(‘Song of God’)

The Bhagavadgītā, popularly known as the Gītā, is one of the outstanding religious classics of the world. Hindus, irrespective of their sects and denomi-nations, cherish great reverence for this book. A ceremonial reading of the book or even a part there of, is believed to confer great religious merit.

The book itself, comprising eighteen chapters, forms an integral part of a much bigger work, the great epic Mahābhārata (vide Bhīṣmaparva, chapters 25 to 42). It is a poetical work in the form of a dialogue between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna, on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra. The setting of the battlefield contributes a dramatic element to the book and relates religion to the realities of life.

The greatness and the popularity of the Gītā can be attributed to several factors. It is part and parcel of the epic Mahābhārata which itself has been highly venerated as the fifth Veda (Pañcama-Veda). The teacher of the Gītā is Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is regarded by the Hindus as an avatāra or incarnation of God Himself. An ideal friend, a great statesman, an invincible warrior, a wise preceptor and a yogi par excellence he harmonizes in his life the various conflicting activities of life. It is precisely this that makes him the fittest person to preach such a religio-spiritual classic. Arjuna, the recipient of the teaching, though himself a great warrior, is a typical representative of the humans, easily liable to be upset or confused during periods of crisis. Hence, his predicament, very much represents ours, in a similar situation. The questions, doubts and misgivings he raises and the solutions that Śrī Kṛṣṇa offers are not only relevant but also valid even today.

There is an additional reason too. The Hindu Vedāntic tradition has always regarded the prasthānatraya (the three foundational works) as its basis; and the Gītā is one of them, the other two being the Upaniṣads and the Brahmasūtras. That is why Śaṅkara (A. D. 788-820) and other ancient teachers have chosen to write commentaries on it.

Since the Gītā is an integral part of the epic Mahābhārata, its date and authorship are obviously the same as those of the epic itself. (See MAHĀBHĀRATA.) Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana, better known as Vedavyāsa, is reputed to be its author. As per the Hindu oral traditions based on their notion of time as the yuga-system, the Kurukṣetra war must have taken place during 3139 B.C. The dates given however by the modern historians and scholars (mostly of the West) vary from 1424 B.C. to 575 B.C. At the present stage of research, it may be difficult to clinch the issue on such chronological matters.

The widely accepted present text of the Gītā is based on the one chosen by Śaṅkara, the earliest of the traditional commentators. It consists of 700 ślokas or verses spread over 18 chapters. The following is a brief summary of the book, arranged chapterwise.

Chapter 1 (Arjuna-viṣāda-yoga, 47 verses)

Arjuna, the Pāṇḍava hero, shaken by the prospect of killing the venerable Bhīṣma and the preceptor Droṇa, gets into a despondent mood at the start of the war. He describes the horrendous fallout of such wars, and lays down his arms refusing to fight.

Chapter 2 (Sāṅkhya-yoga, 72 verses)

Śrī Kṛṣṇa, at first, admonishes Arjuna for his unmanly and ignominious behaviour. This, however, falls on deaf ears. Hence he is obliged into giving a long philosophical discourse. Since the soul inhabiting bodies, is immortal, one should not grieve over death and destruction. It is Arjuna’s duty to fight this righteous war and win it or become a martyr if necessary, but never yield to unrighteousness. Work done as duty, in a spirit of detachment and for public good, ultimately leads to perfection. A perfect man (called ‘sthitaprajña’ here) is equanimous under all the vicissitudes of life.

Chapter 3 (Karmayoga, 43 verses)

Clearing Arjuna’s doubts regarding the conflict between jñāna (knowledge), which envisages renunciation and karma (work, action) Śrī Kṛṣṇa opines that the path of karma is easier and better for most people. Citing the example of ancient kings like Janaka and of his own, he urges Arjuna not to relinquish work, but to perform his duties without selfish motives.

Chapter 4 (Jñāna-yoga)

While reminiscing how Karmayoga or the yoga of action taught by him in the ancient days to Vivasvān and others got lost in course of time, Śrī Kṛṣṇa reveals that he is God Himself come down to save dharma or righteousness. He incarnates here out of his own will whenever dharma declines, to put it on a firm foundation. He extols the greatness of jñāna or spiritual wisdom.

Chapter 5 (Karma-saṁnyāsa-yoga, 29 verses)

Answering a question from Arjuna whether karma-saṁnyāsa (renunciation of action) or Karmayoga (yoga of action) is better, Śrī Kṛṣṇa avers that the latter is better for him. What is needed is equanimity while doing karma.

Chapter 6 (Dhyānayoga, 47 verses)

In this chapter Śrī Kṛṣṇa describes the process of dhyāna or meditation. Place and posture suitable for meditation as also the methods of controlling the mind are graphically depicted.

Chapter 7 (Jñāna-vijñāna-yoga, 30 verses)

Śrī Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Lord, has created the whole universe, drawing upon his twofold prakṛti or nature. It is he that is holding together all beings and things. Only those that surrender themselves to him can transcend his māyā or power of delusion.

Chapter 8 (Akṣarabrahmayoga, 28 verses)

Śrī Kṛṣṇa describes here how a person remembering Him at the moment of death attains Him. Repetition of praṇava or Om at this juncture is a great help. He also mentions the two well-known paths—arcirādimārga and dhūmādimārga, the paths of light and smoke—which the jīvas or embodied beings take to after death.

Chapter 9 (Rājavidyā-rājaguhya-yoga, 34 verses)

Continuing the discourse, Śrī Kṛṣṇa gives here the esoteric wisdom by which Arjuna can get liberation. He is everything in creation. If people can worship him with devotion, offering him even insigni-ficant things like a flower, or a leaf or water, he accepts them and blesses them. His devotee never perishes in life.

Chapter 10 (Vibhūtiyoga, 42 verses)

Śrī Kṛṣṇa devotes this chapter almost entirely to the delineation of his vibhutis or divine manifestations. He is the best or the essence in all beings or things. The whole world has been supported by just a part of His glory.

Chapter 11 (Viśvarūpa-darśana-yoga, 55 verses)

At Arjuna’s request whose curiosity has been roused, Śrī Kṛṣṇa reveals his Viśvarūpa or celestial form, after endowing him with a divine sight. Awed by it, Arjuna offers his prayers and obeisance. Śrī Kṛṣṇa withdraws the Viśvarūpa and declares that it can be seen only by those who have intense devotion.

Chapter 12 (Bhaktiyoga, 20 verses)

In this chapter, Śrī Kṛṣṇa declares that even though contemplation on the Avyakta or the Unmanifest leads to the same result as devotion to him, the latter path is better. He advises Arjuna to cultivate devotion to him. Towards the end, the characteristics of a bhakta or an ideal devotee are delineated.

Chapter 13 (Kṣetra-kṣetrajña-yoga, 34 verses)

The body is the kṣetra or the field. The Self is the kṣetrajña or the knower of the field. These two are described in this chapter. This is followed by descriptions of jñāna (knowledge), jñeya (that which is to be known, viz., Brahman), prakṛti (nature) and puruṣa (the Self or kṣetrajña). Those who can intuit the difference between the last two, will attain Brahman.

Chapter 14 (Guṇatraya-vibhāga-yoga, 27 verses)

Prakṛti or nature from which creation proceeds, prodded by the Lord (Śrī Kṛṣṇa), comprises the three guṇas—sattva, rajas and tamas. There is a detailed description of these guṇas and also that of the guṇātīta or the person who has transcen-ded them.

Chapter 15 (Puruṣottama-yoga, 20 verses)

In this chapter Śrī Kṛṣṇa describes saṁsāra or the created world as an inverted tree with its roots above, in Brahman or Purāṇa-puruṣa, the Primeval Being. By taking refuge in Him, this tree can be cut resulting in liberation. There is also a description of transmigration of the jīva, the bound soul. Śrī Kṛṣṇa also states that He is the power that sustains the world and the living beings. He is the Puruṣottama or the Best of beings.

Chapter 16 (Daivāsura-sampad-vibhāga-yoga, 24 verses)

Śrī Kṛṣṇa delineates here those traits of character (sampat) that make a person divine (daivī) or demoniac (āsurī). He assures Arjuna that he belongs to the divine group but urges him to avoid the three gateways to hell: lust, anger and greed.

Chapter 17 (Śraddhātraya-vibhāga-yoga, 28 verses)

This chapter contains interesting des-criptions of śraddhā (faith), āhāra (food), yajña (sacrifices), tapas (austerity) and dāna (gifts), all being divided into three categories according to the three guṇas. Śrī Kṛṣṇa also gives the aphorism ‘Oṁ tat sat,’ a designation for Brahman, which can act as a magic formula to correct the deficiencies in religious acts.

Chapter 18 (Mokṣa-saṁnyāsa-yoga) 78 verses)

This is the last and the longest chapter dealing with several miscellaneous topics like tyāga and saṁnyāsa (renunci-ation), jñāna (knowledge), karma (action) and kartā (doer) classified as per the three guṇas. There is also the mention of the society being divided into four varṇas or groups, according to nature and vocation. Finally Śrī Kṛṣṇa advises Arjuna to totally surrender himself to Him, with the promise of freeing him from all sins. Arjuna, with his delusion destroyed by this wonderful discourse vows to fight in obedience to his command.

The Philosophy of the Bhagavadgītā

The Indian philosophical systems, known as darśanas, generally treat their subject under four major headings: the Cause of the universe; creation or evolution of the universe; nature of the individual soul; the goal of human life and the means of achieving it. Though the Bhagavadgītā is not a systematic treatise on philosophy it is possible to deal with its subject matter under these headings. It may not be out of place to mention here that the colophon given at the end of each chapter of the Gītā viz., Upaniṣad, Brahmavidyā and Yogaśāstra, reflects its contents very well. It is an ‘Upaniṣad’ or esoteric wisdom given by the teacher to a disciple on request. It is ‘Brahmavidyā’ since it deals with Brahman, the Absolute. It is ‘Yogaśāstra’ since it describes yoga or practical disciplines that help an aspirant to attain spiritual wisdom, the goal of life.

Śrī Kṛṣṇa has been venerated and worshipped as God Himself, come down as a human being, to save mankind and re-direct it in the path of dharma or righteousness. In the Mahābhārata and the Bhāgavata, as also in the Gītā itself, Śrī Kṛṣṇa often identified himself with God and speaks with indisputable authority. While studying the philosophy of the Gītā, it is necessary to keep this fact in mind.

The Gītā compares the created universe to an inverted tree with its roots above, established in God (15.1-4). The more popular view of the mythological lore that Brahmā (the four-faced Creator) creates the world during his ‘day’ and withdraws it into himself during ‘night,’ is also referred to (8.17-19). The various terms used to indicate the Supreme or God are: Parabrahman (13.12), Paramātman (13.22, 31), Uttamapuruṣa or Puruṣottama (15.17-19), Īśvara (15.17; 18.61), kṣetrajña (13.2) and Parameśvara (13.27).

God has a twofold prakṛti or nature. The aparā or the lower one is insentient and comprises these eight: the five elements like earth and water, manas (mind), buddhi (intellect) and ahaṅkāra (egoism). The parā or the higher one consists of the innumerable jīvas or souls. Creation proceeds out of the combination of these two. It is under His direction that prakṛti gives birth to all beings and things. He is the sole origin and place of dissolution of this universe (7.4-6; 9.7). The whole universe is supported by Him even as the beads of a necklace are supported by the string on which they are strung (7.7). As Avyakta or the Unmanifest, He has pervaded the whole universe (9.4). That is why He is the essence of all, in this creation (10.41).

God is not only transcendent and immanent (18.61), he can also incarnate himself as a human being, whenever dharma or righteousness declines, in order to restore its balance. He does it out of his own free will. By his māyā-power, and subjugating his prakṛti, he creates a body for himself (4.6-8).

As incarnation, the personal aspect of the Impersonal, God is more easily approachable through devotion (9.26). He responds in whatever way people approach him (4.11; 7.21-23). His devotee never gets perished (9.31). Those who surrender to him will easily cross over māyā (the delusive power of God), which is otherwise impossible to cross (7.14). He takes over their entire responsibility even here in this world (9.22). That is why He constantly urges Arjuna to cultivate devotion to him and surrender to him (9.34; 11.55; 18.65, 66).

The jīva or the individual soul is an important aspect of this creation. He is a part of God (15.7). He is the higher aspect of his nature, parāprakṛti (7.5). He is essentially unborn, indestructible and eternal (2.17-25). He takes on bodies like wearing garments and then discards them, to take new ones (2.22). While doing so he draws to himself the five sense-organs and the mind from the aparā prakṛti or the lower prakṛti (7.4, 5) and transmigrates with them. He is deluded by ajñāna or ignorance which covers jñāna or know-ledge (5.15).

The goal of life is to reach the Lord’s Abode from which there is no return to this mundane existence (8.16; 5.17; 15.6). This state has been variously called as brahma-nirvāṇa (dissolution into Brahman—2.72; 5.24), brāhmīsthiti (being established in Brahman—2.72), saṁsiddhi (perfection—8.15; 18.45), parāgati (highest state—6.45; 8.13, 21; 9.32; 13.28; 16.22) and attaining Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself (4.9, 10; 5.29; 7.3, 18, 23, 30; 8.5, 7, 14, 15, 16; 9.28, 34; 10.10; 11.55; 12.4, 9; 18.55). The ancient Upaniṣadic idea of the jīva reaching Brahmaloka (Abode of Brahmā) by the arcirādi-mārga or the path of light, has also been mentioned by the Gītā (8.24-26).

Since it is ajñāna or ignorance that is responsible for transmigration, it can be erased only by jñāna or spiritual wisdom which alone can accomplish it (4.35-39; 5.16, 17).

Acquisition of jñāna has to be preceded by spiritual disciplines that help in purifying the mind. Indriyanigraha or control of sense-organs is one of the most important disciplines referred to (2.58, 60, 61, 64, 68; 3.34, 41; 5.22, 23; 6.4, 24; 12.4). Tapas or austerity (16.1; 17.14-16; 18.5) and other disciplines including the performance of one’s duties with the right attitude have also been recommended. But devotion to the Lord and surrendering to him have been highly extolled (7.21; 8.10, 22; 9.14, 26, 29, 31; 11.54; 12.17, 20; 13.10; 14.26; 18.55).

There are three beautiful descriptions of the perfect being, who has reached the final goal of life: the sthitaprajña or the man of steady wisdom (2.55-72), the bhakta or the devotee (12.13-20) and the guṇātīta or one who has transcended the three guṇas (14.22-27).

The sthitaprajña (man of steady wisdom) is bereft of all desires. He is unmoved by the pairs of opposites like pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion. He is capable of withdrawing his sense-organs from the sense-objects effortlessly. He is the supreme master of himself. He can wield his sense-organs among the sense-objects without being affected by them. He is ever awake to the ātman, the reality within himself. He is free from egoism and possessiveness, and hence ever filled with peace. This state is called brāhmīsthiti; the state of being established in Brahman.

The bhakta or the ideal devotee who is ever dear to God, is free from inimical thoughts towards all beings. He has nothing but friendliness and compassion for them. He has neither egoism nor attachment. He is ever equanimous and contented. Having controlled the senses and the mind, he has totally dedicated them to God, out of devotion. He is never upset by the people nor are they agitated by him. Bereft of desires, pure to the core and expert in the field of work, he has yet renounced all selfish works. Deeply devo-ted to God, indifferent to praise and blame, unaffected by the vagaries of the weather and having no fixed place for dwelling, the bhakta is extremely dear to the Lord.

The guṇātīta (who is beyond the three guṇas) is ever unaffected by the experiences brought about by the three guṇas, like knowledge or happiness or delusion. He knows that the guṇas as the senses act upon the guṇas as objects and that he as the Self is beyond them. He looks upon happiness and misery, wealth and worthless objects, praise and blame with equipoise. He never undertakes desire-motivated actions, but ever serves God through devotion.

Special Contribution of the Gītā to Indian Philosophical Thought

Though the Gītā has been reputed to contain the essence of the teachings of the Upaniṣads and is considered to be one of the three basic scriptures of Vedānta (prasthānatraya) there is no gainsaying the fact that it has charted new avenues in the Indian philosophical literature, previously unknown or unexpressed. The work presents us with three original doctrines: a. The doctrine of niṣkāma-karma-yoga (or the yoga of desireless action), with the allied concepts of svadharma and loka-saṅgraha; b. The doctrine of integral yoga as a comprehensive mode of sādhanā (or spiritual discipline); and c. The doctrine of avatāra (descent of God into the human form or the theory of incarnation of God.)

a. The Doctrine of Niṣkāmakarmayoga:

At the time of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, two major streams of thought, resulting in two different views and ways of life existed. On one side was the philosophy of abhyudaya or worldly well-being with its inordinate emphasis on yajñas and yāgas, sacrificial rites and rituals, by which one could get everything in life, here and hereafter. Since this involved a lot of time, energy and money, and since the results were considered petty, the reaction came in the form of the doctrine of niśśreyasa or the highest good, put forward by the sages of the Upaniṣads, who advocated a life of renunciation of all actions except those needed for the bare sustenance of life, coupled with mendicancy and contem-plation on the ātman (the Self) within.

By their very nature these two views and ways were restricted to the brāhmaṇa-kṣattriya combine, at least, to the more affluent and the more rigorous amongst them. As a result, the majority of the people were left in the lurch, though imbued with higher spiritual aspirations. It is here that Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s doctrine of niṣkāma-karma-yoga becomes relevant and extremely useful.

Being a wise and sensible leader, Śrī Kṛṣṇa accepts the tradition of sacrifices as it existed then, but shows the way to transform it or even transcend it. Since Prajāpati (Father of beings) created the system of yajña or sacrifice as a link between human beings and gods, they are expected to prosper only by mutual help and cooperation (3.10, 11). But a yajña or sacrifice need not be only that done in a duly consecrated fire. Any act of an indi-vidual, involving the sacrifice of selfishness and done for the public good can also be a yajña (vide 4.25-30).

After defining saṁnyāsa as the renunciation of all kāmya-karmas or desire-motivated actions, and tyāga as the abandonment of sarvakarmaphala or the fruits of all actions (18.21), Śrī Kṛṣṇa rules out the renunciation of actions like yajña (sacrificial rites), dāna (giving gifts) and tapas (austerity) since they purify the mind (18.5). Even they are to be performed without attachment and the desire for fruits, as a matter of duty. What really binds one is not work itself, but the selfish desire for its fruits (vide 9.20, 21). Since work is inevitable for an embodied being (3.5,8; 18.11) it is better to accept the fact gracefully and perform it with self-control (3.7), as a yajña or sacrifice (3.9) and giving up the desire for the fruits thereof (3.19; 12.11). One who performs actions thus is both a saṁnyāsi and a yogi (6.1). Alternatively, one can perform actions for the sake of God and offer the fruits thereof (3.19; 12.11). One who performs actions thus is both a saṁnyāsi and a yogi (6.1). Alternatively, one can perform actions for the sake of God and offer the fruits also to him (12.6,10, 11; 11.55; 5.10-12). It is necessary to perform actions even from the standpoint of lokasaṅgraha or guiding the people on the right path (3.20, 25) which is the bounden duty of the leaders of the society.

Work done in the right spirit, thus, can also lead to mokṣa (liberation or perfection). It is in no way less effective than jñāna or knowledge. Many a great one in the past, like Janaka, attained perfection through the path of action alone (3.19, 20; 4.15, 23, 41; 5.5, 6, 12; 8.7; 9.27, 28; 12.12; 18.45, 46, 56). Not only that, such persons, including Śrī Kṛṣṇa himself, continued to live in the society and work, to set an example to the unenlightened ones, as to perfection in work, which also will lead to beatitude (3.21-26).

Arjuna was a sincere seeker of spiritual wisdom. He was not interested in sakāma-karma or desire-motivated actions. However, he was not qualified to tread the path of jñāna or knowledge which entails renunciation of all actions. That is why Śrī Kṛṣṇa declares that Arjuna has the competence only to work; and not to renouncing it; but he should do so without reference to the fruits thereof (2.47).

Closely associated with this, is the idea of ‘svadharma’, ‘dharma’ or duties that are ‘sva’ or one’s own, accruing to one by one’s nature and nurture, and, ordained by the scriptures. It goes without saying that ‘svadharma’ must be ‘dharma’ (righteousness) first. Such svadharma should never be abandoned. If performed, it brings in great good; if abandoned, sin (2.31-33). However imperfect it may appear, it is far better to die performing it than to do paradharma or someone else’s dharma which is unsuitable (3.35). One who acts according to svadharma will never be tainted by its effects (18.47). There is no doubt that the performance of svadharma in the right spirit will lead to perfection (18.45, 46).

b. The Doctrine of Integral Yoga:

As already stated, the colophon of the Gītā calls it as a ‘yogaśāstra.’ ‘Yoga’ is a technical term which means union with God as also the spiritual discipline that leads to such union.

Though yoga is one, taking into consideration the different types of human mind—the active, the philosophical, the emotional and the psychic—it has branched off into four paths: Karmayoga, the path of work for the active:, Jñāna-yoga, the path of knowledge, for the philo-sophical; Bhaktiyoga, the path of devotion, for the emotional; and, Rājayoga, the path of psychic control for the psychic. Each of these yogas opens upon the infinite horizon of Truth and effects union with God. The Gītā describes them all.

Śrī Kṛṣṇa has used the word ‘yoga’ in several senses. For instance, it is Karmayoga that is meant in 2.48, 50 and 6.2. However, in 6.12 and 15 it is Rājayoga that is indicated. In 5.8 the word ‘yukta’ has been used to signify the jñānayogi. Again, it is the bhaktiyogi that is implied by the word ‘nityayukta’ in 8.14.

Keeping in mind the fact that Śrī Kṛṣṇa has taught all the four yogas to one and the same person, Arjuna, urging him to follow them, it can be safely concluded that the yoga of the Gītā is a comprehensive spiritual discipline integra-ting into itself all the four aspects. However, since Arjuna’s svabhāva or nature was such that Karmayoga was better suited to him, Śrī Kṛṣṇa relentlessly urges him to fight (2.18; 3.30; 11.34).

The inference is obvious: The Gītā urges an aspirant to practise a balanced combination of all the four yogas, keeping that yoga which suits one’s nature better, as the main discipline and adding the others too in right proportion. Since no human being has only one of the four faculties mentioned earlier, but all the four, though in varying proportions, this deduction is reasonable.

c. The Doctrine of Avatāra:

The doctrine of avatāra or incarnation of God is another, original contribution of the Gītā to Indian philosophical and religious literature. The avatāra concept is perhaps suggested in the Ṛgveda (3.53.8; 6.47.18) itself. Some of the avatāras mentioned in the purāṇas in the lists of daśāvatāras (ten incarnations of Viṣṇu) are met with in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (1.8.1.-6; However, it is only here in the Gītā, that the concept is more definite and clear.

When Śrī Kṛṣṇa mentions that the yoga which he taught to Vivasvān (Sun-god) and transmitted by him to Manu was lost in course of time, Arjuna naturally questions him out of unbelief how a contemporary person like him could have taught a person who lived in hoary antiquity (4.1-4). It is then that Śrī Kṛṣṇa reveals the truth of both of them passing through many births. Whereas Arjuna underwent those births helplessly due to prārabdha karma (residual karma, responsible for rebirth) and did not know about them, Śrī Kṛṣṇa being the Supreme Lord himself, voluntarily and willingly accepted these births for a higher purpose.

It is dharma or righteousness that is the principle regulating the smooth working of the created world. Since the created world is a product of the three guṇas—sattva, rajas and tamas—which are constantly in a state of flux, it is but natural that each one of them gets the upper hand periodically. Whenever sattva goes down and rajas or tamas comes up, dharma declines and adharma (evil) gets the upper hand. At such critical periods of human history, the Supreme Lord decides to incar-nate himself in a human frame to restore the balance. Though he is unborn, eternal and the Lord of all beings, he can and does ‘come down’ (avatāra = coming down) by taking recourse to his māyā-power (also called prakṛti or nature) (4.6, 7). The primary purpose of the avatāra is dharma-saṁsthāpana or establishing dharma on a firm foundation. In the process, if need be, He will destroy or chastise the wicked and thereby protect the good (4.8).

This descent of the Divine into the human frame can take place anywhere, anytime, the sole condition being the decline of dharma and the ascent of adharma (4.7) to the extent of rendering the good people absolutely helpless, and at the mercy of the evil ones.

There is an added assurance given by Śrī Kṛṣṇa that one who is able to understand the significance of his birth and work as an avatāra, will attain liberation (4.9).

Of course, in a number of places, he urges Arjuna to cultivate devotion to him, to meditate upon him and to work for him (9.34; 11.55; 18.65), the finale being the command to surrender totally to him, with the pledge to free him from all sins (18.66).


Being a part of the prasthānatraya and thus accorded a very high place in the religio-philosophical tradition of India, the Gītā has attracted the attention of several ancient and medieval teachers who have written commentaries and glosses on it in Sanskrit. In the Advaita Vedānta tradition Śaṅkara (A. D. 788-820) comes first. In fact, his is the earliest of the extant commentaries. Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1137), Madhva (A. D. 1197-1276), Nimbārka (12th century A. D.) and Vallabha (A. D. 1473-1531) are the other great ācāryas or teachers who have written commentaries on the Gītā. Ānandagiri (A. D. 1200), Vedānta Deśika (A. D. 1268-1370) and Jayatīrtha (13th century A. D.) have written glosses on the commentaries of Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja and Madhva respec-tively. Mention may also be made of the commentaries of Śrīdhara (15th century A. D.), Madhusūdana (A. D. 1525-1632) and Rāghavendra (A. D. 1598-1671) who have made some original contributions to the Gītā literature.


The Bhagavadgītā is one of the most translated religious classics of the world. The beauty and the sublimity of the work, its eternal relevance to the problems of human life and its universal approach that helps us view the whole creation as one, may have prompted the scholars to under-take the task of translating it as a labour of love.

Though part of the great epic Mahā-bhārata, it can as well stand on its own as an independent work. Though taught on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra, urging Arjuna to fight, it has nothing to do with wars or battles or bloodshed, but only with the discharging of one’s sacred duties of life, however unpleasant they may be. Though given by Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna in the days of yore, its declarations like, ‘Remember Me and fight!’ (8.7) can help and inspire anyone of us, beleaguered with serious problems of life, even now. Though recognizing multiplicity here, its principle of unity in diversity as signified by the Viśavarūpa or the Cosmic Form (11.9-13) and the underlying divinity as taught in 7.7, help us to cultivate a holistic approach to the universe of which ecological balance too is only a small aspect.

If the Mahābhārata can claim to be an encyclopaedia of Hindu religion and culture, the Bhagavadgītā can as well claim to be its quintessence.