Understanding Hinduism and Bhagwad Gita


Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Hinduism, the dominant religion in India, is one of the oldest world religions and existed in some form or another, perhaps even as early as 8000 years back. It deals with the four aims or purusharthas of life:

Dharma — ethics or duty of life
Artha— economic or household duties
Kama— passion, desires
Moksha— liberation from passions and preparation for end of life

It discusses apart from the above four purusharthas, rituals, pilgrimage sites for obtaining peace and harmony in life. We also learn about the important duties we must perform — honesty, self restraint, compassion, Ahimsa (not hurting living beings).

A Hindu should do puja, japa (recitation in praise of God), dhyan (meditation), take part in festivals, go on pilgrimages, and later in life, prepare for  moksha (death).  The minds of people are generally very restless with doubts or questions about societal events or other people etc. Japa  can help to calm their minds.

The most significant part of the religion is called Veda —  consisting of four Vedas. It is believed that Ved Vyas compiled these four Vedas.

Vedic religion is also known as Sanatandharma  (eternal religion) meant for all people, not just Hindus.

Vedas are considered Shruti (heard) or Smriti (remembered). Shruti refers to the large body of ancient religious texts. Smriti refers to post Vedic literature that is remembered and deals with several aspects of mankind, mythology, rituals and customs as well as about animal, aquatic and plant life. Before invention of writing, transmission of ideas or knowledge was by hearing and remembering.

The four Vedas according to Hinduism are: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda.

Rig Veda is collection of ancient Sanskrit hymns (suktas). It is a foremost ideological aspect of Hinduism.

Yajur (worship) Veda consists of recitation of different mantras (verses).

Sama Veda refers to the melodies and chants of the known 1875 verses.

Atharva Veda    refers to collection of prayers and hymns for protection of life. It comprises puranas, itihaas, upanishads.

Puranas    refer to genre of ancient legends and traditions of significant personalities.

Itihaas gives descriptions of important historical events of Hinduism

Upanishads are sacred texts at the end of the Vedic periods dealing with nature of reality, Atman (soul), Brahman (God). These are philosophical treatises.

There are many well known    UpanishadsMahabharata, Ramayan, Bhagwad Gita are also considered parts of this category. The latter is part of the  Mahabharata but has acquired a distinctive status of its own.

Ramayan deals with the story of Lord Rama, his exile, the culture and society of his times. He is considered to be a God in Hinduism.

Bhagwad Gita which was part of  Mahabharata  , is now treated as a separate epic and is studied and analysed in its 18 chapters about the meaning of life and our core values and behaviour.

We may also mention that Shruti or revealed texts are the Vedas and Smriti or remembered texts are post Vedic . The latter texts deal with theology, mythology, rituals and lives of spiritual people like Ram, Sita, Krishna  and others.

Bhagwad Gita

In the complex and violent contemporary world, people try to find answers to their doubts and the action they may take to resolve the conflicts and confusion in their minds. Many people in India and oversees turn to Bhagwad Gita  (or simply   Gita) for resolution of their doubts.  Gita was originally written in Sanskrit but has been translated into many languages.  It was also known as Song Celestial by some scholars.

Mahatma Gandhi was influenced by   Gita and wrote a detailed commentary on it in the Gujarati language that was rendered into other languages later. Several other well known persons including the second President of India, S Radhakrishnan  and others have also written commentaries from their own backgrounds and beliefs.

This is a well known epic of Hinduism that consists of 18 chapters or discourses and dozens of  Shlokas  or questions / answers spoken by Arjun/Lord Krishna in each chapter. In all there are 700 shlokas in the entire Gita. The background of the book is the battle between Kauravas  and Pandavas and the ensuing violence and killings on both fronts.

Many worthy persons have been slain in the battle which leads to sorrow and confusion in the mind of the warrior prince Arjun (Pandava)who is perplexed as to what action he should take in the battle. The book is in the form of a dialogue — doubts expressed by  him and the responses by   Lord Krishna  who is driving the chariot with Arjun sitting beside him in the battle  field of Kurukshetra.

In response to Arjun’s query about what action he should take, Krishna answers that some action is inevitable.  There is nothing that is without   action in any person because one’s mind is always thinking of something or the other. Even while doing nothing, we breathe, and blood flows across in the body.

The first point to remember about action is that one must do one’s duty without worrying about the reward or its result. The result could be what one desired or otherwise — no reward or something that one did not desire. One must perform one’s duty with devotion and without distraction.

In this regard Krishna encourages Arjun with the following words in Chapter II.3 :

‘Yield not to unmanliness, Arjun; it does not become thee. Shake off this         miserable faint heartedness and arise’.

Action should be in accordance to one’s background and skills — according to what Gita says one’s Swadharma. A carpenter can do good woodwork but if he takes to farming, the result may not be satisfactory. Similarly a soldier has to act with devotion on the battlefield irrespective of who his opponents are. The swadharma  depends on one’s family or social situation that may vary from time to time.

The Gita also emphasises that the result of action taken needs to be viewed as a gift of the supreme being and therefore one should abide by the result with grace and equanimity and not lose heart or feel depressed if it is not what one desired . With this attitude we should have faith in Brahman — the supreme God. To emphasise this Krishna in 18.66 says:

‘Give up other dharmas — just surrender to me’.

In the last chapter, Gita explains the meaning of the three aspects of right action or  gunas— Tamas, Rajas, Sattvik  in the following manner:

Austerity that is practised to torture oneself or to procure another’s ruin is Tamas

Austerity that is practised to torture oneself or to gain praise, honour or homage is fleeting and unstable. This is said to be Rajas

Charity given as a matter of duty without expectation of any return, to the right person is said to Sattavik.

Aspects as outlined above are everyday issues that one grapples with in one’s life. This makes Gita a relevant, noble treatise that guides people to joy and a meaningful life. No wonder it attracts people from different backgrounds and ideologies.

Hare Krishna 


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. ravipbhatia@gmail.com

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Jan 2022.

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