It’s taken be longer to read the two volumes of Ramesh Menon’s Mahabharata than I expected but I haven’t given up. So the blogshetra continues but with long intervals.
The Bhagvad Gita is the nucleus that the entire Mahabharata is woven around. It is also a sacred text, and I’m not sure whether the version I read within Ramesh Menon’s Mahabharata is exactly the same as the one which is used for religious purposes.
The Gita is the song Krishna sings when Arjuna expresses doubts about continuing a bloody war that would require him to kill ultimately his own uncle, guru and cousins. The core of Krishna’s argument is that what is right for a man depends on his dharma. Thus, one must do what one has to do. There is no objective standard of right and wrong. This is different from the Christian tradition that I am familiar with, which has a black and white approach to the subject of good and evil. The philosophy Krishna expresses is a more pragmatic one, but although it carries inherent in its relativism the potential to justify any and all action.
Krishna also expands on the theme of renunciation and relinquishment, advocating the latter. Relinquishment is a state of profound detachment whereby one is unperturbed by consequences. All major religions seems to point to renunciation/relinquishment as the ultimate path to survival. However, Krishna also stresses action: one cannot attempt renunciation without experiencing action, and one can act in the spirit of renunciation, by being doing what is right and not being too troubled by consequences.
Another things that Krishna said that seems common to many other religions is that he is the way to freedom from the shackles of the afterlife. It was surprising to see Krishna extol his own virtues, almost making a pitch for his route to salvation. Jesus says almost the exact same words in the Bible: I am the way, the truth and the light. I wonder whether the words Ramesh Menon chose to use in his translation are the words conventionally used in religious copies of the Bhagvad Gita.
Another choice of words that I puzzled over were related to equality: All men are created equal. The phrase sounds anachronistic. My understanding was that the idea of all men being equal dated to about the 14th C and first gained currency in the West. I’m interested to know if these exact words were actually in the original Bhagwad Gita text.
Krishna’s song does add a caveat to its notion of equality. All men are created equally, but each is a assigned a role and it is his dharma to perform that role to the best of his abilities. This, of course, serves to perpetuate the caste system, a theme that runs through the epic, it’s most shocking expression in the episode concerning Ekalavya.