Bhagavad Gita: Introduction

Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita literally means "The song of the God", Bhagavad Gita is a part of the great Indian Epic (poem) Mahabharata, composed by Sage Vyasa. The 700 verses of the Gita contain the spiritual philosophy imparted by Lord Krishna, a liberated soul in union with the supreme soul/ consciousness to Prince Arjuna, a spiritual seeker who is ready to digest the philosophy.

The battle of Kurukshetra is said to symbolize the inner battle between the Good and the Bad qualities within each person. Lord Krishna- one with the pure consciousness guides Arjuna- a spiritual seeker, in whom the fire of eternal quest has been kindled.

Origin of the Gita

Bhagavad Gita is part of Bhishma Parva, the 6th chapter of Mahabharata. The date of composition of the text is estimated to be from 5th century BCE to 2nd century BCE. According to the legend, it is believed that Sage Vyasa narrated the entire story of Mahabharata to Lord Ganesha in the Vyasa Guha (vyasa Cave situated in the Himalayas) and he wrote it all in one go.

The Mahabharata itself mentions that the Kurukshetra war took place towards the end of Dwapara Yuga when the world was descending into Kali Yuga, many Hindu scholors have estimated the beginning of the last Kali Yuga at 700 BCE. (for eg: The Holy Science of Sriyukteswar Giri)

Based on the references in the poem to specific astronomical phenomena such as eclipses, solstices, positions of stars and planetary conjunctions, some have predicted the time of Kurukshetra war to be as early as 6000 BCE to as recently as 500 BCE.

Background of the Battle & Scene of Gita:

In the lineage of King Bharata (after whom the continent of India is named Bhārata) there was a king named Kuru (after whom the children were called Kauravas), later in the chain there was a king called Vichitraveerya whose wives begot three sons- Dhritarashtra, Pandu & Vidura.

Dhristarashtra, the eldest son, was a blind man, the elders thus crowned Pandu, the second son, as the king. His sons (Pandavas) became the rightful heirs to the throne of Hastinapur after his death.

Both Pandavas(5 sons of Pandu- Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula & Sahadeva) & Kauravas(100 Sons of Dhritarashtra- Duryodhana, Dushaasana and others; symbolic of 100s of bad qualities a spiritual aspirant has to overcome) grew up together in the same household, they were taught by the same teachers, even from the beginning there was tension between the cousins.

The Pandavas were of the exemplary virtues, they were loving, kind hearted, spiritually evolved, equal in treatment of all, worked for the betterment of all classes of society, performed their duties to their best, respectful of the elders and heeded to spiritual masters.

Whereas the Kauravas were a prideful lot, they were sense driven, had greed for wealth and power and rarely listened to wise words.

The jealousy of Kauravas made them attempt to kill Pandavas numerous times, irritate them often, be pricks to them all the time. 

The Pandavas were great warriors, they had conquered the whole civilized world. Each Pandava was skilled in a different art of battling. Arjuna was an expert in Archery and Sword fighting, he had singlehandedly won them large kingdoms. So great was Arjuna's valour that he was the only undefeated warrior among all his contemporaries.

Conspiracy to Snatch Kingdom: Kauravas heeding to their treacherous maternal uncle Shakuni make a plot to snatch away the kingdom from the Pandavas. Kauravas invited Pandavas to the dice game, being Kshatriyas(warriors) they thought it would not be fitting to refuse any kind of challenge, Yudhisthira accepted the challenge assuming one of the Kauravas will play against him, but the Kauravas at the last moment brought in deceitful Shakuni to play against Yudhisthira, elders advised Yudhisthira to quit the game as it was not mandatory for him to play against Shakuni, However Yudhisthira still agreed to play.

Shakuni being the deceitful one used tricks to win against Yudhisthira, Kauravas tasting the wins insisted that Pandavas make some serious bets like money, horses and kingdoms. Yudhisthira made bets and one by one last all his wealth including his wife, brothers and himself. The Kauravas were drunk with victory, they made fun of Pandavas.

Dhritarashtra though overjoyed with his sons' victory did not want the tension to escalate further, he calls Draupadi, the wife of Pandavas and grants her a wish, she wishes for the freedom of her husbands; Dhritarashtra grants the Pandavas freedom along with Draupadi's.

Pandavas were banished to the Forest, to stay there for 12 years and in disguise for one year. With the condition that they will get back their kingdom after 13 years, if they were caught while in disguise they had to go to forest for 12 more years.

Return of Pandavas: Pandavas return to claim the kingdom after fulfilling their quota of 13 years. The Kauravas insisted that they were 1 day early, however the wise ones sided with the Pandavas and insisted that the Kauravas give Pandavas their rightful kingdom. The Kauravas rejected any plea of peace and insisted that Pandavas face the battle if they wanted any piece of land (The Kauravas believed that they had superior army power, and popular support (of other kings) while the Pandavas lived in seclusion without any contact for 13 years)

Intervention of Wise ones: Seeing that there was going to be a bloody battle, many wise sages came to counsel them. Pandavas agreed even to take far less than what they rightfully deserved, however the Kauravas were very adamant.

  • Sage Vyasa(the biological grandfather of both Kauravas & Pandavas) visits Kauravas and reminds them of the strengths of Pandavas and explains to them about the divine nature of Krishna and prowess of Arjuna from previous live. Thus insisting them to choose battle but peace.
  • Vidura being the counsellor to the king and uncle of both the warring families advises Kauravas to give Pandavas their rightful wealth and avoid the bloodshed.
  • Finally Krishna, being both the relative of the warring clans and universally accepted as the wisest came to counsel the Kauravas, The Kauravas being the dull minded they were rejected his wise words too, Krishna at last requested them to grant just five villages to the five Pandava brothers for the sake of livelihood , The Kauravas insisted that they would not to give land even the size of the tip of a needle. Thus Krishna exposes the mindset of Kauravas to the whole world.

Necessity of the war: 

  • Pandavas were the rightful heirs to the throne, they tried through various peaceful means to make their case. But the power intoxicated Kauravas did not budge, being Kshatriyas fighting was the last option.
  • They had to fight for the sake of Dharma(righteousness), if Pandavas had not fought, it would have sent wrong message to the world, everyone would have started thinking 'It is okay to unrighteously posses someone else's property and get away it.'
  • It would have set the wrong example that 'It is alright to flee from one's duties for the fear of life.' They had to set an example that it is noble to even fight for a bigger cause forgetting the petty self.
  • It was their duty as Kings to set an example of upholding the Dharma, it was their duty to inspire subjects on the right path.
  • It was duty of Pandavas to protect their civilians, to administer them in the best way, to give support to spiritual seekers, uplift the downtrodden, financially help the needy and do proper administration in all fields. There was no guarantee that Kauravas would be doing their duties to their best, there was no guarantee that the Kauravas would not abuse their power and torture their subjects. 

Thus the war became inevitable though Pandavas only wished for peace.

Gita-the essence of Hindu Philosophy

Bhagavad-Gita is one of the three major sources (Prasthanatrayi) of Hindu Philosophy viz.,

  1. The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthana (injunctive texts), and the Śruti prasthāna (the starting point of revelation)
  2. The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyaya prasthana or Yukti prasthana (logical text)
  3. The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sadhana prasthana (practical text), and the Smriti prasthāna (the starting point of remembered tradition)

A famous Sanskrit verse states

"Sarvopanishado gavo dogdha Gopalanandanah| Partho vatsah sudhir bhokta dugdham Gitamritam mahat||" "All Upanishads are cows; Bhagavan Sri Krishna is the cowherd; Arjuna is the calf; the milk is the great nectar of Gita; Scholars drink that milk."

"So comprehensive as a spiritual guide is the Gita that it is declared to be the essence of the ponderous four Vedas, 108 Upanishads and the six systems of the Hindu Philosophy. Indeed, the underlying essential truths of all great world scriptures can find common amity in the infinite wisdom of the Gita's mere 700 concise verses" - Paramahanasa Yogananda

Gita-the essence of all Yogas:

There have been numerous paths discussed in Indian philosophy to attain self-realization. These paths have been broadly classified into four major paths. Gita discusses all these four paths of of Yoga in detail. These paths are: 

  1. Karma Yoga: The path of Right Action
  2. Jnana Yoga: The path of Wisdom
  3. Bhakti Yoga: The path of devotion
  4. Raja Yoga: The path of control of mind & senses through practical techniques (Yama, Niyama, Asana,Pranayama, Pratyahara,Dharana,Dhyana,Samadhi)

Gita- the gist of All schools of Hindu philosopy:

Gita discusses Various topics from the Six traditional schools of Hinduism like:

  • Sankhya
  • Yoga
  • Vedanta
  • Nyaya
  • Vaisheshika
  • Mimamsa

Gita- the unifier of sub-schools of Vedanta:

Vedanta of Hinduism has three major schools of thought inspired by the Upanishads(Vedanta) like:

  1. Advaita: Non-duality (Self is the highest reality)
  2. Dvaita: Duality (separation of individual-self and universal-self)
  • Vishishtadvaita: Qualified Non-duality

Gita as an Upanishad:

Upanishads are teachings on the nature of self and spirit (Brahma Jnana) usually imparted by a teacher to a student sitting near. Upanishads literally mean sitting near the Guru for the sake of learning Brahma Jnana (knowledge of Supreme Self). Upanishads teach both the knowledge of self & God and also the practical path to attain the realization.

Gita is both a text of theory (of self, God, attachment, liberation) and practice ( of Yoga), thus considered as an Upanishad by the seekers.