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What is the Bhagavad Gita?

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

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Arjuna fighting Karna, with Krishna as his charioteer (Duttapara Temple, ca. 1500s AD)

Arjuna fighting Karna, with Krishna as his charioteer (Duttapara Temple, ca. 1500s AD)

What’s the Bhagavad Gita’s story?

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.

Who is Krishna?
What is dharma?

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 appears in his true form

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.

Arjuna must choose: good or evil?

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.
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