In This Article Bhagavad Gita in Modern India

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Texts
  • Translations of Premodern Commentaries on the Gita
  • Commentaries with a Philosophical Perspective
  • History/Politics
  • Text-Historical Studies
  • Commentaries by Gandhi and the Gandhians
  • Marxist Perspectives
  • Specific Hermeneutic/Philosophical Points
  • Comparative Religion / Interreligious Dialogue
  • Gita in Western Thought and Literature
  • Gita from the Perspective of Modern Sciences
  • Rare Manuscripts / Commentaries

Hinduism Bhagavad Gita in Modern India
by
Sanjay Palshikar, Gangeya Mukherji
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0229

Introduction

The Bhagavad Gita has a special place in the intellectual and political history of modern India. The period from the late 19th century to the early 21st century has seen, first, a long and eventually successful nationalist struggle for freedom, and, intertwined with this struggle in complex ways, there has been a steadily growing political assertion of Hindu identity. The Gita has been a part of both these developments in a mutually reinforcing role. The text has circulated in seemingly disparate domains from devotional groups to psychology and managerial practices. But these apolitical contexts have contributed to the continued political significance of the poem, persuading writers from diverse ideological backgrounds to engage with it. The thriving print culture, a large middle class, and the swift growth of new media have ensured that the Gita will remain in India’s public culture for the foreseeable future.

General Overviews

General works on the Gita fall into two categories: surveys encompassing the wide range of modern Indian interpretations of the Gita, and works that include catalogues and lists of sources on the Gita, mainly in print but also in other media. Minor 1986, a collection of essays by various scholars, and Robinson 2006 are excellent introductions to the range of interpretations and related issues, while Nadkarni 2017 is a more recent synoptic account of the scholarship on the Gita. Resources for Gita studies exist in many forms: manuscripts, printed material of various kinds, news on Gita-related activities, CDs, videos, and personal papers. Of these, manuscripts are the hardest to access. Scattered all over the country in India and abroad, in different states of readability, there is no definitive catalogue listing all the manuscripts relevant to a study of the Gita. Works such as Dwarakadas 2000, Sen 2010, and Davis 2015 partially provide valuable information on this. Davis 2015 has the additional merit of going beyond the academic and the printed in documenting work and activities related to the Gita in diverse places and media, and can be read along with Robinson 2006.

  • Davis, Richard H. The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

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    Apart from being a good introduction for educated lay readers, the book is valuable for going beyond the printed word and exploring the multiple representations of the Gita in diverse media, such as murals, chromolithographs, and photographs. The chapter-length account of the oral performances of the Gita and song renderings, music dramas, CDs, and āśrama prayers in modern India is probably the only one of its kind. An indispensable resource for understanding the range of appropriations of the Gita in modern India.

  • Dwarakadas, Suryakumari, comp. Bhagavadgītā Bibliography. Vol. 1, Manuscript References. Revised by C. S. Sundaram. Chennai, India: Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute, 2000.

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    A comprehensive list of manuscripts of the Gita and Gita commentaries compiled from seventy-five catalogues of mainly institutions within India. Some personal collections included as well. Unlikely to have included absolutely every Gita manuscript, but still a valuable resource.

  • Minor, Robert, ed. Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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    A valuable anthology comprising ten competent chapters, along with an introduction and conclusion, on the interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita by ten prominent modern Indian thinkers, including and going beyond the nationalistic and political readings of the text. Together the essays offer a window to their worldview and on modern Indian intellectual history.

  • Nadkarni, M. V. The Bhagavad-Gita for the Modern Reader: History, Interpretations and Philosophy. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017.

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    Purportedly written not so much from the standpoint of Vedanta, but from the modern values of dignity, equity, harmony, and justice, this work studies the text as primarily an aid to loka yātrā or the meaningful passage through this world. An empathetic philosophical defense of the text, it traces its historicity, commentarial tradition, modern Indian interpretations, essential philosophy, and novel theoretical applications. Wide ranging and valuable especially in its responsive account of the modern critiques of the text.

  • Robinson, Catherine A. Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita and Images of the Hindu Tradition: The Song of the Lord. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Six chapters covering the entire gamut of the modern political and spiritual appropriations of the Gita in the context of the constructivist thesis about Hinduism and the role played by the Gita in it. The discussion of the presence of the Gita in a variety of media, genres, movements, and fields is useful. Emphasizes the significance of the varied interpretations of the Gita for alternative images of the Hindu tradition.

  • Sen, Amiya P. “Re-locating Moral and Religious Authority: The Gita in Nineteenth-Century Bengal.” In Explorations in Modern Bengal c. 1800–1900: Essays on Religion, History and Culture. By Amiya P. Sen, 165–217. Delhi: Primus Books, 2010.

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    Wealth of data on the Gita in the appendixes. Lists of Sanskrit and Bangla manuscripts of the Gita and commentaries in 19th-century Bengal and the printing history of the Bangla translations of the Gita from 1800 to 1904. According to the author, the Gita remains marginal to Bengal Vaiṣṇavism in spite of being a Vaiṣṇava text, and the translation activity picks up toward the end of the 19th century.

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