Organized Religion

Bhagavad Gita – Another critical perspective to consider adding to its armory of refutation

The few and rare critical reviews of the Gita

I am providing here a link on my blog to an excerpt of an introductory chapter of a book that critically evaluates the social and cultural impact of Bhagavad Gita (BG) on India. This book “The Role Of The Bhagavad Gita In Indian Life” was written by Premnath Bazaz ( a Kashmiri Pandit and freedom fighter). I have searched high and dry for this book with no success so far. There are really very few works that take a critical and dissenting look at the Bhagavad Gita. The other comprehensive one is ‘The truth of the Gita’ by VR Narla an eminent Telugu journalist. A historian of repute, DD Kosambi has also made some observations about the Gita, but never apparently published any full-fledged study of this scripture. BR Ambedkar analyzed Vedas, Upanishads and other works of Vedic liturgy in a great amount of detail and went through many of flaws of contemporary Hinduism with the precision of a scalpel, but did not write a book per se on the BG. All these four above are no more. And of course none of them except for Ambedkar to some extent were taken seriously. As for those living, other than the blogosphere, there seems to be no writer of repute to bear the cross of questioning the moral and social credentials of BG.

Gita Upadesha Kalamkari portrayal

My thoughts upon reading the conventional versions of the Gita

As for me I have read at least four English translations of the Gita and two of them were by Indian authors and also commentaries on some of its verses by spiritual cult leaders like Chinmayananda and Prabhupada. I was struck by the following inconsistencies that were fairly predominant in the scripture:

  • Repetitiveness and redundancy of many of its verses
  • Contradictions in many of its verses, with some verses in the same chapter contradicting each other and verses in one chapter being negated by verses in another chapter
  • Lack of coherence of narrative between the verses in a chapter, verses disconnected from or having no relation to the primary idea of a chapter
  • Lack of orderliness in the sequencing of chapters, where one gets a feeling that the current Chapter IV should have come before Chapter III
  • Inclusion of verses that are repugnant to human values even going by old primitive standards (verses 9.11, 9.32 and 9.33)

What struck me about the commentaries and other eulogies of the Gita, was that the authors seemed to look at the verses in isolation and whether unintentionally or not, ignore its relations to other verses and chapters and to even broad ideas espoused by the scripture (Karma, moksha, punarjamna, bhakti, atma, ego). Many of such authors are also silent on whether there exists a hierarchy of yoga method (Karma, Jnana, Dhyana, Bhakti etc.) or not, with most taking the line of least resistance which implies any or all yogas are equally good and the more the merrier. The curious part is that when Arjuna poses a few questions about comparative merits of the yogas and which is precedent and/or superior to the other, it is usually met with evasive, political and CYA replies from Krishna, whom our Hindu religious and spiritual cognoscenti never tires of applauding as the greatest and wisest teacher of humanity. Anyone who makes a comparative study of the current state verses of the Gita, devoid of religious blinkers, will find the character of Krishna coming across as very cynical, evasive, inconsistent, shifting philosophical stances according to convenience, mixing ideas of differing schools of thought at will (Sankhya, Yoga, Vedanta) without any care or regard for their cogency and coherence. How such an opportunistic and willful entity (seen together with his role in the Mahabharata) be passed off as a God and that too raised to the towering heights of religious and devotional frenzy, may forever remain one of the greatest enigmas of Hindu culture.

The true agenda of the Gita and a history-based speculation of its motives

The few and rare critics of the BG have labored to point to the casteist and sectarian agenda of the BG as the most realistic basis of its composition beneath all its specious and pretentious gloss and dross of philosophy, metaphysics and devotional appeals. To accept the plausibility of such a kind of devious strategy of the Gita, it is important to place into historical context the failure of the two foremost texts of Brahmin theological dogmatism ( Mimamsa Sutras by Jamini and Brahma Sutra by Badarayana) in the post-Vedic age in stemming the rising tide of heterodox movements like Buddhism, Jainism and Lokayata. It is quite likely that both Jamini and Badarayana may well signify pseudonyms of the prominent or active factions of Brahminical demagogues of their times, out to defend the primacy of the Vedas and Upanishads. Which is what they actually tried to do by means of these two long, prolix and tortuous treatises dealing with the relative merits of the two most fond theological dogmas of ‘Karma-Kanda’ (part of life devoted to the act of ritual and propitiation) and ‘Jnana-Kanda’ (part of life devoted to the act of knowledge seeking) and dueling for their primacy. Though both the treatises run into hundreds of verses, with Mimamsa Sutras being the longer of the two, being replete with laborious yet ludicrous arguments to validate the infallibility of the Vedas and Upanishads, they are not worth the paper, leaf or parchments they were written on. In the light of today’s atmosphere of rational and critical thinking, it is amazing that these tomes, whose utterly primitive and nonsensical philosophy can be demolished with a few pages of questioning and critical analysis, were the subject of many long running debates. When four orthodox brahminical philosophies (Sankhya, Mimamsa, Nyaya and Vedanta) could not deter the march of the simple yet appealing thought system of Buddhism, the shrewd Brahmin strategists of the era of post-Mauryanism unsheathed the ultimate weapon of the Bhagavad Gita, which was a clever mish-mash of philosophy, social rules, creationism and devotion tailored to sound like a very good clone of the Bible and the Koran. Thus BG provided a tottering Brahminism the resilience and vigor to overthrow Buddhism and take Indian civilization back to the dark ages, from which it has never emerged into light.

Where Dr Kamath’ and Bazaz’s views on Gita’s authorship meet

What inspired me into a ‘forensics’ of the Gita, were some articles in the blogosphere, specifically Nirmukta’s BG series by Dr. Kamath, which explored these red flags of contradictions by quoting and comparing many of its verses esp Chapters 2, 3 & 4, where most of the philosophical conflicts between the Vedic, Upanishadic and Bhakti schools of thought come through in some of its more confusing verses. This probably prompted his hypothesis of the multiple authorships of the BG along with suspicions of its varied interpolations, additions and corruptions. While I was sparring with a dyed-in-the-wool Hindu nationalist of my acquaintance, on a different related issue, this charge was dismissed by him as a standard Marxist line. This introduction from the book of Bazaz, explores this theme in quite a bit of detail, quoting historians on both sides of the fence of this argument, with their theories and observations. The author of course leans to the side of naysayers of Gita, but advances many reasonable arguments in his defence I don’t know if the taint of Marxism will ever go away for critics and dissenters of religious obscurantism, but I hope this discussion and article may be found to be of some interest.

About the author

Ranganath R

An accountant and a man of commerce by background and education, I am a Business Applications analyst by work and profession. I am a lover of diverse intellectual pursuits and interests. I have over time cultivated interests in literature, history and social sciences.

In terms of beliefs, I have had in the past my share of swings between irrationality and rationality. As hopefully thinking processes and impulses mature, I am learning to cultivate the faculty of examining all systems and forms of thought and opinions, in whatever it is received and only accept those that accords with reason, logic and understanding.


  • Mr.Ranganath.R. may please cantact “CARAVAN” publishers{Now Defunkt ?} in Delhi for Mr. Bazaz’s articles and books. Long back I had read his articles in that magazine.The book on christanity by Col. R.G.Ingersol written in the middle of 19th century was burnt by the Church Likewise many Upanishads those were strongly criti cal of Vedic Brahminism and this book by Mr. Bazaz were systemically destroyed by high preists of Temples.

  • Mr. Revankar,

    Thanks for the information…Let’s me see what luck i will have with that trail.

    In these days you dont have burn works critical of Hindu or Vedic theology, because there are hardly any such books to burn.

    In his responses to his article on Gita, VNK quoted a work by Dalit activist Ramchandra GORA other than the work of VR Narla, which I have quoted in this article too.

    The problem with the Bazaz’s book as well as the book on Upanishads by VR Narla, is that there is no publisher who cares to print or re-print these works.

    In case of Upanishads: A critical study by VR Narla, there is atleast 1 publisher DK Agencies (Delhi again) which has some copies in print.

    Rescuing the few works of heretics of Hindu and Vedic thought system is huge task indeed

    • Ranganath,
      For the record, Gora (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao) did not self-identify as a ‘Dalit activist’ but was a distinguished rationalist-humanist campaigner against untouchability and a longtime collaborator of Gandhi. This autobiographical excerpt makes instructive reading regarding his own campaign against untouchability and addresses the obvious question of how an avowed rationalist could reconcile his convictions with a Gandhian mindset.

      Gora’s other writings, now available online in full are highly recommended as well.

      • My apologies for casually and flippantly using the label of ‘Dalit Activist’ to the persona of GORA.

        Surely the title of rationalist-humanist campaigner is more apt and dignifying.

        Doubtless, we need to outgrow the tendencies of applying labels and stereotypes in matters of serious analysis and discussion

      • Thanks for sharing the links on Gora – an extremely interesting personality. He and men like him have lived in a very different age. But thanks to them, the task for rationalists today has become easier.

      • Arvind,

        GORA is but one example of the strange bedfellows of MK Gandhi. Nehru, an atheist, was a bigger and a celebrity instance of the strange co-habitation and reconciliation of diametrically opposing ideologies.

        But there can be some sociological and philosophical explanations that can be attempted to answer such contradictions.

        In case of Nehru, an extent of aristocratic conceit that was concealed beneath the veener of liberalism and modernism, may have some found some resonance and sympathy with the duplicitious and hypocritical ideals of Gandhi and his Gandhism like absolute non-voilence, universal love, reforming the enemy and the like.

        With all due respect to GORA for giving MKG the benefit of doubt, that generosity of the benefit in one sense runs contrary to the needs and demands of radicalism. The problem is not with MKG’s very belated and tentative steps towards an agnostic framework, but that it made no difference to his overall spiritual outlook that was unable to shed its inherent religiosity and feudalism.

        BR Ambedkar, MN Roy and VR Narla are the only renowned radicals to have called the Gandhian bluff and not fallen for his slippery charismatic charms.

        Unfortunately that is a pathetic minority in a swarming sea of the hosanna-singers of Gandhi and his so-called ‘inexhaustible’ qualities and virtues.

  • Dr. Ambedkars essay “The Buddha and the future of his religion in India” fully exposes the purpose behind writing of the Gita. After the decline of the vedic religion, Bhraminism needed to reinvent and give a new philosophical basis to caste. Here is where krishna distorts the triguna theory of Sankhya and uses it to justify caste. The ‘karma’ of gita has been widely bandied as moral deeds. Actually it is nitya-karma (daily rituals) meaning rituals of your caste

  • i have been reading all the summaries of the observations made by rationalists on bhagavad gita…
    I often wonder can the Society adopt a Radical step all of a sudden and start believing rationally…
    The only right thing out of this confusing state of affairs in india and in the world to adopt and learn the good things from any religious book, be it the bhagavad gita, or the Quran or the Bible,, etc.. and move ahead in life
    constantly trying to Live the Knowledge in one’s daily life…

  • Mr. Ranganath has correctly pointed out that there are repetitiveness and redundancy of many of its verses
    contradictions in many of its verses, with some verses in the same chapter contradicting each other and verses in one chapter being negated by verses in another chapter. The reason for contradictions is that there were many interpolations in the Bhagavad Gita at different times by different authors. The first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita was done by Charles Wilkins in 1785. THe Bhagavad Gita remained mnemonic for several centuries, for it was considered sacrilegious to produce a manuscript or print a book. When British scholars employed Brahmin priests to recite from memory to produce a book, many additions and deletions were made by them to make the mythological epic modern. Most of the ideas were drawn from the Book of the Proverbs in the Bible. Creation account in the Bible was also used to make the translation modern and scientific. It was only after the modified version appeared in English, the Bhagavad Gita became popular worldwide.

    • umm your argument is invalid cos the bhagavad gita was a part of a 100,000 verse scripture called the mahabharata which has always been in manuscript form since many centuries…no additions or deletions were made to the was translated by wilkins as it is…no ideas were drawn from your equally irrational and unscientific christian bible..infact the account of creation in the gita is radically different from the bible, but I agree with your last statement that it became popular worldwide only after being translated into English

      • Though BG has been considered an integral part of the Mahabharata for many centuries, there has been no doubt among historians and Indologists that Gita is a later addition to the MBh.

        The MBh. itself is believed to be worked on till about 500 CE when it become a 100000 verse epic that it is today known to be.

        The MBh. was known as Jaya in its earliest versions. Many centuries is a very relative term since more than a millennium has elapsed since the Islamic invasions that first exposed the stagnation of Post-Gupta Indian civilization. The changes, additions and interpolations to the Gita and MBh. are estimated to have happened long before this epochal divide.

        Whether you would like to call this a conspiracy theory or not, the counter-revolution of Brahminism involving the Gita, MBh. changes and the Puranas is suspected to have begun with the Sunga era and probably successfully completed with the Gupta era.

        Then the 3 main acharyas Adi Snakara, Madhava and Ramanuja cemented that vice-like grip of Brahminism and casteism by their evangelism of an already conflicted version of the Gita.

        Where I agree with Anurag is the unlikelihood of Gita borrowing anything from the Bible.

        • The strict usage of “astika” & “nastika” has been contested by actual works of scholarship that uses tool of “Scientific Enquiry” rather than reducing it to defencive cliche.

          Similarly , Nyaya & Samkhya were called as heterodox by HT Colebrooke.

          It is high time that Rationalists aka Atheists stop parroting Ambedkar, MN Roy ,Bazaz etc , just because they were great ; it is similar to the phenomenon of ordinary Hindus (esp. middle class) parroting Gandhi, Tilak ,Vivekananda etc & thus like the latter ends up in parochial “self-pleasing” approach. Because the former are as much responsible for distorting things in the name of “reason” as much as the latter are responsible for doing the same in the name of “truth”.

          It is better to study actual historians & sociologists (& all ranges of them) to improve our understanding of “greys” of history & sociology before making arguments.

          Also the so-called “Muslim Invasion” is better referred to as invasion by “Turks” & “Mongols as majority of South Asian muslims already existed here , before they embraced Islam.

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  • I just finished reading BG and I also saw redundancy, contradictions and basically immoral and divisive messages that the text gave. Even though I didn’t know that the ideas came from different schools of thought, it did feel like there were a lots of cut and paste jobs going on because of contradictions and inconsistency in style, where style switched in mid- explanation etc. If the question posed by Arjun were an essay prompt in 9th class, the resulting answer from Krishna would get really poor marks. The text is so haphazard and arguments are ill formed.

    I think the worst things about it were (a) its casteist agenda and (b) cutting moral ties between the actor and the consequences of his actions.

    (a) Krishna goes on to say many times that it would be better for a person to do his caste’s dharma really badly than for him to do another caste’s job really well. And also that if a person will do something not prescribed to his caste even if he is doing an excellent job, he will punish them by torturing him, birth him to hell again and again and transmigrate him to lower forms on earth.

    (b) The main message of the text seems to be that one must act without regard to consequences, and not look at consequences of one’s actions. This is not only the right thing for us to do by god but this is also one of the highest forms of devotion to god and will be rewarded with liberation. I was scratching my head when I read this. And this really is the central message of BG “Karmanya Adhikaraste…”. Why exactly is this book held as the highest peak of moral teaching? Of all we know from psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience- thinking about the consequences of your actions on others is pretty much how morality gets its birth and evolves as we learn from our mistakes and successes. To cut the connection between the actor and the effects of his actions will never give you morality or a good person, it gives you a sociopath.

  • It also seemed to me that this form of Krishna is very reminiscent of christian and muslim monotheistic god, even if the text was not borrowed from bible or quran directly. Because the “saved by the grace of god” ideas trumps saved by your karma alone.

    It would not be hard to see why grace of god idea should survive as a meme among others ideas. Because after all if your karm is all you need and can have control over then what’s the need for god. And then what will be the need for godmen and priests. They will be useless too.

  • Actually, when I first read the Gita I was amazed and awed. It was only after reading Dr. Prabhakar Kamath’s series that my eyes opened. I went through the Gita with a toothcomb and tried to find interpolations (Brahmanical verses). But all I could find was about 100 verses out of the 700. Actually, the Gita is less Brahmanical and more Upanishadic and Bhagavatic. The two themes that stand out prominently are that of Krishna’s deification and selfless action both which are non-Brahmanic.
    Actually, most writers on Nirmukta have misunderstood selfless action as careless action. Selfless action (action without thought of results) is not careless. The actor is not antinomian. He just doesn’t have any personal stake in the act. A very good example of this I can find, is the story where Vidura asks Krishna why he came to Hastinapura for peace talks despite knowing that no good will come of it. Krishna replies in a nishkama manner that it is because the action is potentially beneficial to others ( a war may be averted) and thus must be done whether or not it produces tangible benefits for the Pandavas.
    The best example of modern Nishkama Karma would be Gandhi’s Satyagraha which was a slow method of gaining independence than and armed struggle and yet was more beneficial to the nation since it united the common man with the Indian elite and created the first effective nation-wide patriotic movement.

  • Ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness; they fall down. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.

  • It is heart-warming to hear that there are healthy debates on the message from Gīta. From a simpleton’s or child’s perspective, I understand Arjuna’s sorrow of having to fight to kill kith, kin and venerated teachers. It is a simple unarguable genuine emotion. Krushṇa asks Arjuna to forgo emotions and philosophizes that killing is not killing. The soul can not be killed. Go ahead! Gīta is powerful, but ineffective in resolving the conflict between philosophy and emotions.

    Krushṇa did not provide the alternative of constructive negotiations to solve a problem without the flow of blood. We can see the effects in current day India.

  • I have read an article ‘Bagavadgita a cry of despair ‘by Premnath Bazaz published in CARAVAN .
    In fact they have published four small booklets containing a lot of articles from their magazine on rationalism among other subjects, all very informative and worth reading.
    In this article ,he questions the suitability of the venue (a battle field) and the time(when the battle is in full rage),to preach a 18 chaptered Gita containing about 600 slokas.

  • Books of Indian Philosophy are symbolic. Please don’t take the war as real and accuse the book as a murderer. The readers fail to understand the actual meaning of the verses in just one reading and hurriedly go on criticizing its outer layer. I would suggest them to take time and read the great book. It is really a wonderful book if you can understand. An authentic translation I would suggest, “The Bhagavad Gita” by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

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