Bhagavadgita is one of the most important scriptures of the mankind. It occupies a unique place among the followers of Hinduism. The Vedas, the Upanishads and the Brahmasutra form the foundations of the orthodox Hinduism or the Sanatana Hindu Dharma.
The Gita is also given a place among these sacred Scriptures honourably, on an equal footing. One can say that the Upanishads, the Brahmasutra, and the Gita are the very basis of the Hinduism. There are various sects and sub-sects within the folds of the Hinduism. There are followers of different doctrines (Sampradayas) among the Hindus. All the leaders of three different branches of Hinduism have to justify their special doctrines with references to the authority of the Upanishads, the Brahmasutra and the Gita, to show that such doctrines are in consonance with the orthodox Hindu religion. These bases of Hinduism (the Gita, the Upanishads and Brahmasutra) are called the triple canon (Prasthanatraya). Rishi (seer) Ved Vyas is credited with the authorship of the Gita. However,the Hindus regard it to be of divine origin preached by the Lord (Bhagawan) Shri Krishna himself.
Ved Vyas is also given the honour of being the compiler of the Mahabharata. The Geeta occurs in the Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata from twenty-third to fortieth chapter. The Geeta begins with the description of both the opposing armies in the war of Kurukshetra with the description of their main heroes. Sanjaya narrates the happenning at the battlefield to the blind king Dhritarashtra, when he is asked to do so. A great hero and the greatest warrior of the Pandava side Arjuna sees members of his family, relatives, and teachers in the battlefield eager to fight from both the warring sides. This causes immense sadness to Arjuna. Overwhelmed by the grief he leaves aside his bow and arrows. The desire for battle dies in his heart and he sits down in the chariot in the state of despondency. Then his charioteer, Lord Krishna preaches him, which is the subject matter of the Geeta.
The Gita is mainly a religious treatise. Though it contains ancient Indian Philosophy, policy and the code of worldly conduct, yet it is essentially a guide to the Hindu way of life. For centuries millions of Hindus have found peace and tranquillity in their lives by following the path shown by the Gita. It sets a religious experience of the ultimate reality. The all sects and the followers of all the traditions/doctrines among the Hindus accept the Gita. The Gita can be verily said to be the foundation of not only of the Hindusim, but of the root of the religion itself.
The union (yoga) of the self (atma) with the ultimate reality (paramatma) is the final goal of the followers of the Gita. It brings about a reconciliation among the apparently conflicting doctrines of the way of knowledge (Gyan-Yoga) of action (Karma-Yoga) and of devotion (bhakti-yoga). All these paths lead towards one goal only. The term yoga (means to unite, to yoke), is used in Gita, in the sense of union of the self with the supreme being it is not used in the sense as given in the yoga-sutra of Pantanjali.
DATE AND TEXT OF BHAGAVADGITA
According to the Hindu traditions and beliefs, the gita is an eternal scripture. It has always been available to the human being, as a divine gift, for their redemption. But the modern scholars and researchers, both oriental as well as western, have done a great deal of work to ascertain the date of its compilation and its original text. They have taken help from the internal references available in the literature of that era. Also with the help of linguistics, they have studied the language used, grammatical constructions, and word configurations to ascertain its date. All these evidently point towards the antiquity of the Gita. Generality of scholars accept that it could have been composed and complied sometime around fifth century B.C. though its text might have undergone many additions and alterations subsequently. Also it does not seem plausible that seven hundred verses contained in the Gita could have been preached by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the battlefield. Possibly, a few verses might have been said which were amplified and elaborated into a large treatise by the narrators over a period of time. Moreover the historicity of Lord Krishna and his pupil, Arjuna is also not beyond doubt. The Vedic age and the post-vedic age had extended over a period of many centuries. During this period, compilation of the vedas and the Upanishads, had taken place. Certain Upanishads were compiled as late as the fourth century A.D.
Lord Krishna is mentioned as Devaki-putra (Son of Devika) in the upnishads and the references of Radha, Devaki and Vasudeva also occur and the beginning of the christian era, the cult of Lord Krishna and vasudeva was well established. Ancient Buddhist texts also mention about krishna occasionally. These facts may be taken as evidence about the historicity of Lord Krishna. Vishnu has been depicted as a god in the Vedic hymns. In the Puranic texts, Vishnu is also mentioned as Narayana. Lord Krishna is identified with Vishnu or Narayana. Modern Indian and western scholars have done a tremendous amount of labour to get the answers to these puzzles. But there are differences of opinion among the scholars regarding the date of Gita and about its original text. The age of the compilation of the Gita may be taken to be of between fifth and the second century B.C.
The Gita is regarded as a Upanishads "bhagavadgitastu" The Gita presents synthesis of all the elements and beliefs of he Hinduism, be they major or minor, gross or subtle. The Gita refines and reconciles the conflicts inherent in the various thoughts the vedic sacrifices, Puranic theism, transcendental or immortal nature of the brahman in the Upanishads, dualism and non-dualism of the philosophical schools and yoga meditation etc. The Gita provides a solution for these conflicting ideas which is acceptable to all the adherants of the Hinduism.
The Gita blends into an organic unity, all the elements of orthodox Hinduism, Indian Philosophy and Puranic theism. This makes it difficult to assign the Gita to any specific age,place or tradition. From the very ancient time commentaries have been written on the Gita by various teachers and seers. The commentary of Sankaracharya (A.D.788-320) is the most ancient among those, which are available to us. The text given in this work is generally followed and taken as the authoritative.
COMMENTARIES ON THE GITA
Since the Gita forms the very basis of the Hinduism a very large number of commentaries by many seers and scholars have been written from the ancient times. Many leaders of various sects have written commentaries on the Gita to prove that their specific doctrines were in conformity with the teachings of the Gita. Many scholars and philosophers of modern age have also written commentaries on it. Though the commentary of Sankara is the oldest available to us. Yet he had mentioned about the commentaries written by scholars before him. But their works are now lost to us. The following commentators are important.
•Adi Shankaracharya (A.D. 788-820)
•Anandagiri (A.D. thirteenth Century)
•Shridhara (A.D. 1400)
•Madhusudana (Sixteen Century A.D.)
•Ramanuja (Eleventh Century A.D.)
•Nimbarka (A.D. 1162)
•Vallabha (A.D. 1479)
•Yamunacharya (date not known)
•Saint Tukarama (in Marathi)
•Saint Gyaneshwara (in Marathi)
Among the modern commentators notable are, Bal Gangadhara Tilak (Gita-Rahasya), Vinoba Bhave (Gita in Marathi), Sri Arbindo, Dr. S. Radha-Krishnan etc.
Many western scholars have also done a lot of work on he Gita and have produced excellent works. Some of them are : Sir Adwin Arnold (wrote a translation - The song Celestial-in beautiful verses), Jacob, Barnett, Douglas Hill, Franklin Edgerton etc. The Gita has been translated and commented on in all the important languages of the world.
WHAT IS THERE IN THE EARTH YOGA-SHASTRA
The Gita teaches the practical way to realise the supreme ideal. It does not give only a purely metaphysical world of thought to the seeker of the truth, it takes him to the real world of experience. The supreme bliss can only be experienced, it cannot be reached by idle speculation of wits and mental gymnastics. The Gita gives us a metaphysics (brahma-vidya) as well as a practical discipline (yoga shastra) . By emptying our minds of impure thoughts, desires and wants, by putting our entire energy in the single minded contemplation of the nature of the ultimate reality, by constant efforts (abhyas) and being in a state - where the self (atma) becomes one with the supreme being (paramatma). This is called "Yoga" (coming from the root "yuj-it means yoking of or comes into union with the God (parameshwar). After one attains this state ignorance (Agyana) illusion (avidya) and egoistic state of mind (ahankara) can no longer exist. The self experiences the pure truth, pure mind and pure bliss (sat, chit, anand). The Gita Guide ut to this yoga and bhaktiyoga. This is the essence of the Gita. Gyanyoga is the way of knowledge, Karmayoga of right efforts, of total devotion and surrender to the will of God. Thus the Gita shows the way of salvation to all without any distinction or reservation. It is for the entire humanity. Distinctions place, caste creed or sect do not come in its way. The Gita like the mother ganga is for the benefit of all. The misconception among a few that the Gita is meant for the saints and the hermits is without any basis. The Student (brahmachari), the house-holder the recluse all have equal claim to its nectar. It's a panacea to the mankind.
THE CONTEXT OF THE GIFT :
The hundred sons of Dhritarastra and the five sons of Pandu, fought a fatal war in the battlefield of Kurukshetra.This is the main theme of the mahabharata. The sons of the blind king Dhritarastra of the Kauravas bore great animosity to the Pandavas, the sons of Pandu. Kauravas were ruling the kingdom of Hastinapura and the Pandavas were the rulers of Indraprastha. The eldest among the Kauravas, Duryodhana, was very jealous of the splendour of their cousins, pandavas. He, with the help of his uncle Shakuni, won the kingdom of the Pandavas, decided that the pandavas shall spend twelve years in the forest and then one year in disguise. If they were not discovered during this period, they would get back their kingdom. But when the pandavas returned after thirteen years, their term of exile, Duryodhana refused to return their kingdom. All efforts to persuade him failed. Finally, Lord Krishna went to him as the emissary of the Pandavas. Even his efforts could not succeed. Then the war became inevitable.
In the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Kauravas fought under the leadership of Duryodhana and the Pandavas side was led by the the eldest among the Pandavas, Yudhisthir. While the army of Lord Krishna's army fought on the side of the Kauravas he himself was on the side of the Pandavas. He was charioteer of Arjuna as he had promised that he would not wield any weapon in the war.When all the preparations of the war were nearing completion, sage vedvyas went to the blind king and offered him the boon of divine vision, so that he could watch the war. But Dhritarastra declined the offer saying that he did not want to see the destruction of his sons with his own eyes. However, he was eager to know the going on the battlefield. Then vyas granted the boon of divine vision to Sanjaya, the king of Charioteer. This enabled Sanjaya to see the war from any where. Sanjaya sitting near, Dhritarastra told him about the war affairs. In the meantime the war had commenced. On the twentieth day of the war, the great warrior Bhishma was felled from his chariot by Arjuna and had been lying on a bed of arrows. Dhristarastra became vey sad on hearing this news and asked Sanjaya to narrate the events of the war from the beginning i.e. from the time when his sons and Pandavas had gathered in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Gita starts with the question of the blind king.
The great discourse given by the Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra is not meant for him alone. It is for the entire humanity. In the first chapter, the names of the main warriors and generals of both sides are given. However, the main event is the despondency of Arjuna. In the battlefield, Arjuna saw that all teachers, relatives, members of his family had gathered together eager for battle. This caused great anguish to Arjuna and temporarily forgetting his duty as a warrior, he became depressed. And this faint-heartedness caused him to renounce his duty (dharma), He became reluctant to fight. Hence the first chapter is titled. "The Despondency of Arjuna" ( Arjuna-Vishada-yogam ).