The Warrior And The Charioteer: A Materialist Interpretation of the Bhagavadgita

Item Code: IDF412
Author: V. M. Mohanraj
Publisher: Left Word Books, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 8187496487
Pages: 197
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5" X 5.6"
Weight 370 gm
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Book Description

From the Jacket:

The Bhagavadgita is considered one of the core texts of Hindu philosophy and religion. Ever since the poem was composed, innumerable commentaries have been written which seek to explain the poem from the standpoint of philosophical idealism. Surprisingly, there has been little study of the poem from the materialist standpoint. The Warrior and the Charioteer seeks to fill this void.

This erudite study argues that we need to cut through the thick religio-philosophical crust of the poem to reach its ethical core. This exercise will enable us to unravel the socio-economic structure of contemporary society as revealed by the ethics expounded in the poem.

The author looks at the central characters of the poem, Krishna and Arjuna, and pulls down the mythical veil that conceals their historical faces: the former, a Yadava Chief, and the latter, the House of Bharatas. The author strips the terms Brahma and yajna of their symbolism and argues that the poem reflects the period of transition of Indo-Aryan society from the Barbaric Status to the Status of Civilization. The book also contains a fresh translation of the poem, the first from a materialist standpoint.

In simple and lucid prose, book offers a challenging and original interpretation of the Bhagavadgita, and is sure to be of immense value to scholars, believers, as well as lay readers.

About the Author:

V. M. Mohanraj (born 1928) is one of the most respected librarians in India, having worked at Madras University, Law College (Chennai), and The Lawrence School (Lovedale). He has six books and many articles to his credit and has contributed articles to the first ten-volume encyclopaedia in Malayalam. He is a recipient of H.H. The Maharaja of Travancore Gold Medal for proficiency in Malyalam.


A short poem encapsulating ideas drawn from different schools of philosophy- mainly the Upanishadic, the Sankhya and the Buddhist - in a simplified form to make it easily comprehensible to the common man, the Bhagavadgita, contrary to the generally held notion, is not a fundamental philosophical treatise. Nevertheless, there is a sizeable body of literature on the poem as myriad scholars, classical and modern, have written commentaries on it, most from the standpoint of philosophical idealism. Surprisingly, however, there is virtually no study of the poem from a materialist point of view. I have attempted to fill that gap.

It passes my comprehension why modern progressive thinkers have been apathetic towards this poem. Maybe, being a simple eclectic poem, it is seen as a propaedeutic work of philosophy and as such, is considered socially insignificant. However, it is a work wherein monotheism was put forward and king was equated with god to buttress the emerging monarchical slave States which were slowly but steadily supplanting the egalitarian tribal communes in the Indian subcontinent. As such, the social significance of this ostensibly philosophic and didactic poem cannot be missed or overlooked.

In modern times, the poem has been used to serve diverse political ends. Lokmanya Tilak invoked the poem to argue his case for a more militant nationalist programme than the Congress had hitherto adopted, while Mahatma Gandhi used the poem to propagate religious tolerance in the struggle against colonialism. More recently, as aggressive Hindu nationalism has asserted itself, the poem has been used for more ferocious ends. Progressive thinkers and leaders have, however, more or less ignored the poem.

More than half a century ago, in 1953, I published an article in a progressive Malayalam weekly, analysing the poem from a materialistic point of view. After a gap of more than four decades, in 1997, I published a paper, 'The Bhagavadgita - A Materialist Interpretation' in New Quest, the journal of the Indian Association for Cultural Freedom. The feedback to this, in general, was very positive, though there was one point of criticism. This was regarding my assumption that the Mahabharata War was not a figment of the poet's imagination but a historical fact, and that Krishna and Arjuna were not mere mythological characters, but historical personages. In the space of that paper, I had not been able to present my complete argument regarding this issue of the historicity of the war and the two protagonists of the poem. I have done this in Chapter 4 of the present book, 'The Personae'. I have viewed Krishna, as I had done in both the articles, not as a god of the Hindu pantheon, but as a human being on whom godhead had been thrust and who was looked upon as one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. However, in my opinion, the Yadava Chief whom we meet as the charioteer of Arjuna was not the deified Krishna and I have put forward arguments to substantiate my view.

In my first article of 1953, I had characterized Krishna as a reactionary brahman chauvinist. When I began working on my later article, however, I realised that I was blatantly wrong. Looking at Krishna in the background of the period in which he flourished, I realised that he was neither a reactionary nor a brahman chauvinist but was, indubitably, a progressive thinker who supported the hierarchical pattern of the Indo-Aryan society in the interest of the stability and integrity of the then emerging social order in the form of monarchical slave States. To put it succinctly, he spearheaded the progressive forces of the Indo-Aryan society of his times and acted as their spokesman, just as Sun Yat-sen and Kemal Ataturk did at the turn of the nineteenth century for the then progressive forces, the national bourgeoisie, in China and Turkey respectively. It is on account of the progressive role played by Krishna then that even now he has a great appeal for the Hindus.

However I must confess.lest it gives a wrong impression, that it is not as if I have devoted halfa century to reading and researching for this book. My profession as a librarian kept me busy, as did various other commitments, and even though I have wanted to write this book for a while, I never quite got down to doing it till about four years ago. I retrieved and dusted the old folders in which I had kept my notes and delved deeper into the subject. The result is this little book.

When I finally began work on this book, I did not intend to translate the poem itself into English, since a large number of translations, bywestern Indologists as well as Indian scholars, already exist and are easily available. However, as I proceeded with the work on the book I had occasions to refer to some of the English versions, none of which, I felt, would serve my purpose. All the translations were by speculative philosophers of various hues and are palpably biased in the case of certain verses. I realised that translations of works like the Bhagavadgita tended to be in terpretative and if a reader of my book happened to refer to a translation of the poem by an idealist, she would undoubtedly get confused. So I thought it would be desirable to translate the poem myself presenting the sociological import of some of the verses, to which earlier translators have, naturally, given the idealistic slant.

  Preface ix
1. The Source
A Mix of Fact and Fiction
2. The Ancestors
Historical Background
3. The Poem
A Treatise on Ethics
4. The Personae
Mythico-Historical Characters
5. The Counsel
A New Ethic Supersedes the Old
6. The Commune
Brahma-An Objective Reality
7. The Kingdom
Dawn of a New Era
8. The Bhagavadgita 110
  Appendix 1  
  Synonyms and Metonyms of Krishna and Arjuna 169
  Appendix 2  
  Synopsis of the Mahabharata 171
  Appendix 3  
  Genealogy of the Kauravas and the Pandavas 177
  Index 179

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