The "Bhagavad Gita"

The "Bhagavad Gita": A Biography

Richard H. Davis
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvf3k
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  • Book Info
    The "Bhagavad Gita"
    Book Description:

    TheBhagavad Gita, perhaps the most famous of all Indian scriptures, is universally regarded as one of the world's spiritual and literary masterpieces. Richard Davis tells the story of this venerable and enduring book, from its origins in ancient India to its reception today as a spiritual classic that has been translated into more than seventy-five languages. TheGitaopens on the eve of a mighty battle, when the warrior Arjuna is overwhelmed by despair and refuses to fight. He turns to his charioteer, Krishna, who counsels him on why he must. In the dialogue that follows, Arjuna comes to realize that the true battle is for his own soul.

    Davis highlights the place of this legendary dialogue in classical Indian culture, and then examines how it has lived on in diverse settings and contexts. He looks at the medieval devotional traditions surrounding the divine character of Krishna and traces how theGitatraveled from India to the West, where it found admirers in such figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Aldous Huxley. Davis explores how Indian nationalists like Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda used theGitain their fight against colonial rule, and how contemporary interpreters reanimate and perform this classical work for audiences today.

    An essential biography of a timeless masterpiece, this book is an ideal introduction to theGitaand its insights into the struggle for self-mastery that we all must wage.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5197-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    TheBhagavad Gitaopens on a field of battle. At Kurukshetra, two massive armies led by the Pandavas and Kauravas have assembled. All the rulers along with the entire warrior class of India are involved, siding with one camp or the other. Leaders blow thunderously on conch shells, while drums and cymbals create a cacophonous roar. Warriors are slapping their arms in eager anticipation. Nearby, packs of jackals and flocks of crows have also assembled, looking forward to a feast of human flesh.

    Just as the battle is about to commence, Arjuna, the leading warrior of the Pandava side, asks...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Bhagavad Gita in the Time of Its Composition
    (pp. 10-42)

    TheBhagavad Gitaforms part of theMahabharata, a vast epic poem in classical Sanskrit that tells the story of a devastating rivalry between two clans of the ruling class for control of a kingdom in northern India. TheGitaconsists of a dialogue between two leading characters in this epic, Arjuna and Krishna, at a tense moment just as war between the two sides is about to begin. The conversation deals with the moral propriety of the war and much else as well. TheGitabegins with Arjuna in confusion and despair, dropping his weapons; it ends with Arjuna...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Krishna and His Gita in Medieval India
    (pp. 43-71)

    In theBhagavad Gita, Krishna displays his own doubleness. He appears as a human friend and charioteer to Arjuna, and then he describes himself as a god and allows Arjuna to see the full extent of his divinity. Krishna proclaims himself to be the highest goal for devotional aspiration. Those who take refuge fully in him, he says, come to share in his being. In medieval India, Krishna did indeed become the center of a widespread and vigorous devotional cult. Yet it was not his role as Arjuna’s instructor at Kurukshetra or as a princely figure in theMahabharatathat...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Passages from India
    (pp. 72-114)

    In 1866, the transatlantic undersea cable was laid across the Atlantic Ocean, electrically linking the United States with England for telegraphic communication. In 1869 the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines were joined in Utah with a golden spike to complete the transcontinental railway across North America. That same year, the French Suez Canal Company opened its canal linking the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, significantly reducing transportation time between Europe and Asia. In New York, Walt Whitman celebrated this confluence of human earth-spanning accomplishments in his poem of 1871, “Passage to India.”¹

    Singing my days,

    Singing...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Krishna, the Gita, and the Indian Nation
    (pp. 115-153)

    In 1926, Swami Shraddhananda proposed a new kind of institution for promulgating theGita. “The first step which I propose,” he wrote, “is to build one Hindu Rashtra mandir [temple of the Hindu nation] at least in every city and important town, with a compound which could contain an audience of 25 thousands and a hall in which Katha from Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharat could be daily recited.” He suggested that a “life-like map of Mother-Bharat” be placed in proximity in each of these new temples, “so that every child of the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Modern Gitas: Translations
    (pp. 154-177)

    At the conclusion of his discourse, Krishna commends to Arjuna the great value in disseminating the teachings contained in theBhagavad Gita. Reading this passage in the early twentieth century, Jayadayal Goyandka heard Krishna giving him direction for his own life. Goyandka was a member of the entrepreneurial Marwari community, and he had decided that the great service he could provide would be in the publishing business. He established the Gita Press in 1923, and began to publish inexpensive editions of theBhagavad Gitawith Hindi translation, making the work widely available throughout northern India. Later the press brought out...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Gita in Our Time: Performances
    (pp. 178-203)

    Religious works do not live simply as words on the page or sentences taken in silently by readers with their eyes. They live also in words uttered with mouths and heard with ears. This is especially so for Indian religious works like theBhagavad Gita. TheGitawas (according to theMahabharata) an oral dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, repeated in conversation by Sanjaya to Dhritarashtra, taught orally by Vyasa to his pupils, performed aloud at a court ceremony by Vaishampayana, and retold orally again by Ugrashravas. TheMahabharatawas (according to most historians) composed as an oral epic and...

  12. EPILOGUE The Bhagavad Gita in Great Time
    (pp. 204-210)

    “Works break through the boundaries of their own time,” writes Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. “They live in centuries, that is, ingreat time, and frequently (with great works always) their lives are more intense and fuller than are their lives within their own time.”¹ In this survey, we have observed the intense and full life that theBhagavad Gitahas lived, starting from its own time. The life of this work took shape as part of a larger composition, the great Sanskrit poemMahabharata. The discussion of two important figures of the epic at the onset of a cataclysmal...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 211-226)
  14. GLOSSARY OF SANSKRIT TERMS
    (pp. 227-228)
  15. CHRONOLOGICAL LIST SELECT ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF THE BHAGAVAD GITA
    (pp. 229-232)
  16. FURTHER READINGS
    (pp. 233-236)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 237-243)