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.


[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)



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.



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


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

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