As an opening sentence, it is perhaps the best yet. A blind king, Dhritirashtra, asks his charioteer, Sanjaya, what his sons and the sons of Pandu, both of whom were wanting to fight, did on the battlefield?
The suspense-filled question, however, occurs in the middle of the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata. Sanjaya’s account has come to be known as ‘The Book’ sacred to the Hindu faith called The Bhagavad Gita, and so is often found as an independent book. Dhritirashtra’s question mentioned above is the opening question of that book.
Innumerable translations and interpretations have deliberated on the Bhagavad Gita, but somehow, the suspense still remains: not so much about who won or lost or was wounded on the battlefield, but more on what Sanjaya reported and what is meant by it. Bibek Debroy’s new book with a seemingly ageist title, The Bhagavad Gita for Millennials, is a valuable addition to this. Valuable because it is not a translation of the Gita, but an understanding of it, in the context of the entire system of Hindu faith. It is meant to be that prod that makes millennials want to understand better what Sanjaya said. It is also useful as a prod for non-millennials to gain knowledge without appearing ignorant. And Debroy supplies the background, the tools. He does so meticulously and repetitively as a good teacher would.
Divided into ten chapters, the first three chapters prepare the ground while the next seven present the Gita, not in the sequence they appear in the text but more as they flow in Debroy’s thought process and explanations. Through the entire book not all the verses of the Gita have been explained, only some have been dealt with.
A significant chapter is titled ‘Bhagavad Gita Synthesis’ in which Debroy speaks of how yoga which means yoking together is used as a chapter heading in the Gita. Therefore it is that we find the synthesis of the human and the divine, the six schools of philosophical thought and so on in the Gita. In Debroy’s chapter too there is an interesting weaving of a rich matrix of thinkers who have contributed immensely to the manner and method of appreciating the Gita, be it Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Sankara or Rajaji. Particularly since this book is meant for those who are trying to find their footing while tackling the Gita, the voices of these thinkers synthesize many dimensions, easily.
For example, even if it is to motivate the reader to read the entire Bhagavad Gita, he quotes Sankara’s famous stotram Bhaja Govindam to lead to the expression, ‘….Bhagavad Gita, Kinchidadhita’… ‘Having studied a little bit of the Gita.’ And goes on to say, ‘As if reading a few verses from the Bhagavad Gita is enough for salvation… it should be read, but all of it, not just a verse from here and a verse from there.’
In the process of talking of how the Bhagavad Gita synthesizes different schools of philosophy including the Pancharatra, Debroy gives a glimpse of terms and concepts like the eight limbs of yoga, the different vayus in the body, the gunas, concepts of Purusha and Prakriti, the mahabhutas, the jnanendriyas, not to mention jivatma and paramatma and so on. He also suggests that the Moksha Dharma Parva, also from the Mahabharata be read to understand the Gita better.