By Gauranga Darshana Dasa
Special “songs” in the Bhagavatam exemplify the variety of flavors found in this richest of scriptures.
Like the Bhagavad-gita, some special sections of the Srimad-Bhagavatam are traditionally considered gitas (songs) in their own right.
Srimad Bhagavad-gita is the greatly enlightening philosophical song sung by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to instruct bewildered Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Bhagavad-gita systematically presents knowledge of the soul, karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, ashtanga-yoga, bhakti-yoga, the modes of material nature, the virat-rupa, and so on. The five truths that embody the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita are ishvara (the Supreme Lord), jiva (the living entities), prakriti (material nature), kala (time), and karma (activities). Studying and understanding the Gita is considered foundational to one’s spiritual life.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there are also many beautiful gitas, or songs, sung by various illustrious personalities that inspire and enlighten us with various levels of spiritual knowledge. The following is a brief summary of the popular gitas found in the Bhagavatam, along with the context in which they appear.
Rudra-gita: The Song of Lord Shiva (4.24.33–68)
The Pracetas, upon being instructed by their father, King Pracinabarhi, set out to perform devotional austerities to please Lord Krishna before taking charge of the kingdom. Knowing this, Lord Shiva arrived before them to guide them in the devotional service of Krishna and thus taught them the song now known as the Rudra-gita.
In the Rudra-gita, for the Pracetas’ self-purification Lord Shiva first offers prayers to the Supreme Lord in the form of the catur-vyuha (Krishna’s expansions as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha) and the presiding deities of the physical elements. He then describes the beautiful form of the Supreme Lord that is very dear to the devotees and also the glory of seeing and rendering devotional service unto Him. Shiva praises the unalloyed devotees of the Lord and prays for their association. He concludes his prayer by describing the relationship between the Lord and the material creation.
After chanting this Rudra-gita for ten thousand years underwater, the Pracetas attained the darshana of Lord Vishnu, who blessed them in various ways.
Venu-gita: The Song of Krishna’s Flute (10.21.7–19)
In the autumn, Lord Krishna enters the forest with the cows and the cowherd boys while playing His flute. At that time the gopis gather in groups and glorify the transcendental song of Krishna’s flute and the reactions of various beings to that enchanting sound. The gopis’ loving discussion is called the Venu-gita.
The gopis say, “The flute is more fortunate than us for it constantly takes the nectar from Krishna’s lips. When Krishna plays on His flute, moving beings become stunned and nonmoving entities tremble, the peacocks dance ecstatically, bucks and does worship Him, the wives of the demigods are attracted, the cows drink that vibration with their upraised ears as vessels, the calves stand still and embrace Him within their hearts, the birds get absorbed like sages with closed eyes, the currents of the rivers break, and the arms of their waves embrace His feet, presenting lotus offerings. Even the summer clouds construct an umbrella for Krishna and shower cooling drizzles.”
The gopis also glorify the fortune of Vrindavana, which has attained the opulence of Krishna’s direct footprints, and of Govardhan Hill, the best of Krishna’s servants, which offers many services to Krishna, His cows, and His friends.
Gopi-gita: The Gopis’ Song of Separation (10.31.1–19)
During the full-moon night of autumn (sharat-purnima), Lord Krishna played His flute and attracted the minds of the Vraja gopis. Leaving aside their household chores, relatives, and so on, the gopis immediately rushed into the forest to meet Krishna. However, upon their reaching Krishna, He gave them several reasons why they should return home, although deep within His heart He wanted them to stay. Blinded by their attachment to Him, the gopis heard only His external words and became heartbroken. They fervently requested Him to accept them as His maidservants. (Some scholars call this appeal of the gopis the Pranaya-gita, or the song of love.) Hearing their plea, the self-satisfied Krishna reciprocated with them by initiating the rasa dance.
Induced by the lila-shakti (pastime potency) of the Lord, the gopis felt proud for having received such special attention from Krishna. Noticing this, Krishna disappeared immediately. The gopis, maddened by separation from Krishna, searched for Him all over the forest. They enacted His various pastimes and sang their song of separation, called the Gopi-gita.
The Gopi-gita contains nineteen verses, alternatively accusing and praising Krishna. Each verse is spoken by a different gopi expressing her own mood, but all of them are united in their single purpose of meeting Krishna. The gopis glorify the land of Vrindavana, where Krishna appeared, and accuse Krishna of cheating them, yet acknowledge His earlier protection. They express their desire for the blessings of Krishna’s lotus feet, lotus hands, and lotus face, glorify krishna-katha (topics about Krishna), remember Krishna’s entering the forest in the morning and returning to the village in the evening, express their intense separation, which makes a moment like a millennium, and pray for His favor again.
Thus as all the gopis wept loudly, Krishna returned to enliven them and reciprocate their love.
Yugala-gita: The Gopis’ Song as Krishna Wanders in the Forest (10.35.2–25)
Although the gopis relished direct association with Krishna at night in the rasa dance, during the day they felt separation from Him when He went to tend His cows in the forest. As Krishna played His flute to announce His coming to the trees, creepers, birds, and beasts suffering in separation, the gopis’ love increased on hearing that sound. In separation, they sang about Krishna’s transcendental pastimes, in the form of the Yugala-gita, which consists of twelve pairs of verses sung at various times as the gopis stood in small groups here and there in Vrindavana, some in front of Mother Yashoda. As their mood of separation became ever more intense, Krishna’s names, forms, qualities, and pastimes began spontaneously manifesting in their hearts.
Thus the gopis sang as follows: “The beauty of Krishna attracts the minds of all. When He stands in His threefold-bending form and plays upon His flute, the Siddhas [a type of demigod] become attracted to Him. The bulls, cows, and other animals become stunned in ecstasy and look like figures in a painting. Rivers stop flowing. When Krishna calls the cows’ names by blowing on His flute, even the trees and creepers erupt, and their sap pours down like a torrent of tears. Krishna’s flute causes the birds to close their eyes in meditation, the clouds in the sky to gently rumble, and even such great authorities of music as Indra, Shiva, and Brahma to become astonished. And just as we gopis are anxious to offer everything we have to Krishna, so are the wives of the black deer, who follow Him, imitating us. When Krishna is returning to Vraja, He plays His flute while His young companions chant His glories.”
Viraha-gita: The Gopis’ Song as Krishna Leaves Vrindavana (10.39.19–31)
Ordered by Kamsa, Akrura went to Vrindavana to take Krishna and Balarama to Mathura. And the elders of Vrindavana, headed by Nanda Maharaja, although reluctant, prepared to send Them. However, the young gopis were extremely upset hearing this. The gopis, who can’t bear even a moment’s separation from Krishna, were now devastated, thinking about this impending lengthy separation. Meeting in different groups, they began conversing with tears in their eyes, and that conversation is called the Viraha-gita.
In their Viraha-gita, the gopis condemn the creator for separating them from Krishna after showing them His beautiful face. They say that Akrura did not deserve his name, which means “not cruel,” since he was so cruel (krura) in taking their dearmost Krishna away, without even consoling them. Then they lament their own fate and blame Krishna, who breaks loving relationships easily. They say that the dawn is going to be auspicious for the residents of Mathura, for they will be seeing Krishna, the reservoir of all transcendental qualities. Because the elders of Vraja were not forbidding Krishna to leave, the gopis decided to try to stop Him themselves, keeping aside their shyness.
The gopis loudly cried out, “Govinda! Damodara! Madhava!” But even as they wept, Akrura began taking Krishna and Balarama to Mathura in his chariot, followed by the cowherd men of Gokula. The gopis also walked behind for some distance, but then they became pacified by Krishna’s glances and gestures that said, “I will return.”
With their minds completely absorbed in Krishna, they stood as still as figures in a painting until they could no longer see the chariot’s flag or the dust cloud being raised. Then, chanting Krishna’s glories, they despondently returned to their homes.
Bhramara-gita: The Song of the Bee (10.47.12–21)
After going to Mathura, Lord Krishna once sent Uddhava to Vrindavana with a message for the gopis. When the Vraja gopis saw lotus-eyed Uddhava, who resembled Krishna and even wore clothes and ornaments like His, they curiously approached and encircled him. Realizing that Krishna had sent him, they brought him to a secluded place and spoke confidentially.
The gopis remembered Krishna’s pastimes, and, putting aside their shyness, they loudly wept in separation. One gopi, deeply meditating on Krishna, noticed a bumblebee (bhramara). Imagining it to be a messenger of Krishna, She indirectly rebuked Krishna. The acharyas in the line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu explain that She is Srimati Radharani, who expressed Her supreme love for Sri Krishna through ten kinds of impulsive speech. Her song is called the Bhramara-gita.
Srimati Radharani said, “Just as bees wander from flower to flower, Sri Krishna has abandoned the Vraja gopis and developed affection for others.”
She contrasted Her own supposed ill fortune with Her rivals’ good fortune, all the while glorifying the names, forms, qualities, and pastimes of Lord Krishna. She then declared that although Krishna may have abandoned the gopis, they could not possibly stop remembering Him even for a moment.
Uddhava was astonished to see in the gopis the highest degree of pure devotion, and he tried to console them, who were so anxious to see Krishna again. Uddhava then related to them the Lord’s message.
Mahishi-gita: The Song of the Queens (10.90.15–24)
After leaving Vrindavana, Lord Sri Krishna resided with His queens in His opulent capital of Dvaraka. Among other pastimes, He would enjoy sporting with His wives in the ponds. With His graceful gestures, loving words, and sidelong glances, He enchanted their hearts, and the queens would become totally absorbed in thoughts of Him. The transcendental madness (unmada) of the queens filled them with such ecstasy that they saw their own mood reflected in everyone and everything else. Ten verses that express their ecstatic mood are called the Mahishi-gita. The queens addressed various creatures – kurari and cakravaka birds, the ocean, the moon, a cloud, a cuckoo, a mountain, a river, and so on – declaring their own great attachment to Sri Krishna, on the pretext of empathizing with them.
Uddhava-gita: Krishna’s Teachings to Uddhava (11.7–29)
Uddhava is a dear devotee of Krishna, who considers Uddhava as good as Himself. When Krishna was about to disappear from the vision of this world, Uddhava was overwhelmed with intense feelings of separation and desired to accompany Krishna. However, Krishna wanted Uddhava to go to Badarikashrama and enlighten the sages there on His behalf. At that time Krishna gave Uddhava His final teachings in the form of the Uddhava-gita, the longest philosophical section of the Bhagavatam.
The Uddhava-gita is more elaborate than the Bhagavad-gita, which Krishna spoke to Arjuna. The Uddhava-gita comprises a wide range of topics, including detachment from this world, the twenty-four gurus, the symptoms of conditioned and liberated souls, the Supreme Lord’s opulences, the varnashrama system, pure devotional service, the Sankhya philosophy, jnana-yoga, deity worship, the three modes of material nature, and Vedic paths, along with fitting examples and references to historic incidents. After hearing Krishna’s final instructions, Uddhava departed for Badarikashrama.
Bhikshu-gita: The Song of the Avanti Brahmana (11.23.42–57)
The story of a brahmana from Avanti appears as part of the Uddhava-gita. Krishna narrates this story to teach how one should tolerate disturbances from evil persons. Harsh words pierce the heart more severely than arrows, yet the Avanti brahmana considered them simply the consequence of his own past deeds and tolerated them soberly. He had been a greedy, angry, and miserly agriculturalist and merchant. However, in due course of time, he lost his wealth and was abandoned by everyone. Thus he developed a deep sense of renunciation and could see Krishna’s hand in his life.
Remaining fixed in his spiritual practice, the Avanti brahmana sang a song renowned as the Bhikshu-gita: “Neither the mortals, the demigods, the soul, the planets, the reactions of work nor time are the causes of one’s happiness and distress. Rather, the mind alone makes the soul wander in the cycle of material life. The real purpose of all charity, religiosity, and so forth is to bring the mind under control. The false ego binds the transcendental soul to material sense objects. I shall cross over the insurmountable ocean of material existence by rendering service to the lotus feet of Lord Mukunda with perfect faith, as exhibited by the great devotees of the past.”
Thus the Avanti brahmana became determined in his renunciation and bhakti, and his example is adored by even Lord Chaitanya, who sang his verse after accepting the renounced order.
Aila-gita: The Song of Pururava (11.26.7–24)
The Aila-gita also is part of the Uddhava-gita. To explain how unfavorable association is a threat to one’s position in devotional service, Lord Krishna gave the example of the emperor Pururava (also called Aila). Aila was bewildered by the association of the heavenly beauty Urvashi, and later became renounced after being separated from her. Expressing his contempt for undue attachment to the opposite sex, he sang a song called the Aila-gita:
“Persons who are attached to the body of a woman or a man – which is simply a mass of skin, meat, blood, bones, and so on – are not much different from worms. When one’s mind is stolen away by the opposite sex, what is the worth of education, austerity, renunciation, Vedic knowledge, and so forth? Learned men should distrust their six mental enemies, headed by lust, and thus avoid degrading association.”
Thus Pururava was freed from illusion and eventually attained peace by realizing the Lord.
Bhumi-gita: The Song of Mother Earth (12.3.1–13)
The Bhumi-gita is a song sung by mother earth, who lamented for the foolishness of the kings who are bent upon conquering her. Great kings, who are actually just playthings of death, desire to subdue their six internal enemies – the five senses and the mind – and then they imagine that they will go on to conquer the earth and all its oceans. Seeing their false hopes, mother earth simply laughs, for eventually they all must leave this planet, as all the great kings of the past have done. Moreover, after they have usurped some part of the earth – which is actually unconquerable and must be given up – their fathers, sons, brothers, friends, and relatives quarrel over it. The study of the history of so many kings naturally leads one to the conclusion that all worldly achievements are temporary, and this conclusion should give rise to a sense of renunciation. Ultimately, the highest goal of life for any living entity is pure devotion to Lord Krishna.
Thus the Srimad-Bhagavatam presents various gitas, some with profound philosophy, some with heartfelt spiritual emotions, and yet others with the deep realizations of various personalities, all for our enlightenment and inspiration. It is not possible to present the expanse and depth of these great gitas in this short article, yet a humble attempt has been made to give just a glimpse of them.