(Skt., 'the Song of the Blessed,' i.e., rhythmically recited by Krishna,
an incarnation of the god Vishnu), or the DIVINE SONG, SONG CELESTIAL, SACRED
CANTICLE. The name of a Sanskrit religious and philosophical poem of some 700
double verses, which forms an episode, in the Mahābārata (q.v.). The
feminine, is best explained by understanding after it the noun upanisad, the significance being a philosophical treatise rendered
in metre by the Blessed One. This remarkable production, in the form of a
colloquy between the divine Krishna and the hero Arjuna, comprises 19 cantos in
the sixth book of the Mahābārata: (6.25.1 - 6.42.78 = 11.830, - 1532).
The situation is a striking one. The rival armies of the Kurus and Pandus,
foemen allied by the ties of family, and blood alike, but severed by a fatal
feud, are drawn up against each other in battle array. Before the final signal
is given, Arjuna, the valiant leader of the Pandu hosts, hesitates to fight,
foreseeing the awful slaughter, and the bloodshed of kindred that must ensue.
The divine incarnation of Vishnu, in the form of Krishna as Arjuna's charioteer,
overcomes his scruples and dispels his doubts by a long discourse on life and
duty, and the part which every one must play in fulfilling his obligations in
the world, Action is inevitable in the performance of duty; but in devotion to
the Supreme Spirit alone is salvation to be found. A vision of the Supreme
Spirit is revealed to Arjuna in the transfigured image of Krishna, as described
in Canto xi 15 seq.
philosophic discourse, hallowed by its association with the most momentous
battle of ancient India, which follows at its close, has exercised great
influence upon the Hindu thought and mind from the earliest times to the
present. The allegorical interpretation of it as bearing upon the contending
forces of rival passions is a favorite one with modern theosophists, and the
Bhagavad-gītā has been looked upon for ages as a sacred text-book. The
date of the poem, however, and its precise relation to the Great Epic, is a
subject of much discussion. Scholars who do not regard this didatic piece as an
integral part of the Mahābārata, nevertheless consider it to be
undoubtedly one of the older poems in the epic, though not necessarily an old
part of it. The critical tendency at present is to place the piece in the
centuries preceding the Christian Era rather than following it. Its composition
has been assigned to the second century B.C., and its redaction to the second
century A.D. Points of resemblance between Gītā and the New Testament
need not claim any necessary consideration. From the standpoint of philosophy
the Bhagavad-gītā is generally regarded as combining the Sankhya
doctrine of matter and spirit with the Yoga tenets of meditation and Vedanta
pantheism, although as a poem it has no really consistent system, and it is
regarded by some as probably composed prior to the formal Vedanta and the formal
Sankhya as actual schools. Consult the articles under these names.
of the Bhagavad-gītā, criticisms and discussions of the poem,
especially in India, number scores. The earliest printed edition of the Sanskrit
text is by a Brahman, Baburama (Calcutta, 1808).
There are modern versions in most of the Indian vernaculars. For the
earliest European translation into English, consult C. Wilkins (London, 1785;
revised ed., Bombay, 1887).
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol III (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 110.