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Sunday, March 3, 2024

A brief guide to the Bhagavad Gita, its commentaries and versions

Re-engaging with our scriptures is essential for all Hindus to deal with the multitude of challenges facing us. And no text probably contains the essence of Hindu Dharma better than the Bhagavad Gita. While the Bhagavad Gita published by Gita Press remains our recommended text, there are many good commentaries and versions that people of all ages can refer to.

A recent twitter thread by Shri Gautam Chikermane, VP of Observer Research Foundation, posted on the occasion of Gita Jayanti which was celebrated on 25th December throws more light on the subject – 

On Gita Jayanti, I prostrate before Sri Krishna for conceptualising the Bhagavad Gita, Ved Vyasa for compiling these powerful spiritual ideas, and Sri Aurobindo for taking them to the next level.

The one shloka from the Bhagavad Gita that has dominated the 2020 discourse is on dealing with death:

नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः ।

न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः ॥

Weapons cannot cleave it, nor the fire burn, nor do the waters drench it, nor the wind dry.

I have had to send these words of solace to many friends and relatives this year. But finding solace requires us to read the Gita and to live it. Die the body will but death is only a passport to the next life and next evolution, the Bhagavad Gita tells us. That’s how I read this shloka.

Gita Jayanti is a good day to read the Bhagavad Gita, one of 58 Gitas, of which 18 reside in the Mahabharata and the rest outside. The Gitas in the Mahabharata and Ashtavakra Gita I knew; the rest have been enumerated by Bibek Debroy in his new book.

Depending on the engagement path and reading skill, every seeker will have a unique proclivity to the Bhagavad Gita and its expositions. I find Sri Aurobindo’s Essays On The Gita the deepest, the widest and the loftiest modern interpretation of these ancient truths.

The Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda interprets the text through material symbolism of spiritual forces. Simplicity its signature and gentle its texture, these two volumes are an easy introduction.

महाभारत by the Gita Press is my go-to text for Sanskrit-Hindi version. The Bhagavad Gita is situated in the तृतीय खण्ड।

Finally, if you want to introduce the Bhagavad Gita to your children, introduce them to the joys of Amar Chitra Katha, in 10th of a 14-volume collection.

The focus in 2020 has been on death and immortality. Let’s see where 2021 takes us. Irrespective, this text will continue to inspire us and guide us in an increasingly fragmenting world. If there is one unifying idea, it is the Bhagavad Gita.

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