Jayadeva was born at Kenduvilva (presently Kenduli) village in the district of Birbhum around the 11th century. According to Vanamali dasa, the author of Jayadevacaritra, and a disciple of Srinivasa Acarya, Jayadeva was alive in the 15th century. It would therefore, seem that the author was not aware of the contemporary historical events during Jayadeva’s lifetime. It is recorded (in an ancient manuscript of Gita Govinda) that Jayadeva was a court pandita during the reign of Raja Laksmana Sena of Gauda. Evidently, Jayadeva was of a much earlier period.
Alamkarasekhara, which was written at the command of Raja Manikyacandra, the last ruler of Gauda before the Muslims conquered Delhi, mentions that Jayadeva was a court poet of the Raja of Utkaladesa.
Bhaktimahatmya in Sanskrit, and also Bhaktamala, provide information on Jayadeva as follows: At an early age Jayadeva embraced vairagya and migrated to Purusottama ksetra, where he lived by offering seva to Purusottama. Lord Jagannatha was pleased by Jayadeva’s bhakti-bhava. The ruler of Orissa was also extremely fond of him. Jayadeva gave diksa to some of his disciples there.
A certain brahmana, who had no issue, worshiped Lord Jagannatha and was blessed with a daughter. After the daughter, who was named Padmavati, grew up, the brahmana took her to Purusottama and offered her to the Lord. The brahmana then received a command from the Lord: “One of my sevaka named Jayadeva has renounced home and has dedicated himself to My service. Go and offer your daughter to him.” The brahmana went to Jayadeva’s place along with Padmavati and after explaining the command of Lord Purusottama he requested Jayadeva to accept Padmavati as his wife. Although Jayadeva refused to marry her, the brahmana left Padmavati with Jayadeva and returned home. Jayadeva was very embarrassed and asked Padmavati, “Where do you wish to go? Come with me and I shall take you there, because you cannot stay here.” With a pathetic voice the girl answered, “At the command of Lord Jagannatha my father has offered me to you, you are my husband, my life. Even if you forsake me, I shall not leave you but serve at your feet to the best of my ability.” Jayadeva had no other alternative but to marry Padmavati and become a householder again. He then installed a Deity of Narayana in the house.
With the passage of time Jayadeva’s attachment for Krishna increased and while floating on the waves of Krishna -prema he composed the book of verses entitled Gitagovinda. While Jayadeva was writing this book he had described various rasas and bhavas within his writings yet it still lacked the touch of khandita-madhura-rasa. However, at one point he did not have the courage to depict Sri Krishna , the Jagatpati, Paramapurusa, touching the feet of Radhika, the Prakriti. One day, while Jayadeva had gone out for his routine bath in the sea, Lord Jagannatha Himself, taking the form of Jayadeva, came into the room and wrote down the verse “Dehipadapallavamudaram” in Jayadeva’s manuscript book. Padmavati, who was surprised to see Jayadeva (Lord Jagannatha) had returned so quickly from taking his bath, said, “What is the matter? You just left a few minutes ago, why have you returned so soon?” Sri Krishna, in the guise of Jayadeva said, “While on my way to the sea, a thought occurred to me, I didn’t want to forget it so I came back to note it down.”
Soon after Sri Krishna had disappeared, Jayadeva returned from his bath. Padmavati was shocked to see Jayadeva return again so quickly and in her confusion said, “You went for your bath and soon came back to write something down in your book and left again just a few minutes ago. How could you finish your bath within such a short time and return home? I would like to know who was that person who came here to write something down in your book and who are you actually?” Jayadeva, understanding the significance of the incident narrated by Padmavati, at once went inside and quickly opened the book and the divine writing revealed the presence of his Sri Krishna . He felt such ecstasy of love that tears rolled down over his chest. He then called his wife and said, “You are the most fortunate person because you have attained the goal of your birth. You had the darsana of Sri Krishna, and I am such a fallen soul that I have been deprived of the darsana of His manifested Self.”
The fame of Gitagovinda spread far and wide. Bhaktas and bhavukas all became overjoyed to hear the song recitals from Gitagovinda. It is said (Visvakosh), that one day a woman gardener was singing verses from Gitagovinda while seated in her garden, when Lord Jagannatha, charmed by the music, arrived there to listen to it. As a result the Lord’s body was covered with dirt and thorns. When Utkalaraja went into the temple he noticed the marks of dirt etc. on the Deity of Lord Jagannatha and immediately called for an explanation from the attendants. The Lord explained the episode of His going to the garden to hear the music of the malini. The Raja at once sent his men to bring the malini before him. The Raja then listened to the musical verses of Gitagovinda rendered by her. The descendants of this malini recite verses from Gitagovinda regularly in the temple of Lord Jagannatha in Puri even today. Greatly appreciating Jayadeva’s work, the Utkalaraja wrote a book himself under the same title and offered it at the lotus feet of Lord Jagannatha. However, Lord Purusottama picked up the book written by the Raja and threw it away, leaving Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda as it is. The incident hurt the Raja so deeply that he decided to jump into the sea and commit suicide. However, Lord Jagannatha appeared on the scene and prevented him from doing so. The Lord pacified the Raja, assuring him that 12 slokas composed by the Raja would be included at the beginning of the book Gitagovinda written by Jayadeva. Since then, verses from Gitagovinda are recited daily at the temple of Lord Jagannatha-Puri.
Radhamadhava always took great care of His Jayadeva. It is recorded in Bhaktamala that once Jayadeva was repairing the roof of his cottage during a hot summer afternoon. Lord Hari took pity upon him and to minimized the sufferings of His devotee Jayadeva, The Lord Himself began to drill holes in the covering sheets and pass them to Jayadeva, who was happily thinking that it was his wife Padmavati helping him. However, when he came down after finishing the job he did not find anyone there. Jayadeva realized that he must have been helped by his ever merciful Lord Hari and thus he offered humble prayers to the Lord with renewed devotion. On another occasion Radhamadhava, in the guise of Jayadeva, partook of rice bhoga prepared by Padmavati.
Once Jayadeva set out for raising funds for seva and utsava of Radhamadhava from different states. Some dacoits waylaid him and, after looting all his belongings, cut off his limbs and threw Jayadeva’s body in a well. A certain Raja, during his sikara rounds, happened to pass that way, when he heard someone chanting the name of Sri Krishna from inside a well. The Raja then rescued Jayadeva and took him in his own palanquin to the palace. At the advice of Jayadeva, the Raja introduced daily Vaisnava-seva at his palace. One day, the gang of dacoits that had robbed Jayadeva, arrived at the palace disguised as Vaisnavas. Jayadeva recognised them, yet made special arrangements to look after their comfort. Fearing that Jayadeva would take revenge on them and have them killed, the dacoits attempted to escape without success because the royal guards would not allow them to leave the palace without the permission of Jayadeva.
However, Jayadeva, having read their minds, made arrangements to pay them sufficient money and had them escorted to a safe place. After traveling some distance, the dacoits took leave of the royal guards saying, “We were employed by a certain Raja to kill Jayadeva. We had cut off his limbs and threw him in a well. He has now come to your palace and become a fraud mahanta. To avoid being detected, Jayadeva paid us money to get rid of us. The dacoits had hardly finished their statement when all of them dropped flat on the ground as if hit by some unseen force. On their return to the palace, the guards narrated the episode before the Raja. Jayadeva then explained the factual incident involving the dacoits and added, “One should be kind even towards evil souls. That is why I showed respect to the dacoits by offering money instead of doing harm to them.”
The Maharani and Padmavati had developed a close friendly relationship through constant association. One day the Rani, while discussing the subject of shamarana with Padmavati, began to lament thinking of her own self. Padmavati explained that after the death of a husband, the wife becomes lifeless. The Rani remembered this remark and in order to test the truthfulness of Padmavati, the Rani one day arranged to circulate a false rumor that Jayadeva was dead. Padmavati, true wife that she was, passed away as soon as she heard the news of her husband’s death. Later, Jayadeva brought Padmavati back to life by chanting the holy name in her ear.
At that point Jayadeva felt a desire to visit Vrindavana. Taking his Deity Radhamadhava with him he went to Vrindavana and stayed at Kesighata for some time. A certain wealthy devotee, charmed by Radhamadhava, constructed a temple at Kesighata, where the Deity of Radhamadhava was installed. After Jayadeva passed away, the Maharaja of Jaipur took Radhamadhava away with him and had it re-installed at a place called Ghati in Jaipur.
During the last stage of his life, Jayadeva returned to his home at Kenduli village and lived there till the end. It is said (Visvakosh) that Jayadeva used to go for a bath in the Ganges daily about 36 miles away from Kenduli. One day he was unable to go and felt disturbed about it. However, to alleviate the distress of her devotee, Gangadevi, came roaring in a stream up to Kenduli village.
Jayadeva breathed his last at Kenduli village and in his memory a mela is held every year on the day of Magha-sankranti. More than fifty thousand devotees attend this mela yearly.
Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda is considered an invaluable asset by one and all. The book has been translated into Hindi, Bengali, Odiya, Assamese and also into many other foreign languages. The following persons have written tika’s on Gitagovinda: 1) Udayanacarya, 2) Kamalakara, 3) Kumbhakarna Mahendra, 4) Krishna datta, 5) Krishna dasa, 6) Gopala, 7) Caitanyadasa, 8) Narayana Bhatta, 9) Narayanadasa, 10) Pitamvara, 11) Bhagavad dasa, 12) Bhavacarya, 13) Mananka, 14) Ramatarana, 15) Ramadatta, 16) Rupadeva Pandita, 17) Laksmana Bhatta, 18) Laksmana Suri, 19) Vanamali Bhatta, 20) Viththala Diksita, 21) Visvesvara Bhatta, 22) Sankara Misra, 23) Sriharsa, 24) Hridayavarana and others. Besides this, two books of tika entitled Valavodini and Vacanamalika by some unknown authors are also available on Gitagovinda. (Visvakosh Vol. VI p. 663-665)
(From Veda.harekrsna.cz, adapted from Gaudiya Vaishnava Abhidhana and other sources)