Category Archives: G. The Epics, Bhagavad Gita and the Rise of Bhakti


The rivalry between cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, is depicted in one of the longest documented Hindu epics, the Mahabharata. The author, “the sage Vyasa intended it to be a treatise on life itself, including religion and ethics (dharma sastra), polity and government (artha sastra), philosophy and the pursuit of salvation (moksa sastra)” (Narasimhan XIX). Duryodhana, being the eldest son of king Dhrtarastra and wife Gandhari and thus the eldest of the Kauravas, was regarded with great importance and plays a key role in the events that occurred in the Mahabharata. It is said that during Duryodhana’s time of birth bad ominous noises were heard from crows and beasts of prey. Seeing this Dhrtarastra’s brother Vidura and the present Brahmanas warned the king of his first born to be the exterminator of his race, hence needing to be abandoned. The strong emotions and love for his son forced the king not to adhere to the given advice (Narasimhan 19).

Caught of in the act of jealousy and hatred, Duryodhana hatched a plan of assassinating the Pandavas. Hastinapura’s king Dhrtarastra had convinced the Pandavas to visit the city of Varanavata for the festival of Pasupati (a festival for Siva). That’s when Duryodhana, along with close friend, Karna, and uncle, Sakuni, plotted to create a flammable palace in which the Pandavas would reside. All the arrangements were made and the Pandavas had reached the palace (Narasimhan 28). However, Pandavas brothers Yudhisthira and Bhima had been suspicious from the very beginning, thus not taking them long to figure out the true outcome of their trip. The Pandavas contacted their uncle, Vidura, who sent a close friend that would dig an underground tunnel for the Pandavas and their mother Kunti to use as an escape route during the fire. Duryodhana and his companions believed the Pandavas to be dead (Narasimhan 29). After some time, the Pandavas reencounter Duryodhana at Draupadi’s svayamvara where Arjuna won her as his wife.

Following a series of events in which the Pandavas were given half of the Kingdom, Duryodhana is invited to go to Indraprastha to attend Yudhisthira’s Rajasuya Yajna (an inauguration sacrifice performed by the king to become the emperor of the world). Duryodhana became mesmerized by the palace and had a hard time recognizing the Maya present. A representation of this is when Duryodhana lifted up his clothes to prevent them from getting wet while mistaking land for water and falling in puddles while believing that he was walking on land (Narasimhan 47). Draupadi, laughing and ridiculing him after the series of embarrassing moments, deeply hurt his ego (Mohan 167). “Symbolically when intellect begins to laugh at the failures of a wicked mid, the negative forces get angry. The evil forces never like to be openly observed and ridiculed. So they launch an all out offensive to get the intellect demanded” (Mohan 167).

Duryodhana’s self pride and ego did not let him live these incidents down. The embarrassment made him want to seize everything that Yudhisthira owned, including his property, kingdom, wealth, and pride. Duryodhana let his cunning uncle, Sakuni, create a master plan that would help him fulfill his wishes and take revenge on the Pandavas. Duryodhana and his companions, which included his younger brother Duhsasana, Sakuni, and Karna, planned to invite Yudhisthira to Hastinapura for a “friendly” game of dice, while being well aware of his natural inclination for gambling. “By cleverly suggesting that it is only a harmless pastime of the royalty, a game for the brave and finally prodding his vanity, Sakuni was able to make Yudhisthira agree to play the game. Consequently Yudhisthira loses everything, including his freedom to him self, his siblings, and worst of all, Draupadi also” (Mohan 172).

Soon after Duryodhana orders Duhsasana to bring Draupadi to the great hall. Duhsanana’s efforts of disrobing Draupadi in the middle of the hall were to vain because she prayed to Lord Krsna by repeatedly chanting the word/name Govinda. Individuals other than Duryodhana, Sakuni, Karna and the Kauravas in the great hall felt extreme remorse and pitied Draupadi (Narasimhan 53). Duryodhana invited Draupadi to sit on his lap by removing the cloth of his thigh. Responding to that Draupadi gave the whole Kuru clan a terrible oath, which terrified the kings present to such an extent that they had to offer the Pandavas their kingdom back. Sakuni’s sharp mind intrigued Yudhisthira into playing another game of dice that would direct the Pandavas to a 13-year exile into the forest. During this time period Duryodhana would be in charge of the kingdom and handling the responsibility of hunting the Pandavas in the 13th year (Mohan 172).

After the vain efforts of finding the Pandavas in their 13th year of exile Duryodhana refused to give them their half kingdom according to their deal. This ultimately destroyed any last chances of settlement and amendment. At this stage, war was inevitable (Duckworth 90). The following task for both groups was to retrieve as many allies as possible, for this both Duryodhana and Arjuna rushed to meet Krsna. Duryodhana reached before Arjuna and sat behind Krsna as he was sleeping. Arjuna, walking in later sat at Krsna’s feet. Waking up Krsna laid eyes on Arjuna first thus giving him the first choice on whether he would like to attain “his army of ten million gopas, each of whom is capable of slaying [him]” (Narasimhan 91). The other alternative was to choose Krsna himself, unarmed. “Arjuna unhesitatingly chose Krsna, who was not to fight the battle. And Duryodhana for his part choose the whole of that army” (Narasimhan 92).

During the war great warriors fell on either side. A time came when the Pandavas had to kill Duryodhana in order to win the war. Duryodhana seeing the empty battlefield filled decided to flee to a near by lake and use his power of wizardry to hide him self from the Pandavas. The Pandavas not being able to locate Duryodhana them selves sent out spies and quickly learned of his where about. Yudhisthira ultimately gave him an option to which he could still win the battle. All he would have to do is defeat one of the Pandavas brothers in a one on one battle with a weapon of his choice. Duryodhana chose to use the mace as his weapon and Bhima as his opponent (Narasimhan 171-172). “The duel then began. Duryodhana and Bhima fought like two bulls attacking each other with their horns. The clash of their maces produces loud peals like those of thunderbolts” (Narasimhan 172). The close battle worried Arjuna, he discussed the probability of Bhima winning with Krsna who stated that Bhima would not be able to win by battling fairly as Duryodhana is much more skilled than he is. Arjuna than striking his left signaled Bhima to hit Duryodhana below the belt (Narasimhan 172-173). “The mace, hurled by Bhima, broke the thighs of Duryodhana, and he fell down, so that the earth resounded” (Narasimhan 173). Balarama, Krsna’s elder brother, seeing the unfair attack approached the warriors and acknowledged Bhima as an unfair fighter and stated that the righteous Duryodhana will receive eternal blessedness (Narasimhan 173).

Later that night when the Pandavas were at peace and slept in their camps expecting no attacks form the opposition Asvatthaman promised Duryodhana to take revenge from the Pandavas by killing all of their remaining children. Duryodhana appointed Asvatthaman as the general for the remaining Kauravas army. Asvatthaman along with his companion slaughtered them that very night. Only one charioteer managed to escape and was able to report the incident to the Pandavas (Mehendale 3). Duryodhana was able to die with contentment; while the Pandavas felt like they had lost the war even thought they had won it (Mehendale 3).

This article was written by: Raina Sharma (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

References and related articles:

Mohan, S.Ram (2005) “Delineation of Evil in the “Mahabharata” and ‘the Gang of

Four'” Indian Literature 49, no. 1 (225): 162-72. 

MEHENDALE, M.A. (2000) “MESSAGE OF THE MAHĀBHĀRATA.” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute 60/61: 3-13. Accessed March 28th, 2017

Narasimhan, C.V., and de Bary William Theodore. (1998) The Mahabharata: an English version based on selected verses. New York: Columbia University Press.

Duckworth, George E. (1961) “Turnus and Duryodhana.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 92 : 81-127. doi:10.2307/283804. Accessed Mrch 28th, 2017.

Mohanty, Prafulla Kumar. (2005) “The “Mahabharata”: A Reading in Political Structuring.” Indian Literature 49, no. 1 (225): 146-51

This article was written by Raina Sharma (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Veda Vyasa, The Great Indian Sage

Vyasa was a central and admired figure of the Hindu Tradition. He was a famous Rsi in the longest epic (Rodrigues 177), The Mahabharata, and was also credited for the Epic (Rodrigues, 145).

Vyasa’s Birth and Family

According to the mythic sources, Vyasa was the son of Satyavati, the Daughter of a fisherman and Parashara who was a wandering sage. Satyavati used to row boats for passengers from one end of the shore to another. That was where Parashara and Satyavati met. Since Satyavati was the daughter of a fisherman, she smelled of fish hence Parashara gave her a boon that she would never smell like she had been around fishes ever again, she then gave birth to Krishna Dvaipayana on the shore of River Yamuna. At birth, he was given the name Krishna Dvaipayana (Ramesh 1-2). The name Krishna Dvaipayana came from his dark complexion meaning Krishna and Dvaipayana-came from the place he was born. He was born on the shore of Yamuna (which is a river in India) Dvipa (meaning island). He was married to the daughter of Rsi Jabali, named Vaachika. After marriage, he entered the stage of Grahasthashram and then fathered a son named Shuka.

Vyasa’s Achievements

According to legends, Veda Vyasa was the type of character that always had full loyalty and faith for the Vedas meaning he had Veda Niṣṭha. We know that he had full faith on the Vedas since at a very young age he had mastered Vedas as well as the Sastras, literature, mythology, history and other branches of knowledge. Another meaning of Nistha is steadiness, we see that he had steadiness in his life, he was always successful in what he wanted to do, we don’t see many obstacles coming in the way of his success in his lifetime. Later, then went on to Badarikashrama to perform ‘tapas’ meaning meditation. According to Vyasa, the Veda was not stabilized, since there was only one Veda, they weren’t separate at the time, it was hard for people to understand it due to which not many people would be able to read them. This caused the essence of the Veda to go down in society therefore the Veda was not stable. Vyasa wanted to restore Vedic Saahitya (literature) by doing the punar uddhar (revival) of the Vedas. To stabilize the Vedas, he decided to divide the Vedas into four sections. The Vedas were divided in such a way that all the hymns were grouped based on their requirements in the sacrificial rites. Each of the four Vedas were given to four different Rsis. Vyasa taught these four Vedas to his four disciples. Rg Veda was given to Paila Rsi, Atharva Veda was given to Sumanthu Rsi, Sama Veda was given to Jaimini Rsi and lastly Yajur Veda was given to Vaishampayana Rsi. As the Vedas were divided, the respective Rsis taught their part of the Vedas to their disciples who then passed down the knowledge to the society, and restoring the values and information of the Vedas among the society. It was easier to pass on the knowledge of the Vedas now since they were all divided (Sullivan 11-15). Two events took place after Vyasa had divided the Vedas. First was when he got the name Veda Vyasa; until then he was known as Krishna Dvaipayana. Second even was when Vyasa decided to write the Puranas. The Puranas were a way to spread the thoughts of the Vedas in the form of stories to the general people. Puranas contain stories about the Vedas for easier understanding, since the Vedas are too complex to understand by general people. There is a total of 18 Puranas, Vyasa did Sansodhana (research) and Adhyayana (study) in detail to achieve his goal. It takes such immense knowledge for a person to achieve so many achievements in life, like writing such great Epics that are still known till date. After writing the Puranas, he started writing the Brahma Sutra. The Brahma Sutra consists of four chapters, 16 Padas, and 555 Sutras. The Brahma Sutras are part of the Vedantas, which include Sankara’s Radical Non-dualism, Ramanujan’s Qualified Non-Dualism and Madhava’s dualism (Rodrigues 155-159).

It is said that Vyasa first composed the entire story of The Mahabharata in his head for years, after which he was encouraged by Lord Brahma that Vyasa should now write the story (Rodrigues 2016, 177). Vyasa asks Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, but Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. Vyasa replied with a counter-condition, that Ganesha must understand the verse before he wrote it. Thus, Vyasa narrated the entire Mahabharata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas, while Lord Ganesha wrote. At one point while writing, Ganesa ran out of ink, therefore he broke one of his tusk and continued writing The Mahabharata (Rodrigues 224). He had also composed the Great Bharata, which tells the story of Janamejaya’s, Pariksit’s son and Arjuna’s grandson. The book talked about Janamejaya’s ancestors, the descendants of King Bharata (Rodrigues 182).

What is The Mahabharata about?

The reason that The Mahabharata is a great epic is that it enlightens the 5 main aspects of human life, namely: psychology, sociology, economics, politics and philosophy. It also offers a vision on the four goals of life: Righteousness (Dharma), Wealth (Artha), Enjoyment (Kama) and Salvation (Moksa) (Ramesh 1). Vyasas way of representing these qualities to the society was through the characters of the Epic. The Mahabharata has characters such as Bhiṣma, Krṣṇa, Draupadi, The Paṇḍava and The Kaurava. Rsi Vyasa’s characters are said to be Padachyuta and Dhyeyachyuta. This means that none of them lost their focus from their goals. If we look at The Paṇḍava’s, their goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura with the help of Dharma in place, whereas The Kaurava’s goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura using Adharma. Even if all these characters were on opposite sides, they all stuck to their goals, no matter the situation and stayed focused on that goal. These characters teach us that we should stay focused to achieve our goal. They are the types of characters that even if death was headed their way, they stay focused and loyal to their beliefs. An example can be Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna). During the big Kuruketra war, there was a point that the Kauravas were planning an evil game to hurt the Paṇḍava’s, but despite no proper knowledge of how to escape the trap known as the ‘Chakra-Vyooha’ (Chaturvedi 5-6) which the Kauravas had set, he went into that trap and fought against all the evil until his last breath. He knew he was not coming out alive, before going in, but he still went in and fought for Dharma. All these characters make us feel like we can achieve something in life if we stay focused. They also show us the true meaning of Tyaga (sacrifice). The characters that were on the side of Dharma made many sacrifices to do the establishment of Dharma, no matter what the situation. These are the types of character that Vyasa gave us and through them we can learn many lessons in life. There is something to learn from every character despite them being evil or good and Dharmic (Righteous) or Adharmic (Non-Righteous), all characters were able to keep their goals through the Epic, this shows us their loyalty towards their goals and that they can go to any level to stay focused on their goals.

Vyasa’s involvement in Politics

In Ancient Indian Culture Legislation was in the hands of Rsi, and the execution was with the king. There are some examples from Vyasa’s life where we can see how he was related to politics.

One example was about the almost extinct Hastinapura kingdom. Satyavati (Vyasa’s mother) had two other sons Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Vichitravirya was married to Ambika (had a maid named Parishrama) and Ambalika. Vichitravirya dies leaving the kingdom of Hastinapura without a heir. This was when Vyasa was called by Satyavati because at that time, if anyone other than the Rsi wife had a child with a Rsi, it was considered big. Vyasa decided to surrogately father the heirs of Hastinapura (Rodrigues 177). Vyasa visits the three queens of Vichitravirya. Since he was a Rsi, he had a beard, long hair with a bun on top. He was there to grant the three queens a boon so they can have children, and the boon was dependent on how the queens react when they see Vyasa. When the first queen Ambika saw Vyasa, she closed her eyes, which meant that her son was going to be born blind who came to be known as Dhritarastra, father of the Kauravas. Then, when the second queen Ambalika saw Vyasa, she got sick meaning her son would stay unfit for life; her son was Pandu, father of the Pandavas (Rodrigues 177). Since the two queens were not able to give birth to kids that will be very suitable for the throne, due to their disabilities, he decided to give a boon to Ambika’s maid as well. When Parishrama (the maid of Ambika) saw Vyasa, she didn’t react in a bad way, she was herself and gave birth to a son, Vidura, who was normal and was brilliant. However, he would never be considered to rule the throne since he was the son of a maid. This was the political step taken by Vyasa to save a dynasty from becoming extinct (Ramesh 3). With no descendant, there will be no king therefore Satyavati called Vyasa, even though he was a Rsi. Vidura, despite being a maid’s son, was honest and was against injustice. Therefore, according to Vyasa’s ‘political move’, Vidura was one of the ministers in the kingdom so he can give honest advice to the king. This shows his involvement in politics and since the legislation was in the hand of Vyasa he was authorized to punish the king, if king made any mistakes.

Another story about his involvement in politics was that when the Paṇḍava’s had grown up, he sent them to Drupada’s kingdom, where the swayamwara of Draupadi was going on (Rodrigues 179). His intention was that the Pandavas should have a wife like Draupadi who would be a great strength for the Paṇḍavas. He always wanted a powerful woman like Draupadi behind the Paṇḍavas, because she was the type of person who could stand up against injustice, as well as she was the daughter of the Agni. Draupadi was said to be the daughter of Lord Agni, since she came out of the fire pit. After Arjuna had won Draupadi in the swayamwara, Vyasa’s wanted Draupadi to be the wife of all five Paṇḍava’s, not just Arjuna’s wife. At a time when The Mahabharata took place, people thought what a female could not have more than one husband. But once Vyasa made the decision that Draupadi will have five husbands, no one had the audacity to say anything against Vyasa. He also wanted to keep all the brothers together, and so his strategy to make Draupadi the wife of the Pandavas was so that there will be no rift between them in the future. This incident shows us that Vyasa was given great respect from the people of the villages that they did not say anything about what he had done. Their culture did not allow such a practice, but their trust in Vyasa was so deep that they did not utter a word against him. This incident also shows Vyasa’s vision in favor of Dharma and the Pandavas, because if Draupadi was married to Pandavas her father kingdom will support Pandavas in the final battle for Dharma. Thus, by sending the Pandavas to the swayamwara, he had already played his ‘political move’ for the betterment of the Hastinapura kingdom, and the fact that he made Draupadi the wife of all the Pandavas would bring positive changes to the society where women will be given respect, not just considered lower than men, which is the M-1B state (Rodrigues 90).

The third example can be seen when the Pandavas were in exile for thirteen years, and in disguise for one year (Rodrigues 180). This was when Vyasa goes to give them a visit in the forest. When Vyasa paid the Pandavas a visit, he was furious at them for just sitting around, and not preparing for the future war of The Mahabharata in advance. Vyasa already knew there was going to be a war and to prepare the Pandavas he sent Arjuna to do Tapa (tenacity). This was his ‘political move’, by sending Arjuna to sit in meditation for Lord Siva, and by doing the meditation Arjuna would be able to impress Lord Siva, so when Arjuna impressed Siva, Siva gave Arjuna some Celestial weapons that would be useful for the war (Rodrigues 180).

What is the importance Guru Purnima and why is it celebrated?

This day dedicated to the great Sage Vyasa. A Guru is someone who removes our ignorance. The meaning of Guru comes from ‘Gu’ meaning ignorance and ‘Ru’ meaning remover of ignorance. Guru (teacher) Purṇima (full moon day) is also known as Vyasa Purnima because on that day Vyasa was born as well as he started writing the Brahma Sutras. Vyasa is considered as the original Guru of the Hindus. This festival is a symbol of the Guru and Sisya (student) relationship. Gurus are considered a link between the individual and the immortal. This festival falls in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August). This is the day for the disciples to pay respect to their Gurus, since Gurus are given great importance in Hinduism. On this day, the disciples or devotees provide seva (service) to their Gurus which grants the disciples their Guru’s grace for their spiritual progress. If the Guru has passed away, then their portrait is worshipped instead. We pick our Guru based on their Gyan (knowledge) and Shraddha (faith) not the age. The word Upanishad also means sitting down with a Guru to gain knowledge. A famous philosopher Adi Sankaracharya has said that “If a person, despite possessing a disease-free body, fame, wealth, and studied the Vedas and Scriptures, and even if he wrote many scriptures, but has not surrendered himself to a Guru, then he would have achieved nothing” (Tumuluru 17-20). A Guru is someone who guides his disciple on the path of self-realization and strengthens their faith. On this day, Bhajans (songs for festivals and special occasions) and performances are organized by ashrams (hermitage). Kabir (Indian poet) said that “If we put God and Guru side by side, we have to pray the Guru first because he is the one through who you can realize God” (Tumuluru 17-20).

The study of the text the Guru Gita (Tumuluru 17-20) is recommended on this day as well as meditation at the Guru’s feet by waking up at 4am to obtain God’s grace. After waking up to do the meditation the devotees place flowers by the Guru’s picture and light a lamp, some may even keep moun (silence).

This day is observed by Monks when they give offerings to the Guru, they also start a four-month seclusion period (a four-month rainy season period) known as the Chatur Masa where they stay at a selected spot and have discourses. This is also an important day for Farmers because it marks the start of rainy season. This festival is also celebrated by Buddhists because it is the day that the Buddha gave his first sermon.

The best way to worship a Guru is to follow their teachings and do their seva by helping the Guru achieving their mission, by spreading the message of their teachings.


Chaturvedi, B.K. (2002) Abhimanyu. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.

Ramesh, Sri B.G. (2012) Vyasa: Volume 3. Karnataka: Sapna Book House (P) Ltd.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism—The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce (1990) Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa and the Mahabharata: A New Interpretation. Leiden: E.J.Brill.

Tumuluru, Kamal Kumar (2015) Hindu Prayers, Gods and Festivals. Haryana:Partridge Publishing India.

Related Research Topics for Veda Vyasa:

History and Family

Involvement in the Mahabharata

The types of characters he wrote about compared to Shakespeare

Guru Purnima

What kind of politics did Vyasa play throughout Mahabharata

His Achievements- Vedas, Puranas, and Brahma Sutras

Related Websites for the Topic:

This article is written by: Aastha Patel (Spring 2017), and I am entirely responsible for the content.

The Savitri and Satyavat Myth

The myth of Savitri and Satyavat is the fictional love story of a Hindu wife following her husband through death and saving him with her great dharmic wisdom. The origin of the story dates back to the Mahabharata. The sage Vyasa had written the Mahabharata with the help of the god Ganesa to give to the world as a gift. Within Vyasa’s telling of the Mahabharata the ideology of dharmic character is clarified and expanded on through side stories such at Savitri and Satyavat. The Mahabharata tells the epic story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas were battling each other, and at one point, the Pandavas were exiled to live in the forest for 13 years. During this time, the brothers meet with the rishi Markandeya. The most dharmic brother, Yudhisthira, was lamenting the kidnapping of Draupadi, the Pandava’s wife, as she had been taken by Jaydratha (Anand 2). He asked the rishi if he had ever met a more dharmic woman than Draupadi. The rishi responded with the myth of Savitri and Satyavat, answering his question by telling of the most dharmic woman possible.

The king Asvapati of the land Mudra had no heirs. Worried that he would die before his bloodline would be carried on, he devoted himself to prayers and sacrifices, asking the gods for many sons. After eighteen years, the sun Goddess Savitri answered Asvapati’s hundred thousand hymns to her (Narayan 182). The goddess explained that although she knew he requested for many sons, she would instead bless him with a single daughter, for whom he should be grateful (Anand 3). Soon after, Asvapati’s eldest wife gave birth to a baby girl, whom he named Savitri after the goddess. When Savitri had grown up, her beauty was so astounding that suitors would not ask for her hand in marriage. When the king requested a reason, they responded she must be an incarnation of a goddess and could not be married. The princess Savitri then began a penance, as she waited for a proposal. However, none appeared. The king decided Savitri must be married, and came up with a plan for her to find a husband. Savitri was told to search for her own husband that was well suited and that was as good to her as she was to her father (Narayan 183). Savitri was unsure how to do so, but agreed to do his bidding. The king sent an assembly of his men to accompany his daughter who were under the order not to interfere with her decision.

A year later, she returned to her father who was with the heavenly sage Narada. Narada did not understand why she did not have a husband yet, but the king was ready to receive her answer. Savitri reported that she named Satyavat her husband [often called Satyavan]. Narada strongly advised against her decision. He explained that although Satyavat was perfectly suitable, he was cursed to die in exactly one year from that day. Asvapati tried to persuade his daughter to find another husband, but Savitri refused. Satyavat was her first and only choice for husband, and she would not choose again.

Satyavat was son of the exiled, blind king Dyumatsena, and he took care of him and his mother in their forest hermitage. Before the wedding, Asvapati asked the exiled king for his blessing on the marriage (Nadkarni 2012:np). Dyumatsena was hesitant but agreed. Once the blessing was given, Savitri married Satyavat and joined him in his forest home. Savitri was the ideal wife and daughter in-law, and brought joy to the household (Narayan 185). However, she always remembered the curse and silently counted down the days. When four days were left before the cursed day, Savitri began a triratra vow, a severe penance of fasting, praying, and standing, for three days and nights. Her parents in-law were worried for her and insisted she end this penance, but Savitri refused. On the fourth day, when Satyavat was to begin his daily journey into the forest, Savitri begged him to allow her to join him. Satyavat was hesitant but agreed only if Savitri gained approval from her in-laws. Asking her parents in-law, they granted her wish as Dyumatsena knew she had never asked for anything before (Narayan 186). Travelling deep into the forest, Satyavat was unaware of his fate, but Savitri could not focus on anything else (Narayan 186). As Satyavat was swinging the axe to cut trees, he suddenly felt fatigued. Savitri went to his aid and brought him to rest his head in her lap. She realized this must be the hour that Narada had foretold. Satyavat soon fell into a deep sleep. Savitri continued to hold him when a figure came to hover over them. As Savitri focused on this figure, she saw that it was the God of Death, Yama, coming to take Satyavat’s soul. Savitri rested Satyavat’s head on the ground, and rose to address the God of Death. Savitri asked the God why he himself had come (Dutt 423). Yama answered that because Satyavat was such a distinguished person, he wanted to honour Satyavat in his death by bringing him to death’s halls himself. Yama recognized Savitri as an auspicious wife with a rare gift of being extraordinarily sensitive. But unwavering, Yama continued to take Satyavat’s soul to his kingdom against Savitri’s requests.

However, Savitri had begun to follow him to the land of death, a place where she could not go. Yama tried to persuade her to turn back, but Savitri was refused, knowing that where her husband went, she went, as it was her dharmic duty as a wife to accompany her husband through life and death. Impressed by her knowledge of dharma, Yama told her to ask for any boon other than the life of her husband and he shall grant it (Nadkarni 2012:np). Savitri asked for the return of her father in-law’s sight. They continued their conversation and Yama is repeatedly impressed, granting 3 more boons. Savitri asked for Dyumatsena’s kingdom to be restored, her father to have a hundred noble sons and for a hundred sons for herself and Satyavat. Yama granted these, but then realized too late that for the final boon to be granted Satyavat must be returned to earth. Yama kept his word and gave his blessing and Satyavat’s soul back to Savitri to return to his body (Nadkarni 2012:np).

Restoring his soul to his body, Savitri and Satyavat hurried home to his parents’ hermitage as they were late to return. Dyumatsena, with his sight recently restored, and his wife were worried when Satyavat and Savitri had not returned at their normal time. Neighbours had come to comfort them. When Savitri and Satyavat finally arrived, a celebration was thrown in their honour. Questioned on their reason for such a late arrival, Savitri began her story of all the transpired events, beginning with Narada’s prophecy up until their return home. She explained in detail her interactions with Yama, the God of Death, and the boons he had granted her (Dutt 429). The next day, Dyumatsena was informed his enemy, who had seized the throne, had been killed by the hands of one of his own ministers. Dyumatsena was once again declared king of the Shalwa kingdom. Savitri and Satyavat had their 100 sons who were brave, noble, and never fled from war (Dutt 430). Asvapati was also blessed with 100 sons who kept his bloodline and lineage strong for generations.

Savitri is used as the example of the ideal Hindu wife; a woman who is willing to follow her husband through death and back. Savitri symbolizes the dharmic wisdom that overcomes death (Anand 2). The perfect wife is to maintain her position beside her husband for all of time. In each dharmic marriage the man has the responsibility to take care of his family in all the physical aspects of life, while the wife “embodies the power to sustain their existence” (Rodrigues 125). She must maintain this power by being as auspicious as possible, and by being loyal by following orders from her husband. This enhances her personal spiritual power, or sakti. Her whole family depends on this spiritual power for their survival. By having this power, she is responsible to take part in sati, the ritual where the wife is required to lie on her deceased husband’s pyre, showing that she is willing to die with him and to use her sakti to cleanse his soul in a spiritual sense (Pitchman 26). Savitri is the ideal wife because when she completed sati she brought Satyavat back to life with her, proving she was purely dharmic. Her higher understanding of the dharmic teaching and her commitment to Satyavat is what brought her husband back to life (Verma 67). As they are two parts of a whole, both the husband and wife rely on each other to live a dharmic life. Their devotion to each other, especially Savitri’s, deems her the ideal wife in Hindu culture.


Anand, Subhash (1988) Savitri and Satyavat: A Contemporary Reading. Pune: Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute

Dutt, Manmatha Nath (1895) A Prose English Translation of the Mahabharata: (translated Literally from the Original Sanskrit Text). H.C. Dass.

Nadkarni, Mangesh V. (2012) Savitri-The Golden Bridge, The Wonderful Fire: An introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s epic. Auroville: Savitri Bhavan

Narayan, R. K. (1964) Gods, Demons, and Others. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Pintchman, Tracy (2011) Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism–The e-Book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Verma, K.D. (1977) Myth and Symbol in Aurobindo’s “Savitri”: A Revaluation. Michigan: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University

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Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topicśvapati

Article written by: Abby Neudorf (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Savitri and Satyavan

The Hindu myth of Savitri and Satyavan, found in the Mahabharata, is a tale of the love and devotion a Hindu wife was expected to have for her husband. In the Hindu tradition women are expected to show this devotion to their husbands above all else, and the tale of Savitri’s devotion is one of the most poignant and significant examples of this.

The story begins with Aswapati, a king, who was virtuous and lived what could be considered a perfect dharmic lifestyle. Despite this, Aswapati could not conceive a male heir; as he grew older this became more and more of a concern. After 18 years of a perfect dharmic lifestyle, including performing ten thousand oblations daily and reciting Mantras in honour of Savitri, Aswapati was visited by the goddess Savitri herself, who is also called Gayatri. Savitri could not grant him a son, but instead granted him a daughter, who the king named Savitri after the goddess. In some versions Savitri did not grant him the child herself, but informed Aswapati that Brahma was granting him a child (Sarma 329). Savitri grew up to become a beautiful woman, compared by the people to a goddess, and because of her intimidating beauty none would marry her. Aswapati sent her off in search of a husband, as none in his land would marry her. (Ganguli 570-571)

When she returned, she tells her father of another king, Dyumatsena. Dyumatsena was a wise, virtuous kshatriya king. Dyumatsena grew blind, and thus his kingdom was overthrown by an old enemy, ousting Dyumatsena and his family and forcing them into a hermitage. Dyumatsena’s only son, Satyavan, grew up in this state of hermitage. Savitri met the adult Satyavan, and chose him as the one she would marry. She praised his virtues to her father, listing his energy, wisdom, bravery, and forgiveness. She compared his noble attributes to those of various gods, to further emphasize just how perfect a match Satyavan was. Her father’s counselors, who accompanied Savitri on this journey supported her statements. The king asked his trusted advisor if this seemingly perfect youth had any defects, and it is revealed that Satyavan was to die exactly one year from this meeting. Aswapati urged Savitri to choose another, but she had already made up her mind and refused to change it, stating that she had already selected Satyavan and will not select again. The king relented on seeing the full extent of her devotion, and the two were wed. (Ganguli 572-574)

As the day of Satyavan’s death approached, Savitri offered prayers and ascetic observances for the three days prior to Satyavan’s preordained demise. Savitri and Satyavan went out in the woods on the day in question to pick fruits and cut down tree branches. Satyavan began to feel weak, and Savitri laid him on the ground with his head in her lap. The next moment, Yama, the god of death, appeared to Savitri. He had come to personally take Satyavan’s soul. He did so and departed, but Savitri proceeded to follow him out of her devotion to her husband. She spoke to Yama of Satyavan’s virtues, and he was impressed by her words and her devotion and granted her a boon, anything she wanted except Satyavan’s life. She requested that her father-in-law, Dyumatsena, regain his eyesight and his strength. Yama granted this, and continued on his way. Savitri followed him still, telling Yama more of Satyavan. Yama granted her a second boon, and she asked for Dyumatsena to regain his kingdom. She continued to follow him, this time speaking of mercy, and Yama granted her a third boon. She asked to beget children to continue her father’s line, and Yama granted her that she may have a hundred sons. She proceeded to speak about justice. Yama had heretofore been very impressed with Savitri’s devotion and extensive wisdom, and he granted her a fourth boon. She asked for a century of sons, begat by her and Satyavan, and Yama granted this before realizing the implication. He realized Savitri had tricked him and, impressed with her cunning, granted Satyavan’s life back, as she could not father sons with him if he was dead. This differs, as in some versions it is not by Savitri’s cunning, but by her continued devotion that she convinced Yama to give Satyavan back (Sarma 334). When Savitri and Satyavan returned, they found Dyumatsena’s eyesight and strength had returned, and he ascended once again to his rightful place at the head of his kingdom. Savitri and Satyavan had many children, and all was well (Ganguli 576-585).

Savitri’s devotion to her husband is the key theme of this myth. Even before they are married, she is unshakeable in her conviction to stand by Satyavan despite his impending death, and this devotion is what impresses her father so much that he allows the two to be wed. This is especially significant due to the inauspicious status of widows in the Hindu tradition, and the prohibition of remarriage (Rodrigues 127-128). She also shows devotion towards her husband’s family, who in the Hindu tradition essentially becomes her new primary family. Her requests of Yama to return her father-in-law’s sight, strength, and kingdom exemplify this ideal. Lastly, her devotion to Satyavan even in death is impressive. She follows Yama, death himself, and he grants her multiple divine boons, eventually even giving her Satyavan back. It is interesting to note however, that Savitri is not a helpless damsel following Yama because she is incapable of anything without her husband. If anything, after Satyavan’s death she shows her many other impressive characteristics in convincing Yama to bring Satyavan back.

The ideal of pativrata is described by Rodrigues as “ascetic dedication to [the woman’s] husband” (Rodrigues 124). It is the highest vrata, or ascetic observance, that Hindu women follow. The pativrata is closely related to sakti, spiritual power, and the husband was dependent on this spiritual power for his survival and strength. The story of Savitri exemplifies this, as Savitri’s devotion is very closely tied to her husband’s strength and survival, literally bringing him back from death. Savitri initially tries to prevent his death, performing vrata for three days just prior to the promised time. When this fails, she follows Yama, an extraordinary display of ascetic devotion, and her spirituality is a key factor in convincing Yama to bring Satyavan back.

Some scholars explore the similarities and differences between Savitri and Draupadi. Indeed, the entire reason this myth was told in the Mahabharata was in response to Yudhisthira asking if there had ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s (Ganguli 570). Weiss looks at Savitri’s marriage as a sort of inversion of Draupadi’s. Savitri is an ascetic wife, while Draupadi is married to five men, both deviations from the Hindu norm. As Weiss states: “Savitri lowers her social status by an act that creates social discontinuity (ascetic practices terminate social lineage), and Draupadi limits the natural capacities of her husbands by marrying all of them.” (Weiss 268-269).  The feminist scholar Lohia gently criticizes Savitri in comparison to Draupadi, stating that loyalty was important, but only as a single aspect of a woman’s personality (Yadav 110). Ultimately, both women represent distinct aspects of the Hindu ideal.

The story of Savitri and Satyavan exemplifies Hindu ideals of a wife’s devotion to her husband. Savitri marries the man she chooses regardless of his impending death, and refuses to let him go. When he does die, it is her devotion and strength of character that brings him back to life. In my opinion, she epitomizes the ideal of pativrata, and is an example of how the Hindu epics teach how one should live through tales with simple moral principles.


Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (1990) The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Vol.III (5th Edition). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sarma, Bharadvaja (2008) Vyasa’s Mahabaratam. Academic Publishers.

Weiss, Brad (1985) “Mediations in the Myth of Savitri.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol. 53, No. 2: 259-270.

Yadav, Kumkum (2010) “Draupadi or Savitri: Lohia’s Feminist Reading Of Mythology.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 45, No. 48: 107–112.

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Gayatri (goddess)






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This article was written by Thomas Hill (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


The origin of Rangoli dates back to many centuries ago and is an important part of Indian festivals. Rangoli is a design that is drawn on the ground with colored powder sometimes even with colored rice. Since Rangoli is mentioned in the Epics, it probably originated from before they were composed. The tradition is said to have come from the story of Chitralakshana. [The son of the highest priestly son dies and is said to be drawn and as the painting is completed the priestly son comes to life] (Dhawan 1). During the beginning of this tradition, it is said in the epic Ramayana after the return of Lord Rama from his exile he was showered with love by the art of Rangoli (Rao 1)

In Hinduism anything that has a deep meaning to it, is taken very seriously among the older generations, such as art of Rangoli. It is not only just used for making the courtyard look pretty but also to avoid the evil spirits from entering the house. This is the reason why most Rangoli designs are made very intricate and detailed. Spirits and negative vibes that are surrounding the house to get intertwined in the intricacy of the design (Ashu 1). The designs are the first thing people see when they enter the house. It allows them to bring more positivity into the house after seeing the Rangoli. The traditional Rangoli were more symmetrical because it was pleasing to look at. Different types of shapes are included when making Rangoli, such as certain religious flowers, drawings of gods, and many other things that have some sort of significance. Mostly white was used in the traditional Rangoli as it was a sense of peacefulness and calmness. Rangoli is made during Diwali (festival of lights) to welcome the Goddess Laksmi (Goddess of wealth). During every festival or any special occasion, the women of the house make the Rangoli. They wake up early as it takes hours for them to complete. The designs are only made once the front yard is fully cleaned with water, as it is a way for the women to cleanse their mind and have a sense of calmness.

In traditional Rangoli making powdered color was not used but colors that were available naturally were used such as haldi, vermillion, and rice flour. Natural powders were used so that birds and other insects would have food. The principle of ‘Vasudaiva kutumbaka’ in Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) meaning ‘the whole world is one big family’ (Sankar 1) is a reason why rice flower and such natural powders were used, so that the insects could feed off of them. Each color has a significant meaning behind it and is different in different parts in India. Now color that has dye in it is mainly used to attract more people and make it look more vibrant and realistic. Modern Rangoli is more focused towards the creativity of it rather then the spiritual aspect of it.

In southern India, there is myth about Lord Thirumal getting married in the Margazhi month, a time of the month that is said to be very auspicious. During this month, the girls get up before sunrise to start drawing Kolams [Rangoli is called kolam in southern India] to welcome the God of Thirumal (Dhawan 1). Going around a dot pattern makes Kolams.

During the month of January the Pongal kolam is made, in which the drawing is left undone until the next day so that they can join them with the neighboring houses.

More then just a design, Kolams is also used for mathematical ideas. They are very particular in using symmetry while making the designs and some even have a pattern that repeats several times. Some kolam are drawn using repetition of patterns in various angles Ascher (57-63). Symbols such as letters or numbers are used to explain the step-by-step way they are made.

Where Kolams are made up of more lines and have a geometrical pattern to them, Rangoli is made with vibrant colors and have many different designs. Each have there own significance and are used in different parts of India. Rangoli requires more intricate work than Kolams. Kolam is used more so in the southern part of India and Rangoli in northern part.

There are many different types of kolam designs; the most popular ones are the line and pulli Kolams. Line Kolams are free handed and are just geometrical lines. Pulli Kolams are designs where the dots are made in a certain sequence and lines are drawn to connect the dots. The pulli kolam has two different ways of making the design, one of which is connecting the dots and the other are twisted chains that are made around the dots Ascher (57-63). One other kind of kolam, called the snake kolam, different from any other Kolam, since it is drawn continuously and ends off where it began.

Rangoli is used in all of India whether it is for making drawing or used for special occasions. It has been passed down from centuries ago and is now being used in different ways and has even moved its way to a different side of it, the mathematical aspect. In the most recent years is when computer scientists have seen the usage of mathematical concepts being incorporated into the designs. As this tradition is passed down to future generations, the meaning and importance will slowly change as well. Slowly the designs will be improved by adding innovative aspects which differ from the past generations.. Rangoli’s is used upon arrivals of guests, family gatherings, and even when there are no special occasions. This allows women to get together and calm their minds down from the household work and provide them with a sense of relaxation from the tedious lifestyle. It is a way to express your happiness and allow others to enjoy the beautiful colors and designs made.


Sankar, Gayatri (2011) “Significance of Rangoli.”

Dhawan, Ashu (2015) “Why do we draw Rangoli? Significance & Importance!” Retrieved from

Subramanian, Ram (2014) “Kolam: A Tradition Combining Art and Geometry to Form Colorful Patterns.” Retrieved from

Ascher, Marcia (2002) “The Kolam Tradition: A Tradition of Figure-drawing in Southern India Expresses Mathematical Ideas and Has Attracted the Attention of Computer Science.” American Scientist 90, no.1: 56-63.

Rao, Venkata V (2006) “What is the origin of Rangoli?” Retrieved from

Hopkins, Dwight N (2001) Religions/Globalizations: Theories and Cases. Durham and London Duke University Press

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Pulli kolam

Line kolam



Lord Thirumal

Pongal kolam


Snake kolam



Goddess Lakshmi


This article was written by: Preet Parmar (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content. ab


Bharata was the second son of king Dasaratha of Ayodhya and his third wife kaikeyi. His mother was the daughter of Kekaya kingdom. During the naming ceremony, the spiritual guru Vasistha said, “the second son will sustain and support the universe and his name shall be Bharata” (Bhalla 38). Bharata is also considered to be one quarter of manifest Visnu. He was the husband of Mandavi, daughter of king Janaka’s brother kusadhvaja. They had two sons, Taksa and puskala(Poddar 2001).

When king Dasaratha decides to crown his elder son Rama, Kaikeyi asks for the two boons he owed her, fourteen-year exile for Rama and throne for Bharata. Bharata was away from Ayodhya when Rama went into exile. Bharata was at Kekaya, the kingdom of his maternal uncle and was unaware of the incident. Rama fulfills the promise and leaves Ayodhya accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Laksmana. The helpless king Dasaratha could not bear the separation from Rama and passes away. Bharata is called back to Ayodhya, but the cause is not revealed to him. He hurries to Ayodhya, ignorant of all that had taken place and enters the town. While coming back he felt the city very lifeless. “The brilliant gardens, where we heard the wild note of each rapturous bird, where men and women loved to meet, in pleasant shades, for past times sweets­­- These to my eyes this day appear joyless, and desolate and drear”(Griffith 179).

As soon as he reaches Ayodhya, he goes to the king’s palace to meet his father, but the king is not seen anywhere. He meets his mother Kaikeyi and asks about the whereabouts of his father. Kaikeyi, without realizing the misfortune that had fallen on her, explains to him in detail about what happened in his absence that led to the death of the king. With shock, Bharata gazes at her but does not utter a word. Kaikeyi tries to console him but it only adds fuel to fire and he burst out in anger. He even forgets that she is his mother and abuses her as a sinner, destroyer of the clan, one who waters the leaves after it has fell from the tree. ‘Flee, cruel, wicked, sinner, let not this kingdom harbor thee, thou who hast thrown all right aside, weep thou for me when I have died”(Griffith 182). He cried with anguish at the thought of his brother Rama, having to suffer so much on his account. Bharata, after performing his father’s funeral, declares his intention of bringing Rama back from the forest. Bharata reaches Chitrakuta and gives the unpleasant news of their father’s demise to Rama and Laksmana, and pleads with Rama to return to Ayodhya as emperor (Bhalla 104). However Rama declines on the grounds that such a deal would be unrighteous. Rama says, “here shall I live in all delight, make my ancestral fame brighter, tread in their path who walk a right, and to my oath adhere” (Griffith 203). Though heavily disappointed, Bharata comes back to Ayodhya and agreed to govern Ayodhya, not as its ruler but as Rama’s representative. The folks supports Bharata, as he became the king of Kosala and Ayodhya, but he himself placed Rama’s sandals at the foot of the royal throne. He neither sat upon the throne or crowned himself. Bharata’s reign was righteous and the kingdom was safe and prosperous, but he continuously longed for Rama’s return. During this period, he failed to forgive his mother Kaikeyi and faithfully served Kaushalya, Rama’s mother and Sumitra, laksmana’s mother.

After 14 years of exile when Rama returns to Ayodhya, he intended to crown Laksmana the yuvraja (crown prince), but laksmana remarked that Bharata’s excellent virtues and years of expertise, qualified him as the yuvraja. Therefore he was right away made Yuvaraja by Rama (Bhalla 2008) and Rama establish Ramrajya. When Rama decided to retire, both Bharata and Shatughana joined him. When Rama walked into the river Saryu, he transformed into his eternal and original Visnu form, Bharata and Shatrughana walked into the river also and united with him ( Griffith 522). Bharata total devotion to Rama and his unquestioned adoration are held as role models and shine like a beacon of ideal character, illuminating the path for those who follow.



Bhalla, Prem P (2009) The story of Shri Rama. Delhi: Peacock books.

Griffith, Ralph Thomas H (2008) Ramayana, translated in English. Canada: Project Gluenberg.

Poddar, H (2001) Balkand in Ramayana. Gorakhpur: Geeta press.


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Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by : Shambhavi kala(March 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Myth of Nala and Damayanti

The myth of Nala and Damayanti is a story in the Vana Parva book of the Mahabharata. The epic is about the life of a couple who fall in love with each other. The main characters in the story are Nala, who is the king of Nishadha, Damayanti, the princess of Vidarbha, the demon Kali, and King Rituparna. Nala is a handsome, intelligent man with knowledge and expertise in horses and culinary skills. His one major weakness, that is at the root of his troubles in the story, is his addiction to gambling. Damayanti is the princess who fell in love with King Nala. she was a very attractive woman whom even gods wished to marry. She fell in love with Nala after hearing of his virtues from a golden swan before she had ever met him. On the night of her swayamvara (self-choice ceremony) the gods disguised themselves as Nala to try and fool her, but she saw right through them. Kali is a demon who tried to get chosen by Damayanti to be her husband. After Nala was chosen to be her husband Kali moved to his kingdom and waited for his time to get revenge (Pave 2). One day Nala forgot to cleanse himself before his prayers, causing him to become impure, and Kali took this perfect opportunity to bewitch the soul of Nala. King Rituparna, the king of Ayodhya, was the king who Nala went to after he was transformed into Bahuka, he was also a mathematician and a skilled dice player.

At the beginning of the epic, there is a Brahmin who enters Nala’s court to describe to him the beautiful princess of Vidarbha, Damayanti, with whom he fell in love with instantly. The next day, Nala catches a swan who begins to beg for freedom, the swan promises that if Nala allows him to be free, then he will talk to Damayanti on his behalf. Nala agrees and releases the swan so that Damayanti could know about all his great virtues. When the swan arrives in Vidarbha and begins to talk to Damayanti, she falls in love with Nala the same way Nala had fallen in love in with her. Although they had not met in person, they both loved the other person’s characteristics and virtues. The king of Vidarbha, Damayanti’s father, wanted his daughter to get married so that his kingdom would be secured; they planned a Swayamvara and sent messages to different kingdoms across the land. There were kings, princes, and even gods who came in the hopes of being picked to be Damayanti’s husband. The gods who came to this Swayamvara were Indra, Agni, Varuna, Yama, and the demon Kali. Damayanti chose Nala as her husband out of all the godly candidates.

After they were married, they moved to Nala’s kingdom of Nishadha, where they would rule for twelve years. Until the demon, Kali, who still bore a grudge against Nala for marrying Damayanti would take control of Nala and force him to play dice. Nala, who was being controlled by Kali, challenged his cousin Pushkara. Nala lost everything in the game which forced him and his wife into exile. Before they left for the forest, Damayanti sent their children to her father’s kingdom, along with some of Nala’s charioteers. Kali maintained control of Nala’s soul after him and his wife went into exile. After a few days, Kali convinced Nala to abandon his wife while she was asleep. Although Damayanti put a lot of effort towards finding her husband, she eventually stopped searching and took refuge in the kingdom of Chedi while she waited for Nala to come back. Nala, who was still under the control of Kali saved a serpent (Naga) named Karkotaka from a fire. The Naga bit Nala and injected him with deadly poison which tortured and forced Kali out of Nala’s body, the poison did not hurt Nala, although it twisted his image and transformed him into a dwarf. The serpent advised Nala to travel to king Rituparna for refuge, and to use the name Bahuka. Nala, who was now going by the name of Bahuka, listened to the serpent and traveled to the kingdom of Ayodhya, where he became a charioteer for the king.

Damayanti was found by one of her father’s charioteers and was brought back to her kingdom where her father forced her to do another Swayamvara. Letters were sent out to different kingdoms, and when king Rituparna got word that he was invited, there wasn’t enough time to travel to Vidarbha. Nala knew that with his chariot skills that he could make the trip in one day, so he convinces king Rituparna to allow him to be his charioteer. The king agreed and they start traveling to the Swayamvara. During the trip, the king asks Bahuka (Nala) what his secret was for being such a great charioteer. Nala made the deal that he would teach the king how to drive that fast and with that much control, on the condition that the king teaches him how to play dice. King Rituparna accepts the deal and by the time they get to Vidarbha, they have both mastered the skills. When they got to the kingdom, they realized that there was no Swayamvara, king Rituparna was angry but made his peace with the situation quite quickly. Damayanti was hoping that her husband would come back to her after hearing that there would be a second choosing. Although, when she didn’t see him by the end of the day she had given up hope, until she saw Bahuka, who she thought was her husband and started talking to him. When she realized that Bahuka was truly Nala, they were reunited and the curse was lifted which changed Nala back into his handsome self. After they were reunited, they travelled back to Nishadha, and with Nala’s new skill in dice he challenged his cousin Pushkara to a rematch and won all his wealth and kingdom back.

There are many relationships in this story that affect the different problems and events that occur. While Nala was on his way to the first Swayamvara, he encountered the four gods who asked him to be their messenger. This relationship between Nala and the gods was important because after Damayanti chose Nala, the gods were angry because he was supposed to get her to marry one of them. This relationship did change into a more grateful one after Damayanti said that even though she did not marry any of the gods, she will still pray to them and offer them thanks. The relationship between Kali and Nala is important for the story, even though it forced him and his wife into exile, since it was one of the main catalysts in the story. It caused multiple events to take place and proved the love between Nala and Damayanti. Although the relationship between Nala and the serpent Karkotaka was brief, it was mutually beneficial. Nala saved the serpent from the fire and, in return, the serpent saved Nala from the control of Kali and gave him advice that would help him get his former life back. The relationship between Nala and king Rituparna is a very important relationship in the story because it allowed both individuals to learn a new life skill; it gave Nala the chance to see his wife, and win his kingdom and wealth back from his cousin. The final and most important relationship is the one between Nala and Damayanti; their relationship is the main foundation of this story and is prevalent from start to finish. They fell in love with each other by hearing about each other’s virtues, and their love wasn’t solely based on looks. Damayanti could see through the disguises of the gods and find the real Nala, and even after exile, she was with him and never lost faith in him. She searched for him after Kali forced him to leave her in the forest, and it was their love and relationship that helped transform Nala to his handsome self after the serpent bit him.







References and further recommended readings

Adler, G. J (1866) The Mahabharata. Boston: The North American Review.

McGrath, Kevin (200) Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India. Oxford: American Anthropologist.

Parkhill, Thomas (1984) From Trifle to Story: A Study of ‘Nala and Damayanti’. USA: Oxford University Press.

Pave, Adam (2006) Rolling the Cosmic Dice: Fate Found in the Story of Nala and Damayanti. United Kingdom: Academic Search Elite.

Wadley, Susan (1999) A Bhakti Rendition of Nala-Damayanti: Todarmal’s ‘Nectar of Nal’s Life’. USA: Syracuse University.

Websites Related to Topic

Related Research Topics

The god Agni

The god Indra

The Ramayana

Vyasa (writer of the Mahabharata)


This article was written by: Tyler Johnson (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.



King Dasaratha

King Dasaratha is an important figure in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Dasaratha’s parents, Aja and Indumati have an unusual story; Indumati was a reborn apsara. Apsaras are beautiful nymphs produced during the creation of the Milky Ocean. They are unable to marry gods or demons, so they often visit Earth. Indumati faces rebirth due to a curse placed upon her by the sage, Trnabindu, however, he takes pity upon her and allows her to be born as the princess of Bhoja country. Trnabindu chose Aja to be Indumati’s husband as Aja was pronounced to be a man of the appropriate stature and wealth. Soon after Dasaratha’s birth, Indumati passes away and leaves Aja a widower (Devaky 141-143). Aja’s character is displayed in the manner in which he treats Indumati; he treats her with respect by acknowledging her mind as well as her beauty. Once Dasaratha matures and is able to act as king, Aja abandons an extravagant life and eventually passes away from a disease (Devaky 143). Some individuals say Aja was unable to perform his royal duties due to the sorrow he faced after Indumati’s death, and that he voluntarily starved himself in order to join her (Madan 190).

King Dasaratha of Kosala has three wives, all of whom are unable to conceive (Sivaraman 107). His first and oldest wife, Kausalya, has rights to the throne for her son unlike his second and third wives, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. The love King Dasaratha has for Kaikeyi is comparable to the love his father, Aja had for his mother, Indumati (Madan 191). King Dasaratha’s first two wives are unable to have children, so they are unable to provide a successor to the throne. King Dasaratha believes Kaikeyi is able to conceive and thus promises her father, Aswapati, that her son would be the kingdom’s next king. However, eventually all of King Dasaratha’s wives have sons and due to the seniority of Kausalya as first wife, her son is announced as King Dasaratha’s successor. When Kaikeyi learnt of King Dasaratha’s promise to her father, she asked King Dasaratha to grant her two boons (promises) she had earned when she saved his life.

King Dasaratha had been accompanied by Kaikeyi into battle in the Dandaka forest against Shumbar, the king of Vijayanta and the brother-in-law of a demon, Ravana. When Shumbar killed the chariot driver and broke a chariot wheel, Kaikeyi was forced to drive the chariot in order to save King Dasaratha’s life. When King Dasaratha granted Kaikeyi two boons in reward, she initially refused them until, at his persistence, she asked to save them for later (Mittal: 206-207).

As King Dasaratha was originally unable to have children, he reached out to the gods by performing an Asvamedha, the horse sacrifice, asking them to bestow a child upon him. Collectively, many gods pressured Lord Visnu into manifesting himself into the sons of King Dasaratha in order to defeat the demon, Ravana. However, there is a disagreement over how King Dasaratha received the potion that would ultimately lead to the birth of his sons. Some say Visnu himself presented the potion to King Dasaratha during the sacrifice (Sivaraman 107), while others argue that Agni, the god of fire, presented King Dasaratha with Caru, a sacrificial food (Madan 191). Despite the disagreement on how King Dasaratha gained this magical substance, all three of his wives received portions of it. Instructed to divide the potion between his wives; King Dasaratha gave half to Kausalya due to her seniority and the other half to Kaikeyi due to his fondness for her. Unfortunately, this did not leave any for Sumitra which caused Kausalya and Kaikeyi to each give her half of their portions. Since Sumitra technically received two servings, she bore two sons (Madan 191). Kausalya bore Rama, Sumitra bore twins, Laksmana, and Satrughna, and Kaikeyi bore Bharata.

The story of the Ramayana is heavily influenced by King Dasaratha and his relationships with Kaikeyi, Aswapati, and Rama. When Dasaratha must choose a successor, he chooses Rama but, Kaikeyi soon intervenes. She learns of Rama’s appointment through her maid who convinces her that Bharata should be heir to the throne. Rama happens to be Dasaratha’s favorite son, so it is difficult for her to convince him to change his decision. Kaikeyi is only able to secure Bharata’s position on the throne by reminding King Dasaratha of the two boons promised to her. Kaikeyi uses these boons to remove Rama from the kingdom by banishing him to exile for fourteen years, placing Bharata as successor to the kingdom. Upon hearing this request, Dasaratha becomes highly distraught, yet is unable to break his promise to Kaikeyi. When Rama learns about the exile, he goes to King Dasaratha and agrees to leave the kingdom in order to minimize the guilt his father feels. Despite Rama’s brother, Laksmana’s, and Kausalya’s pleas for him to stay in the kingdom, Rama declares that his dharma or highest duty, is to help his father. Rama informs his wife, Sita, of his departure and asks her to cooperate with Bharata and the rest of his family. Sita, however, believes that her duty as a pati-vrata, (devoted wife), is to follow Rama into the woods for the duration of his exile. Although Rama informs Sita of any and all possible dangers, she is persistent on accompanying him (Winternitz 3). Although Sita’s father, King Janaka of Videha, insisted that Rama compete for her hand in marriage, they were destined to be together. This is shown by Sita’s devotion to Rama despite the fact that they did not know each other before marriage.

Sita did not have a normal birth, as King Janaka had discovered her arising from the Earth while he plowed a field which led him to name her “Sita” which means “furrow”. In order to choose Sita’s husband, King Janaka held a contest containing one task, drawing a special bow designed for the gods. Although many men attempt to draw the bow, they all failed and Rama became the first man able to affect the bow’s structure, he broke it in half. This action made Rama worthy of Sita and led to a happy marriage between them until they both were obliged to leave the kingdom (Winternitz 2).

When Rama and Sita prepare for exile, Laksmana decides to join them and does not sway from this decision, despite his family pleading him to stay. A few nights after their departure, King Dasaratha is unable to sleep and recounts a curse placed upon him in his youth. This curse was placed by the father of a blind child who was mistakenly killed by Dasaratha during a hunting trip. It indicated the manner in which Dasaratha would die, namely, due to the grief of a lost son. A few days after Rama’s departure, this prophecy comes true and Dasaratha passes away. After his death, Bharata is offered the throne but he declines due to the value he places on tradition; Bharata believes Rama should be the next king as he was originally appointed by Dasaratha. Although Rama mourns his father’s death and performs a funeral for him, he refuses to return to the kingdom until he has completed the terms of his exile (Winternitz 4), eventually returning and becoming king (Winternitz 10).

King Dasaratha’s devotion to Kaikeyi ultimately leads to his own demise as well as many of the events in the Ramayana epic. Many scholars believe that Dasaratha’s love for Kaikeyi is relatable to Aja’s love for Indumati. Some refer to Kaikeyi as Dasaratha’s kama (sensory pleasure) (Madan 192). King Dasaratha was easily able to overlook any of Kaikeyi’s flaws and assumes that Kaikeyi’s anger is justified either by being provoked by someone or as a rouse in order to excite him. This love for Kaikeyi had the power to change the fate of the kingdom drastically, however, Bharata and Rama are able to prevent this from occurring. When Kaikeyi asks for her two boons, Dasaratha must grant them in accordance to the promise he made, as well as his love for her. Although Rama decides to leave the kingdom for his exile, Bharata defies his mother and willingly gives up the throne, recognizing that Rama’s seniority as well as superiority makes him a better choice for king (Madan 193-194). Dasaratha’s relationship with Aswapati plays a crucial role in Rama’s exile, because Dasaratha is unable to break his previous promise to Aswapati. If Dasaratha had been able to break this promise, Rama would not have left the kingdom, and a father would not have been separated from his son. This exile ends the close relationship between father and son, resulting in a copious amount of guilt for Dasaratha which coupled with his sorrow, eventually led to his death.

King Dasaratha’s respect for the actions of others, such as the bravery of Kaikeyi in the battle in the Dandaka forest, results in him having a verbal commitment to fulfill any request placed upon him. Those requests coupled with the admiration and love King Dasaratha has for both his wife, Kaikeyi, and his son, Rama, leads to the events in the Ramayana epic as well as his death.



Devaky, E.S. (2006) “Major Female Characters of Kalidasa.” Feminist Readings in Kalidasa’s works. India: University of Calicut.

Madan, T. N. (1988) Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer: Essays in Honor of Louis Dumont. India: Motilal Banarsidass.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Mittal, J.P (2006) History of Ancient India (a New Version): From 7300 Bb to 4250 Bc. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers.

Raman, V. Varadaraja (1998) Balakanda: Ramayana as Literature and Cultural History. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan.

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (2006) Hinduism: The Ebook. United States of America: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Sankalia, Hasmukhlal Dhirajlal (1982) The Ramayana in the Historical Perspective. Delhi: Macmillan.

Sivarama Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New Delhi: Motilal Banasidass.

Winternitz, Maurice (1927) A History of Indian Literature. New York: Russell & Russell.


Related Topics for Further Research:







Lord Visnu








King Janaka




Noteworthy Websites for Further Research:


Article written by: Crystal Mulik (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kubera: God of Wealth

Kubera holds a variety of titles within Hinduism, most notably being the god of wealth and riches. He is also regarded as the god of fertility, a tutelary household spirit, the protector of sailors and god of the dead (Coulter and Turner 283). In the Satapatha Brahmana, he is the lord of thieves and criminals (Sutherland 63), and these are but a few different titles he possesses. Despite having various titles and responsibilities, he is often associated with having a lesser role in Hindu mythology in relation to other deities (Wilkins 388). However, this does not mean that Kubera does not have a rich history and importance within the mythological realm of the Hindu tradition. One of the main reasons that Kubera is not regarded as being a prominent deity is due, in part, to the lack of images and monuments dedicated to him. When he is depicted in images, which mostly come from the Himalayan regions, Kubera has a large potbelly and he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels when he squeezes it (Buswell). Another way he is depicted is as the guardian of the north and is portrayed as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch, holding a money bag or a pomegranate. He is also sometimes depicted riding on a man (Britannica), which makes him unique in relation to other gods, who usually are mounted on animals. Kubera is a lokapala or “world guardian” (Sutherland 65), deities who are usually illustrated as being mounted on animals such as elephants, whereas Kubera is described as being a naravahana or “one whose mount is a man”(Sutherland 67). Although Kubera is regarded as a god in Hindu mythology, he is also often depicted as a demon. The classification of Kubera being a demon, therefore, cause some discrepancies in his physical appearance, with some illustrations of him depicting a more hideous, monster-type of figure. In these portrayals, Kubera is described as being a pot-bellied, three-legged, one-eyed dwarf with eight snaggle-teeth (McLeish). He is also often illustrated as having ugly, black skin, again with a potbelly and is heavily jeweled, sits cross-legged and holds a purse (Coulter and Turner 283). Despite these more unsightly physical attributes associated with the demonic side of Kubera, many depictions of him offer a gentler, appealing visual of the god, illustrating him with gold coloured skin and studded with gems (McLeish), a visual representation of his role as the lord of wealth and prosperity.

Kubera’s lineage can be a bit confusing, as different sources and literature state different familial lines. In the Artharvaveda, Kubera is said to be the son of Vaisravana. In the Mahabharata, he is son of Vaisravana and Idavida, and brother of Visravas; this is further complicated by the Puranas, which states that Kubera was born to Visravas and Ilibila (Williams 190). He also has a half brother named Ravana, who is the notable demon in the Ramayana (Williams 190). Kubera also has a wife, named Hariti (Werner 51) and a daughter named Minaksi, who becomes one of Siva’s wives (Werner 73). He also had a son, named Nalakubera (Williams 219). In addition to his family, Kubera had a few close companions. Kubera is usually accompanied by two friends named Yaksa and Yaksi (Coulter and Turner 283). He is also associated socially with Charvi, Danava and Rambha (Coulter and Turner 282). According to most accounts, Kubera is said to reside in a palace in the country of Sri Lanka. However, Kubera does not live there permanently, as he is driven out of his palace and the country by his power hungry half-brother Ravana (Britannica). The relationship that Kubera and Ravana have with one another does not prove to be very hospitable and cooperative, as they are often depicted in feuds with each other. This hostile relationship ultimately causes Kubera to relocate to a residence on Mount Kailasa, which is also home to other deities, such as Siva (Britannica).

Kubera is most notably known as being the lord of riches and wealth, which includes the resources and elements that are contained within the earth (Williams 190-191). As the ruling god of wealth and riches, Kubera is responsible for possessing and distributing the wealth, as well as guarding the earth’s treasures (Kinsley 226). He is granted the power to move the earth’s riches from one place to another, and he often brought gems and precious metals near the surface during the rule of righteous kings and hid them during times of wickedness (Williams 190-191).  Kubera exercises this power over the elements when he sides with Rama in the war between Rama and Ravana, Kubera’s half-brother. Kubera decides to align himself with Rama, rather than be loyal to his brother, because Ravana dethrones and exiles Kubera from his palace in Sri Lanka (McLeish). Ravana does this in order to try and win himself a queen and kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, causing there to be a war between the two men (McLeish). Rama wages war on Ravana for the actions taken against Sita, and by the end of the feud, Rama is victorious (McLeish). Kubera, who remained loyal to Rama throughout the feud, is granted the responsibility of being the shepherd of all the precious stones in the world, as a reward for his assistance in the war against Ravana (McLeish). Kubera was, therefore, allowed to dictate over these stones and control their movements (McLeish), which meant he could determine who had access to them.

Among other roles and responsibilities that Kubera was attributed to was being the leader of the yaksas, creatures who dwell in the woods and forests and promote the growth of plants (Kinsley 226). It is understandable that Kubera would be well acquainted with the yaksas as they both have roles associated with prosperity, with the yaksas encouraging the growth of plans and Kubera being a symbol of richness. The yaksas are depicted as being sharp and cunning, with a benevolent earthly temperament, which Kubera is depicted as embodying (Sutherland 64). Kubera exudes this temperament most notably through his physical appearance, which includes a potbelly, a common Asian motif for good luck and more importantly, abundance (Sutherland 64). However, the yaksas also articulate a notion of ethical ambivalence, suggesting that they also possess a more corrupt, evil side (Sutherland 63). This can be associated with Kubera’s more unethical approaches that cause him to not only be classified as a god, but as a demon as well.

Within Hindu mythology, Kubera is depicted as being a rather unforgiving god. In one particular myth in the Padma Purana, Kubera is portrayed as being a devotionalist, who had an abundantly beautiful garden that contained flowers that are utilized in daily temple worship (Williams 153). Kubera had a hired gardener named Hemamali, who tended to the flowers everyday. One day, Hemamali took a trip to Manasasaras, the lake of the gods, and forgot that it was his duty to get the flowers to Kubera for worship. Kubera waited all day at the temple for Hemamali, but he did not show up, which caused Kubera to become very angry. Hemamali was summoned to Kubera’s palace, where he was punished for his absence by being cursed as a leper. To make things even worse, Hemamali was expelled from Kubera’s heaven, Alakapuri (Williams 153). This story illustrates some of Kubera’s less desirable personality traits, as he can be viewed as being an unforgiving and strict ruler. This can further demonstrate how he was often categorized as being a demon throughout different stories in Hindu mythology, as he could be a menacing and merciless god. However, Kubera has a benevolent and softer side to him as well that is revealed through his more noble actions. Through his protective guardianship and distribution of the earth’s secret resources, he is seen as a paternal, manipulatable figure (Sutherland 65). He is also regarded with holding the title of lokapalas, meaning he is a world guardian, as well as being a dikpalas, a guardian of the directions (Sutherland 65).

It is quite apparent that the Hindu god of wealth possesses many different traits and abilities. Kubera can be described as being a noble god, who possesses and distributes wealth and riches, protecting it from the less desirable, corrupt peoples of the world. However, he is regarded as having a more temperamental side showcasing a strict and menacing personality, which sometimes causes him to be depicted as a demon. Because of these dichotomies, it is difficult to fully comprehend what Kubera looked like physically, as he is depicted in many different forms. It is also unclear as to what his familial lineage looks like completely. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that Kubera was an important god in Hindu mythology.



Buswell, Robert E. Jr., and Donald S. Jr. Lopez (eds.) (2013) “Kubera”. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner (2000) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Kubera”. In Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

____(2016) “Kubera”. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Britannica Academic. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Werner, Karel (2005) Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Taylor and Francis E-Library.


Related Topics for Further Investigation





Padma Purana

Mount Kailasa

Satapatha Brahmana






Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic -of-Riches.htm


Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content


The Bhagavad Gita (A Comprehensive Study)

The Bhagavad Gita remains, to this day, one of the most influential books of the Hindu religion, estimated to originate as far back as roughly the third or fourth century BC (Davis 6).  The Gita, or Song of the Blessed One or Lord is a long dialogue between Krishna (a Supreme Deity) and a warrior, Arjuna (Edgerton 105).  The event takes place on the battle field of Kurukshetra, during a war between two rival families, finding the warrior-Prince Arjuna steeped in doubt and dejection (Edgerton 105).  Through the dialogue, Krishna teaches and reveals the mysteries of existence to Arjuna, convincing him to perform his sacred duty and fight the impending war (Edgerton 105, Stoler-Miller).  The Bhagavad Gita’s malleability has survived the ages and continues to have a profound effect on those who read it (Davis).  This essay will examine the content of the Gita, in addition to various commentary of both individual chapters, and the work as a whole.  In addition, this paper will supply further context of specific passages, and provide a moderate history of the book to substantiate its existence and importance in regard to Hindu tradition.

To begin, the actual content of The Bhagavad Gita shall be examined chapter by chapter.  In the initial chapter of the Gita, Sanjaya, an overseer, or chorus of sorts, reports the setting to the blind King Dhritarashtra, which is made apparent by listing the warriors assembled on the “Kuru Field” (Edgerton 3).  Near the end, we find Arjuna slumped in his chariot between the two sides, steeped in misery at the thought of going to war against his kinsmen, riddled with a lowness of spirit, physically crippled, in the presence of the imminent war before him.  He foresees in the war “… omens of chaos” (Stoler-Miller 25), finding “…no good in killing [his] kinsmen” (Stoler-Miller 25).  This chapter is known as Arjuna’s Dejection (Stoler-Miller 21) or Discipline of Arjuna’s Despondency (Edgerton 8).

Commentary from the viewpoint of the average Hindu, as provided in this paper by Eknath Easwaran, titles this chapter “The War Within”, and points out the first detail the reader must pick up in order to understand the actual purpose of the text – this is not Krishna’s fight, it is Arjuna’s own internal battle (Easwaran 47).  The author points out some interesting insights here about the significance of the setting of the Gita, that may explain the seeming paradox of the lessons Krishna is trying to deliver in the context of a war.  As the incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, Krishna is sworn to be noncombatant and impartial, and as Arjuna’s charioteer in the middle of a battlefield, this role becomes possible (Easwaran 47).  Easwaran also explains some of the other people mentioned in the opening chapter, giving more context to the non-Hindu reader.  The blind king, Dhritarashtra, is Arjuna’s uncle, and has been blind since birth (48).  He was never actually supposed to rule, but ended up assuming power when his brother, Pandu, whom he co-ruled with, died (Easwaran 48).  Dhritarashtra tried to eventually install Duryodhana, his own son, as King.  However, the grown up son of Pandu, Yudhishthira, is the rightful heir, thus leading to the war and its imminency (Easwaran 48-49).  Other people worth mentioning according to Easwaran are Drona, a brahmin-turned warrior specialist, who taught all the warriors including Arjuna, who was his prized student (Easwaran 49).  Bhisma, “the grandsire”, a respected elder statesman, is also Dhritarashtra’s advisor, and worth mentioning according to the translator (Easwaran 49).  Easwaran also discusses the two main viewpoints about the setting of war as a backdrop for the Gita.  Firstly, there is the orthodox Hindu view that “…condones war for the warrior” (Easwaran 50), claiming war for a warrior is simply dharma playing out.  War is tragic and honorable at the same time, and is an evil that simply cannot be avoided.  War is in accordance with divine will to the orthodox viewpoint (Easwaran 50).  The second view of this setting is the mystic standpoint, which claims an allegory of cosmic struggle between good and evil (Easwaran 50).  Gandhi famously said by placing too much stock in the setting of the Gita “…gives importance only to its opening – its preface – ignoring the scripture itself” (Easwaran 50).  Chapter one of the Bhagavad Gita “…bridges a rather perilous bridge between the warrior’s world,…and the really important part of the Gita – Sri Krishna’s revelations of spiritual truth” (Easwaran 51).

The second chapter, known as Philosophy and Spiritual Discipline (Stoler-Miller 29) or Discipline of Reason Method (Edgerton 17), lets the colloquial discourse of Krishna begin.  Arjuna is so beside himself, his “…eyes [are] blurred by tears” (Stoler-Miller 29).  Krishna urges Arjuna to rise to the occasion of his sacred duty, even though to Arjuna  is clearly torn between “…conflicting sacred duties” (Stoler-Miller 30).  Which is better?  To not fight and be silent?  Or to go into battle, and surely have to slay kinsmen?  In this moment of the dialogue, Arjuna has settled on stepping aside from the fight that confronts him.  Krishna begins with telling him that you “…[cannot] grieve for those beyond grief” and that “learned men do not grieve for the dead or the living” (Stoler-Miller 31).  The deity is speaking of rebirth and reincarnation of spirit, beyond the realm of the human body.  Krishna also reminds Arjuna that the senses are fleeting, the human body is impermanent, and that the embodied self is indestructible and immeasurable, and when one finds the infinite spirit within, one is freed from delusion (Stoler-Miller 34-39).   The analogy used is of changing of clothing and the body, in that the cycle of life is inevitable. Arjuna questions what defines a man deep in contemplation and Krishna informs him that he has to give up desires, and be content with oneself.  One must also free himself from attachment and desire.  This chapter lays the foundation for further understanding of Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna, confirming he has no cause to grieve, since through self control and discipline, one finds serenity (Stoler-Miller 32-39).

According to Easwaran’s commentary, “The Illumined Man” is the title of the following chapter, chapter two of the Gita.  Krishna’s task as Arjuna’s spiritual teacher is set out, to raise him out of despair and put him on his way to salvation (57).  He points out that Arjuna has always been a man of action, and has not given much thought to spirituality at this point of his life, but as Krishna points out, active life alone is not enough (Easwaran 57-59).  Thus Arjuna asks the perennial questions to give the Gita its purpose and mandate – Is there a soul?, What happens to the soul after death?, and Is there a deeper reality? (Easwaran 57-60).  Interestingly, as the author points out, Krishna begins with an “ultimate premise”  of the atman to answer his students principal questions (Easwaran 58), rather than leading Arjuna stage by stage. The main point is that the immortal soul is more important than the passing world (Easwaran 57-60).  Out of his comprehension, Arjuna knows he needs Krishna as his Guru (in Hindu thought, one needs an experienced teacher to seek spiritual enlightenment) (Easwaran 57-60).  This chapter also introduces the concept of samsara, and seeing past the dualities that exist in life (Easwaran 57-60).  Also touched upon in this overview chapter are the different types of yoga and their importance for spirituality (Easwaran 57-60).  One of the Gita’s most cited and famous quotes is found in this portion when Krishna answers Arjuna’s question about what difference spiritual wisdom makes in everyday life (Easwaran 59).  The warning of sense objects, yet shying from austerity is also introduced (Easwaran 57-60).

The third teaching in the Gita expands on the notion of discipline regarding action.  It is known as Discipline of Action (Stoler-Miller 41) or Discipline of Knowledge (Egderton 27).  This chapter focuses on disciplined knowledge of the discipline of men themselves when in action.  Arjuna questions whether understanding is more powerful than action and queries his mentor to”…speak one certain truth” (Stoler-Miller 41).  His mentor replies by first explaining that one cannot escape the force of action, neither by abstaining by it or acting for fruits (Stoler-Miller 41-45).  Krishna reaffirms that performing necessary action is far more powerful than inaction, and that actions must be performed without attachment, uttering words spoken by Prajapati (Stoler-Miller 42).  Prajapati said “By sacrifice will you procreate!  Let it be your wish-granting cow!” (Stoler-Miller 42).  Perhaps the most important point in this section is when Krishna declares that “Your own action  done imperfectly is better than doing someone else’s duty perfectly” (Stoler-Miller 46).

The third section of the scripture is called “Selfless Service” according to Easwaran.  He explains the meaning of “karma yoga”, which translates in Sanskrit as “the way of action”, and this takes a sharp turn away from the previous chapter (Easwaran 71).  While Krishna begins to try and teach his student, Arjuna can only find himself concerned with his immediate predicament (Easwaran 71).  Krishna explains: we must all act selflessly and out of a sense of duty, doing our part in the grand scheme of things, which cannot be avoided (Easwaran 71-72).  Here, the Doctrine of Karma comes to the forefront as Krishna tries to convince Arjuna to fight his battle, which is one of the most basic Hindu teachings (Easwaran 71-72).  Put quite simply by Krishna, actions determine destiny, reminding him not to avoid work, but to perform them without selfish attachment (Easwaran 72).  Arjuna’s next question deals with what binds us to our selfish ways, and his teacher answers that is the qualities of anger and selfish desire (Easwaran 73).  The Gita refers to the Sankhya philosophy of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas, warning of the pitfalls of the latter two (Easwaran 72-73).  An example of a noble king by the name of Janaka is given as an example of how to conduct oneself to Arjuna (Easwaran 73).

Knowledge (Stoler-Miller 49) or Discipline of Renunciation of Actions (Edgerton 31) are the titles of the fourth teaching.  Perhaps in this part of the Gita Arjuna better understands his sacred duty of action as a result of how Krishna clarifies true knowledge.  The deity explains that when sacred duty decays and chaos prevails, he must then re-create himself to restore order, much the way sacrifice in the world of man (ie: Arjuna’s sacred duty to fight) is equivalent to action, even though action can easily be obscured (ie: wrong action, inaction) (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  In other words, existence must keep going, and we must do our duty, even when it may not be desirable or ideal (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  When one has true knowledge, which is the mastery of oneself, the totality of all action emanates in it, and if one recognizes this, one can never descend into delusion (Stoler-Miller 52-52).  “The fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes (Stoler-Miller 54).

Chapter four, in reference to Easwaran’s treatise of the Gita is referred to as “Wisdom in Action”.  Arjuna is informed he will be privy to “secret teachings” (Easwaran 81).  The process of re-birth is again raised, and Krishna’s greatness is implied when he informs Arjuna he can recall his past lives unlike mortal men (Easwaran 81).  Roots of the Sanskrit words avatar (avatara=descent) and krish (“to draw a plow”, “to draw to oneself”) are also explained by this author (Easwaran 82-83), which gives some insight into the Hindu thought about God.  The latter part of this chapter turns back again to Arjuna’s problem, and Krishna makes a new point in the final verses, in that wisdom is the end of selfless action, knowing is the fruit of doing (Easwaran 83).

Chapter five is called Renunciation of Action (Stoler-Miller 57) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 37), and focuses on which is superior: renunciation of action or discipline.  Krishna teaches discipline in action is better, and that by mastery of one correctly, one will find the fruit of both, and that renunciation is impossible without discipline (Stoler-Miller 57).  He further explains that undisciplined men are in bondage, attached to the fruit of desire (Stoler-Miller 58).  Through “…exist[ing] in the infinite spirit, [men will find] flawless equilibrium” (Stoler-Miller 59).

The fifth chapter, according to lay Hindus, is titled “Renounce and Rejoice”, and contrasts complete renunciation (sannyasa) and detachment in the working world (Easwaran 91).  Siddhartha Gautama’s quest, for example, is a prime illustration of trying to maintain balance yet avoiding austerity through a middle way (Easwaran 91).  The translator points out that the word “yoga” presents difficulties in the Gita, as it means different things at different times (Easwaran 92).  Generally speaking, it is fair to say that yoga=practice and sankhya=theory (Easwaran 92).  The Gita could indeed be the first Hindu scripture to combine karma yoga and the pursuit of self knowledge together (Easwaran 92).  The true goal of action is knowledge of the self, and in that the example of the lotus flower is given – it spends its life floating in water, yet is waterproof (Easwaran 92).  Krishna’s point is that a life of work cannot be fulfilling without self knowledge, also known as the knowledge of Brahman (Easwaran 93).  The last three verses, as the author points out, deal with Samadhi, and how once established, can come and go, yet always be resilient (Easwaran 93-94).

The Man of Discipline (Stoler-Miller 63) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 41), the name of the sixth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, outlines what proper discipline in living is.  Declaring that discipline is renunciation, only one who is mature in this has tranquility as a means (Stoler-Miller 63).  For Krishna, discipline is equal to renouncing and detaching from all intentions, sense objects and actions being renounced and detached from (Stoler-Miller 63-69).  Men need to “elevate not degrade oneself” (Stoler-Miller 63).  The self is both ones best friend and worst foe, and a man without self-mastery is in internal war (Stoler-Miller 64) and by controlling the mind, diet, breath, demeanor, senses, sleepfulness, desires and cravings, the disciplined man is “…unmoved, even by deep suffering” (Stoler-Miller 66).  The man who’s self is in God and who “…acts with honor, cannot go the wrong way” (Stoler-Miller 68).

The sixth chapter, according to Easwaran, is called “The Practice of Meditation”, and is one of the most interesting chapters of the Gita according to this author.  Krishna delivers a detailed explanation of meditation for the layperson very simply (Easwaran 99).  Easwaran points out how the western notion of a yogi is inconsistent, in that what a true yogi is is a person who does his or her job without attachment to rewards (100).  Great depth is gone into by Krishna in his explanation of the practice of meditation, and he uses a mountain top analogy to explain to Arjuna that his spiritual path will not be easy, but a constant struggle right to the top (Easwaran 100-101).  A famous verse in this chapter has Krishna comparing the mind to a flame, while Arjuna says his mind is more like the wind (Easwaran 101).  The teacher reinforces to the student that through practice, the mind can be trained, in the proper mindfulness, in the proper way physically (Easwaran 101-103).  Arjuna questions what happens to a person who is spiritual but does not pursue this goal.  Krishna reaffirms that any practice will not got to waste, and that spiritual enlightenment can take as many lives as it needs to (Easwaran  102-103).

The seventh teaching in the Gita is entitled Knowledge and Judgment (Stoler-Miller 71) or Discipline of the Theoretical and Practical Knowledge (Edgerton 45).  Arjuna’s teacher tells him that by practicing discipline in God’s protection, one can know God without doubt (Stoler-Miller 72).  God teaches the totality of knowledge and judgment, and that nothing else needs to be known (Stoler-Miller 71-72).  In both versions, Krishna clearly states God’s lower and higher natures.  The lower  natures are eight-fold and include earth, water, fire, wind, space, mind, understanding, and individuality, and the higher nature of God is the “…life force that sustains the universe” (Stoler-Miller 72).  Nature’s triad of qualities, spoken further of in the fourteenth teaching, lucidity, passion and dark inertia also come from God (Stoler-Miller 72), and in turn produce four types of virtuous men devoted to God: the tormented, the seeker of wisdom, the suppliant and the sage (Stoler-Miller 73).  Krishna reminds Arjuna that “unwaivering faith [maybe granted] to any devoted man to worship in any form”  (Stoler-Miller 73).  The overwhelming tone of this teaching is devotion to God and the love one will endure in return.

Easwaran explains, in the seventh chapter, the problems with the translations of certain words from Sanskrit, such as jnana (wisdom, roughly) and vijnana (realization, roughly) (Easwaran 111).  These words can be left up to interpretation, and can mean many different things.  This chapter follows several trails, sometimes losing a unifying theme – which as Easwaran points out is knowledge of the supreme reality underlying nature (111).  Two natures, important to the Sankhya school of Hindu philosophy, are discussed in this section, which are prakriti (mind and matter) and purusha (pure spirit) (Easwaran 112).  The word “maya” (from the Rig Veda) also appears here as the three gunas are brought forth, swirling within maya, hiding Krishna’s true nature (113-114).  Moha (delusions) are contrasted with jnana and vijnana (113-114).

The eighth teaching, perhaps one of the most difficult chapters in the Gita to decipher, is entitled The Infinite Spirit (Stoler-Miller 77) or Discipline of the Imperishable Brahman (Edgerton 45), begins with a question from Arjuna concerning what the infinite spirit is, what its inner self is, what its inner being is, and what its inner divinity is (Stoler-Miller 77).  Krishna answers respectively with that the inner spirit is eternal and supreme, its action or creative force is the inherent being, and its divinity is man’s spirit (Stoler-Miller 77).  There is an overall focus on God and how man will always be one with him.

“The Eternal Godhead” is the title of the eighth chapter by Easwaran, and alludes to several important concepts presented more fully in the Upanishads (119).  The very ancient ideas discussed and taught by Krishna in chapter eight explain the soul’s journey after death, and how to die (Easwaran 12-13, 119).  Arjuna questions how God can be known at the hour of death.  Krishna replies that anyone who remembers God will, since the mind directs the soul (Easwaran 119-120).  First, consciousness is withdrawn from the senses, and then the mind is placed (locked up) in the heart (chakra), at which time the mind can go north (released from karma) or south (not, and reborn) (Easwaran 120-122).  This chapter also alludes to the “days and nights of Brahma”, which is strikingly similar to modern expand and collapse theories of the universe, yet Hindu thought believes in a higher state of being (Vishnu), or avyakta (the unmanifest) (Easwaran 124).

The Sublime Mystery (Stoler-Miller 83) or Discipline of Royal Knowledge and Royal Mystery (Edgerton 49) is the title of the ninth chapter.  Krishna divulges to Arjuna “…the deepest mystery” “…since he finds no fault and will realize it with knowledge and judgment” (Stoler-Miller 83).  The deep mystery is that God is everything, yet does not exist within men, and that any man devoted is not lost (Stoler-Miller 84-85).  If men act in resolve through sacred duty, they are one with God, regardless of what they do. (Stoler-Miller 86).

Chapter nine of the Gita is called “The Royal Path”, in average viewpoints, and praises Krishna as the supreme being, while exalted nature is stressed, and warning is given to those who think God is limited or to be underestimated (Easwaran 129).  This would definitely speak to the average follower about the importance of loyalty to God.  A lot of this chapter is dedicated to bhakti, or real love and devotion to God, reassuring God’s impartiality toward all living things (Easwaran 129-131

The tenth teaching, called Fragments of Divine Power (Stoler-Miller 89) or Discipline of Supernal Manifestations (Edgerton 54), has Krishna trying to explain that regardless of diverse attitudes about God among men, God is the source of everything, and everything proceeds from God (Stoler-Miller 89-90).  Arjuna asks him to recount his divine powers.  The deity explains that he is the beginning, middle and end, a number of Gods including Vishnu, Indra, and Shiva, he is the great mountain of Gods, Meru, he is OM, the great Himalayas, the sacred fig tree, chief of divine sages, the immortal stallion, the king, etc., sustaining the world with a fragment of his being (Stoler-Miller 90-95).  The purpose of this teaching is a segway of demonstration of Krishna’s greatness into the next chapter that includes the actual vision of Arjuna.

“Divine Splendor” is the title of chapter ten according to Easwaran’s explanation, and goes deeper into revelation of the divine being of Krishna, the source from which all comes, encompassing all dualities, and incomprehensible beyond thought (Easwaran 137-138).  The author points out that this can be a difficult chapter for non-Hindu reader, for there are many unfamiliar names.

The vision teaching, or eleventh chapter titled The Vision of Krishna’s Totality (Stoler-Miller 97) or Discipline of the Vision of the Universal Form (Edgerton 61), is perhaps the climax of the Gita itself, and it is explained by the outside voice of Sanjaya.  After Arjuna asks Krishna to “…reveal himself…”(Stoler-Miller 97), the great vision of God’s totality begins, intense and foreign.  Arjuna is so affected by this that he has a clearly written physical reaction to the intensity of his experience.

“The Cosmic Vision” in Easwaran’s version is claimed to be the most exalted chapter of the Gita.  Arjuna sees the divine vision of Krishna as his full nature as God himself (Easwaran 147).  Some critics have questioned why the vision is granted to Arjuna, and the reasoning probably is because in the Mahabarata, the two have been companions for many years.  The rest of the chapter describes Arjuna’s Samadhi, a word used by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra (Easwaran 147-148).  For Arjuna, there are two forms of Samadhi experienced during his vision, savikalpa (God in human form), and nirvikalpa (all forms disappearing into God, supernatural fire consuming the entire phenomenal world) (Easwaran 148).  It is here, and has been described by many mystics as “a thousand suns” (Easwaran 148).    There is definite entertainment value for the lay follower in this chapter.

The twelfth section of the Gita is called Devotion (Stoler-Miller 111) or Discipline of Devotion (Edgerton 64).  Arjuna questions who best knows discipline.  Krishna answers that men who worship, with true faith, the imperishable, the ineffable and the un-manifest.  He explains that men are bound by bodies, and therefore the un-manifest becomes hard to comprehend (Stoler-Miller 111).  Therefore, meditating with singular discipline, and attaining knowledge gives one faith in devotion (Stoler-Miller 111-113).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as “The Way of Love” (159).  It is brief and focuses on the supreme importance of devotion and faith in spiritual development (Easwaran 159).  As the author points out, all world religions would probably agree with the Gita at this point, as it stresses a way of devotion, and stresses the efficacy of devotion (Easwaran 159).  The approach found in this text is one of incomprehensibility of everything, and faith from love, as love is a sure path to God, and can be cultivated through practice (Easwaran 159-160).

Knowing the Field (Stoler-Miller 115) or Discipline of Distinction of Field and Field Knower (Edgerton 68) names the thirteenth teaching.  Krishna first explains what “The Field” is, being the great elements: individuality, understanding, un-manifest nature, the eleven senses, and five sense realms (Stoler-Miller 115).  He continues by clarifying that dispassion toward sense objects, an absence of individuality, and seeing the defects in birth, death, old age and suffering will help a man attain the infinite spirit (Stoler-Miller 116).  The self is not an actor, and everything is born from the field and its knower (Stoler-Miller 117-118).  “Just as the sun illuminates the world, so too does the master illuminate the entire field” (Stoler-Miller 119).

“The Field and the Knower”, according to Easwaran, is the title of chapter thirteen, and gives the reader two sweeping categories: the field (the body and mind, all components of prakriti – mass, time, energy, space and strata of mind) and the knower (the Self that resides within) (Easwaran 165).  This section focuses in on the dualities (prakriti and purusha) of all things (Sankhya philosophy), and how the “field of karma” defines the whole of existence.  The interesting comparison of akasha (space itself as an element) is used as an analogy (Easwaran 168).

The fourteenth teaching in the Gita is entitled The Triad of Nature’s Qualities (Stoler-Miller 121) or Discipline of Distinction of the Three Strands (Edgerton 72).  Krishna tells Arjuna he will teach him “…the farthest knowledge one can know” (Stoler-Miller 121).  The triad of nature’s qualities are lucidity, passion and dark inertia, which all bind the self in the body (Stoler-Miller 121).  Lucidity binds one to joy, passion to craving and attachment, and dark inertia to ignorance and delusion (Stoler-Miller 122).  Arjuna proceeds to have Krishna explain these aspects and how they work for and against men.  Arjuna questions what distinguishes a transcendent man from others, and Krishna explains that no desire, disinterest, knowing qualities of nature, being self-reliant, impartial and resolute serves God faithfully and becomes the basis for perfect joy (Stoler-Miller 124-125).

Easwaran titles chapter fourteen “The Forces of Evolution”, and contends it deals greatly with the nature of prakriti, the basis of the world of mind and matter in which we exist (175).  The gunas, do not translate perfectly from Sanskrit, but are likely to be present, and constantly shifting, in all people, as they are thought of as the “mix that colors our experience” (Easwaran 175-176).  Krishna tells Arjuna that all three must be transcended for the soul to attain peace.

Chapter fifteen, or The True Spirit of Man (Stoler-Miller 127) or Discipline of the Highest Spirit (Edgerton 75), gives an analogy of the tree of life: unchanging, nourished by nature’s qualities, budding with sense objects, we must take an ax, sharp like attachment, and free man to return to the original spirit (Stoler-Miller 127-128).  The seer of truth though knowledge will see God and in turn conquer self-mastery (Stoler-Miller 128-131).

An average Hindu would probably call this section “The Supreme Self”, and recognize it is a fairly difficult section of the Gita – essentially, it deals with questions of theology (Easwaran 181).  The nature of God and that which transcends everything including Atman and the world of matter is explained to Arjuna, even though a paradox is found here: Krishna says he is Atman yet transcends it (Easwaran 182).  An upside down Pipal tree is given as an analogy to Arjuna this time (Easwaran 182).  This section also speaks of Krishna’s abode of light: avyayam padam (pada=foot or step), in reference to how Vishnu took three steps to measure out the cosmos (Easwaran 182-183).  Krishna is the prana or breath or vitality, which refers to ancient scripture of the five pranas, the Gita dealing with the two most prominent: breath and digestion of food (Easwaran 182-183).

The sixteenth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, called The Divine and the Demonic Man (Stoler-Miller 133) or Discipline of Distinction between Divine and Demonic Lots (Edgerton 78), lists the different traits of both a divine man and a demonic man.  Demonic traits led to bondage and divine traits lead to freedom put simply (Stoler-Miller 133-135).  While all creatures are one or the other, demonic men cannot comprehend activity and rest, have no clarity, morality or truth residing within them, landing them in the three gates of hell, desire, anger and greed (Stoler-Miller 135).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as the “Two Paths” (187).  It is a most unusual chapter, as it departs from the view of human nature and describes two tendencies among men: the higher or divine and the lower or demonic, and describes in great depth the differenecs between a desirable man and the opposite (Easwaran 187).  This section also mentions the three doors to hell: lust, greed and anger.  Demon and divine are not to be taken too literally, as they more imply the battle between good and evil (Easwaran 189).

The second last chapter of the Gita, before the dialogue concludes, called The Three Aspects of Faith (Stoler-Miller 137) or Discipline of Distinction of Three Kinds of Faith (Edgerton 82), finds Arjuna questioning Krishna about which quality “…men who ignore tradition, but sacrifice in full faith…”(Stoler –Miller 137) have.  The deity explains that a man’s faith depends on lucidity of mind, giving examples to Arjuna, such as food choices of men (Stoler-Miller 138).  He says that one must not violate norms, one must practice bodily, mental and verbal penance, and one must also practice proper acts of charity (Stoler-Miller 138-140).  Krishna also expands on the notion of OM TAT SAT in this section.

Commentary by Easwaran also addresses the question about what happens to those who do not follow orthodoxy.  According to him, Krishna goes into greater detail of the gunas and stresses the importance of shradda (faith, or the sum of all that’s held in the heart) (Easwaran 193).  According to Krishna there are different kinds of faith depending on the gunas present and potency.  Om Tat Sat is also mentioned in this chapter, which means “only the good really exists”, and Krishna explains how evil is transient and therefore does not actually exist (Easwaran 194-195).

The final and concluding chapter of the great discussion between Krishna and Arjuna entitled The Wondrous Dialogue Concludes (Stoler-Miller 143) or Discipline of Renunciation unto Salvation (Edgerton 91), answers the student’s question about the “…real essence of renunciation”(Stoler-Miller 143).  This can be achieved, according to the deity, by giving up actions based on desire and relinquishing all fruits of action, through the three kinds of relinquishment: action in sacrifice, charity, and penance (Stoler-Miller 143-145).  However, he clarifies that renunciation of prescribed action is inappropriate and becomes a way of dark inertia (Stoler-Miller 144).  Krishna further explains five causes for success for all actions, including the material basis, the agent, different instruments, the various behaviors, and fate (Stoler-Miller 145).  The dialogue concludes with a basic over view of Krishna’s lessons, about sacred duties, relinquishment and detachment, the infinite spirit and our own intrinsic being and our bounding to it (Stoler-Miller 146-153).  Krishna enforces with Arjuna, to “…keep his mind on God”(Stoler-Miller 152), and the conversation ends with a small commentary from Sanjaya.

The closing chapter in the text is titled “Freedom and Renunciation” according to Easwaran’s viewpoint, and it roams over many subjects.  The Gita is aimed at those who “live in the world”, yet desire fulfillment, and therefore Krishna recommends the path of tyaga over the path of sannyasa, a middle route to enlightenment (Easwaran 201).  Moksa (liberation) comes from renunciation of the gunas, Krishna tells Arjuna, since in life you can never be sure things will turn out as planned (Easwaran 202).  The Gita offers a more practical application of some of the Sankhya teachings, such as the three kinds of happiness (Easwaran 202).  Krishna explains caste in this conclusion, and points out it is better to do one’s own work imperfectly than to do another’s perfectly (Easwaran 202), but the returns to his favorite topic: devotion and faith in God, to wrap up the diologue, giving the analogy of a toy mounted on a machine (Easwaran 202-203).  Arjuna is asked if he understands and he confirms, attending to his divine duty.

The Gita is problematic to translate perfectly from its initial writing in Sanskrit to other languages, as demonstrated by Easwaran.  This contributes to the subjectivity in interpretations already available in individual passages, chapters, and work as an aggregate.  In order to demonstrate the partisanship that one can interpret from The Bhagavad Gita, a comparison of several versions of the text regarding “…two verses with unmistakable resonance for modern society” could provide further evidence (Davis 172).  In Richard H. Davis’s biography of the Gita, he provides comparison of “…four distinct approaches to the task of translating [it]” (172).  This paper will summarize one of those in comparison with several others from my research.

The two notable and descriptive passages that easily expose the subjectivity of the translations are in the eleventh teaching, during Arjuna’s grand vision, when Krishna describes himself and the greatness of God to the warrior prince (Davis 172).  As Davis recounts, “on July 16, 1945, J. Robert Oppenheimer (a brilliant physicist and gifted amateur student of Sanskrit) watched the first human-controlled atomic explosion at Los Alamos, New Mexico…[he] later recalled [this] passage from the Bhagavad Gita…” (172):

If the radiance of a thousand suns

Were to burst at once into the sky,

That would be like the splendor

Of the Mighty One…

I am become Death

The shatterer of worlds. (173).


It is not surprising that Oppenheimer compared the intensity and God-like force of an atomic bomb to these passages, and the description Krishna gives as God himself (Davis 173).  Drawing from the two more poetic and easy reading versions I came across during my own research of the Gita, it can be demonstrated how these passages can be delivered more gently, and taken in a completely different context.

In Barbara Stoler-Miller’s translation, the passages read:


If the light of a thousand suns

were to rise in the sky at once,

it would be like the light

of that great spirit…

I am time grown old

creating world destruction (pp. 99, 11:12, pp. 103, 11:32).


And in Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of the translation, the matching segments announce:

If a thousand suns were to rise

and stand in the noon sky, blazing,

such brilliance would be like the fierce

brilliance of that mighty Self…

I am death, shatterer of worlds

annihilating all things. (pp. 134, 11:12, pp. 138, 11:32).


These two translations clearly show, when juxtaposed against Oppenheimer’s version,  the poetics that can be drawn from the text.  It can be made more gentle, with milder words – especially in the latter passage speaking about the inevitable fate of death and destruction in the human world.

Interpretation of the passages according to both a lay/average Hindu viewpoint, and a consecrated Hindu Guru will also greatly expose the variability available in the Gita.  Swami Prabhupada, who “…established a following of Krishna consciousness” (Davis 7), interpreted these passages this way:


If hundreds of thousands of suns rose at once into the sky,

they might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal               form…

Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.      (pp. 181, 11:12, pp. 183, 11:32)


Obviously, from this explanation, one can draw out words such as “effulgence” and “engage”, to see how the passage is being used as an instrument of piety.  In contrast to Swami Prabhupada, an average interpretation of these sections by Eknath Easwaran read:


If a thousand suns were to rise in the heavens

at the same time, the blaze of their light

would resemble the splendor of that supreme


I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come

To consume the world. (pp. 151, 11:12, pp. 154, 11:32).


The lay read of this section is much more toned down and simple, expressing the greatness and incomprehensibility of God, without any distinct push in the direction of piousness whatsoever.  By comparison of several versions of specific passages in the translation of The Bhagavad Gita, it is easy to realize the extreme subjectivity and personal sway that can be placed on the text for individual purposes.

To further demonstrate this, it is advantageous to now turn to The Bhagavad Gita’s biography and historical background, with regard to the work as a whole.  The physical place of the believed setting of The Bhagavad Gita, was in “Kurukshetra,…[which is] both a particular field of battle and perpetual field of dharma, as Dhritarashtra’s opening question suggests” (Davis 4), found near the town of Jyotisar, India (Davis 4).  This being said, most researchers agree that the text was written in northern India, sometime during the classical period between the reign of the Mauryan king Ashoka (r. 269-232 BCE) and Gupta dynasty (320-547 CE), as part of a much larger opus, the epic poem Mahabharata (Davis 6).  The Mahabharata, which was originally composed in ancient Sanskrit, tells the legend of a devastating enmity between two clans of the ruling class for control of a kingdom in India (Davis 10).  From an early date, the Gita circulated as an independent piece, and found itself as a “…self standing work of religious philosophy”, giving it a binary identity (Davis 11).  But in order to appreciate its full “…rhetorical power” (Davis 11), the story found within the Gita is better understood in the full context of the larger epic in which it is found, the Mahabharata.  The background of the two rivaling sides of cousins is explained more clearly in the complete epic, and the point at which we find Krishna and Arjuna in the beginning of the Gita seems more fitting, than to a reader who may just be exposed to the Gita alone.

Krishna’s battlefield teachings addressed two of the main causes of philosophical distresses being discussed by religions at the time of the Gita’s composition, moral questions and psychological insight (Davis 15).  Rebirth, or samsara, was a widely accepted premise in classical India (Davis 16).  The Gita took on a more liberal note of practice of religion during its time of emergence as well, in that anyone could engage in yoga while still being active in worldly affairs, which was very attractive and more practical for the everyday masses (Davis 20).  The Gita discusses two important systems of thought, Samkhya (dualist approach) and Vedanta (monistic approach) (Davis 22).  Thus, one of the appeals of the script may be its “…heuristic validity”, with either path seen as correct (Davis 22).  The path of devotion, or bhakti, is new in Sanskrit literature, and makes its debut in the Gita to religious audiences (Davis 22-23).

Krishna’s teachings are widely speculated to provide a convincing justification for Arjuna to fight, and the Mahabharata does not shy away from the calamitous consequences of that choice (Davis 33).  The Gita embraces the message of the greater epic as a whole (Davis 33).  The war, as found in the Mahabharata, is not sensationalized as it is in the Gita, ending with very few survivors of the warrior class, extreme grief and ethical failure (Davis 33-34), better supporting the eschatological belief of “Indian cyclic time, [and great dissolution followed by new creation]” (Davis 35).  “Later Indian tradition uses the Mahabharata as transition from one era to another…[taking us from the Dvapara era to the Kali-yuga era]” (Davis 35).

The belief of the authorship of the Gita is especially fascinating, proclaimed by both a “divine authorship of God” (Davis 36), and Vyasa, the physical author of the work (Davis 36).  Vyasa was a brahmin sage, and appears as a character within the Mahabharata, playing a pivotal role, who was actually a genetic grandfather to the Pandava and Kaurava fraternities (Davis 36).  While it is believed that Vyasa was the author of the Mahabharata, “…few historians accept a single genius as an author”,  and was probably complied over a lot of time (Davis 39).  The great poet Jnanadeva “…composed a lengthy new work that translated and expanded on the Sanskrit Gita in Marathi language” (Davis 44).  During this time, Gitas of other deities were also produced with The Bhagavad Gita as a model in the writing of these,  and while Krishna’s significance was always recognized, rivalry always wanted to oust him, indicating the characteristics of medieval theistic Hinduism (Davis 53).

There were also many commentators of the Gita in classical India, “…seek[ing] to determine the true meaning of [the] difficult text” (Davis 54-55).  Shankara was among them, but not the first or the last, claiming “…[the] concentrated essence of the Veda [within the Gita itself]…”, giving it a permanent and universal meaning (Davis 54, 59).  In contrast, another commentator of the same time period, by the name of Ramanuja, who disagreed with Shankara, demanded “…[the] path of knowledge alone will not suffice for higher ends” (Davis 63).   He also maintained that Krishna came to the battlefield to “…reveal the new path [of devotion]”, bhakti, a new concept found in the Gita (Davis 63-64).   These two views reveal only the tip of the iceberg of commentary in classical India and beyond that the Gita received in its early days.

In 1866, the transatlantic under-sea cable was laid under the Atlantic Ocean, linking the North American and European continents in an unprecedented way, and in 1869, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific rail lines joined, forming a transcontinental railway, linking homeland North America in the same fashion, and the French Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean (Davis 72).   With the new and rapid form of communications taking place in their infancy stages to what we know today, inevitably the movement of information suddenly became faster and more efficient across oceans, formerly a huge obstacle to such flow of ideas (Davis 72).  Just before this, the Gita would see its first translation to English  by an British man and employee of the East India Company, by the name of Charles Wilkins, in 1785 (Davis 75-76).  His translation of this,  the first Sanskrit text, fascinated European erudite circles, helping along a demand for a new influx of eastern literature (Davis 76).  This version also saw the Gita’s first notable political use – vis a vis British control in colonial India (Davis 76).  The success that the Gita would find among this new audience would be exponential, especially in the midst of the Romantic movement (Davis 83-84).  From the late eighteenth century onward through the early nineteenth century, those who read or interpreted the Gita “…did so in a political context” (Davis 93).  While certain attitudes and approaches, such as those of Governor General Hastings, “…advocated for [a better] understanding [of Indian] culture, others such as James Mill used the Gita to “…criticize and judge…” the history of India (Davis 96).  Mill used the rhetorical value available to the apt purveyor in the Gita to his full advantage, portraying the Indian civilization as problematically primordial, further calling for radical change (Davis 96-99).  During the latter half of the nineteenth century, new versions of the Gita began to appear, with scholars in Germany wanting to “…get to the bottom of the Indian antiquity…”(Davis 100), with the most popular and perhaps notable by Edwin Arnold called “The Song Celestial” (Davis 104).

Along with the new wave of antiquity texts flowing into Europe and North America, the first Hindu sannyasin, Swami Vivekanada, would also find his way to America in 1893, to speak to the World Parliament in an impromptu manner, that would both introduce Western thought to a living breathing knower of Eastern faith, and fascinate many more (Davis 105-112).  Perhaps the most famous reader and commentator of the Bhagavad Gita was Gandhi, the Mahatma (Davis 136).  First read by the young Gandhi, in London around 1888-1889, he called it a “…spiritual reference book” (Davis 136).  What set his interpretation aside from all others up to this point was that he “…approached the Gita as not specifically Hindu…”, but as universal knowledge and truth for all (Davis 137).  Throughout Gandhi’s career, the text was “…made a constant point of reference” (Davis 137).  Another way in which Gandhi’s interpretation of the Gita differed from others before him was that he was indifferent to any historical context, placing more importance in allegory, in that the war in the book represents “…[the] battle within all…”(Davis 139).  He was well educated and able to effectively argue skewed views of the text by both past and contemporary commentators, promoting ahimsa over violence (Davis 141).  The Gita was last in Gandhi’s discussion three days before his death in 1948, killed by an assassin who ironically was also an avid reader of the text (Davis 138-143).  Prayers are still held at Gandhi’s ashram in India daily, with the recitation of the Gita practiced daily (Davis 181-185).

In 1923, Jayadayal Goyandka opened The Gita Press in northern India, publishing “…expansive editions with Hindi translations” (Davis 154), making the Gita widely available.  After the Holy Bible, the Gita is the most frequently translated religious work to this day (Davis 155), and as of 1982, there were 1891 versions of the text circulating in 75 languages around the world, giving context to the importance of the book (Davis 155).  Just as it is believed that the Gita was originally delivered through an oral performance, the text finds itself in contemporary acts as well (Davis 177).  Nowadays, audio incarnations are available through multi-media, a sixties rock group named themselves The Bhagavad Gita respectively, and Jimmy Hendrix’s album cover “Axis” featured a picture of Krishna and Arjuna (Davis 180)     Just as the Gita speaks of existence being nothing more than a mere changing of our clothes as we change bodies during reincarnation, the book itself has undergone much the same process (Davis 156).  The text remains, to this day, one of the most significant books of the Hindu religion, and is repeatedly politically and ideologically contorted to suit.  The Bhagavad Gita’s variability and flexibility has survived the ages and continues to have a profound and philosophical effect on those who read it.


Works Cited

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A.C. (1968). Bhagavad Gita as it is. Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Davis, R.H. (2015). The Bhagavad Gita: A biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton  University Press.

Easwaran, E. (1985). The Bhagavad Gita. Tomales, CA: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation/Nilgiri Press.

Edgerton, F. (1972). The Bhagavad Gita. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mitchell, S. (2000). Bhagavad Gita: A new translation. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Stoler-Miller, B. (1986). The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s counsel in time of war. New York, NY: Bantam Books.


Article written by Laura Gunn (2015), who is solely responsible for it content.