Sunday, February 08, 2009

Brief Background of the Bhagavad Gita

To fully appreciate and understand the various strata that are layered on the Gita, it is important to understand the events and story that led up to that moment. The Gita is situated in the Mahabharata, the world's longest and largest epic, nearly 100,000 verses. For me to try and recap all of that in any succient and perfect would be a prodigious task that is probably beyond my skill and ability. So I will just present a very very brief synopsis that will work for our purposes.

The Gita begins off with two armies facing each other ready for complete annihilation. On one side is the side of the Pandavas including Arjuna and Krishna, who are fighting for their rightful claim to the throne and even more so that they are in fact legitimate members of the royal family. On the other side are the Kauravas including all the elders and family of the Pandavas. The Kauravas are the faternal cousins of the Pandavas. They have tried to poison, burn and exile the Pandavas. They also attempted to disrobe the common wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi in middle of court. The Pandavas were exiled from their land for 13 years and if they were to be discovered before that term ends they were to enter back into exile for another 13 years. They tried to assassinate the Pandavas while they were in exile and then refused to return the kingdom to the Pandavas when they successfully completed the terms of the exile.

After the exile, the Pandavas send Krishna as their messenger of peace. Krishna gives the Pandavas and the Kauravas a choice, between picking him and his world famous personal battalion the Narayana Seni. The caveat is that Krishna swears that he will not raise any weapon nor fight in the war but will only behave like a charioteer. Duryodhana and the Kauravas choose the Narayana Seni and essentially laughed at the Pandavas for picking Krishna. Krishna on behalf of the Pandavas, asks for peace and only 5 villages but the Kauravas led by Duryodhana, refuse to give them even enough land equal to that of a tip of a needle. It was at this point that the war became inevitable. Nonetheless the Pandavas tried to just avoid war but prodded on both their mother Kunti, their wife Draupadi and Krishna, they decide that war is the only course of action to assert their rights. Both sides amassed their armies in total about 4 million people and meet on the field of the Kurus. It is on the first day of battle that the Gita occurs.

The Gita is essentially a conversation within a conversation, the meta conversation is between Sanjaya, a minister of the Kurus, and King Dhritrashtra, the blind king who is the uncle of the Pandavas and father of the Kauravas. Sanjaya, who has been granted divine vision to observe all that occurs on the battlefield, conveys to Dhritrashtra all that transpires. As such he relates to Dhristrashtra the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna as they are situated between both the armies. Time is said to have slowed down as the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna took place. In the next post, I will start with Chapter 1 titled "The Despondency of Arjuna".


sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

Ketaki said...

I can hardly wait for you to begin Chapter 1. You are doing me a great service...