Bhagavad Gita - Religion in India
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Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is part of a longer poem, the Mahabharata, that was written in India probably about 300 BC (though historians disagree about the date). The Bhagavad Gita (BA-ga-vad GEE-ta with a hard G) sums up the main Hindu philosophy and faith of the period, including apparently new ideas about dharma and karma and nirvana.

terracotta relief of men and horses in a battle
Arjuna fighting Karna, with Krishna as his charioteer
(Duttapara Temple, ca. 1500s AD)

In the Bhagavad Gita, a great battle is about to begin. Arjuna, the prince who is leading one side, is upset because he will have to kill his own relatives, some of whom are fighting on the other side. The Hindu god Krishna, who is disguised as Arjuna's charioteer, tells Arjuna not to worry about people dying in battle, because their souls will be reborn into new bodies. People should not think about their own little souls anyway, Krishna says, but they should try to become part of the great Soul that is the whole universe.


A man reciting the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita

Krishna goes on to tell Arjuna that he is God. To convince Arjuna, Krishna shows him his true form, which is this same great Soul, the whole universe, like a thousand suns. This frightens Ajuna, but it also convinces him that Krishna is right.

Krishna tells Arjuna that he must choose the path of good or evil: he can't stay neutral. It's his duty - his dharma - to fight the Kauravas, and fighting will rebalance good and evil in the world. Finally convinced, Arjuna plunges into the battle.

Learn by doing: write about a time when you made a choice for good or evil, or did your duty.
More about the Mahabharata
More about ancient India

Bibliography and further reading about the Bhagavad Gita:

More about Hinduism
More about ancient India
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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