The Bhagavad Gita | Study Guide


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Anonymous | Biography


Uncertain Dates and Authorship

The writing of the Bhagavad Gita is not attributed with certainty to any one author. Much speculation exists about who wrote the text—a single person or many people. Scholars also debate about when the Gita was written, making it even more difficult to pin down a possible source. The legendary Indian sage Vyasa (lived c. 1500 BCE) is sometimes considered the writer of the Mahabharata, which now includes the Bhagavad Gita. However, Vyasa is more widely accepted as one early compiler of an ongoing story rather than as its creator ("compiler" is the meaning of the Sanskrit word vyasa).

Theories of Authorship

Supporting the theory of multiple authorship, 20th-century scholar Gajanan S. Khair asserts that three distinct authors of the Gita wrote separate sections. The first two authors wrote before the lifetime of Indian teacher Buddha (c. 6th–4th century BCE) and before Buddhism took root. (Buddhism, a religion of eastern and central Asia, advocates that suffering is inherent to living but that it can be alleviated through wisdom.) They addressed their philosophy primarily to a high-caste, learned audience. Khair maintains that the third author probably lived as Buddhism spread in its early days and wrote with more inclusivity toward all castes. The distinct ways the authors approach their audiences indicate they may have written the Gita over several hundred years.

Conversely, professor of social sciences M. V. Nadkarni (b. 1939) argues against the theory of multiple authors as supported by distinctly different sections of the Gita. Although many scholars agree that the text lacks a unifying theme, Nadkarni points out that the Gita is an informal dialogue between two people. Informal dialogue, by nature, wanders from topic to topic. It does not read like a portion of scripture with a single central concept. Furthermore, Nadkarni notes that the Gita is intended to discuss and synthesize, or bring together, prominent schools of Hindu thought. Therefore, it moves from idea to idea to show an array of ideologies.

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