My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review
Devdutt Pattanaik, the author of My Gita, is a very smart author. He has not only built a huge brand around his work but also explored multiple channels to reach out to his potential audience. Print Media, Website, Television and of course books. I as a reader find it difficult to keep pace with his writings. Not sure how he manages to write so much. Gita is the inspiration behind this book cleverly titled My Gita and is its derivative. Having said that it is an innovative approach to presenting Gita – by organizing it by concepts and not following the traditional translation/commentary approach.
Devdutt also calls it ‘My Gita’ – saying that it is his interpretation of Gita and thus pre-empting any questions that the traditional followers may ask or those who have spent their lives reading Vedic literature may ask. In another diversion from the tradition, Devdutt gives the history of Gita in the beginning and its relevance in the whole gamut of extensive Vedic literature. He emphasizes why Gita is important and relevant to our current context. Now is that not the forte of Devdutt – to present ancient concepts in a way that they appear as contemporary as possible.
In My Gita, Devdutt simplifies the complex concepts like Karma Yog, Bhakti Yog, and Gyan Yog. He not only presents the concept in a simple yet well-defined manner but also explains how they are connected with each other. Like all his works, Devdutt brings in a contrast between western and eastern outlooks and tries to undo the notions that have been created during the colonial eras. I like the way he explains the difference between Bhagwaan that he claims makes an appearance for the first time in Gita and Devas – who are not really Gods.
The best part of the book is its crisp illustrations – that works perfectly with the modern day rational mind. For example in the very beginning, he uses a diagram to illustrate how we are listening to Gita that was told by Krishna to Arjun, but not directly. We hear the version Sanjaya tells Dhritarashtra and which Devdutt is then re-interpreting for us. In fact what he misses in between is the many versions of Gita commentaries that he would have read. And would have influenced him and his thought process. The essence of the diagram though is very clear. You are hearing a version that came to us through many people even when you read the Sanskrit verses. All the illustrations keep the book light to read and easy to understand.
Now, the question that you probably need an answer to is – who has he written My Gita for? For those who read and live by Gita – definitely not – it is too simple and too concise for them. For those who understand the basics of different concepts of Yoga – They may not really appreciate it. Hence It is for those who know Gita but hardly understand it. These people get a good initiation into the text and My Gita may invoke the curiosity to read it further. They can read further as the author provides a rather neat list of books. Although I am not too sure if I agree with his choices. I can definitely recommend ‘Who wrote Bhagwad Gita?’ by Meghnad Desai.
My best source of understanding has been the Gita course classes that I took at Chinmaya mission ages ago. And I would recommend these classes for anyone wanting to understand Gita or any other Puranic literature.
I also think with the quantity, the quality of books written by Devdutt Pattanaik is going down. I hope he takes a break and writes that one great book.
Take your call.