Bhagavad Gita (भगवद्गीता)

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Bhagavad Gita (Samskrit: भगवद्गीता) is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna, narrated in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata. It comprises eighteen discourses of a total of 701 Sanskrit verses. On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Sri Krishna, during the course of His most instructive and interesting talk with Arjuna, revealed profound, sublime and soul-stirring adhyatmik truths, and expounded the rare secrets of Yoga, Vedanta, Bhakti and Karma.[1]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

It is said that the world is one huge battlefield. The real Kurukshetra is within us. The battle of the Mahabharata is still raging within. Ignorance is Dhritarashtra; the individual soul is Arjuna; the indweller of our heart is Lord Krishna, the charioteer; the body is the chariot; the senses are the five horses; mind, egoism, mental impressions, senses, cravings, likes and dislikes, lust, jealousy, greed, pride and hypocrisy are our dire enemies.[1] Once born, there is no escape from this Kurukshetra within us.[2] The modern man is greatly in need of an effective guide to light. He sees only problems everywhere and no solutions are to be found anywhere. He does not know which way to turn, what course to adopt and how to move towards a better state of things. Therefore, his life is filled with restlessness, unhappiness and complication. The Bhagavad Gita contains words of wisdom and practical teachings that contain the answers to the above-mentioned condition of the present-day individual.[3] Lord Krishna guides us to face the kurukshetra boldly and defeat the rajasic and tamasic tendencies within us. And the Gita is the greatest guide he bestowed on us.[2]

विषयः ॥ Subject Matter

Arjuna became very despondent. Lord Krishna’s opening remarks in the second discourse, which bespeak of the immortality of the soul, open his eyes and give him strength and courage. Arjuna then learns the technique of Karma Yoga and renunciation of the fruits of actions. He learns the methods of controlling the senses and the mind and practising concentration and meditation. This is followed by a description of the various manifestations of the Lord in order to prepare him for the vision of the Cosmic Form. Arjuna experiences the magnificent Cosmic Vision and understands the glorious nature of a liberated being. He is then given knowledge of the Field and the Knower of the Field, the three Gunas and the Purushottama. His knowledge is completed by an explanation of the divine attributes, the three kinds of faith and the essence of the Yoga of renunciation.

Arjuna had various kinds of doubts; Lord Krishna cleared them one by one. He pushed Arjuna up the ladder of Yoga from one rung to the next. Eventually, Arjuna placed his foot on the highest rung, attained the supreme knowledge of the Self and exclaimed in joy:[1]

नष्टो मोहः स्मृतिर्लब्धा त्वत्प्रसादान्मयाच्युत । स्थितोऽस्मि गतसन्देहः करिष्ये वचनं तव ॥१८- ७३॥[4]

naṣṭo mohaḥ smr̥tirlabdhā tvatprasādānmayācyuta । sthito'smi gatasandehaḥ kariṣye vacanaṁ tava ॥18- 73॥

Meaning: O my Lord! my delusion has been destroyed. I have attained knowledge through Thy Grace. I am firm. All my doubts have now vanished in toto. I will act according to Thy word.

The Gita is divided into three sections, illustrative of the three terms of the Mahavakya of the Sama Veda—“Tat Tvam Asi—That Thou Art”. In accordance with this view,

  • the first six chapters deal with the path of action or Karma Yoga, that is, the nature of “Thou”. It is called the Tvam-pada.
  • The next six chapters explain the path of devotion, the nature of “That”. This is called the Tat-pada.
  • And the concluding six discourses treat of the path of knowledge, the nature of the middle term “Art”. Hence, it is called the Asi-pada, which establishes the identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul.

However, these eighteen discourses are not woven in a discordant manner. Each one is intimately or vitally connected with its precedent.[1]

एकवाक्यता ॥ Harmony in the Gita

Man is a composite of three fundamental factors, namely, will, feeling and cognition. There are three kinds of temperament—the active, the emotional and the rational. Even so, there are three Yogas.

  • Jnana Yoga for a person of enquiry and rational temperament
  • Bhakti Yoga for the emotional temperament
  • Karma Yoga for a person of action.

The Bhagavad Gita formulates the theories of the three paths without creating any conflict among them. It harmonises most wonderfully the philosophy of action, devotion and knowledge. All three must be harmoniously blended if one wishes to attain perfection. The three horses of this body-chariot—action, emotion and intellect—should work in perfect harmony. Only then will it move smoothly and reach the destination safely and quickly. Only then can one rejoice in the Self, sing the song of Soham, be in tune with the Infinite, hear the soundless voice of the Soul and enjoy the sweet music of the eternal Self.

  • Also, in one place in the Gita, Lord Krishna praises Karma Yoga:[1]

संन्यासः कर्मयोगश्च निःश्रेयसकरावुभौ । तयोस्तु कर्मसंन्यासात्कर्मयोगो विशिष्यते ॥५- २॥[5]

saṁnyāsaḥ karmayogaśca niḥśreyasakarāvubhau । tayostu karmasaṁnyāsātkarmayogo viśiṣyate ॥5- 2॥

Meaning:The Yoga of action is superior to the renunciation of action.

  • In another place He praises Raja Yoga:[1]

तपस्विभ्योऽधिको योगी ज्ञानिभ्योऽपि मतोऽधिकः । कर्मिभ्यश्चाधिको योगी तस्माद्योगी भवार्जुन ॥६- ४६॥[6]

tapasvibhyo'dhiko yogī jñānibhyo'pi mato'dhikaḥ । karmibhyaścādhiko yogī tasmādyogī bhavārjuna ॥6- 46॥

Meaning: The Yogi is thought to be superior to the ascetics and even superior to men of knowledge; he is also

superior to men of action. Therefore, be thou a Yogi, O Arjuna!

  • In yet another place Lord Krishna praises the path of Bhakti Yoga:[1]

पुरुषः स परः पार्थ भक्त्या लभ्यस्त्वनन्यया । यस्यान्तःस्थानि भूतानि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् ॥८- २२॥[7]

puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyastvananyayā । yasyāntaḥsthāni bhūtāni yena sarvamidaṁ tatam ॥8- 22॥

Meaning: The highest Purusha, O Arjuna, is attainable by unswerving devotion to Him alone within whom all beings dwell and by whom all this is pervaded! In one place He praises Jnana Yoga:[1]

उदाराः सर्व एवैते ज्ञानी त्वात्मैव मे मतम् । आस्थितः स हि युक्तात्मा मामेवानुत्तमां गतिम् ॥७- १८॥[8]

udārāḥ sarva evaite jñānī tvātmaiva me matam । āsthitaḥ sa hi yuktātmā māmevānuttamāṁ gatim ॥7- 18॥

Meaning: Noble indeed are all these; but I deem the wise man as My very Self; for, steadfast in mind, he is established in Me alone as the supreme goal

A beginner is confused when he comes across these seemingly contradictory verses. But, if one thinks deeply, there is no room for any confusion. Krishna praises each Yoga in order to create interest in the aspirant in his particular path. The Gita is a book for the people of the world at large. It was not meant for Arjuna alone. Each Yoga is as efficacious as the other.[1]

मुख्योपदेशः ॥ The Central Message

The central teaching of the Gita is the attainment of the final beatitude of life—perfection or eternal freedom. This may be achieved by doing one’s prescribed duties of life. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:[1]

तस्मादसक्तः सततं कार्यं कर्म समाचर । असक्तो ह्याचरन्कर्म परमाप्नोति पूरुषः ॥३- १९॥[9]

tasmādasaktaḥ satataṁ kāryaṁ karma samācara । asakto hyācarankarma paramāpnoti pūruṣaḥ ॥3- 19॥

Meaning: Therefore, without attachment, constantly perform action which is duty, for, by performing action without attachment, man verily reaches the Supreme.

One can become a liberated sage by annihilating the ego and the currents of likes and dislikes; by annihilating desires and cravings and destroying their residual potencies. Thus, one can rest in one's true essential nature as Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and still be active in the affairs of the world. Because, now you will not be bound by actions since the idea of doership has been destroyed by the attainment of knowledge of the Self. This is the keynote of the Gita.[1]

The Gita again and again emphasises that one should cultivate an attitude of non-attachment or detachment. It urges repeatedly that an individual should live in the world like water on a lotus leaf.[1]

ब्रह्मण्याधाय कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा करोति यः । लिप्यते न स पापेन पद्मपत्रमिवाम्भसा ॥५- १०॥[5]

brahmaṇyādhāya karmāṇi saṅgaṁ tyaktvā karoti yaḥ । lipyate na sa pāpena padmapatramivāmbhasā ॥5- 10॥

Meaning: He who does actions, offering them to Brahman and abandoning attachment, is not tainted by papa (पापम्) as a lotus leaf by water[1]

Commentaries on the Gita

Gita has numerous commentators from all philosophies and Sampradayas.[2]

Commentator Commentory
Shankaracharya Gita Bhashya
Vadi Kesari Azhagiya Manavala Jeeyar Venba Padal
Sri Ramanuja Gita Bhashya
Sridhara Swami Subodhini
Vedanta Desika Tatpariya Chandrikai
Gangadhar Lokamanya Tilak Gita Rahasya

While a busy man with an active temperament will be greatly benefited by the commentary of Sri Gangadhar Lokamanya Tilak, entitled Gita Rahasya. A man of devotional temperament will be attracted by Sri Sridhara’s commentary, and a man of reason by that of Sri Shankara.[1]

Talking about the commentaries on Gita, K.S.Narayanacharya says, "My own conviction is that the best commentary on the Gita is the entire Mahabharata and the context of a physical war, which manifested itself as an expression of a larger civilizational crisis of

  • Duty v/s Inaction,
  • Loyalty to evil v/s An original path seeking, which looks like a revolution and so on."[10]

गीतामाहात्म्यम् ॥ The Greatness of Gita

The Gita is the cream of the Vedas. It is the essence of the soul-elevating Upanishads. It is a universal scripture applicable to people of all temperaments and for all times. It is a book with sublime thoughts and practical instructions on Yoga, devotion, Vedanta and action. It is profound in thought and sublime in heights of vision. It brings peace and solace to souls that are afflicted by the three fires of mortal existence, namely,

  • afflictions caused by one’s own body
  • those caused by beings around one
  • those caused by the gods.

It is said that, in all the adhyatmik literature of the world there is no book so elevating and inspiring as the Gita. It is the source of all wisdom and an inexhaustible adhyatmik treasure. It is a fountain of bliss, an ocean of knowledge. It is full of divine splendour and grandeur. It is a book for eternity.[1]

Talking of the Gita, Gita Mahatmya (as in the Padma Purana) says,

सर्वोपनिषदो गावो दोग्धा गोपालनन्दनः । पार्थो वत्सः सुधीर्भोक्ता दुग्धं गीतामृतं महत् ॥४॥[11]

sarvopaniṣado gāvo dogdhā gopālanandanaḥ । pārtho vatsaḥ sudhīrbhoktā dugdhaṁ gītāmr̥taṁ mahat ॥4॥

Meaning: All the Upanishads are cows; the Milker is Krishna, the cowherd boy; Partha (Arjuna) is the calf; men of purified intellect are the drinkers, the milk is the great nectar of the Gita.[2]

The Gita is a boundless ocean of nectar. It is the immortal celestial fruit of the Upanishadic tree.It is a rare and splendid flower that wafts its sweet aroma throughout the world. Just as the dark unfathomed depths of the ocean contain most precious pearls, so also the Bhagavad Gita contains adhyatmik gems of incalculable value.[1]

Message beyond barriers

The Bhagavad Gita is not just an "old scripture”, nor is it just a book of “religious teachings”, nor even a Hindu holy book. It transcends the bounds of any particular religion or race, and is actually divine wisdom addressed to mankind for all times, in order to help human beings face and solve the ever-present problems of birth and death, of pain, suffering, fear, bondage, love and hate. It enables man to liberate himself from all limiting factors and reach a state of perfect balance, inner stability and mental peace, complete freedom from grief, fear and anxiety. Within its eighteen chapters is revealed a human drama. This is the experience of everyone in this world, the drama of the ascent of man from a state of utter dejection, sorrow and total breakdown and hopelessness to a state of perfect understanding, clarity, renewed strength and triumph.[3]

The teachings of the Gita are broad, universal and sublime. They do not belong to any cult, sect, creed, age or country. They are meant for the people of the whole world. Based on the soul-elevating Upanishads—the ancient wisdom of seers and saints—the Gita prescribes methods which are within the reach of all. It has a message of solace, freedom, salvation, perfection and peace for all human beings.[1]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 Swami Sivananda (2000), Bhagavad Gita, Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society, Preface.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3
  3. 3.0 3.1 Swami Sivananda (2000), Bhagavad Gita, Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society, Forward.
  4. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 5.
  6. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6.
  7. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 8.
  8. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 7.
  9. Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3.
  10. Narayanacharya K.S. (December 2013), The Main Thrust of Gita Thought, Bangalore: Kautilya Institute of National Studies, Introduction.
  11. Abhinavagupta (March 1987), Shrimad Geetartha Sangraha, Kashmir: Normal Press.