It has become quite a literary commonplace, that-to borrow the words of Professor Max Muller in one of his recent lectures-history, in the ordinary sense of the word, is almost unknown in Indian literature. And it is certainly a remarkable irony of fate, that we should be obliged to make this remark on the very threshold of an introduction to the Bhagavadgita; for according to the eminent French philosopher, cousin, this great deficiency in Sanskrit literature is due, in no inconsiderable measure, to the doctrines propounded in the Bhagavadgita itself. But however that may be, this much is certain, that the student of the Bhagavadgita itself. But however that may be, this much is certain, that the student of the Bhagavadgita must, for the present, go without that reliable historical information touching the author of the work, the time at which it was composed, and even the place it occupies in literature, which one naturally desires, when entering upon the study of any work. More especially in an attempt like the present, intended as it mainly is for pleased, if I could, in this Introduction, have concentrated to a focus, as it were, only those well ascertained historical results, on which there is something like a consensus of opinion among persons qualified to judge. But there is no exaggeration in saying, that it almost impossible to lay down even a single proposition respecting any important matter connected with the Bhagavadgita, about which any such consensus can be said to exist, the conclusions arrived at in this Introduction must, therefore, be distinctly understood to embody individual opinions only, and must be taken accordingly for what they are worth.
The full name of the work is Bhagvadgita. In common parlance, we often abbreviate the name into Gita, and in Sanskrit literature the name occurs in both forms. In the works of sankarakarya, quotations from the Gita are introduced, sometimes with the words ‘In the Bhagavadgita, or in the Bhagavadgita,’ and sometimes with words, the form current, apparently throughout India, is, ’In the Upanishads sung (Gitas) by the Deity.’ Sankarakarya, indeed, sometimes calls it the Isvara Gita, which, I believe, is the specific title of a different work altogether. The signification, however, of a different work altogether. The signification, however, of the two names is identical, namely, the song sung by the Diety, or, as Wilkins translates it, the Divine Lay.
This Divine Lay forms part of the Bhishma parvan of the Mahabharata-one of the two well-known national epics of India. The Gita gives its name to a subdivision of the Bhishma Parvan, which is called the Bhagavadgita and which includes, in addition to the eighteen chapters of which the Gita consist, twelve other chapters. Upon this the question has naturally arisen, Is the Gita a genuine portion of the Mahabharata, or is it a later addition? The question is one of considerable difficulty. But I cannot help saying, that the manner in which it has been generally help saying, that the manner in which it has been generally dealt with is not altogether satisfactory to my mind. Before going any further into that question, however, it is desirable to state some of the facts on which the decision must be based. It appears, then, that the royal family of Hastinapura was divided into two branches; the one called the Kauravas, and the other the pandavas. The furrier wished to keep the latter out of the share of the kingdom claimed by them: and so, after many attempts at an amicable arrangement had proved fruitless, it was determined to decide the differences between the two parties by the arbitrament of arms. Each party accordingly collected its adherents, and the hostile armies met on the ‘holy field of Kurukshetra,’ mentioned in the opening lines of our poem. At this juncture, Krishna Dvaipayana, alias Vyasa, a relative of both parties and endowed with more than human powers, presents himself before Dhritarashra whether it is his wish to look with his own eyes on the course of the battle; and on Dhritarashtra’s expressing his reluctance, Vyasa deputes one Sangaya to relate to Dhritarashtra all the events of the battle, giving to sangaya, by means of his own super-human powers, all necessary aids for performing the duty. Then the battle begins, and after a ten days’ struggle, the first great general of the Kauravas namely Bhishma, falls. At this point sangaya comes up to Dhritarashtra, and announces to him sad result, which is of course a great blow to his party. Dhritarashtra then makes numerous enquires of sangaya regarding the course of the conflict, all of which sangaya duly answers. And among his earliest answers is the account of the conversation of the battle, which constitutes the Bhagavadgita. After relating to Dhritarashtra that ‘wonderful and holy dialogue, and after giving an account of what occurred in the intervals of the conservation, sangaya proceeds to narrate the actual events of the battle.
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