Article

Bhagavad Gita

Simon Brodbeck

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0010
Bhagavad Gita

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The Bhagavad Gita is one of the supreme works of Sanskrit and indeed of all world literature. It is the most well-known and widely translated part of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata (constituting chapters 6.23 to 6.40 in the Poona edition of the Mahābhārata). In the great Mahābhārata war, on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra (Kuru’s field), Kuru’s descendants, split into two sides, fight over the ancestral kingdom. Arjuna Pāṇḍava is the most brilliant warrior on the winning side, and his chariot driver is his maternal cousin, brother-in-law, and great friend Krishna Vāsudeva, who is also, as Arjuna comes to realize, the great god Vishnu Nārāyaṇa in human form. Just before the war commences, Arjuna asks Krishna to drive him out between the massed armies, and at the sight of those opposing him, he suffers an existential collapse and declares he will not fight. The Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord) consists mostly of Krishna’s response to Arjuna’s declaration; its eighteen chapters contain 700 verses, of which Krishna speaks 575. Krishna approaches Arjuna’s predicament from various angles, supplying him with a new understanding of himself and a new methodology of action. The turning point is Krishna’s revelation of his divine form to Arjuna—including as it does the future and the deaths of Arjuna’s principal adversaries—and Arjuna’s verbal response (Bhagavad Gita 11, Mahābhārata 6.33). At the end of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna declares that his crisis is over and that he will fight after all. The Bhagavad Gita’s popularity is due to the universality of Arjuna’s predicament, one in which different imperatives conflict, and of its solution, the method of acting without ego, without attachment to results, with awareness of the true, inactive self (ātman), and in a spirit of devotion. The text is beautiful poetry but also conveys core Hindu teachings that have been refreshed through new interpretations time and time again in the centuries since it was composed. The Bhagavad Gita’s importance is such that, for those with religio-philosophical ambitions, composing a commentary upon it has often seemed to be a required milestone accomplishment, and in modern times this has not just been the case within India. In many ways the Bhagavad Gita is as famous for the ways it has been interpreted as for its own sake; its champions have included Gandhi, Aurobindo, and Mandela.

Article.  10970 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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