“Victory and salutations to Govinda Gopala who is the Lord of Radha.” ~ Indian devotional Chant, Govinda jai JaiI
The symbolic love between Lord Krishna, and the Mortal Radha, has been celebrated through art, lyrical poetry, and many a statue. But the devotional Sanskrit chant Govinda Jai Jai, quite literally, has wings.
The mythology behind the chant goes like this: God Vishnu had attracted the jealousy of King Kamsa of Mathura, who had vowed to do away with his eighth son. But when Vishnu’s wife, Devaki, gave birth, Vishnu aided in swapping the baby with that of a cowherd’s. The cowherd and his wife raised the baby as their own, and Krishna was safe.
Whilst growing up, Krishna proved his divinity by fighting off the demons Kamsa sent him, as well as sucking out the life of an ogress to defeat her, and parting the water of a raging river. All ring a bell in the collective conscious of god-myths and the hero’s journey, and, ogress or now, Krishna reached enlightenment as a deity in mortal skin.
During his time as a cowherd; the lowliest, humblest of careers, Krishna flirted with many milkmaids. But it was Radha, perhaps the humblest, meek and most human of them all, who caught his eye.
The symbolic relationship between them is thought by devotees to represent the two aspects of our souls, united in a divine marriage. Where Radha is our gentleness, Krishna is our strength realized. Here are some of the names depicted in the chant explained, (taken from Sathya Sai International Organization):
Gopal: Name of Krishna which means protector of the cowherd (var) gopala, gopalana, gopalam
Govinda: Name of Krishna which means cowherd; (var) govindam
Hari: Name of Lord Vishnu; (var) hare, harey
Radha: One of the Gopikas and the beloved of Lord Krishna; (var) Radhe, radhey
Ramana: Beloved, also the name of a saint
The Jai Jai part of the chant may refer to the latter half of the story. King Kamsa found Krishna and attempted to kill him several times by sending demented elephants and super wrestlers to defeat him and his brothers, but was all in vain.
Then, Kamsa tried to kill Krishna’s divine parents, Vasudeva and Devaki, but fulfilled an ancient prophecy by getting there first, and destroying Kamsa once and for all.
Then followed a period of marrying lots of wives; always a questionable act when it comes to prophets, but his culmination of good against evil reached its peak, with the battle between the noble Pandavas and their evil cousins, the Kauravas.
Their battle featured heavily in the celestial and epic poem, The Bhagavad Gita as conversations between Krishna the chariot-driver, and Arjuna, a Pandava leader.
Does the Jai Jai in our ancient chant stem from the battle’s victory? Perhaps. It is certainly sung with a victorious and joyous air. And, although rooted in the time when Krishna spent time in a forest glade with his human counterpart, Radha, the chant reflects on the timeless victory of Krishna’s later life and the battles he would encounter.
Whether the demons and fears of loved ones being hurt are easy to spot as our very own struggles with attachment and temptation, the final battle in our own lives could be seen as our dialogue with a deity.
How strong that conversation, and ultimately the strength of the connection is, could be seen as the gem which will determine whether we sink or swim.
The battle is a metaphor for life, and Krishna our inner voice on the chariot, guiding us oh-so-gently, but with lashings of wisdom. So, when you sing Govinda Jai, sing it with victory.
A final turn to the myth of Krishna, which may inform your enjoyment and experience of the chant, is his death. Krishna was walking through the forest, in true mythological duality, where the forest is both the giver of life, when walking with Radha at the beginning of the story, and finally, the taker-away. Mistaken for a deer, Krishna is shot by an arrow. The arrow pierces his only vulnerable spot, his heel, and on the road back, he dies.
“After Krishna died, his spirit ascended to Goloka, a heavenly paradise, and his sacred city of DWarka sank beneath the ocean.” ~ Myth Encyclopedia
The above quote could be interpreted as the resurrection part of the hero’s journey, and the final stage before peace.
The devotional chant, having been a favorite of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, otherwise known as the Hare Krishna Movement, has been popular in popular culture too, and survives as the only song written entirely in Sanskrit to stay in the charts.
Having learned the meaning of this timeless chant, does it deepen your enjoyment of it? Cultural appropriation aside, go find a comfortable cushion, sit in a lotus position, and find out.