LOKAMANYA TILAK USED THE FIELD of Hindu spiritual thought as a complementary element in his political struggle. This became a miracle of sorts which helped arouse mass-awakening in favour of independence and the fight against alien colonial rule.
In the years of the freedom struggle, Tilak and Malviya, among others, primarily used the Bhagavad Gita to instill valour and heroism among the people. Revolutionaries and patriotic martyrs like Chapekar, Khudiram Bose, Ramprasad Bismil — all of them expressed a desire to hold a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in their hands in the final moments before they were hanged to death. Bankim Chandra who gave the “Vande Mataram” battle cry to the nation had written an erudite commentary on the Gita.
In his statement to the court, one of the accused in the Alipore Bomb Case, Upendranath Bandopadhyaya said, “I got my inspiration to become a devotee of the Motherland from the discourse on the Karma Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita.”
The revolutionary freedom fighter Yatindranath Mukherjee would begin his daily routine only after chanting the Bhagavad Gita.
Over the centuries, commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita have been composed in various languages. Even today, devout followers of the work continue to write newer commentaries on it thinking they have found a new insight. All such new commentaries attract their own unique readership which only shows the preeminence of the original work. In recent decades, we can say that the number of saints and speakers who haven’t used the Gita as the subject of their discourses is very few.
The notable element is this—the Bhagavad Gita didn’t attain its singularity due to the promotional efforts on the part of any sect or special interest group. It has attained pervasive admiration for its intrinsic, incomparable value and immeasurable loftiness. Its expansive gamut has endowed it with this global span of acceptance. Therefore, attempts to restrict it to a sort of an appendix to a particular sect will be futile.
From start to finish, the Bhagavad Gita contains pure philosophical concepts. Given this, what should we tell people who labour under the illusion that it is confined to only a certain country or group of people or Jati!
The Bhagavad Gita is an unparalleled manual that transcends all sects and shows the goal of human life as well as the path to achieve it.
Irrespective of the debates over interpolations, the loss to humanity would have been incalculable if the Bhagavad Gita was not included in the Mahabharata.
The word Gita means “song.” Yet, in the common idiom, Gita is always used as a synonym for the Bhagavad Gita. This in itself should be sufficient to gauge its esteem.
In our tradition, we have several gītā-s such as gopīgītā, uddhavagītā, avadhūtagītā, aṣṭāvakragītā, and gaṇeśagītā. Despite this, the moniker of gītā has been owned entirely by the Bhagavad Gita.
The notion that the Bhagavad Gita is the most substantive portion of the Mahabharata has persisted from time immemorial.
Our tradition avers that the Bhagavad Gita poured forth from the divine voice of Bhagavan Sri Krishna on the Ekadashi of the Shukla Paksha of the Margashira Month. Because of this, the tradition of celebrating the Gita Jayanti every year on this day has been in vogue for hundreds of years. This day is also known as the Mokshadaa Ekadashi.
The Bhagavad Gita begins with an exploration of the question of “what is Dharma?” It ends with Arjuna humbly beseeching Sri Krishna, “Now my ignorance has been destroyed. I am now ready to follow your orders.”
The Bhagavad Gita is a story of this spiritual journey.
The fusion or conjunction of the Karma Marga and Bhakti Marga and other related aspects are the various stages of this journey of fulfilment.
The symbolism of the Bhagavad Gita discourse occurring in the midst of the Kurukshetra battlefield is crystal clear. The discourse of the Gita has become the sañjīvanī vidyā’ (life-giving knowledge) because Sri Krishna evokes the sense of duty within an Arjuna who was afflicted with temporary weakness of the mind. This discourse has eternal and universal relevance. This is why extraordinary philosophers and thinkers from Adi Sankara to Lokamanya Tilak have greatly adored the Gita. If Tilak held the Karma philosophy as supreme, Vinoba Bhave felt that its philosophy of sthitaprajñata (equanimity) was helpful in maintaining order and peace in the world.
Sri Krishna’s golden tenet declares that performing Karma is inevitable. This too, has universal applicability. It applies not only to ordinary mortals but to war situations as well. It is for this reason that the Karma Yoga that the Gita preaches has attained universality.
The battlefield as a setting for the Gita discourse is also noticeable in the sort of commentaries that have emerged throughout the ages. In fact, several commentaries have emanated from the confines of the prison.
We can regard this as a response of the forces of Sattva to counter demonic forces. Indeed, the Acharya of the Gita, Sri Krishna was himself born in prison.
Yogi Aurobindo Ghosh had a vision of Sri Krishna in prison.
Lokamanya Tilak’s Gitarahasya was conceived when he was jailed.
Vinoba Bhave’s Gitapravacana gestated in jail when he was having jovial conversations with his inmates and friends.
Although the language is simple and idiomatic, it is clear that the Gita transcends the worldly, transactional plane. This multi-storied style is traditionally known as samādhi bhāṣā (meaning, the Language of Ultimate Bliss).
We can cite the Mahabharata as a complement to this style. In the aśvamedhikaparva of the Mahabharata, there is an episode named uttaragītā. After the Kurukshetra war culminates in the victory of the Pandavas, during the course of a conversation, Arjuna asks Sri Krishna: “Bhagavan, you had delivered the Gita discourse to me at the beginning of the war. Given the various incidents that have occurred ever since, I have been struck with forgetfulness. If you please give me the discourse once more, I will be grateful.”
The response of Sri Krishna is as follows: “O Arjuna! The discourse I delivered to you on that occasion was done in a state of Yoga — from a vision of divine experience. But because there is no such precedent now, even I am struck with forgetfulness. In spite of this, I will try and recall as much as possible and tell you.” This was the beginning of the uttaragītā.
It is clear from a close reading of the Gita that the Krishna who delivered the discourse was not a historical person but was Bhagavan himself. This is why the language of the Gita is known as the samādhi bhāṣā. Thus, even in this backdrop, the prefix ‘Bhagavat’ to ‘Gita’ appropriate.
To be continued
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