A new edition of Srila Jiva Goswami's Gopala-champu, translated from the original Sanskrit by ISKCON guru and GBC Bhanu Swami, has just been published by ISKCON Chennai.
The task of translating a revered ancient text by a philosophical and spiritual giant of the Vaishnava tradition is not new to Bhanu Swami. Proficient in Sanskrit and Bengali, he also translated Jiva Goswami’s commentaries on Bhakti-Rasamrita Sindhu and Brahma Samhita, as well as Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura’s commentaries on Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Yet in its own way, this new book is a unique effort.
“A champu is a literary composition mixing poetry and prose,” Bhanu Swami explains in his preface to Gopala-champu. “Displaying literary ornaments and various verse forms, it often uses words with double meaning.”
The book certainly isn’t for newcomers to the Vaishnava tradition, delving deep into the esoteric pastimes of Krishna—from his appearance until his return to Vraja, his home town. “Though Kavikarnapura has written Ananda-vrindavana Champu on the same topic,” Bhanu Swami writes, “The unique feature of this champu is that the whole story has been arranged to lead to Krishna’s final union in marriage to the gopis [cowherd girls].”
To immerse readers fully in Gopala-champu’s poetic beauty and rhythm, the publishers have offered an accompanying audio CD of Sanskrit songs featured in the book.
Produced by Karnatic vocal teacher Shobhana Krishnamoorthy, the record features vocals by her lead students and an appealing mix of South Indian, North Indian and Western instruments composed with digital software by her son Mahadev.
What’s most interesting is the way the CD brings the book to life. Songs adhere strictly to the rules of music followed by the bards and gopis in the book, while specific ragas (melodic modes) mentioned by Jiva Goswami are often used. A song celebrating the arrival of spring, or vasanta, is heard in vasanta raga. Another song—describing the awakening of Radha and Krishna before dawn (bouli)—is set to an appropriate bouli raga. And the song about Radha and Krishna’s rasa-lila dance mixes a variety of percussion instruments, as rhythm is the most prominent aspect of the dance.
Gopala-champu is a truly special book for several reasons. For one, it narrates Krishna’s pastimes as found in the Srimad-bhagavatam, with the addition of rasa (emotions, or moods). For another, it is a very useful tool in one’s loving worship of God. Jiva Goswami himself suggests, “Among the pastimes [in this book], each person should choose some according to his inclination and use those for worship.” And finally, it is “a work composed of the bliss of Radha and Krishna.
“Those who desire to see Vraja and to attain Goloka,” Jiva Goswami writes, “Will achieve that destination by this work.”
Gopala-champu is available from ISKCON Chennai (firstname.lastname@example.org). It is hardbound and totals 1184 pages.
A sample of the music can be heard here.