Preface (Essence of SrI bhagavath gIthA)

SrI:  SrImathE SatakOpAya nama:  SrImathE rAmAnujAya nama:  SrImath varavaramunayE nama:

SrI bhagavath gIthA is the most integral part of the famous epic mahAbhAratha. As the earth was burdened with evil forces, SrIman nArAyaNa appeared as krishNa towards the end of dhvApara yuga to protect the saintly people, eliminate the evil forces and establish dharma, as he himself declared. SrI bhagavath gIthA is glorified as gIthOpanishath for the simple reason of being the scripture which contains the essence of all the upanishaths.

The following well-known slOkam explains the glories of gIthA:

sarvOpanishadhO gAva: dhOgdhA gOpAlanandhana: |
pArthO vathsa: sudhIr bhOkthA dhugdham gIthAmrutham jagath ||

All the upanishaths are cows. The cow-herd boy who milks the cows is krishNa. arjuna is the calf.  The wise are the ones who drink the (sweet) milk. The sweet gIthA is the milk.

AzhwArs have greatly praised the divine words which were directly uttered by krishNa in the form of gIthA. They have emphasised that, having taken birth as a human being, everyone must study and properly understand gIthA for his/her upliftment. gIthA is also very significant for SrIvaishNavas specifically for containing the krishNa charama SlOkam, that is 18.66 sarvadharmAn parithyajya mAm Ekam SaraNam vraja | aham thvA sarvapApEbhyO mOkshayishyAmi mA Sucha: ||” (Fully renouncing all means, consider me as your only means; I will free you from all sins; do not grieve). This charama SlOkam is part of the rahasya manthrams which are taught as part of SrIvaishNava initiation which is known as pancha samskAram, and is considered as the most vital principle for the SrIvaishNavas to understand and follow.

  • nammAzhwAr says in thiruvAimozhi 4.8.5 “aRivinAl kuRaivillA agalgyAlaththavar aRiya neRiyellAm eduththuraiththa niRai gyAnaththoru mUrththi” (For those persons who reside in this world and who don’t realize that they are short of wisdom, emperumAn who is omniscient explained all the different means in the most crisp manner).
  • thirumazhisai AzhwAr says in nAnmugan thiruvanthAdhi 71 “sEyan aNiyan siRiyan migap periyan Ayan thuvarikkOnAy ninRa mAyan anRu Odhiya vAkkathanaik kallAr ulagaththil EthilarAy meygyAnamil” (Being unreachable and at the same time easily approachable, being a small boy and at the same time being great – emperumAn who appeared as a cow-herd boy (having simplicity) and at the same time being the emperor of dhvArakA (having greatness), during the mahAbhAratha war, blessed the gIthA (focus is on charama slOkam). Those residents of this world who do not learn that divine work will be considered as ignorant enemies of bhagavAn.

Our AchAryas too have emphasised the need for studying gIthA. SrI rAmAnuja has mercifully given us a beautiful commentary for gIthA. vEdhAnthAchArya has expanded upon SrI rAmAnuja’s gIthA bhAshya in his commentary thAthparya chandhrikA. These commentaries bring out the true meanings of gIthA SlOkams with apt references from various scriptures.

SrIvaikuNtavAsi ALkoNdavilli gOvindhAchArya swamy, has written an eloquent English translation of SrI rAmAnuja’s gIthA bhAshya. SrIvEnkatESa swamy has simplified this English translation by using contemporary words in place of classical English words (such as thou, thee, hast etc) to make it more understandable for present day readers.

SrIvaikuNtavAsi puththUr krishNaswAmi iyengAr, has written a wonderful thamizh commentary based on gIthA bhAshya and thAthparya chandhrikA. He has also given word-by-word meanings for every SlOka in gIthA. With the help of his thamizh translation, we have compiled the word-by-word meanings and simple translation in English. We hope everyone will relish this humble effort.

SrIvEnkatESa swamy is also instrumental in getting this project started and doing the initial ground work of setting up the SlOkas and providing valuable inputs throughout the translation effort. Our sincere gratitude to his efforts. We also take this opportunity to profusely thank SrI T N krishNan swamy who patiently proof-read this English translation (based on puththUr swamy’s work) and provided valuable inputs to improve the same.

Essence of SrI bhagavath gIthA

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

Preface from ALkoNdavilli gOvindhAchArya swAmy’s English translation of gIthA bhAshyam

Prompted by the growing interest in the vEdhAntha-Philosophy of India, evinced throughout the world in this Nineteenth Century (of the Christian Era), through the efforts of such distinguished scholars, as Max Muller, Paul Deussen, George Thebaut, and others; and through the instrumentality of the great movement known as the Theosophical Society, and the upheaval caused by the eloquent preachings of swAmi vivEkAnandha; and impelled by an earnest desire to promulgate through the English language, the vEdhAntha-doctrines as expounded by the visishtAdhvaitha Sage, Philosopher and Reformer of the Eleventh Century (of the Christian Era, 1017) – SrI rAmAnujAcharya – I have humbly undertaken, as some beginning towards the accomplishment of such an end, the translation of his Commentaries on the memorable work known as the bhagavath gIthA. I have been at this task for nearly five years. When I first put my hand to it, I did so as an exercise, not entertaining the least idea of publication. But as I progressed apace, and the idea of giving out my labors for the benefit of the public flashed on me, I felt a great responsibility; and the work thus became one of strenuous effort, instead of recreation. I had thus to study and revise. This necessarily disclosed the weak points of the first translation, thus necessitating a careful restudy of the original gIthA with the help of thAthparya-chandhrikA — the large gloss, by vEdhAntAcharyar (A.C. 1268) on rAmAnuja’s Commentary, — under the great samskritham Scholar and guru, srI thiruvAimozhi thirunArAyaNAchArya svAmi of mElkOttai (alias thirunArAyaNapuram), — the Holy Shrine inaugurated by rAmAnuja, — situated about thirty miles to the North of mysUr. When I began to be earnest about the publication of the work, I showed the Mss. to Col: H.S. Olcott, when he was on a visit to Mysore in March 1896. He not only encouraged me to publish it but made favorable notice of it in the Theosophist for 1895-96 (P: 225-229). I next submitted the work to srI yOgi S. pArthasArathi aiyangAr, B.A., B.L., of Madras. This Saint blessed it, and furnished me with ample notes and other useful material to be utilized for the work in the best manner I thought fit. So fortified, I wrote out the Mss. for the press, which I found resulting as a third revision of the original Mss. When correcting the proof-sheets I could not again resist the temptation of giving the work more touches. In getting lucid explanations of some difficult passages here and there, I acknowledge my obligations to paNditha vEnkata krishNamAchArya of mysUr and paNditha-rathnam kasthUri rangAchar of the mySur Oriental Library. Also to Mr. A. mahAdhEva sAsthri, B.A., Curator, Oriental Library, for allowing me four palm-leaf Mss. of rAmAnuja’s Commentary with which to collate my samskritham copy.

  1. In a Prospectus, I published in 1895, sketching out the general plan of the work, I stated therein that my translation would include important Introductions and a life of rAmAnuja, and that the whole work would probably occupy about 500 Octavo Pages. But I find that the gIthA alone has encroached on more space (600 Pages) than I had allotted to it with Introductions and Life. As it is, the work is already bulky, and further, the well-wishers of the work, notably Mr. Justice C. rAmAchandra aiyar of the Mysore Chief Court, dissuaded me from making my work too voluminous, advising me in a letter dated 18th November 1897, that I might set apart all my Introductions, and Biographical notices to a separate Volume. Though unwilling at one time to adopt this advice, I have been compelled to do so in the end, making ample amends however for the absence of an Introduction, by adding copious foot-notes prepared from various sources. The bhagavath-gIthA-student, who will peruse these, will find himself there introduced to a number of works extant in Southern India on visishtAdhvaitha literature, and other works also outside that pale, for purposes of useful comparison and edification. Four Tables also have been added, one at end of Lecture I, of the Genealogy of the kuru race (adopted from Davies); a very important one at the end of Lecture II, of the important vidhyAs, or Modes of Divine Meditation taught in the various upanishaths; one at the end of Lecture VII, of Cosmology, according to the visishtAdhvaitha-philosophers; and a fourth at the end of Lecture XVIII showing at a glance, the Soteriology or Ways of Salvation formulated by the rAmAnuja-School. Moreover the public, I am advisedly told, would naturally first like to acquaint themselves with the Ancient Commentators than the opinions of the moderns. If therefore in publishing this First Volume, I, like Max Muller, decided in favor of ‘publishing of the materials rather than to the drawing of the results which those materials supply to the student of ancient language and ancient religion,’ I think I have done well. Besides, my book would have become heavy and very costly.
  2. But briefly, let me, however, as a Prelude to the 2nd Volume of Introductions I have promised myself to write, introduce the reader to the study of the bhagavath gIthA by telling him that it is a work, which occupies itself with an exposition of the Ways of Salvation, of which the Chief taught therein is the Way by God-love or bhakthi. It would require a big treatise to enter into the details of this subject, but let rAmAnuja speak for himself. His School is essentially that which inculcates the Way of Devotion or Love as the happiest and best means to reach God. A well merited tribute is paid by Mrs: Annie Besant to rAmAnuja, the expounder of this Path, when she says:—”Here a Great Sage has helped us—one of those Great Ancient Indian Writers who have devoted themselves to the teaching of the Higher Spiritual Truths—the SAGE RAMANUJA. He has dealt with the preliminary stages by which man develops Devotion, by which he may gradually prepare himself to be a receptacle of real Love.’
  3. srI rAmAnujAchArya, according to tradition, is no other than Adhi sEsha himself incarnated on earth as one of the Spiritual Saviors of mankind, according to the requirements of time, country and people. The tradition alluded to tells us:—

‘anantha: prathamam rUpam, lakshmanas cha thatha: param,

balabhadhras thrithIyas thu kalau kaschit bhavishyathi’

I.e., He (anantha or sEsha, the Symbol of Eternity) who became lakshmaNa (the brother of srI rAma in the thrEthA-age), who became balabhadhra (the brother of krishNa in the dhvApara-age), became srI rAmAnuja in the kali-age. (The vaishNavas of Bengal and the followers of chaithanya, will especially welcome this work of rAmanuja now translated into English for the first time.)

  1. To return. Every lecture in the bhagavath gIthA is called a yOga. This term literally means ‘union’ or that which unites man to God. srIvishNu purANa (VI-7-31) defines the term thus:—

‘Athma-prayathna-sApeksha-visishta ya manO-gathi:

thasya brahmaNi samyOgO yOga ithi abhidhIyathE’

meaning: ‘That is called ‘yOga,’ which makes the mind to unite itself with God—that mind, the workings of which consist (solely) of the endeavors to reaching such a Spiritual Goal.’ So that the object of the bhagavath gIthA is to teach how the mind is to be disciplined and controlled so as to render it fit to contemplate on God, and finally reach Him. The best training is that by bhakthi or Devotional Love, as taught in the gIthA. The reader is referred to the important Soteriological Table appended at the end of the Book, showing at one glance the formulation, by the visishtAdhvaitha Saints, of the several Ways to Salvation. The Several Ways as there shown are Five: viz: (1) karma (action) (2) jnAna/gyAna (Intellect or Knowledge) (3) bhakthi (Devotion or Love) (4) prapaththi (Resignation or God’s Grace) and (5) AchArya-abhimana (Savior’s Grace). bhagavath gIthA however chiefly treats of the former Three and hints at the latter Two. According to the Analysis of the gIthA made by srI yAmunachArya (A.C. 916; the Preceptor of Sri Ramanuja) Karma-yoga (action) is defined as:—

  1. ‘karma-yOgas tapas-thIrtha-dhAna-yagnAdhi-sEvanam;’ or The Way to Salvation by Action is to perform such acts (of righteousness) as Austerities (or mortification of the flesh by diet, fast etc.), Pilgrimages to Holy Rivers (Shrines etc.), doing Charities, conducting large Sacrifices (at much sacrifice of wealth, time and energy) etc., etc. (Vide; Table: Pp: 573-574).
  2. ‘jnAna-yOgO jitha-svanthai: parisuddhAthmani sthithi:’ or the Way to Salvation by Knowledge is to conquer the mind and the senses, and rendering it capable of being concentratedly fixed in the contemplation of the Pure Spirit. (Vide; Table: Pp: 573-574).
  3. bhakhti-yOga: paraikAnthya-prIthya dhyAnAdhishu sthithi:,’ or: the Way to Salvation by Devotion (or God-love) is the establishment of oneself in Divine Worship and Service such as meditating on Him (worshipping Him with flowers etc., hymning His praises, prostrating before Him etc., (vide, gIthA IX-14: ‘sathatham kIrthayanthO etc.,’ and the rest of the Chapter), all which, a result of the ardent Love (or Devotion) for parabrahma (God) felt in the innermost recesses of the heart, and exclusively and unflaggingly rendered to Him.

Sri Yamunacharya winds up his Analysis by declaring:—

‘aikAnth-athyantha-dhAsyaika-rathis that-padham ApnuyAth,

thath-pradhAnam idham sAsthram ithi gIthArtha-sangraha:,’

Or: the Cardinal Doctrine of the gIthA-Science is God-love, one-pointed, intense, and asking nothing but the honor and delight of serving Him. He who acts thus reaches the Estate of God.

  1. bhagavath gIthA is thus a Revelation, whose Purpose is to show mankind the Way to Salvation. As Lord krishNa has shown Himself, by necessary figures and symbols, to be a God of Love (bhakthi), He has thus shown that Love is the safest, happiest and easiest means of reaching Him. From this Scheme of Love none is excluded, whatever be his nation, his country, color or grade.
  2. As in the past, so in the present, mankind will hail with satisfaction a Work in which they will find that to the cold abstraction of a sankara’s God, a rAmAnuja lends a Glowing Living Presence; to the intellectually sublime of a sankara’s ideal, a rAmAnuja lends an emotionally rapturous expression. If a sankara offers ‘the stone of an abstract idea,’ a rAmAnuja gives us ‘the bread of a Concrete Presence.’ I may also further notice that in the very first Proem of rAmAnuja, the reader will find taught the Aspect of God as the Gracious Divine Motherhood,’ coupled with the sublime concepts of His Fatherhood, as Immanent, Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent (=vAsudhEva). I shall now pass on to other points to be noticed in this Preface.
  3. I had also at first intended to print the original slOkas of the gIthA, along with the Translations. But opinions were divided among my friends, some saying that it would be useful; others an encumbrance and unnecessarily raising the price of the Book. I have adopted the middle course, however, of giving the beginning of each verse, for ready reference.
  4. samskritha terms, like those of AthmA, dharma, karma, jnAna, bhakthi, samsAra, sathvam, rajas, thamas, etc., cannot be accurately rendered into English. Even were exact equivalents available, experience teaches that without the samskritha original itself, the sense of a passage as intended by the author, is often not understood. Another difficulty in dealing with samskritha is that the same term is often used in many senses, thus necessitating often the stretching of one’s powers of divination to get at the exact import of a passage. I have therefore endeavored to retain such original terms as far as possible and giving their sense at the same time by the nearest English equivalent. The retention of the samskritha terms will be especially useful to Indian Students, as their mere presence will serve to elucidate a whole passage. The term AthmA, for example, is etymologically renderable as ‘self,’ but to a Western Theologian, ‘soul’ or ‘individual soul’—as rAmAnuja mostly understands by the term— would more readily convey the sense than if atma were rendered as ‘self;’ whereas the absence of the term AthmA,’ and the presence of its rendering ‘self’ to an Indian Theologian, is apt to be understood as either meaning, ‘soul’ (jIvAthmA) or ‘God’ (paramAthmA). The best translation accompanies the term as far as possible, and it is gradually omitted where the reader will have become accustomed to understand the samskritha term itself, and where the translation, particularly when compound words such as Athma-knowledge, Athma-vision etc., occur, would be found cumbersome. Footnotes are also added at such junctures as aids to the reader to accurately understand the passages.
  5. One word is necessary about the formation of compound words. In no other language is the practice of compound word-forming carried to such an extent as in samskritha. By its means, the case-endings of a host of terms are omitted, and brevity and terseness in expression are thereby secured. Translators have been obliged to deal with such terms by resorting to the manufacture of hybrid adjectives such for example as sAsthraic, vEdhic, kArmic etc; but to me this seemed awkward, nor is it necessary. For there seems no chance of understanding less by the retention of a compound form in the translation, than by that form broken up into hybrid adjectives and substantives. By a compound word like, say, ‘sAsthra-injunction,’ it is not likely that the sense will be misunderstood as it would be understood if the word were split up into ‘sAsthraic injunctions,’ or were paraphrased into ‘the injunctions of sAsthra.’ If the former is mongrel, the latter (paraphrase) has the fault of verbosity. I have therefore avoided all the English ‘ick’ ings of samskritha substantives; and the reader must be prepared to meet with such compound expressions as Athma-cognition—meaning the cognition of AthmA—, vEdha-injunctions—meaning the injunctions of vEdha,—mOksha-aspirant—meaning the aspirant for mOksha, etc. The sooner the Western public gets accustomed to such samskritha formations, the better will it get an insight into the spirit of that language and the sooner will it be initiated into the speedier comprehension of the spirit of samskritham when even a slight ability is acquired to read the Original samskritham itself.
  6. The Scheme of Transliteration adopted is mostly that adopted by Monier Williams. I have found this scheme the best. It is printed on a separate page (x) for reference, as also a list of Abbreviations (ix).
  7. My bringing out a Second Volume of Introductions will depend upon the success that this Volume will meet, and the appreciation which it may receive at the hands of all lovers of Indian Thought.
  8. The Printing alone of the work, by the vaijayanthi Press, Madras, by its Manager, Mr. P. srInivAsa chArlu, B.A., has taken a year. It could not possibly be done under that period, considering the difficulties of getting all the diacritical types required in several founts, that the critical publication of any important samskritha Treatise necessarily warrants. The matter of the work being mine, the manner of the work is entirely due to the patient and earnest attention bestowed by Mr. P. srInivAsa chArlu, of the above-mentioned Press. He had undertaken, for the first time, a work of this class; and now he has had experience in this direction, I believe that no other press in Madras can undertake to edit works of this nature in the thorough and workman-like manner that he has done.


Mysore, 10th December 1898.

Simplified by: SrIvEnkatESa rAmAnuja dhAsan
Edited/Published by: sArathy rAmAnuja dhAsan

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