THE BHAGAVAD GITA
The Bhagavad Gita, `The Song of The Blessed One`, or `The Song Celestial`,
400B.C.E. - 300B.C.E.?, is perhaps the most widely read text of Sanskrit literature
in use today. A gita is a song or hymn.
The Bhagavad Gita is of particular importance to devotees of Lord Krishna. Other
gitas, such as The Avadhuta Gita, hold similar prominence for Saivites.
There have been many translations of The Bhagavad Gita into
modern languages, including several in English, the first known in 1785. It is
the most popular and still widely read script of Hinduism, focusing on the basic truths of life and how we should live our
lives. As such it shares much in common with spiritual teachings from cultures
around the world.
The Gita, as it is commonly known, was perhaps composed to exist in its own right. However at some time in history it appears to have been added to the great epic of Indian literature, The
Mahabharata, which is made up of over 100,000 couplets or slokas, arranged in 18 books.
The Gita represents one book, and is itself divided into 18 chapters. In style and content the 18 chapters can be divided
into three 6 chapter sections, each concerned with particular teachings relevant to the study of yoga.
The main story of The Mahabharata is about the fight between the forces of good, represented by
the family Pandavas, and evil represented by the Kuravas.
The king of a region N.E. of modern Delhi had 2 sons.
The elder son, Dhrita-rashtra, was blind and could not inherit the throne.
He had 100 sons, the oldest of which was the evil Duryodhana. These were
The younger son was Pandu. He had 5 sons, the oldest Yudhisthira.
The third son was Arjuna, a central character in the Gita. These were the Pandavas.
When the old king died, Pandu succeeded to the kingdom. When
Pandu died his 5 sons were brought up by Dhrita-rashtra, who appointed Pandu`s son, Yudhisthira to be his heir. In that appointment lay the cause of the feud between the two sets of sons which culminated in an 18 day
battle, where the army of Duryodhana was destroyed with terrible losses on both sides.
There is some historical evidence of this fight in ancient India.
The Bhagavad Gita Story:
The Bhagavad Gita begins where the two armies are drawn up ready for battle at Kuru. Arjuna is leading the army of the Pandavas. He stands in his
chariot with his charioteer, Krishna. Seeing lined up opposite, cousins, his
teacher and many other family members, and men he respects, he asks Krishna to drive him out between the lines so that he
can see the battle lines more clearly. Realising the slaughter that will take
place he loses the will to fight and asks Krishna what he should do.
Krishna far from being a simple charioteer in fact is the god Krishna, and in the ensuing 17 chapters,
he teaches Arjuna the important philosophies of life and yoga.
In the first five chapters Krishna explains the importance of KARMA yoga - the yoga of selfless action. The next third with JNANA yoga - the yoga of
knowledge, and the final third with BHAKTI yoga - the yoga of love and devotion. Along the way The Gita covers some important aspects of Indian philosophy, such as the three GUNAS: sattva
(goodness, light, harmony), rajas (action, passion), and tamas (lethargy, ignorance), which are found in
our own characters, and reincarnation.
At the end Krishna asks Arjuna if he understands the teachings, warning that these teachings should not
be told to anyone who is not ready. Arjuna says that he now understands his position
and what he must do. The terrible battle which ensues, does not take place in
The Gita, but in the following section of The Mahabharata.
As with the Bible, there are many translations. Each will
appeal to different readers. The translation by Juan Mascaro c.1960 (Pub: Penguin
Classics), is, in feel, similar to the Authorised version of the Bible. The language
is beautiful and poetic - and in places difficult to understand.
The more modern version by Eknath Easwaran, (Pub: Penguin Arkana) is easier for modern readers to follow. Easwaran was born in India but has lived most of his life in the USA.
A new translation by Stephen Mitchell, (Pub: Random House), uses earlier translations, but is rewritten
in a style close to the original form of sloka - stanzas of four lines each with eight syllables in each.
The Bhagavad Gita is one of those books which repays a first read through, followed by closer examination
and reflection on each section. As a piece of literature it is ranked alongside
the epics of ancient Greece and Rome, St John`s Gospel, Milton`s `Paradise Lost` and others.
For many, The Gita is a more important part of their personal baggage than their mobile phone. It is a book that rewards careful and repeated reading.
Derek Osborn / Shiv Giri