The Conversation of the Gītā

This article is part 5 of 8 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

The Style of a Conversation between Friends

The sequence of the Gītā appears jumbled at times. The Gītā is referred to as a śāstra. Its theme does make it one. But in the Gītā’s method of instruction, we do not see a systematic division and order in its topics as in a school textbook. There is a chapter-wise division for sure. But the matter apposite to a specific chapter-topic shows up admixed in a different one. Another chapter’s issue shows up in the current one. There is a reason for this. This work was not authored as a textbook. Neither Arjuna nor Kṛṣṇa set out to write one. The turn of events got them to converse and that flowed as a dialogue between friends.

Rāma saw his old friend Bhīma in the market. Both of them remembered their childhood friend Śāma. Then they talked about the story of Soma’s daughter’s alliance with Śāma’s son Kāma. Śīna, Timma’s lawyer had won the lawsuit. When the lawsuit’s description ended, the matter of Kāma came up again followed by Soma and Bhīma once again. Then about the latter’s brother-in-law Boma. A dialogue between friends typically rambles among different topics like this; much like what Bhavabhūti has said –

            …in the meandering manner of gossipers.[1]

The same happens when friends talk about philosophical topics. From the present topic to a Purāṇic story; from the purāṇa to the condition of the world, from the world to the Absolute, and from that to the current issue – the conversation swings back and forth. This can be found in Plato’s Dialogues wherein the debates between Socrates and others are described.

It can be seen from everybody’s experience that the subject of a discussion between friends can go hither and thither. This characteristic of a friendly chat has entered the Gītā quite naturally. So we have to observe the links of an actual conversation here.  Consider a person enquiring his friend – “When did he come? What happened there?” Both of them know what is being referred to by ‘he’ and ‘there.’ Their opinions can be inferred from their tone of voice and facial expressions. When we read their dialogues without seeing them, their mental states have to be surmised from their backgrounds. In the same manner, the link between one verse and the next and the flow from one idea to the next can be understood through a consideration of the antecedent and precedent verses. This is where traditional bhāṣyas help us. Seemingly mysterious links between verses are clarified by these bhāṣyas. Once these links are inferred, we can see that the work is indeed logically well connected.

Was there Enough Time for a Dialogue?

Some people ask – “Can such an inquiring and deep conversation happen on the battlefield? Is it even possible to have a lengthy dialogue amidst two enemy armies baying for battle?” Another common suspicion is whether these words really came out of the mouths of Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. And whether they really spoke in verse. My answer is that such doubts are irrelevant.

Before doubting if there was time for dialogue when everyone around clamoured for war, we should remember the rules of battle conduct of that age. Conflict in that era did not mean anyone killing anyone else in any manner or place. There were rules pertaining to the place of battle, its time and of worthy and unworthy conduct. War in that age was an occasion for dharma; especially of the kṣatriyas. Its rules were accepted equally by both opposing parties. Fighting would not begin upon sighting either side. There was no fear of harm till both sides decided that it was opportune to fight. There was ample time even after Kṛṣṇa’s and Arjuna’s dialogue.

It was then that Dharmarāja alighted from his chariot and approached Bhīṣma and his preceptors. His brothers, without knowing his bent of mind, presumed that he was surrendering out of fear and tried to stop him. Dharmarāja did not pay heed to them and without uttering a word went to Bhīṣma, prostrated at his feet and sought his blessings and permission for war. He did the same with Droṇa, Kṛpa, and Śalya. Śrīkṛṣṇa again tried to bring over Karṇa to the Pāṇḍava side. Finally Dharmarāja stood in the middle of the battlefield and called out for anyone intending to come over to his side. Yuyutsu, Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s son from a servant girl, came over to the Pāṇḍava side.

It is only after all this the war began. Nobody had the fear that anyone would rush into it. Everything took place in a relaxed, sequential manner. Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna had sufficient time [for a discussion.]

The Authorship of the Work

Now to the authorship of the work. Nobody will opine that all the words of the Gītā, including ‘ca,’ ‘tu,’ and other filler words, have been uttered by Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. Sanskrit was natural to them. So it is likely that most of the words in the Gītā, which were in vogue those days, were spoken by them. How could it be said that the intent of those verses did not belong to them? All the doubts, clarifications, statements of opinion, and logical inferences definitely belonged to Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. Such discussions were common in that age. The Mahābhārata has numerous such instances. Viewed thus, it can be established that most of the language used and all of the sentiment belong to Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna and the only the metrical structure came from Vyāsa. Mahaṛṣi Vyāsa has reported a verse form of the dialogue through Sañjaya for us.

Anubandha-Catuṣṭaya – The Fourfold Connection

It is an ancient and traditional practice to define the four connections during an introduction to a work of śāstra.

            Adhikārī, Viṣaya, Sambandha, and Prayojana—the four anubandhas—

            [are essential] for the pursuit of a śāstra to bear fruit [2]

The four anubandhas or connections are –

1. Adhikārī – the qualified student

2. Viṣaya – the subject matter of the treatise

3. Prayojana – the benefit of studying the work

4. Sambandha – the relationship between the viṣaya, the adhikārī, and the prayojana.

 

1. Who is the adhikārī or one qualified for a study of the Gītā?

The one who has experienced difficulties, dilemmas, and crises in the world; who is able to control desires for sense-pleasures; who is endowed with empathy towards all people; and is passionately curious about knowing how to lead a life to ensure it is meaningful – qualifies to study the Gītā. Controlled desire, self-control, and a desire to know the Truth are the internal qualifications for a student of the Gītā.

2. The Viṣaya or the theme of the Gītā is the Universal Principle.

“What is the nature of the jīva? What is the principle of Īśvara? What is the character of the world? What is the relationship between the jīva and the world? What is the supreme way for the jīva? What is the position of Īśvara in the triad of jagat, jīva and Īśvara?” - are the questions that the Gītā can answer. Its subject is the Vision of Universal Life. 

3. Sambandha is of three kinds:

a. The relation between the teacher and the taught. The seeker is the taught and the Gītā is the teacher.

b. The relation between harmony and the harmoniser. The Gītā is to be studied in conjunction with the Vedas, Purāṇas, and Itihāsas with the assistance of tarka and vyākaraṇa while refined by worldly experience, reasoning, and evidence. All of the śāstras and experiences are needed for that.

c. The relation between the purifier and the purified. The instruction of the Gītā has to pervade all spheres of human life and make excellent all actions by purifying them. Life has to be refined through an implementation of its teaching and become capable of greater ends.

4. Finally the topic of prayojana or benefit.

A repeated study of the Gītā makes light of the soul’s burden of life. Through philosophical discernment, the mind understands the true value of various worldly things and a forms a value hierarchy. That marks the cessation of delusional error. Questions such as What is the meaning of life? What is the Absolute? What is to be done? What should not be done? are answered and a pure path of dhārmic life becomes visible. Then comes clarity of mind followed by the solution to life’s trials and tribulations. This results in tranquility. That [clarity and serenity] is the fruit of the study of the Gītā.

Though a cursory examination of the fourfold connections has been made, there are a couple of items that need further thought. The first one is of the adhikārī. The Gītācārya has several kinds of adhikārīs in mind.

Four kinds of fortunate people worship me, O Arjuna –
the distressed,
the one wants to know,
the one desirous of wealth, and
the wise one[3]
All of these [bhaktas] are excellent…[4]

Individuals are at various levels in intellect and tastes, in knowledge, in richness of personal qualities, and in the extent of dispassion according to the karma done in their previous lives. These differences in ability and taste are innate. Therefore instruction and modes of practice differ accordingly. Even though the defining markers of adhikārīs appear to be the same, they vary in degree from person to person. Thus all forms of life that remember the Supreme have separate paths towards welfare depending on their capabilities.

The above explanation of the connections is of a common type and coarse. There are several points to be pondered upon here. The above explanation might be incomplete if it those points are not examined.

To be continued…

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.

Footnotes

[1] “…जल्पतोरक्रमेण” (Uttara-rāma-carita 1.27)

[2] अधिकारी च विषयः सम्बन्धश्च प्रयोजनम्।

शास्त्रारम्भफलं प्राहुरनुबन्धचतुष्टयम्॥

[3] चतुर्विधा भजन्ते मां जनाः सुकृतिनोऽर्जुन।

आर्तो जिज्ञासुरर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ॥ (BG 7.16)

[4] उदाराः सर्व एवैते... (BG 7.18)

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.

About:

Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

Prekshaa Publications

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...