Reflections on the Bhagwat-Geeta – 1

Editor’s Note: Today, we begin our reflections on the Bhagwat-Geeta.  We find the Samskrut of the Geeta beautifully simple and a joy to read aloud.  We have tried to be as phonetic in our transliterations as possible. We urge all readers to read aloud the Samksrut words in the article below and our future articles about the Geeta. That experience, we assure you, will be rewarding.

How does one begin to interpret a great text? Long before Europeans came up with the word Exegesis, the Eternal Dharma scholars created the concept and practice of मीमांसा (Mimamsa), or analytical investigation and interpretation.

We will use the one of the well-known rules of Mimamsa to reflect upon the Bhagwat-Geeta. The first part of this rule provides that:

  • To determine the scope and effect of the principles laid down in any work, one should study the उपक्रमा (Upa-Kramaa) commencement or occasion for it and  उपसंहार (Upa-Samhaar),  its end or conclusion.


1. Setting the Stage
The vast field on which the महाभारत (Mahaa-Bhaarat) War was fought was called कुरुक्षेत्र (Kuru-Kshetra), or the field of कुरु (Kuru). Kuru was a great emperor and his dynasty became known as कुरुवंष (Kuru-Vamsha). Legend has it that Indra, the Lord-Protector of Heavens, gave a blessing to Kuru that the great field near his capital city of Hastinapur would become so pure that anyone who died in war on this field would go to heaven. This is why this field of Kuru became known as धर्मंक्षेत्र  (Dharma-Kshetra) or the field of Dharma.

The Great Sage व्यास (Vyaas) asked the blind Emperor धृतराष्ट्र (Dhrut-Raashtra) whether he wanted to see this great war from his palace in Hastinapur. The Emperor declined and requested that his trusted aide संजय (Sanjay) be given this celestial vision instead. Sage Vyaas agreed. Sanjay could see the entire War and hear the Bhagwat-Geeta as it was told by Shree Krishna to Arjun.

The armies of that time were measured in अक्षोहिणी (Akshohini). As we understand it, one Akshohini consisted of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 horses and 109,350 foot soldiers.

The Pandav Army was 7 Akshohini strong and the Kaurav Army was 11 Akshohini strong. This makes the total number of warriors on both sides over 3.9 million. Most of these warriors and soldiers died in the span of 18 days, making this the most destructive war in history.

2. Chapter I of the Bhagwat-Geeta

Chapter I of the Bhagwat-Geeta is mainly descriptive. As Sanjay tells the story, सुयोधन (Suyo-Dhan), (or दुर्योधन  Duryo-Dhan as he became known afterwards), the Crown Prince of the Kuru Empire, approached द्रोणाचार्य (Dron-Acharya), their old teacher and then the General of the Kaurav Army. Suyo-Dhan described the great warriors, commanders of the Pandav Army and then of the Kaurav Army.

Then the great commanders of both Armies blew their शंख (Shankha) or counches as a declaration of war. The greatest warrior on both sides was deemed to be Arjun, the third of the Pandav brothers.  Bhagwan Shree Krishna himself was Arjun’s charioteer and counselor.

As Sanjay tells the story, Arjun asked Shree Krishna to move his chariot in between the two vast armies so that he could see the scope of the destruction he was about to launch. Arjun saw arrayed before him his beloved granduncles, his revered teachers, his uncles, his cousins and friends he had known for a lifetime. Arjun was overcome with doubt and sadness.  At the end of Chapter I, Arjun tells Shree Krishna that rather than fight his own kin, it might be better if the sons of Dhrut-Raashtra kill him.

3. उपक्रमा (Upa-Kramaa) of the Bhagwat-Geeta

At the beginning of Chapter II, Arjun expresses his doubts to Shree Krishna:

            न चैतत विद्मः कतरनों गरियो
            Na Chaitat Vidma Kataranno Gariyo
            I do not understand which is greater (more ethical)

            यद् वा जयेम यदि वा नो जयेयुः
            Yad Vaa Jayema Yadi Vaa No Jayeyuhu
            Whether they should defeat us or we should defeat them

            यान एव न जिजीविषामः
            Yaan Ev Hatva Na Jiji-Vishama
            After killing whom, I would choose not to live

            ते अवस्तिता प्रमुखे धार्तराष्ट्राः 
            Te Avastita Pramukhe Dhaat-Rashtraa
            They stand before me, the sons of Dhrut-Raashtra
                                  Bhagwat-Geeta, II.6

Then after expressing hos doubt about the better outcome, Arjun makes his definitive request to Shree Krishna in the second stanza of Verse 7:

             यत श्रेयः अस्यात  निश्चितं ब्रूहि तत में
             Yat Shreya Asyaat Nishitam Bruhi Tat Me
             Whichever is Ethically better, Please Instruct me Unequivocally

             शिष्यः ते अहम् शाधि माँ त्वां प्रपनं
             Shishya Te Aham Shadhi Maam Tvam Prapanam
             Disciple I am of yours, Teach Me, the one who beseeches you
                                   Bhagwat-Geeta. II. 7 (second stanza).

Then Arjun tells Shree Krishna ” न य्योत्स्य” or “I will not wage war“.  This is the उपक्रमा (Upa-Kramaa) or the Commencement as well as the Occasion of the Bhagwat-Geeta.

After these words of Arjun, Bhawan Shree Krishna began to teach Arjun.

4. उपसंहार (Upa-Samhaar) of the Bhagwat-Geeta

The instruction of Shree Krishna is described in Chapters II to Chapter VIII of the Bhagwat-Geeta. Arjun’s doubts are resolved. Read Arjun’s own words near the end of Chapter VIII of the Bhagwat-Geeta.

             नष्टो मोहः स्मृतिर लब्धा त्वत प्रसादां मया अच्युत
             Nashto Moah Smrutir Labdhaa Tvat Prasaadaan Maya Achuta
             Gone is my confusion, my memory (sense of duty) is regained, due to your benediction, Oh Achuta*

            स्थिथ अस्मि गतसंदेहः करिय्षे वचनं तव
            Shistha Asmi Gata Sandeh Karishye Vachanam Tav
            I have become free of doubt, I will do what you teach
                                 Bhagwat-Geeta, VIII. 73  

This is the उपसंहार (Upa-Samhaar) or the End or the Conclusion of the Bhagwat-Geeta.

* अच्युत
(Achuta) is another name of Shree Krishna.

5. The मीमांसा
(Mimamsa) Based Decision – The Essence of the Bhagwat-Geeta

In the Upa-Kramaa, Arjun asks Shree Krishna to instruct him unequivocally to clear his confusion. In the Upa-Samhaar, Arjun tells Shree Krishna that all his doubts are resolved and he is ready do his Ethical Duty that Shree Krishna has taught him.

So, based on the मीमांसा (Mimamsa) rulings, we come to the clear conclusion that:

  • The essence of the Bhagwat-Geeta was to remove all doubts from the mind of Arjun and to direct him to the path of Karma or his Dhaarmic, Ethical Duty.

In the process, all of us who are blessed to read this eternal work can learn the path of Karma-Yog or Dhaarmic/Ethical Duty.

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