Govinda’s Disciple Summary by Rabindranath Tagore

Govinda’s Disciple setting comprises the lap of nature – an earthy haven covered with hills and streams, graced by the river Jamuna. This natural surrounding, untouched by civilization and modernisation, forms the perfect setting for this poem that deals with the renunciation of the material in favour of the divine and the spiritual.

Govinda’s Disciple Summary

This Govinda’s Disciple summary provides a line-by-line explanation of the poem.

Far below flowed the Jumna, swift and clear,
Above frowned the jutting bank.
Hills dark with the woods and scarred
With the torrents were gathered around.

The poem begins with natural imagery, transporting the readers from their worldly surroundings into the lap of nature. The river Jamuna can be seen at a distance, flowing swiftly and clearly through the wilderness. The bank of the river is lined with jutted rocks that make it seem as if the river bank is set into a perpetual frown. The landscape is surrounded by hills on all sides. The dense foliage of trees growing on the hills gave the hills a dark appearance. They were scarred by the many fast-moving streams that journeyed through the hills.

Govinda, the great Sikh teacher, sat on the rock
Reading scriptures, when Raghunath, his disciple, proud
of his wealth, came and bowed to him and said, I have
brought my poor present unworthy of your acceptance.’

It was in the midst of this wild habitat and natural beauty that the great guru Govinda, one of the founders of the Sikh religion, sat on a rock and read his scriptures. His study was interrupted by a visit from one of his disciples, Raghunath – a rich fellow who came bearing a gift for his guru. Bowing in front of Govinda, Raghunath said to his guru that he had brought a small present for him, in hopes that it would be worthy of the great sage’s acceptance.

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Thus saying he displayed before the teacher a pair of
Gold bangles wrought with costly stones.
The master took up one of them, twirling it round
His finger, and the diamonds darted shafts of light.

Raghunath brings forth a pair of gold bangles studded with precious stones – an expensive gift indeed. Govinda picked one of the bangles up and twirled it around in his finger, while the diamonds on the piece of jewellery scintillated by refracting the sunlight.

Suddenly it slipped from his hand and rolled down
the bank into the water.
‘Alas,’ screamed Raghunath and jumped into the stream.

The teacher set his eyes upon his book, and the water
held and hid what it stole and went its way.

Govinda was only observing one of the bangles when it suddenly slipped from his fingers and rolled down the stony bank and into the river. Taken aback by the loss of his precious gift, Raghunath screamed in disappointment and jumped into the water to retrieve the bangle he had brought for his guru. Govinda continued to sit on the rock and read his scriptures, unbothered by the frantic attempts of Raghunath to bring back his precious gift to him. The water too seemed unbothered by Raghunath’s search and continued to hide away the bangle, as if it had decided to steal the same away from Raghunath.

The daylight faded when Raghunath came back to
the teacher tired and dripping.

He panted and said, I can still get it back if you
Show me where it fell.’
The teacher took up the remaining bangle and throwing it
Into the water said, It is there.’

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Dripping with water, an exhausted Raghunath came back to Govinda, having spent the whole day looking for the bangle in the water. Through breathless pants, he told his guru that he could still fetch the bangle for him if only Govinda would show him where it fell. Govinda answered this request of his disciple in the most unexpected way. Picking up the second bangle, he threw it into the water as well, and said, “It is there,” implying that just like the first bangle, even the second one was now lost.

Govinda’s Disciple central idea

Govinda’s Disciple central idea revolves around the renunciation of one’s attachment to material possessions to create space for divinity to enter our minds and make it fertile for spiritual endeavours. Human’s pursuit for wealth and the value we attach to materialistic things act as the biggest impediment on our paths for spiritual attainment. Disciples like Raghunath, whose minds are still occupied with wealth and luxuries, can never achieve clarity on their real divine purpose in life, for they are too busy amassing and showing off wealth. In this poem, the great Sikh guru Govinda by throwing his gift of bangles into the river offers a profound lesson to such inauthentic disciples who are still struggling with materialism’s hold over their minds and lives.