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(bŭg`əvəd-gē`tə) [Skt.,=song of the Lord], Sanskrit poem incorporated into the MahabharataMahabharata
, classical Sanskrit epic of India, probably composed between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200. The Mahabharata, comprising more than 90,000 couplets, usually of 32 syllables, is the longest single poem in world literature.
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, one of the greatest religious classics of Hinduism. The Gita (as it is often called) consists of a dialogue between Lord KrishnaKrishna
[Sanskrit,=black], one of the most popular deities in Hinduism, the eighth avatar, or incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna appears in the Mahabharata epic as a prince of the Yadava tribe and the friend and counselor of the Pandava princes.
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 and Prince Arjuna on the eve of the great battle of Kurukshetra. Arjuna is overcome with anguish when he sees in the opposing army many of his kinsmen, teachers, and friends. Krishna persuades him to fight by instructing him in spiritual wisdom and the means of attaining union with God (see yogayoga
[Skt.,=union], general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism, Buddhism, and throughout S Asia that are directed toward attaining higher consciousness and liberation from ignorance, suffering, and rebirth.
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). The main doctrines of the Gita are karma-yoga, the yoga of selfless action performed with inner detachment from its results; jnana-yoga, the yoga of knowledge and discrimination between the lower nature of man and his soul, which is identical with the supreme self; and bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion to a particular god—in this case, Krishna, who reveals himself to Arjuna as the avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu, Lord of the Universe. The Bhagavad-Gita is essentially Upanishadic in content, but it differs significantly from the brahman-atman doctrine of the UpanishadsUpanishads
, speculative and mystical scriptures of Hinduism, regarded as the wellspring of Hindu religious and speculative thought. The Upanishads, which form the last section of the literature of the Veda, were composed beginning c.900 B.C.
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 in teaching that the highest God is personal and that love and surrender to God's grace is a better and easier spiritual path than that of pure knowledge. The Gita has been the subject of many commentaries and has been much translated. Its translators include Annie Besant, Sir Edwin Arnold, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and Mohandas Gandhi.


See F. Edgerton, The Bhagavad Gita (1944); E. Deutsch, ed., Bhagavad Gita (1968); B. S. Miller, The Bhagavad Gita (1986).

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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Bhagavad-Gita is part of the Hindu Mahabharata, an epic Sanskrit scripture about the history of the ancient world, the story of a great war between cousins over the succession to the throne of an Aryan state. The Bhagavad-Gita, however, is widely published and read by itself, separate from the Mahabharata.

Hindu scriptures are some of the oldest in the world. The Vedas, developed by ancient Aryans and brought to India around 1500 BCE, are myths of ancient gods (devas, or "shining ones"). The Upanishads of about 500 BCE deal with levels of consciousness and the practice of meditation. In effect, the Upanishads moved the outward myth inward.

But after Buddhism split away from Hinduism a concern arose among Hindus to govern and organize society. This concern was stressed, at about 100 BCE, first in the Laws of Manu (the "Way of Society") that detail the four ends of man: pleasure (kama), gain (artha), righteousness (dharma), and liberation (moksha). These translate loosely into the four stages of life: student, householder, hermit, and renuncient.

The Laws of Manu were followed, four hundred years later, by the Yoga Sutras (the "Way of the Yogi"), an attempt to delve further into techniques of yoga meditation. The practitioner needs to follow eight limbs, or steps: nonviolence (truthfulness, celibacy, refraining from stealing, and avoiding greed), purity (contentment, mortification, study, and devotion), posture, breath control, withdrawal of attention from the senses, concentration, meditation, and contemplation. When the practice is mastered, the result is a heightened awareness not even suspected by most people. The Yoga Sutras tell how to read minds and discern thoughts, walk on water, fly through the air, levitate, become as small as an atom, and be impervious to hunger and thirst.

Both of these responses to Buddhism, the Laws of Manu and the Yoga Sutras, come together in the Bhagavad-Gita ("Song of the Lord").

Robert S. Ellwood and Barbara A. McGraw, in their book Many Peoples, Many Faiths, eloquently sum up the story told in the Bhagavad-Gita:

Prince Arjuna, whose charioteer is the heroic god Krishna in human form, is setting out to lead his army into bloody battle against the foe. Appalled at what he is about to do, Arjuna pauses in deep moral distress. The book is a series of answers that Krishna gives the prince in answer to his irresolution. It discourses on why Arjuna can and must fight, but its implications go much further than this. The pacifist Gandhi greatly treasured this book, taking it as an allegory of nonviolent struggle against injustice and for spiritual purity.

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Sanskrit epic relates the great fratricidal battle between two noble families. [Hindu Lit.: Bhagavad-Gita in Benét, 103]
See: Battle


part of Mahabharata: most important Hindu scripture. [Hindu Rel.: Parrinder, 43]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.