In a profound gesture reflecting India’s timeless and rich philosophical repository, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, presented copies of the Bhagavad Gita to the dignitaries he met in Japan. His gesture comes through as symbolic because it was the going forth of religious and spiritual knowledge from ancient India that awakened and cemented her civilisational ties with Japan, Korea and much of the old world. Indian ācāryas, carrying the light of Indian knowledge travelled far and wide across the ancient world suffusing civilisations with the light of Indian knowledge. The presentations of the Gita by the Prime Minister, thus, were a rekindling of those spiritual ties.
Fundamentals of Bharat Japan Relations
By referring to India-Japan “spiritual ties”, the Prime Minister brought back to centrestage the fundamentals of India-Japan relations and for that matter India’s relations to most of the other countries in that region. These were gestures and words that called for approbation and certainly not opprobrium.
His mentioning the gifting of Gita and its raising of secular hackles back home to a diasporic audience was widely applauded and enjoyed. To those who understand the entire context and dynamics of Indian public space in the last six decades, the comments perfectly fitted in and made sense. One assumes that the Japanese were not eavesdropping and even if they were, they too must have appreciated the grace and wit with which the Prime Minister articulated, before an Indian audience, the dilemmas and ironies of discourses in India where merely mentioning the deeply ethical message-radiating capacities of one of India’s most sacred text is immediately seen through a denominational prism leading to widely publicised discussions or write-ups on the rise of a “communal agenda.”
Modi Asserts the Greatness of Srimad Bhagwad Gita
The Prime Minister’s fascination with the Gita, his moving words, “I don’t think I have anything more to give and the world also does not have anything more to get than this”, must have struck a chord in all his listeners in Tokyo as it must have touched all those back home who continue to be inspired and derive unfailing spiritual sustenance from the message of the Gita in their vie quotidian. Some saw in it a deep reiteration of what some of our most articulate thinkers and teachers have argued over the centuries– India’s mission to radiate to mankind the deeper truths of a harmonious, ethical and spiritual existence which alone is a guarantor of a world order équilibré.
Some who have started reminding Narendra Modi of his need to read the Gita and emulate its universal message – one eminent columnist turned academic could not resist the temptation of doing so immediately – interestingly belong to that very group and ideology which has consistently and viciously opposed any introduction of the tenets of the Gita in our educational curriculum. These very people who have now hurriedly started extolling the virtues of the Gita as one of “India’s – and the world’s – oldest and greatest philosophical texts” which raises a “range of ethical, moral and ontological” questions that remain as “relevant to humanity today as they were to the ancients”, ironically have always belonged to that ideological bloc which has unfailingly suppressed or resisted, in the past, any attempt at drawing inspiration from the Gita in the various dimensions or fields of our national action by terming such an initiative as being antithetical to the composition of our so called “secular” national fabric. So stringent has been the control of this ideological group that one of the fundamental defining terms of our civilisation – ‘dharma’ – has faced a near obliteration due to a refusal, by this section, to engage in any dialogue or to allow it to inform our public actions and discourses.
What Intellectuals and Activists Think
For academics, intellectuals and activists of this section, of which the eminent columnist-scholar is a leading member, the Gita was always better approached by trying to decipher and dissect – in a dialectical spirit – whether Lord Krishna actually existed, or whether the battle of Mahabharata was rather more of a “tribal conflict” or a “class struggle” between the oppressed and the oppressors, or whether it was a tale where clash and bloodshed had divine sanction.
Such facetious and shallow readings have received their patronage through decades – reading our civilisational texts through the prism of Western social sciences and developing legions of scholars who have thrived in the “Ivy-League” forests of the West by displaying a thoroughly pedestrian reading of a deeply involving and sublimating text. Sri Aurobindo, referring to such a reading of the Gita called it the effects of a “European or Europeanised intellect.” It is such reductionist readings of the Gita which eliminated the scope for any serious or informed discussion on it in international forums, while other religions and philosophies – generously supported by international resource networks – see discussions and seminars ad nauseam.
In every decade the Gita has inspired our leaders, that Nehru chose to keep a copy of it in his briefcase instead of implementing its tenets to the new direction then being given to the country, is another matter altogether, but the fact that he did keep a copy and derived some indirect inspiration elucidates its appeal. There were a host of prolific minds who shaped our national destiny who were equally inspired by the Gita and tried their hands at explaining its message. Dr S Radhakrishnan could never cease to dilate on the message of the Gita, he saw it represent not “any sect of Hinduism but Hinduism as a whole, not merely Hinduism but religion as such, in its universality, without limit of time or space…”
What Historical Figures Said
The Mahatma himself chose to interpret its deeper message amidst the vortex of political action, confessing that he learnt Sanskrit just so that he could read the Gita and that over the years it had acquired the status of his mother, “I lost my earthly mother who gave me birth long ago, but this eternal mother has completely filled her place by my side ever since. She has never changed, she has never failed me.”
Sri Aurobindo, in his essays on the Gita refused to approach the text by undertaking an “academical scrutiny of its thought” or “deal with it in the manner of the analytical dialectician, instead he called for approaching it for “help and light” with an aim to “distinguish its essential and living message” which, he argued, “humanity has to seize for its perfection and highest spiritual welfare.”
So inspired was Lokmanya Tilak, that he dedicated 600 odd pages to unraveling the message of the Gita in his “Gita-Rahasya” attempting a different interpretation, “I differ from almost all the commentators when I say that the Gita enjoins Action even after the perfection in Jnana and Bhakti is attained and the Deity is reached through these medium.” Interestingly Tilak’s prescription for approaching the Gita may be useful for members of that “peer group” which has consistently opposed its dissemination, “what I want to emphasise is this, that when you want to read and understand a book, especially a great work like the Gita – you must approach it with an unprejudiced and unprepossessed mind…” Having been dumped and labeled as sectarian and promoting majoritarianism, none of these discussions of the Gita, however, have ever found place in our scheme of education!
In the ultimate analysis, the Gita’s core message is that of serving, safeguarding and defending Dharma by resisting and eventually vanquishing Adharma. Adharma for our times is often symbolized and expressed through an anti-religious spirit, through a world-view which is acutely intolerant of other paths and beliefs and insists on the advent of only one type of kingdom of God upon earth. In India Adharma is also often manifested through a spirit which revels in negating the idea of the nation, of identity, of self-hood and of civilisational memory and unity.
It is these that the Gita essentially calls for resisting and eradicating. The world-wide strife and conflict in evidence today is a manifestation of that degenerative spirit. In that sense the Bhagavad Gita is a loaded text and the Prime Minister’s gesture in distributing it has sent a deeply “loaded message.”
Our “seculars” thus, may acknowledge the larger challenge posed by Adharmic forces before mankind and may perhaps begin reading the Gita with a truly “unprepossessed” mind. It will help them reinvent and re-align themselves!
– Anirban Ganguly Niticentral
Editors Note: The time has come when we should include Srimad Bhagwad Gita in our academic curriculum so that young children start with knowing their roots and not become enslaved bots like today’s journalists, anti-Hindu politicians, economists and english advocates. Srimad Bhagwad Gita will also help in renouncing corruption, evilness and greed from the society at large.