Bhagavadgītā (Bhagavad Gita) (English)
Song of the Lord
Hi, Gabriel Pradīpaka again. The philosophical system known as Vedānta has Prasthānatraya as its basic literature. Prasthānatraya literally means "the three methods" or "the three starting-points". Prasthānatraya is constituted by three major scriptures called: Upaniṣad (as a matter of fact, Upaniṣad consists of 108 scriptures), Bhagavadgītā and Brahmasūtra-s (also known as "Vedāntasūtra-s"). Upaniṣad-s form the last part of the Veda-s. Specifically speaking, Veda-s are composed of four sections, viz.:
|Formed from hymns of prayer and adoration addressed to the sun, to fire, to wind and the like. Besides, there are prayers for healing diseases, avoid evil, etc.||(1) Vidhi: A section of Brāhmaṇa dealing with the details of the ceremonies at which those hymns are to be used.||Allegoric interpretation of the previous ritual section. It is a kind of transition between the Brāhmaṇa-s' ritualism and the Upaniṣad's philosophy.||It is the concluding portion of the Āraṇyaka and the core of Vedānta philosophy. 108 Upaniṣad-s have survived, but only 10 are the most important ones.|
|(2) Arthavāda: A section of Brāhmaṇa dealing with the explanation of the legends connected to those very hymns.|
Mantra and Brāhmaṇa form the first part of the Veda-s, while Upaniṣad would be the last one. In turn, Āraṇyaka section would represent a transition between the first and the second part. Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Chāndogya, Kena, Īśa, etc., are some of the names of those 108 Upaniṣad-s. Some of them are very short (e.g. Kena), while others are very long (e.g. Bṛhadāraṇyaka). One of the meanings of the term Vedānta is "the last part of the Veda", as it is mainly based upon Upaniṣad-s, which occur at the end of the Veda-s.
Nevertheless, even though the Upaniṣad-s are the backbone of Vedānta, there are two more columns supporting Vedānta building: Bhagavadgītā and Vedāntasūtra-s.
On one hand, the celebrated Vedāntasūtra-s or "aphorisms on Vedānta" were composed by Dvaipāyanavyāsa (or Vyāsa, plainly) himself in order to clearly establish the principles of Vedānta system. Later, he wrote the renowned Śrīmadbhagavatpurāṇa (also known as "Śrīmadbhāgavata") as a commentary on his Vedāntasūtra-s. On the other hand, Bhagavadgītā was also written by Vyāsa and included within Mahābhārata (specifically, within Bhīṣmaparva, the 6th book of Mahābhārata). There is still some controversy about if Bhagavadgītā was originally there or it was added later on. Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata are the names of the two most important epics written in Sanskrit. But, unlike Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata underwent many changes since it was originally composed by Vyāsa to the present day. Thus, there are some authors stating that Bhagavadgītā was not included at first, but it was added later. Well, despite that problem, the fact is that Bhagavadgītā can be actually found in Bhīṣmaparva now. Whether it was or not originally, it is a matter of debate yet.
Bhagavadgītā consists of 18 chapters. Every chapter contains a number of stanzas. Look:
|Quantity of stanzas|
|Total: 700 stanzas|
In Bhagavadgītā, Lord Kṛṣṇa expounds the highest wisdom to prince Arjuna in simple terms. Arjuna did not want to fight people belonging to his own family. He wanted to leave the battlefield. However, Kṛṣṇa appears and urges him to abandon all attachments and fulfill his own duty or dharma. This is the topic dealt with in Bhagavadgītā.
Still, the story behind is much more complicated, of course. Vyāsa (compiler of Veda, author of Mahābhārata, Purāṇa-s, Vedāntasūtra-s, etc., also called Dvaipāyanavyāsa, Kṛṣṇadvaipāyanavyāsa, Bādarāyaṇa and Vedavyāsa) was son of Parāśara and Satyavatī, and half-brother of Vicitravīrya and Bhīṣma. As an adult, even though he had retired to the woods in order to lead a life of renunciation, he had to come back at his mother's request when Vicitravīrya passed away. The reason?: Vicitravīrya had two wives, who were now two childless widows. Vyāsa got married to them, and these two widows gave him two sons: Dhṛtarāṣṭra (who was born blind) and Pāṇḍu. He had also two more children, but not by those widows: Śuka and Vidura. Śuka was the celebrated narrator of Śrīmadbhāgavata to king Parīkṣit... but this is not relevant here. Another long story.
These two sons of Vyāsa became kings in the Kuru dynasty. Dhṛtarāṣṭra got married to Gāndhārī, by whom he was father of one hundred sons. The eldest son of Dhṛtarāṣṭra was Duryodhana. These sons were known as the Kaurava-s or descendants of Kuru. Granted, the sons of Pāṇḍu were also descendants of Kuru, but they took their patronymic from the name of his own "father", as it were. Do not worry, because you will understand soon the reason behind my writing "father" and not simply father.
In turn, Pāṇḍu got married to Kuntī (also named Pṛthā), but he was not really father of any son by her. The reason?: Soon after Pāṇḍu got married to Kuntī, he went hunt deers. By chance, he killed a couple of deers, which turned out to be a sage and his wife appearing in the form of two deers. The sage cursed him by saying that Pāṇḍu was going to die in the embrace of one of his wives. Fearful of this prophecy, Pāṇḍu decided not to have sex with Kuntī.
Kuntī had obtained a certain supernatural power from the sage Durvāsa, through which she could have children by any god at will. Before getting married to Pāṇḍu, she wanted to test that power and invoked Sūrya (Sun's god). She was successful and consequently had his first child called Karṇa. Before marrying to Pāṇḍu, Sūrya restored his virginity to her so that she could get married in a proper way. In fact, Kuntī abandoned Karṇa on the banks of a river because she was afraid that Pāṇḍu discovered the truth. Karṇa was brought up by Ādiratha... but this is another long story. Well, the point is that she asked Pāṇḍu for permission to have children by the gods, inasmuch as he did not want to have sex with her. He accepted and she had three sons by three gods: Yudhiṣṭhira (by Dharma), Bhīma (by Vāyu) and Arjuna (by Indra). These three sons would be known as three of the five Pāṇḍava-s or descendants of Pāṇḍu.
The story of the remaining two Pāṇḍava-s (Nakula and Sahadeva) is a different one. Listen: Nakula and Sahadeva were twin-brothers. The Aśvī-s (two gods appearing on a golden carriage drawn by horses and who are considered to be the physicians of heaven since they remove illness and cause prosperity) were their fathers, while Mādrī was their mother. Who was Mādrī? Well, Kuntī was not the only wife of Pāṇḍu, as he had a second one called Mādrī. As Pāṇḍu did not want to die in the embrace of one of his wives, he did not also wanted to have sex with Mādrī. Thus, Mādrī had two children by those two said gods.
Therefore: Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva are the "reputed" sons of Pāṇḍu, but in fact their fathers are the divinities Dharma, Vāyu, Indra and the two Aśvī-s, respectively. They are known as the five Pāṇḍava-s. As I stated above, although these five men were also descendants of Kuru (and thus they might be properly called "Kaurava-s"), they took the patronymic of the name of his "reputed" father (Pāṇḍu), while the 100 sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra (Pāṇḍava-s' uncle) were known as Kaurava-s.
Pāṇḍu was the king (and not Dhṛtarāṣṭra), because the latter had been born blind. However, when Pāṇḍu died, his brother Dhṛtarāṣṭra was considered the new king. The sons of Pāṇḍu grew up together with the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, but Dhṛtarāṣṭra fell soon prey to discrimination in favor of his own sons. In fact, Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, really hated the five Pāṇḍava-s. Still, all of them, Pāṇḍava-s and Kaurava-s received identical military instruction by the sage Droṇācārya. As I said above, Bhīṣma was half-brother of Vyāsa (paternal grandfather of Pāṇḍava-s and Kaurava-s), and thus he was a kind of granduncle (if my poor knowledge of family relationships is correct) of Kaurava-s and Pāṇḍava-s, despite Vyāsa himself calls him "pitāmahaḥ" or paternal grandfather. Well, the choice is yours: granduncle or paternal grandfather, what a mess!. Non-dualistic people like me are not good when facing complex family relationships, no doubt. Bhīṣma would play the role of commander of Kaurava's army later on... but do not hurry up, hehe.
Of course, Dhṛtarāṣṭra wanted that his eldest son (Duryodhana) to become the new king when he passed away, and not a Pāṇḍava. This wish generated a harmful attitude in him, which will unleash the terrible war of Mahābhārata in the long run. Duryodhana (with the approval of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, his father) attempted many times to kill the five Pāṇḍava-s, but failed. The five Pāṇḍava-s were protected by their uncle Vidura and their cousin Kṛṣṇa. In spite of his being brought up by Nanda and Yaśodā, Kṛṣṇa was son of Vasudeva and Devakī. Moreover, he was nephew of Kuntī (one of the wives of Pāṇḍu and mother of three Pāṇḍava-s: Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma and Arjuna) since his father, Vasudeva, was brother of her.
Later, Yudhiṣṭhira lost his right to the kingdom in a dice game, and all Pāṇḍava-s had to retire to the woods for thirteen years. When they returned, they attempted to recover their lost right, but Duryodhana did not want to give them back even the smallest portion of land and the war was the final result. Kṛṣṇa and his army were the two possible options to both sides. Duryodhana chose the Kṛṣṇa's army, while the five Pāṇḍava-s chose Kṛṣṇa himself. Thus, Kṛṣṇa became the charioteer of Arjuna and assisted him when Arjuna felt like leaving the battlefield in order not to kill his own relatives. Well, this has been a brief summary of a long story, no doubt. In Bhagavadgītā, Kṛṣṇa teaches Arjuna many important things such as Sāṅkhyayoga, Karmayoga, Bhaktiyoga, etc. The great importance of the teachings given by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna is beyond doubt. Bhagavadgītā is considered to be the "Hindu Bible" in the West in order to show its importance for people of India. Of course, people of India might say that Bible is a kind of "Christian Bhagavadgītā". Well, all comparisons of that sort are not often "nice". "Hindu Bible" is just a way of expressing in the West that a book is truly crucial... please, do not begin a new war.
As you surely know, I am not an expert in Vedic or Vedantic matters (I am dedicated to Trika, which is mainly tantric), but rest assured that I will try to do my best despite my limited knowledge of the subject. Lots of people asked me a translation of Bhagavadgītā, and I could not refuse. Now, go read Bhagavadgītā, please, and learn Sanskrit in the process along with the transcendental wisdom displayed by Lord Kṛṣṇa. See you.
This document was conceived by Gabriel Pradīpaka, one of the two founders of this site, and spiritual guru conversant with Sanskrit language and Trika philosophy.
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