On ‘Ambedkar and the Bhagawat Gita’

Nalini Pandit’s essay – Ambedkar and the Bhagawat Gita – in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 27, No. 20/21 (May 16-23, 1992), pp. 1063-1065, digitized by JSTOR, which is making rounds on the net, makes an interesting reading. Mine own ‘Mundane distortions in the Divine discourse’ dealing with the interpolations in Bhagvad-Gita, accessible in the perspectives on this site, affords the readers an alternate view point to Ambedkar’s point of view as follows.
In Nalini Pandit’s essay, it is articulated thus: When emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism, it became a state religion. The Brahmins, then, lost all state patronage and were reduced to a secondary position. Ashoka prohibited all animal sacrifices in his kingdom. The Brahmins who officiated at these sacrifices lost their chief source of income. Consequently a rebellion of Brahmins against the Buddhist state took place under Pushyamitra Sung who came from a Brahmin dynasty. Pushyamitra destroyed the Buddhist state and established in its place a Brahmin political order. This is what Ambedkar calls a counter-revolution. The Brahmin rulers made Brahmins a class of privileged persons and the varna was turned into caste. The Brahmins brought about a system of graded inequality based on birth. Inter-caste dining and marriages were prohibited. The position of women and shudras was degraded. Manu smriti lays down the laws of this counter-revolution. And the Bhagwat Gita is meant to defend the new social order and its religious dogmas on philosophic grounds.

The soul of the Bhagwat Gita, according to Ambedkar, seems to be the defence of chataturvarnyaan and securing its observance in practice. Krishna does not merely rest content with saying that chatur-varnya is based on guna-karma but he goes further and issues two positive injunctions. The first injunction is contained in chapter 111, verse 26. In this Krishna says that a wise man should not by counter-propaganda create a doubt in the mind of an ignorant person who is a follower of karma kand which, of course, includes the observance of the rules of chaturvarnya. In other words, you must not agitate or excite people to rise in rebellion against the theory of karma kand and all that it includes. The second in-junction is laid down in chapter XVIII, verses 41-48. In this Krishna tells that everyone should do the duty prescribed for his varna and no other and warns that those who worship him and are his devotees will not obtain salvation by mere devotion but by devotion accompanied by observance of duty laid down for his varna. In short a shudra however great he may be as a devotee will not get salvation if he has transgressed the duty of the shudra, namely, to live and die in the services of the higher classes.

As elaborated in Nalini Pandit’s essay, Ambedkar shared D.D. Kosambi’s view that Bhagvad Gita was composed in the reign of the Gupta king Baladitya, who ascended the throne in the year AD 467, to serve the above cited purpose. On the other hand, it is the general belief that the Gita is two millennia old, albeit with some interpolations (variously speculated by many a critic) making their way in between. It would be interesting to see Ambedkar’s view that Bhagvad Gita ‘seems to be the defence of chataturvarnyaan and securing its observance in practice. Krishna does not merely rest content with saying that chatur-varnya is based on guna-karma but he goes further and issues two positive injunctions,’ in the context of the arguments advanced in my said  ‘Mundane distortions in the Divine discourse’

About the above cited first injunction contained in chapter 111, verse 26, if v9 to v18 and v24 of the chapter are taken as interpolations, then the said injunction would be an altogether different proposition. And this can be seen in ‘Theory of Action: Bhagvad Gita  Chaper 3’ as rendered by me in this site. 

In so far as the second injunction laid down in chapter XVIII, verses 41-48, in the said ‘Mundane distortions in the Divine discourse’ it is stated that ‘S41- s48 that describe the allotted duties of man on the basis of his caste are clearly interpolations. In essence, the discourse till s40 is about the human nature and how it affects man. As can be seen, the duties on caste lines detailed in the said interpolations have no continuity of argument. As in earlier chapters, the text acquires continuity if only these verses are bypassed as can be seen from 'Thy Looking Glass Bhagvad-Gita Chapter 18’.

Going by the above, the moot point is whether the soul of the Bhagwat Gita is to be found in ‘the defence of chataturvarnyaan and securing its observance in practice’ as opined by Ambedkar, or was it a case of a pollution of a pre-existing text to serve the said cause, which when the discourse is seen in its totality, seems more likely to my mind.   


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Comment It is difficult to comprehend the conclusion of Yashuratnam that " probably the modernized version of the Bhagavad Gita was interpolated during the period 1793-1805 CE". If the head priest had indeed duped Wilford then references of Egyptian kings etc. become irrelevant. As against this if Wilford was not duped then his own credibility is suspect. Even if we assume that Wilford was duped, it does not mean that modern version of Gita along with its host of commentaries right from the days of Shankara (8th century) to the 17th century were systematically interpolated during 1793-1805 CE or thereafter.

Yeshuratnam's other question and its implicit claim that "in old age century-old scriptures cannot be memorized" is itself questionable. Yes, a new memorization in old age is difficult but the old memory, if its retrieval is exercised with reasonable frequency, can be kept very much alive. Further, the existence of oral tradition does no mean that the extant scriptures were not kept in any written form (manuscripts) prior to 1793 CE for reference.

Without ruling out the possibility of interpolation, Mr Murthy's alternative view may only mean that Gita can be interpreted to offer more than one doctrine without any deliberate or intentional blending of them. A deliberate blending of doctrines or views would have eliminated the contradictions which exist today side by side. However, there should not be any difficulty in accepting the fact that samatva (equanimity) and not Chaturvarnya is the dominant view of Gita. Whether this view was a counter-revolution (or otherwise) should not matter much today. (Consistent with this view, Verse 18 in chapter V of Gita should not be treated as an interpolation as done by Mr Murthy. It is quite consistent with the very next verse and there is nothing graceless in this particular verse, structurally or otherwise).

19-Apr-2015 06:03 AM

If we delve deep into the Mahabharata, it is only a story of a war between two families. It remained a story for several centuries. During the Hindu kingdoms of Gupta, Vijayanagar and Mahratta the story aspect of the Mahabharata alone was etched in the minds of the people. There were no philosophical discourses in temples. Devotees worshiped the idols of gods and goddesses. All Hindu scriptures remained mnemonic and there were no manuscripts, for it was considered sacreligious to produce manuscripts or to print books of the sacred scriptures. A prayer like the Gayatri mantra could be recited only by Brahmins. If a non-Brahmin had accidentally heard the recital by a Brahmin, molten led would be poured into his ears. The Asiatic Society was founded in 1784 by William Jones. While still on board of the frigate Crococlile carrying him from England to India, he prepared a memorandum detailing his plan of study. This included “the laws of the Hindus and Mahomedans; the history of the ancient world; modern politics and geography of Hindusthan; Arithmatic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiaticks; Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians etc.,” So even before landing in India, Jones was bent upon establishing the fact that ancient Indians were well versed in philosophy, mathematicas, science and medicine. But there were no manuscripts of Hindu scriptures and no original sources about Indian knowledge of science and medicine. The preferred method of Jones and other British scholars was to sit in the company of Sankrit-knowing Brahmins's and other Hindus, and to ask them to recite from memory Hindu scriptures. Scientists say that memory loss begins at the age of 40. How could the old Brahmins recite by heart century-old Scriptures? Recital by Brahmins contained many contemporary ideas to make the scriptures quite presentable. William Jones and other Orientalists syncretised Sanskrit with Classical and Biblical narratives, to establish transcultural correspondences by means of often crude conjectural etymologies. There were Brahmins such as Pundit Ramlochan, Balachandra Siromani, Rajendralala Misra, Bala Sastri of Benares, Radhakanta Sarman who were allowed to produce their own versions of Hindu scriptures. Brahmin scholars could get easy access to Christian scriptures and western literature from Fort William College and Sanskrit College in Calcutta established by the British. Another scholar, Francis Wilford, claimed that he had discovered the relationship among Hindu traditions, the Bible and the ancient British antiquities. Jones and other scholars, in collaboration with Brahmins, produced Sanskrit manuscripts with these fake claims. Krishna’s narration of creation in the Bhagavad Gita and the creation account in the Manu smriti produced by Jones are modified reproduction of the creation account in the Bible. Krishna’s instructions in the Gita are patterned on the book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible. As the modern translation of the Bhagavad Gita indicates, the work is in poetic form and in many places it is metrically exact parallel to Biblical literature. Sir Charles Wilkins translated the Bhagavad Gita into English in 1785, and he had used the Sanskrit manuscript produced by Asiatic Society scholars with so many interpolations and deletions. It was the English translation that gave worldwide publicity for the Bhagavad Gita. Deception and forgeries can be detected in the manuscripts produced by them. In 1788, Wilford, claimed to have found innumerable references to ancient Egypt, its Kings and holy places in Puranas by publishing a long text of baroque complexity in Asiatic Researches. However, Wilford was forced to admit with a humiliating note in the same journal that he had been systematically duped by his head Brahmin Pandit between 1793 and 1805. Probably the modernized version of the Bhagavad Gita was interpolated during this period.

16-Jan-2013 14:18 PM

Comment Thanks, BS Murthy

Milind Gaikwad
18-Nov-2012 20:38 PM

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