Blogging the Gita

Gaurav Rastogi will be blogging his thoughts as he reads the Bhagvad Gita for the first time. He is 35, lives in the Bay Area, is curiously religious but not a Sanskrit scholar.

References to the Gita are everywhere in Indian – and international – culture. As everybody knows, Bollywood criminals are asked to swear by the Gita that they will speak the truth and nothing but the truth. This sort of confers a “holy book” status on the Gita, in league with the Bible or the Quran. We grew up watching pulse-racing TV in the form of BR Chopra’s Mahabharata with its kitschy dress sense and continuous references to Karmanyeva Adhikaraste. In international culture, you might know that the book and movie – The Legend of Bagger Vance (Will Smith played the eponymous Bagger Vance, which even sounds like Bhagvan. Besides, he’s black, which is a plus) loosely translated the teachings of the Gita in the context of Golf-as-War.

A few years ago, my wife and I were at the hospital for a minor surgery on our son. We were sitting in the waiting room when a white American couple came by to sit next to us. The wife was teary eyed and sniffing. A few minutes later, she slid up to me and asked me if I could read Sanskrit. Not knowing what this was about, I mumbled something about being vaguely familiar with it since I got 86% in CBSE’s Sanskrit exam. She opened her bag and took out the ISKCON version of the Gita, and asked me to read it out aloud. Her 5 year old daughter was recently suspected of cancer, and she had been brought in for a biopsy. The mother’s spiritual advisor had told her that if she chanted verses from the Gita, it would bring her daughter peace. Shocked, moved, and lump-throated, I read the verses from the Gita aloud (in my tooti-footi Sanskrit) for the next 15 minutes till we were called away.

Looking back I wonder – what makes a holy book Holy? Is it the beauty and elegance of the poetry, or it is pure faith that drives this belief?

Despite knowing all this about the Gita, I hadn’t actually read it. It’s how we know all about Amitabh Bachchan, or George Bush…through third and fourth hand sources, cultural references and common wisdom. I was sure the real text is more than what the sound bytes make it out to be. There was only one way to find out. Having reached a sort of half-way mark on my life, I figured this would be a good time to read it firsthand.

Problem is – I don’t know enough Sanskrit. I would have to rely on a translation. I found that the copies already in my collection were interpretations, and not translations. While there is a lot of value added by the translators in terms of references, phrases like mystic god-head and supreme duties put me off. I wanted to get to the source of The Source.

So, in my latest trip to India, I decided to raid the bookstores for the real deal. Just my luck, a certain Mr.Ramesh MENON (not an editing mistake, that’s how he puts his name on the cover) decided to publish an exact word-by-word translation with no added flavorings or artificial color. Same to same, as we say back home.

To keep this interesting, I will confine my reading to just this version. Will read it chapter by chapter, and reflect. Will try to be fast-paced and readable, but not force wit. I write this for all my friends who grew up with me, and so we can pass on some of our gyan to our kids.

To all the devout Hindus out there – I’m one of us, and I mean no harm. My comments are strictly mine, and do not reflect the views of this site, or to my employer or any other person.

OK then. Ready? Arjuna isn’t.

Chapter 1 of the Gita according to Gaurav appears tomorrow 

9 thoughts on “Blogging the Gita

  1. Raj


    Most of the time I have thought of these lines Gaurav have mentioned but Happy to know that the real, translation and not the Interpretation thro’ individual mouth is happening. will wait to see this.

    happy reading to all, bye, Raj



    Hello,Gaurav Rastogi I am senthil kumar a practising chartered accountant at Tirupur Tamil Nadu, India. Interesting to note that you are very much interested in Gita. I want to make a suggestion to you that can you please read Osho’s(an enlightened master)book about KRISHNA AND GITA which will really enlighten us the real meaning of Gita. To understand Gita is difficult it is easy to read the same with the help of a Guru(a spiritual master. I request you to go through this and please kindly try to follow this in our day to day life.



  3. Vinay Pinto

    Nothing better that reading a book interpreted by an enlightened master
    Specially the GITA
    Osho has done immense justice to the intrepretation of the GITA-The life of Krishna


  4. Manish

    Hi, nice to read your blog about the Gita. I also didn’t want to read the ISKON version since they have their specific interpretation which i don’t always agree with.

    Also, i like to make my own interpretation about god not follow people’s advice.

    Living here in Australia, its nice to see another NRI so interested in Gita. Well Done!!


  5. Dr Ash Godbole

    What are your opinions on this stanza from the Bhagavatupanishad -> “Time I am, devouring all consiousness. Only a few will survive. Those few are you”


  6. Gaurav

    Thanks Dr. Ash. This is one of the most famous verses of the Bhagavad Gita, and was also quoted by Robert Oppenheimer after they first tested the atomic bomb in 1945. He is quoted as thinking “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”. This is from Chapter 11, verse 32. The chapter is about “The Vision of Universal Form”, and this verse is often understood to mean that in “time” everything will disappear. Arjuna, with his action, or inaction, will not be able to hold back from the terrible destruction that time will cause. Therefore, Arjuna is not causing anything to happen that wouldn’t happen anyway.

    I like to think of this as an ancient description of the “arrow of time”. This is also known as entropy.

    On a related note, I have not been writing my Gita blog for over a year now, but I have given this particular question (of time, and relative time) a lot of thought. Our perspective of time is extremely warped. It is warped in the sense that we are extremely sensitive to the immediate before, and after, but less sensitive to the time that’s our immediate context. The same thing plays out at a historical scale, where we have an over-glamorized view of ourselves, our community and our present context. If we think about it, my lifetime (say, an expected 74 years) is nothing compared with the time that humans have been around, which itself is a rounding off error as compared with the dinosaurs’ existance, which itself is a small fraction of the time the planet has been around. And so on.

    What this warped sense of time does is that it gives us a false sense of permanence and comfort. We believe that what’s going on today will continue forever, and we derive comfort from “knowing” this. It should be pretty obvious that this feeling is completely wrong at ALL scales of time. That is what I believe Krishna is trying to tell Arjuna about. Time is relative, and in time all will decay, change, and die. So don’t panic about your petty problems and dilemmas- just go out there and do what you’re expected to do.


  7. Gaurav Rastogi

    Geeta, Hi! Great question, and another one that I have thought about a lot this last year! I have concluded that “what am I supposed to do” is a function of “my gifts”.

    My “job”(so to speak, or to use a Bhagavad Gita word…my “dharma”), is to use my gifts in a manner that my moral compass (I want to use the sanskrit word “vivek” here) directs. Therefore, if my “gift” is thinking, comparing and writing, then my dharma is to write. If my gift is great eyesight, great motor skills, and great muscle strength, then perhaps archery would be my dharma (in Gita age), and perhaps being a golfer in this age! 😉

    Now the challenge is this…each one of us comes with many gifts “with the hardware” (that’s Nature), and each one of us can develop new skills through hard-work (that’s Nurture).

    My dharma, therefore, is a mathematical equation. How do I maximize the usage of my various gifts, given the constraints of what work options the current society offers (i.e. archer versus golfer), and given the additional constraint of a moral compass.

    My major gift, for example, is “to read”. Unfortunately, there’s not much utility in that for the overall society (except in buying more books and keeping authors solvent). Therefore, I am working hard at developing a smaller gift- that of writing and clarifying things. Therefore this blog! 😉

    To sum up, I see writing this blog as my dharma. There you have it! 😉

    PS- I have skipped the question of “by who”.Given what Krishna and the Buddha say, this is probably not a relevant question and is more of a distraction!


  8. dharma somashekar

    “Sanskrit scholar” (pandith,s) is a person who just knows the language Sanskrit. And to think all Sanskrit scholars r Vedha Parangathas is a mistake.
    The Vedas are NOT in Sanskrit, they are in Vedha Bhasya. Yes a person knowing Sanskrit can TRANSLATE it, not explain its embryonic meaning.
    So don’t worry , if you r not a Sanskrit scholar.



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