Bhagwad Gita or Bhagavadgita is a sacred text for a large section of humanity. And a mystery for almost anyone who has either heard of it or read it. Scholars of the last couple of centuries have worked on it – trying to understand it. Write commentaries on it. Bring out its relevance to the current realities and to understand its historicity.
Meghnad Desai in this small book Who wrote the Bhagavadgita? tries to reverse engineer the book. The author tries to find out who actually wrote Gita? Did Ved Vyas, the author who wrote the Mahabharata wrote it? Or an independent author wrote it and added the text later to the epic Mahabharata? Once he concludes that it was an independent text, he goes on to explore if it has a single or a multiple authorship?
He tries to explain the disjointed nature of the philosophies in the text some of which even look contradictory. He refers to the similar works that have been done by both Indian and European scholars in trying to figure out the authors of the Gita. With detailed analysis of the text, its language construct, the message, and the philosophy Meghnad Desai attempts to find the multiple authors. He concludes the presence of 3 distinct authors. He even presents the sections that each of them worked on. And spends some time on the works of the third author. Whom he thinks did the work of stitching together the Gita as we know today. He even identifies that author as Badarayana who is also the author of Brahmasutra.
What I found interesting is his identification of Buddhist principles in Gita with concepts like Karma and Nirvana. He puts Gita in historical context as it went through changes during the time India was under the influence of Buddhism before it returned to Brahminical era around the time of Guptas. Until this point, I thoroughly enjoyed his analysis of Gita – its content, context, authorship, and evolution.
In the end, he talks about the Toxic Gita and how Gita is probably not relevant in the current context. Irrespective of whether I agree with him or not, I think this is a half-thought through the part that he writes. The examples he gives are too trivial and he admits it so too. I have a feeling that the book needed a certain volume. So the publishers asked him to add this section in the end.
It is so distant from the inquiry that he had set out to explore for this book. Meghnad Desai writes this part so well – that it opens up lots of windows for you to text. It makes you look at the text in a different light and I think this is what the author wanted. He wanted to share this idea with the world as well. The last is unnecessary and I feel even the author thought so.
If the subject is of your interest, and if you at least have the basic knowledge of Gita and its philosophies like Sankhya, Karma, and Bhakti – you would enjoy this Enquiry.