Why Is The Bhagavadgita Called A Song?

Krishna and Arjuna

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Summary: According to our scriptures, we are not totally at the mercy of gods. Brahma, the creator created a level playing field for both humans and gods by making them interdependent. The gods need you as much as you need them. If you ignore them you will harm yourself and harm them and harm the world. It means that when you ignore them you incur negative karma in three ways and greatly reduce your chances of a good life in the next birth. Besides it will take your straight into the hands of the Asuras (demons) and make you a slave to them. Evil grows in us and in the world when we neglect the gods who reside in us.

The word, "Bhagavadgita" can be translated in the following ways.

1. Bhagavadgita - the song of God, or Vishnu.

2. Bhagavadgita - the song for the servants of God.

3. Bhagavadgita - what is declared or stated by God.

Of the above, I have already explained the meaning of the first two, and now I will explain the third. Literally, gita not only means a song or a chant but also what has been told, declared or said. Thus, Bhagavadgita means what has been told, declared or said by Bhagavat or God.

In Hindu tradition the word gita is also used to denote a sacred writing or a religious exposition. Thus, we have many gitas, like Ashtavakra gita, Siva gita, Rama gita, Bhishma gita, etc. Why do we call a sacred writing a gita? It is because these writings are composed according specific meters and they can be sung loudly. The singing reflects the power of speech, vibrations and harmony (rta). The support for speech is space (akasa), which is an aspect of Brahman. Vedic tradition recognizes speech as the most important aspect of a human being, next only to breath, because speech connects people with people, and people with gods. It is through speech that we invoke gods and communicate with the heaven. Through speech you manifest the power of your mind (man). Hence, a sacred chant is also called a mantra (man+tra).

The tradition of singing in Hindu ritual worship began with the Samaveda. Each of the hymns in the Samaveda is called a Saman, which can be sung loudly by the priests. They are sung at the beginning of a ritual, called introductory samans, during the ritual proper and in the end by different priests. The Chandogya Upanishad extols the greatness and symbolism of Samans. The most sacred of these songs are collectively referred as Udgita, the high chant. It is probably from there that the tradition of calling the sacred writings as gita began. The Bhagavadgita is a more elaborate and complex rendition of an earliest form of singing called the Udgita. We may say that the Udgita is the mother of all the gitas.

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