|My Gita; Devdutt Pattanaik; Rupa Publications; Pp256;
Amongst all the other modern commentaries of the Bhagavad Gita in 21st century, My Gita maintains the fresh, liberal and unique universal outlook of the original scripture so that this notable work would not be mere ‘one among many interpretations’.
Bertrand Russell wrote in the preface of his magnum opus The History of Western Philosophy, “Many histories of philosophy exist, and it has not been my purpose merely to add one to their number.” It was not mere a declaration of an intellectually arrogant genius. He was unambiguous that his book would not be merely one among many mediocre histories of philosophy. The history itself stands testimony to Russell’s claim. Similarly, many interpretations on Bhagavad Gita exist in many languages but Devdutt Pattnaik’s My Gita, stands unique among myriads of other Gita Bhashyas because of its simple albeit classic outlook.
As the truth is timeless, so is Bhagavad Gita. For that reason, it demands timely interpretations. Since our perception and thoughts are evolved in a limited period of time, within the limits of a certain space, we may not be able to easily relate ourselves with thousands of years of old scriptures. So it necessitates modern interpretations.
The name, My Gita, itself seems to be reflecting that the views of the author are rather subjective. The author argues that Bhagavad Gita values subjectivity. Contrary to the traditional sequential presentation, verse by verse linear translation, My Gita is unfolded through a thematic presentation. Like the previous works of the author—Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata and Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, My Gita is also arranged thematically and rich with illustrations.
Arguably, the Bhagavad Gita, a Smriti according to the standards of Hindu Darsana, attained the authenticity of Shruti after Sankara Bhashya. Since then, Bhagavad Gita decorates a distinct status in the Bharateeya philosophical discourse. The introductory chapter of the book provides scholastic views on the history and different phases through which Gita has been evolved and on the role which it has played in reframing Hindu Dharma. The author divides the history of the Gita into four phases. The first wave involved the Sanskrit ‘commentaries’. The second wave was ‘retelling’ of Gita in regional languages. The third involved ‘translations’ by Orientalists like Sir Charles Wilkins, Max Muller, Edwin Arnold etc. and the fourth was the ‘re-translations’ by our nationalists like Tilak, Gandhiji etc.
Considering the idea of rebirth as the cornerstone of Hindu Dharma and God’s Will as that of Abrahamic religions, the author analyses the fundamental differences between Sanatan Hindu Dharma and Semitic religions. For a Hindu, God is neither judge nor any oppressors. Since God of Hinduism is no Judge, Sri Krishna gives no commandments in Gita. The author attempts to clarify some of the popular misconceptions which arise out of flawed perceptions and poor understanding of Hindu Darshana.
Unlike in the other popular commentaries, instead of getting into the nuances of metaphysical and epistemological convolutions or wrestling with Vedantic jargons and terminologies which are alien to laymen and indigestible to young readers, the author juxtaposes the verses with Puranic and Ithihasic lore to elucidate his views. Instead of translations or transliterations, the verses are paraphrased. Amongst all the other modern commentaries of Bhagavad Gita in 21st century, My Gita maintains the fresh, liberal and unique universal outlook of the original scripture so that this notable work would not be mere one among many interpretations.
For those who are interested in reading principal commentaries of Bhagavad Gita, a list of recommended reading has been given at the end of the book. Ganesh Krishnan R