Jñāneśvarī – Unsullied by Time (Part 2)

Bhakti-Vairāgya (Devotion-Detachment)

Jñāneśvara’s school of philosophy broadly aligns with Advaita-vedānta; even so, it is not possible to pigeonhole his ideas to one particular school of thought. In this work, we can see threads of all major Indian darśanas. It would not be incorrect, however, to say that the Jñāneśvarī lays emphasis on Bhakti (devotion) and Vairāgya (detachment).

At several places the Jñāneśvarī stresses the inevitability of the guru’s compassion. Jñānadeva considered his elder brother Nivṛttinātha as his guru; in fact, he has called himself Nivṛttinātha-sutai.e., the son (or protégé) of Nivṛttinātha. He has said that all his words are merely the result of Nivṛttinātha’s kindness.

At the beginning of most adhyāyas (chapters) of the Jñāneśvarī, we find emotionally rich praises of the guru. In the words of Bahiṇā-bāi, “Navhatī akṣare hī, nija nirguṇa bhujā!”[1] –what the Jñāneśvarī contains is not merely letters, it is the very arms of the nirguṇa (formless) brahman.

The Jñāneśvarī has several specialities. There is no other commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā that is as poetic as this. Another facet of its greatness is that it is an ancient composition in the Marathi language which has survived until the present day. An even more important aspect of the Jñāneśvarī is that it not only appealed to the world of scholars but has also attracted towards itself the common people – millions of unlettered villagers.


Kāvya-Anubhūti (Poetry-Experience)

Jñāneśvara has made no distinction between creative literature and experiential philosophy. In his view, a composition that leads one towards mokṣa (ultimate release, liberation) is real sāhitya (literature). The following Ovī verse captures his thoughts succinctly:

vāce baraveṃ kavitvakavitvīṃ baraveṃ rasikatva

rasikatvīṃ paratatva- sparśu jaisā[2]

In one’s speech, there must be poetry
in poetry, there must be rasa
That aesthetic experience is akin to
a touch from the Supreme

Jñāneśvara didn’t see the Gītā as a śāstra-grantha (a treatise on a technical subject). He deemed it as something that could give us aparokṣānubhava (direct perception and experience). In the beginning of his work he says, “Anubhavāvī he kathā[3] – experience and enjoy this story. The Jñāneśvarī is a beloved of the young and the old alike because of its qualities of sweetness and lucidity. Jñānadeva was the one who first showed how sweetly Marathi can be used.

There is a subtle nuance that should be observed carefully. It was not Jñānadeva’s aim to compose poetry. For a person who is composing an independent poem, there is ample scope for exercising his creativity in multiple dimensions but what Jñāneśvara had in front of him was the Bhagavad-gītā. To provide a poetic interpretation and explanation for a Vedānta-śāstra-grantha is indeed a marvellous feat.

Jñāneśvara suggests that this kāvyānanda (enjoyment of poetry) is effortless – “A bee extracts nectar from a lotus but the lotus never takes notices of this happening! So also is the kāvyānanda that one derives from this work.”

He says that the ultimate purpose of the study of this work and putting it into practice is Praśānti, tranquillity. After all, śānti-rasa (aesthetic experience of peace) is brahman (Supreme, all-pervading being; Absolute Reality). All other rasas (aesthetic experiences) come as guests in this mansion of śānti-rasa, says Jñāneśvara.

Although he has given so much of importance for the poetic beauty of his work, Jñāneśvara says that it is merely a stepping stone for attaining higher spiritual realms. “This kāvya should lead a person to para-tattva-sparśa – these words of his are pregnant with meaning. Here ‘sparśa’ (touch) suggests two things: i. the study of this work is merely a sādhanā and not the Ultimate Reality and ii. Just as a sparśa-maṇi (touchstone) completely transforms an object, the Bhagavad-gītā too can bring about transformation in a human being.

Tapas-phala (The Fruit of Penance)

Jñāneśvara thinks that he must have acquired this skill as a result of his penance performed over long years.

mājhiyā satyavādāceṃ tapa vācā keleṃ bahuta kalpa
tayā phaḻāceṃ heṃ mahādvīpa pātalī prabhu[4]

I have attained refuge
in this great island of Gītā
as a result of my penance of honest speech
spreading over several aeons

Jñānadeva lived only for twenty-one years. He was about fifteen or sixteen when he composed the Jñāneśvarī. His father Viṭhalapanta passed away when his children were very young. When such was the case, how and wherefrom did Jñāneśvara acquire such vast and deep knowledge of Vedānta? It is possible only by divine blessings.

One of the Purāṇas narrates a story – once when Śaṅkara started speaking about the Gītā, an astonished Pārvatī asked him a few questions. In response, Śaṅkara said, “Just as your svarūpa (form, essence) is always youthful and eternal, so is the essence of the Gītā!”

...devī jaiseṃ kā svarūpa tujheṃ
taiseṃ nitya nūtana dekhije gītātattva[5]

Prema-latā – Creeper of Love

Jñāneśvara tries to attract readers by saying that their lives can become fulfilled by listening to the great teachings of the Gītā.

tarī avadhāna ekaleṃ dīje maga sarvasukhāsi pātra hoije
heṃ pratijñottara mājheṃ ughaḍa aikā[6]

If you pay full attention to the Gītā,
you will attain all kinds of happiness –
I will assure you that; it’s my promise

parī prauḍhī na boleṃ ho jī tumhāṃ sarvajñāṃcyā samājīṃ
deyāveṃ avadhāna he mājhī vinavaṇī salagīcī[7]

I’m not commanding you to listen to the Gītā,
for you (people) are all-knowing
I’m just requesting you out of the affection
and familiarity that I have with you.

Jñāneśvara says that Sanskrit, which is a deva-bhāṣā (language of the gods) and Marathi, which is a mānava-bhāṣā (language of the masses) are both equal to each other.

jaiseṃ aṃgāceni suṃdarapaṇeṃ leṇiyā āṃgaci hoya leṇeṃ
tetha aḻaṃkārileṃ kavaṇa kavaṇeṃ heṃ nirvacenā[8]

When a beautiful body is decked
with magnificent ornaments,
it is difficult to say
what enhances the beauty of the other –
are the ornaments adding charm to the body or
is the body making the ornaments attractive

taisī deśī āṇi saṃskṛta vāṇī ekā bhāvārthācyā sokāsanīṃ
śobhatī āyaṇī cokhaṭa āikā[9]

Similarly, both Marāṭhi and Saṃskṛta
have equal capability to help us
understand the essence of the Gītā!


The Exuberant Play of Upamās (Part 1)

Jñāneśvara’s intention was to make the Gītā intelligible not merely to scholars but also to the common people. One has to read and experience the lucidity and sweetness of the Jñāneśvarī. It makes the dense and profound teachings of the Gītā accessible to everyone. All the upamās (loosely translates into ‘simile’) used by Jñāneśvara are memorable.

From the beginning to the end, the Jñāneśvarī is full of upamās (simile), dṛṣṭāntas (allegory), and rūpakas (metaphor). One can easily say that the abundance of upamās found in this work is unmatched not just in Marathi literature but in the Indian literature. Jñāneśvara pleads with people to have sahṛdayatā, to read his commentary with the heart of a connoisseur.

bāḻaka bāpāciye tāṭīṃ rige āṇi bāpāteṃci jevaūṃ lāge
kīṃ to saṃtoṣaleni vegeṃmukhaci voḍhavī[10]

A child that eats food from the same plate as the father
takes a fistful of rice and feeds it to the father as well
As for the father, he opens his mouth wide
to gladly accept that morsel of food

taisā mī tumhāṃpratī cāvaṭī karitaseṃ bāḻamatī
tarī tumhī saṃtoṣije aisī jātī premācī ase[11]

Likewise, with my childish mind,
I too feed you something;
it’s possible that you too will derive joy from it
Isn’t this the business of love?





[1] “…नव्हती अक्षरे ही, निज निर्गुण भुजा।

बहिणी क्षेम देती, अर्थ ऐकता ओजा॥”

[2] वाचे बरवें कवित्व। कवित्वीं बरवें रसिकत्व।

रसिकत्वीं परतत्व-। स्पर्शु जैसा॥ – Jñāneśvarī 18.347

[3] “…अनुभवावी हे कथा।…” – Jñāneśvarī 1.57

[4] माझिया सत्यवादाचें तप। वाचा केलें बहुत कल्प।

तया फळाचें हें महाद्वीप। पातली प्रभु॥ – Jñāneśvarī 16.32

[5] ...देवी जैसें का स्वरूप तुझें।

तैसें नित्य नूतन देखिजे। गीतातत्त्व॥ – Jñāneśvarī 1.71

[6] तरी अवधान एकलें दीजे। मग सर्वसुखासि पात्र होइजे।

हें प्रतिज्ञोत्तर माझें। उघड ऐका॥ – Jñāneśvarī 9.1

[7] परी प्रौढी न बोलें हो जी। तुम्हां सर्वज्ञांच्या समाजीं।

देयावें अवधान हे माझी। विनवणी सलगीची॥ – Jñāneśvarī 9.2

[8] जैसें अंगाचेनि सुंदरपणें। लेणिया आंगचि होय लेणें।

तेथ अळंकारिलें कवण कवणें। हें निर्वचेना॥ – Jñāneśvarī 10.44

[9] तैसी देशी आणि संस्कृत वाणी। एका भावार्थाच्या सोकासनीं।

शोभती आयणी। चोखट आइका॥ – Jñāneśvarī 10.45

[10] बाळक बापाचिये ताटीं रिगे। आणि बापातेंचि जेवऊं लागे।

कीं तो संतोषलेनि वेगें। मुखचि वोढवी॥ – Jñāneśvarī 9.15

[11] तैसा मी तुम्हांप्रती। चावटी करितसें बाळमती।

तरी तुम्ही संतोषिजे ऐसी जाती। प्रेमाची असे॥ – Jñāneśvarī 9.16



Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.



Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in philosophy, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 35+ books, mostly related to Indian culture. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.


Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

Prekshaa Publications

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

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, Śatāvadhānī 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 to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


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


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


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


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


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...


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...


“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...