed it between both nostrils<ref>Nād appears to mean here what is known to the Jogis as the sukhmana. and I drew it down by the right repeating oam sixteen times at each process. My strength I broke, and I have become weak; my unstable mind I fixed and made stable; my unfashioned mind I fashioned, and then I quaffed nectar.
In that state I sang of Him who preceded the soul[9] and the three qualities.[10]
The idea that Thou and I are distinct hath been removed.
What was worthy of worship I worshipped, what was worthy of trust I trusted; and I have become blended with God as water with water.
Saith Jaidev, I have repeated God's name,[11] and becoming absorbed in His love have obtained Him who liveth undisturbed.

  1. Into prose by Sir William Jones and into exquisite verse by the late Sir Edwin Arnold.
  2. aidev has been more fortunate than Petrarch, the mediaeval Italian poet, in composing in a dead language. Petrarch composed a Latin poem entitled' Africa', which is now never read, while his love sonnets are the delight of many cultivated minds.
  3. The reader will remember the exultations of Horace, Ovid, Moore, Poushkin, and others, on the completion of their immortal poems.
  4. This service consists in washing the saints' feet, waiting on them at dinner, walking round them in an attitude of adoration, &c., &c.
  5. The story in Nābhāji's Bhagat Mal makes the king join in the plot. We adopt in preference the story in the Marathi work, Bhārat khanda cha aravachm Kosh.
  6. The attributes of God here meant are sat, stability or permanence; chit, sensation; and ānand, happiness.
  7. That is, his wife and property.
  8. It has been explained that jog means the union of the soul with God, and the first means of effecting this is to train and obtain complete mastery over the inspiratory and expiratory organs. In the first stage ot this exercise the breath is drawn up through the left nostril, called ira, while the syllable oam, one of the symbols of God, is slowly repeated sixteen times. The breath is then suspended in the upper part of the nose where both nostrils meet. This junction of the nostrils is called sukhmana. As the breath has been drawn up by the left nostril, so it is forced down through the right, called pingala, the syllable oam being again sixteen times repeated.
    But the highest exercise of this practice is drawing the breath up to the brain, which in the language of the Jogis is styled the tenth gate, the other gates or apertures of the body being the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, &c. To assist in keeping the breath in the brain, the tongue is bent backwards so as to close the air passage. The operator also exerts himself to allow no breath to issue by the mouth or nostrils. A state of suspended animation then ensues. The brain is heated, and is said to distil nectar which falls on the tongue, and then a state of ecstasy supervenes. Skill in this practice, which is said to greatly weaken the body, is nowadays obtained by very few persons.
  9. God the Supreme Spirit, is the source whence the souls, jīvatāma, of all animals have proceeded. The soul can only return to God by good works and laborious struggles for perfection. As long as God and the soul are distinct, the latter is subject to transmigration. When by the practice of good works the light of the soul blends with the light of God, nirvān, or eternal rest, is obtained.
  10. That is, from whom the soul and the three qualities emanated. God being a spirit cannot be said from a human point of view to possess any attributes.
  11. Jaidev, which literally means victory to God.