Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra, 18th 19th century painting The Bhagavad Gita (pronounced: ), also referred to as Gita, is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Due to its presence in the epic, it is classified as a text. However, those branches of Hinduism that give it the status of an Upanishad also consider it a ruti or "revealed text". As it is taken to represent a summary of the Upanishadic teachings, it is also called "the Upanishad of the Upanishads."
The context of the Gita is a conversation between Krishna and the Pandava prince Arjuna taking place in the middle of the battlefield before the start of the Kurukshetra War with armies on both sides ready to battle. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins who command a tyranny imposed on a disputed empire, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince, and elaborates on yoga, Samkhya, reincarnation, moksha, karma yoga and jnana yoga among other topics.
Date and text
Bhagavad Gita, a 19th-century manuscript
Scholars roughly date the Bhagavad Gita to the period between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the Gita having been influenced by the soteriologies of Buddhism, Jainism, Samkhya and Yoga. Though the Bhagavad Gita, as a smrti, has no independent authority from the Upanishads (sruti), the Gita is in many respects unalike to the Upanishads in format and content.
The Bhagavad Gita occurs in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata and comprises 18 chapters from the 25th through 42nd and consists of 700 verses. The authorship of the Mahabharata as a whole is attributed to Vyasa, however in actuality it is a composite work of many authors over a period of time. The Gita itself is also the product of more than one author. Because of differences in recensions, the verses of the Gita may be numbered in the full text of the Mahabharata as chapters 6.25 42 or as chapters 6.23 40. According to the recension of the Gita commented on by Adi Shankara, the number of verses is 700, but there is evidence to show that old manuscripts had 745 verses. The verses themselves, using the range and style of Sanskrit Anustup meter (chhandas) with similes and metaphors, are written in a poetic form that is traditionally chanted.
A manuscript illustration of the battle of Kurukshetra, fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, recorded in the Mah bh rata.
Bronze statue representing the discourse of Krishna and Arjuna, in Kurukshetra The Bhagavad Gita begins before the start of the climactic Kurukshetra war, with the Pandava prince Arjuna becoming filled with doubt on the battlefield. Realizing that his enemies are his own relatives, beloved friends, and revered teachers, he turns to his charioteer and guide, Krishna, for advice.
War as allegory
There are many scholars and researchers who regard the story of the Gita as an allegory. For example, Swami Nikhilananda, founder of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York, takes Arjuna as an allegory of tman, Krishna as an allegory of Brahman, Arjuna's chariot as the body, etc.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in his commentary on the Gita, interpreted the battle as "an allegory in which the battlefield is the soul and Arjuna, man's higher impulses struggling against evil." Swami Vivekananda also said that the first discourse in the Gita related to war can be taken allegorically. Vivekananda further remarked, "this Kurukshetra War is only an allegory. When we sum up its esoteric significance, it means the war which is constantly going on within man between the tendencies of good and evil."
In Sri Aurobindo's view, Krishna was a historical figure, but his significance in the Gita is as a "symbol of the divine dealings with humanity", while Arjuna typifies a "struggling human soul." However, Aurobindo rejects the interpretation that the Gita, and the Mahabharata by extension, is "an allegory of the inner life, and has nothing to do with our outward human life and actions":
Overview of chapters
Krishna displays his Vishvarupa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Gita consists of eighteen chapters in total:
Gita Dhyana: (contains 10 verses) This chapter is not a part of main Gita, but, Gita Dhyan is also included with Gita. In these ten verses Krishna has been praised and worshipped as God. It is common practice to recite Dhyana slokas before reading chapter(s) of Gita.
Arjuna-Visada Yoga: (contains 47 verses) Arjuna requests Krishna to move his chariot between the two armies. When Arjuna sees his relatives on the opposing army side of the Kurus, he loses morale and decides not to fight.
Sankhya Yoga:: (contains 72 verses) After asking Krishna for help, Arjuna is instructed that only the body may be killed, as he was worried if it would become a sin to kill people (including his gurus and relatives), while the eternal self is immortal. Krishna appeals to Arjuna that, as a warrior, he has a duty to uphold the path of dharma through warfare. Krishna told Arjuna the three principles dharma, Atman and the Sharira (body).
Karma Yoga: (contains 43 verses) Arjuna asks why he should engage in fighting if knowledge is more important than action. Krishna stresses to Arjuna that performing his duties for the greater good, but without attachment to results, is the appropriate course of action.
Jnana-Karma-Sanyasa Yoga: (contains 42 verses) Krishna reveals that he has lived through many births, always teaching Yoga for the protection of the pious and the destruction of the impious and stresses the importance of accepting a guru.
Karma-Sanyasa Yoga: (contains 29 verses) Arjuna asks Krishna if it is better to forgo action or to act ("renunciation or discipline of action"). Krishna answers that both ways may be beneficent, but that acting in Karma Yoga is superior.
Dhyan Yoga or Atmasanyam Yoga: (contains 46 verses) Krishna describes the correct posture for meditation and the process of how to achieve Sam dhi.
Jnana-Vijnana Yoga: (contains 30 verses) Krishna teaches the path of knowledge (Jnana Yoga).
Aksara-Brahma Yoga: (contains 28 verses) Krishna defines the terms brahman, adhyatma, karma, atman, adhibhuta and adhidaiva and explains how one can remember him at the time of death and attain his supreme abode.
Raja-Vidya-Raja-Guhya Yoga: (contains 34 verses) Krishna explains panentheism, "all beings are in me" as a way of remembering him in all circumstances.
Vibhuti-Vistara-Yoga: (contains 42 verses) Krishna describes how he is the ultimate source of all material and spiritual worlds. Arjuna accepts Krishna as the Supreme Being, quoting great sages who have also done so.
Visvarupa-Darsana Yoga: (contains 55 verses) On Arjuna's request, Krishna displays his "universal form" (Vi var pa), a theophany of a being facing every way and emitting the radiance of a thousand suns, containing all other beings and material in existence.
Bhakti Yoga: (contains 20 verses) In this chapter Krishna extols the glory of devotion to God. Krishna describes the process of devotional service (Bhakti Yoga). He also explains different forms of spirtual disciplines.
Ksetra-Ksetrajna Vibhaga Yoga: (contains 34 verses) In this chapter Krishna describes the (human) body as Kshetra, and tells one who knows this fact is a Ksetrajna. Krishna describes nature (prakrti), the enjoyer (purusha) and consciousness.
Gunatraya-Vibhaga Yoga: (contains 27 verses) Krishna explains the three modes (gunas) of material nature.
Purusottama Yoga: (contains 20 verses) Krishna describes a symbolic tree (representing material existence), its roots in the heavens and its foliage on earth. Krishna explains that this tree should be felled with the "axe of detachment", after which one can go beyond to his supreme abode.
Daivasura-Sampad-Vibhaga Yoga: (contains 24 verses) Krishna tells of the human traits of the divine and the demonic natures. He counsels that to attain the supreme destination one must give up lust, anger and greed, discern between right and wrong action by discernment through Buddhi and evidence from scripture and thus act correctly.
Sraddhatraya-Vibhaga Yoga: (contains 28 verses) Krishna tells of three divisions of faith and the thoughts, deeds and even eating habits corresponding to the three gunas.
Moksha-Sanyasa Yoga: (contains 78 verses) In conclusion, Krishna asks Arjuna to abandon all forms of dharma and simply surrender unto him. He describes this as the ultimate perfection of life.
As a scripture of yoga
Krishna and Arjuna at Kurukshetra war field.
Major themes of yoga
The influential commentator Madhusudana Sarasvati (b. circa 1490) divided the Gita's eighteen chapters into three sections, each of six chapters. According to his method of division, the first six chapters deal with Karma yoga, which is the means to the final goal, and the last six deal with the goal itself, which he says is Knowledge (Jnana). The middle six deal with bhakti. Swami Gambhirananda characterizes Madhusudana Sarasvati's system as a successive approach in which Karma yoga leads to Bhakti yoga, which in turn leads to Jnana yoga.
Karma Yoga is essentially Acting, or doing one's duties in life as per his/her dharma, or duty, without attachment to results a sort of constant sacrifice of action to the Supreme. It is action done without thought of gain. In a more modern interpretation, it can be viewed as duty bound deeds done without letting the nature of the result affect one's actions. Krishna advocates Nishkam Karma (Selfless Action) as the ideal path to realize the Truth. The very important theme of Karma Yoga is not focused on renouncing the work, but again and again Krishna focuses on what should be the purpose of activity. Krishna mentions in following verses that actions must be performed to please the Supreme otherwise these actions become the cause of material bondage and cause repetition of birth and death in this material world. These concepts are described in the following verses:
- "Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunt , perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage."
- "To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction"(2.47)
- "Fixed in yoga, do thy work, O Winner of wealth (Arjuna), abandoning attachment, with an even mind in success and failure, for evenness of mind is called yoga"(2.48)
- "With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the Yogis perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in Yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace..."
In order to achieve true liberation, it is important to control all mental desires and tendencies to enjoy sense pleasures. The following verses illustrate this:
- "When a man dwells in his mind on the object of sense, attachment to them is produced. From attachment springs desire and from desire comes anger."(2.62)
- "From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory; and from loss of memory, the destruction of intelligence and from the destruction of intelligence he perishes"(2.63)
According to Catherine Cornille, Associate Professor of Theology at Boston College, "The text [of the Gita] offers a survey of the different possible disciplines for attaining liberation through knowledge (jnana), action (karma) and loving devotion to God (bhakti), focusing on the latter as both the easiest and the highest path to salvation."
In the introduction to Chapter Seven of the Gita, bhakti is summed up as a mode of worship which consists of unceasing and loving remembrance of God. As scholar M. R. Sampatkumaran explains in his overview of Ramanuja's commentary on the Gita, "The point is that mere knowledge of the scriptures cannot lead to final release. Devotion, meditation and worship are essential."
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita:
- "And of all yogins, he who full of faith worships Me, with his inner self abiding in Me, him, I hold to be the most attuned (to me in Yoga)."(6.47) 
- "After attaining Me, the great souls do not incur rebirth in this miserable transitory world, because they have attained the highest perfection.(8.15)"
- "... those who, renouncing all actions in Me, and regarding Me as the Supreme, worship Me... For those whose thoughts have entered into Me, I am soon the deliverer from the ocean of death and transmigration, Arjuna. Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellect on Me. Thus you shall dwell in Me hereafter.(12.6)"
- "And he who serves Me with the yoga of unswerving devotion, transcending these qualities [binary opposites, like good and evil, pain and pleasure] is ready for liberation in Brahman." (14.26) 
- "Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, offer service to Me, bow down to Me, and you shall certainly reach Me. I promise you because you are My very dear friend."
- "Setting aside all meritorious deeds (Dharma), just surrender completely to My will (with firm faith and loving contemplation). I shall liberate you from all sins. Do not fear."(18.66)
Jnana Yoga is a process of learning to discriminate between what is real and what is not, what is eternal and what is not.
- "When a sensible man ceases to see different identities due to different material bodies and he sees how beings are expanded everywhere, he attains to the Brahman conception." (13.31)
- "Those who see with eyes of knowledge the difference between the body and the knower of the body, and can also understand the process of liberation from bondage in material nature, attain to the supreme goal." (13.35)
In Sanskrit editions of the Gita, the Sanskrit text includes a traditional chapter title naming each chapter as a particular form of yoga. These chapter titles do not appear in the Sanskrit text of the Mahabharata. Since there are eighteen chapters, there are therefore eighteen yogas mentioned, as explained in this quotation from Swami Chidbhavananda:
All the eighteen chapters in the Gita are designated, each as a type of yoga. The function of the yoga is to train the body and the mind.... The first chapter in the Gita is designated as system of yoga. It is called Arjuna Vishada Yogam Yoga of Arjuna's Dejection.
In Sanskrit editions, these eighteen chapter titles all use the word yoga, but in English translations the word yoga may not appear. For example, the Sanskrit title of Chapter 1 as given in Swami Sivananda's bilingual edition is which he translates as "The Yoga of the Despondency of Arjuna". Swami Tapasyananda's bilingual edition gives the same Sanskrit title, but translates it as "Arjuna's Spiritual Conversion Through Sorrow". The English-only translation by Radhakrishnan gives no Sanskrit, but the chapter title is translated as "The Hesitation and Despondency of Arjuna". Other English translations, such as that by Zaehner, omit these chapter titles entirely.
Swami Sivananda's commentary says that the eighteen chapters have a progressive order to their teachings, by which Krishna "pushed Arjuna up the ladder of Yoga from one rung to another." As Winthrop Sargeant explains, "In the model presented by the Bhagavad G t , every aspect of life is in fact a way of salvation."
Message of the Gita
Advaita Vedanta uses the Bhagavad Gita in conjunction with the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras to arrive at its message.
Some commentators have attempted to resolve the apparent conflict between the proscription of violence and ahimsa by allegorical readings. Gandhi, for example, took the position that the text is not concerned with actual warfare so much as with the "battle that goes on within each individual heart". Such allegorical or metaphorical readings are derived from the Theosophical interpretations of Subba Row, William Q. Judge and Annie Besant. Stephen Mitchell has attempted to refute such allegorical readings.
Scholar Radhakrishnan writes that the verse 11.55 is "the essence of bhakti" and the "substance of the whole teaching of the Gita": Ramakrishna said that the essential message of the Gita can be obtained by repeating the word several times, "'Gita, Gita, Gita', you begin, but then find yourself saying 'ta-Gi, ta-Gi, ta-Gi'. Tagi means one who has renounced everything for God."
According to Swami Vivekananda, "If one reads this one Shloka one gets all the merits of reading the entire Gita; for in this one Shloka lies imbedded the whole Message of the Gita.
Swami Chinmayananda writes, "Here in the Bhagavad Gita, we find a practical handbook of instruction on how best we can re-organise our inner ways of thinking, feeling and acting in our everyday life and draw from ourselves a larger gush of productivity to enrich the life around us, and to emblazon the subjective life within us." 
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi writes, "The object of the Gita appears to me to be that of showing the most excellent way to attain self-realization" and this can be achieved by selfless action, "By desireless action; by renouncing fruits of action; by dedicating all activities to God, i.e., by surrendering oneself to Him body and soul." Gandhi called Gita, The Gospel of Selfless Action.
Eknath Easwaran writes that the Gita's subject is "the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious", and "The language of battle is often found in the scriptures, for it conveys the strenuous, long, drawn-out campaign we must wage to free ourselves from the tyranny of the ego, the cause of all our suffering and sorrow".
It has been highly praised not only by prominent Indians such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi but also by Aldous Huxley, Henry David Thoreau, Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carl Jung, and Herman Hesse.
The Bhagavad Gita's emphasis on selfless service was a prime source of inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi told, "When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad-Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day."
- Albert Einstein told- "When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous." 
- Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India commented on Gita, "The Bhagavad-Gita deals essentially with the spiritual foundation of human existence. It is a call of action to meet the obligations and duties of life; yet keeping in view the spiritual nature and grander purpose of the universe." 
- J. Robert Oppenheimer, American physicist and director of the Manhattan Project, learned Sanskrit in 1933 and read the Bhagavad Gita in the original, citing it later as one of the most influential books to shape his philosophy of life. Upon witnessing the world's first nuclear test in 1945, he later said he had thought of the quotation "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds", verse 32 from Chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita.
- A 2006 report suggests that the Gita is replacing the influence of The Art of War (ascendant in the 1980s and '90s) in the Western business community.
Commentaries and translations
Traditionally the commentators belong to spiritual traditions or schools (sampradaya) and Guru lineages (parampara), which claim to preserve teaching stemming either directly from Krishna himself or from other sources, each claiming to be faithful to the original message. In the words of Mysore Hiriyanna, "[The Gita] is one of the hardest books to interpret, which accounts for the numerous commentaries on it each differing from the rest in an essential point or the other."
Different translators and commentators have widely differing views on what multi-layered Sanskrit words and passages signify, and their presentation in English depending on the sampradaya they are affiliated to. The oldest and most influential medieval commentary was that of the founder of the Vedanta school of extreme 'non-dualism", Shankara (788 820 A. D.), also known as Shankaracharya (Sanskrit: ). Shankara's commentary was based on a recension of the Gita containing 700 verses, and that recension has been widely adopted by others. Ramanujacharya's commentary chiefly seeks to show that the discipline of devotion to God (Bhakti yoga) is the way of salvation. The commentary by Madhva, whose dates are given either as (b. 1199 d. 1276) or as (b. 1238 d. 1317), also known as Madhvacharya (Sanskrit: ), exemplifies thinking of the "dualist" school. Madhva's school of dualism asserts that there is, in a quotation provided by Winthrop Sargeant, "an eternal and complete distinction between the Supreme, the many souls, and matter and its divisions." Madhva is also considered to be one of the great commentators reflecting the viewpoint of the Vedanta school. Madhva has written two commentaries on Bhagavadgita : Bh shya and T tparya. They have been explained further by many ancient pontiffs of Dvaita School like Padmanabha Tirtha, Jayatirtha and Raghavendra Tirtha.
In the Shaiva tradition, the renowned philosopher Abhinavagupta (10 11th century CE) has written a commentary on a slightly variant recension called Gitartha-Samgraha.
Other classical commentators include Nimbarka (1162 CE), Vidyadhiraja Tirtha, Vallabha(1479 CE)., Madhusudana Saraswati, Raghavendra Tirtha, Vanamali Mishra, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 CE), while Dnyaneshwar (1275 1296 CE) translated and commented on the Gita in Marathi, in his book Dnyaneshwari.
Swami Chinmayananda Wrote a highly acclaimed commentary in which the Gita is presented as a universe text of spiritual guidance for humanity. Written for a modern intellectual, He gives an in-depth view of the Gita in the light of science and rationality without ignoring the original intent of the text and the traditional commentaries of the great Vedantin Adi Shankaracharya. In his effortlessly polished English, Swami Chinmayananda brings the message of Gita alive to the modern reader. 
Paramhansa Yogananda wrote a two-volume translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita named - "God Talks with Arjuna: Bhagavad Gita", offering a comprehensive examination of the science and philosophy of yoga. He outlines the Gita's balanced path of meditation and right activity, and shows how we can create a life of spiritual integrity and joy. "Wherever one is on the way back to God, the Gita will shed its light on that segment of the journey... It is at once a profound scripture on the science of yoga, union with God, and a textbook for everyday living." - Paramahansa Yogananda The book offers a translation and commentary of wide scope and vision. Exploring the psychological, spiritual and metaphysical depths of the Bhagavad Gita - from the subtle springs of human action to the grand design of the cosmic order.
In modern times, notable commentaries were written by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, who used the text to help inspire the Indian independence movement. Tilak wrote his commentary while in jail during the period 1910 1911 serving a six-year sentence imposed by the British colonial government in India for sedition. While noting that the Gita teaches possible paths to liberation, his commentary places most emphasis on Karma yoga. No book was more central to Gandhi's life and thought than the Bhagavadgita, which he referred to as his "spiritual dictionary". During his stay in Yeravda jail in 1929, Gandhi wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in Gujarati. The Gujarati manuscript was translated into English by Mahadev Desai, who provided an additional introduction and commentary. It was published with a foreword by Gandhi in 1946. Mahatma Gandhi expressed his love for the Gita in these words: "I find a solace in the that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the . I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies and my life has been full of external tragedies and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of ."
Hindu revivalism and Neo-Hindu movements
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Other notable modern commentators include Sri Aurobindo, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Swami Vivekananda, and Swami Chinmayananda who took a syncretistic approach to the text.
Swami Vivekananda, the follower of Sri Ramakrishna, was known for his commentaries on the four Yogas Bhakti, Jnana, Karma and Raja Yoga. He drew from his knowledge of the Gita to expound on these Yogas. Swami Sivananda advises the aspiring Yogi to read verses from the Bhagavad Gita every day. Swami Chinmayananda viewed the Gita as a universal Scripture to turn a person from a state of agitation and confusion to a state of complete vision, inner contentment and dynamic action. Paramahamsa Yogananda, writer of the famous Autobiography of a Yogi, viewed the Bhagavad Gita as one of the world's most divine scriptures. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, wrote Bhagavad-G t As It Is, a commentary on the Gita from one of many perspectives of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
The first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita was done by Charles Wilkins in 1785. In 1981, Larson listed more than 40 English translations of the Gita, stating that "A complete listing of Gita translations and a related secondary bibliography would be nearly endless" (p. 514). He stated that "Overall... there is a massive translational tradition in English, pioneered by the British, solidly grounded philologically by the French and Germans, provided with its indigenous roots by a rich heritage of modern Indian comment and reflection, extended into various disciplinary areas by Americans, and having generated in our time a broadly based cross-cultural awareness of the importance of the Bhagavad Gita both as an expression of a specifically Indian spirituality and as one of the great religious "classics" of all time." (p. 518)
The Gita has also been translated into other European languages. In 1808, passages from the Gita were part of the first direct translation of Sanskrit into German, appearing in a book through which Friedrich Schlegel became known as the founder of Indian philology in Germany. Swami Rambhadracharya released the first Braille version of the scripture, with the original Sanskrit text and a Hindi commentary, on 30 November 2007.
Philip Glass retold the story of Gandhi's early development as an activist in South Africa through the text of the Gita in the opera Satyagraha (1979). The entire libretto of the opera consists of sayings from the Gita sung in the original Sanskrit. In Douglas Cuomo's Arjuna's dilemma, the philosophical dilemma faced by Arjuna is dramatized in operatic form with a blend of Indian and Western music styles. The 1993 Sanskrit film, Bhagavad Gita, directed by G. V. Iyer won the 1993 National Film Award for Best Film.
- Ashtavakra Gita
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- Gita Dhyanam
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- Vyadha Gita
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