The Bhagavad Gita for Millennials by Bibek Debroy


Bhagavad Gita is the best-known text from India. I am not sure how many people have read it, but everyone loves to quote from it. We know its setting and the fact that Sri Krishna told it to Arjuna at Kurukshetra, and we hear it as Sanjaya told it to Dhritrashtra. It is the most translated and interpreted Indian scripture. Every great man has written about it and has claimed to be influenced by it.

The Bhagawad Gita for Millennials by Bibek DebroyBibek Debroy himself has translated Bhagavad Gita as an independent text as well as, as part of his translation of Mahabharata. He has read many commentaries on the same, although I doubt how many of those commentators would have read Mahabharata in as much detail as him. The Bhagavad Gita for the millennials is neither a translation nor a commentary, though you do end up getting a fair amount of Gita Shlokas along with their translation.

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This book helps you understand Bhagavad Gita in the context of Mahabharata and even other Indian scriptures. It begins by telling you about more than fifty other Gitas that exist across the spectrum of known scriptures, including some in the same Mahabharata. It helps you understand the language and context of the Gita. There is an introduction to the structure and rhythm of Sanskrit – the original language of the text. You can not really appreciate the essence of Gita unless you understand at least functional Sanskrit.

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Bibek Debroy examines if Krishna was a historical figure or not. Like me, he believes it really does not matter and at the same time trusts that he did live. For those who love to see the proof, he does share some of the evidence. But to understand and imbibe Bhagavad Gita in your life, that is really an irrelevant question.

Questions addressed

The author has taken many questions that are often asked by people, who have never really read the scriptures. He has answered them in his own way, quoting examples and references. Most of these would require people to read the scriptures, at least the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in their original forms. In fact, he keeps repeating the importance of reading the scriptures on your own. There is an explanation of the concepts like Dharma, Karma, and Bhakti. An exploration, if they are mutually exclusive paths or really a well-woven braid that helps you move ahead or ‘Aarohan’ as the author puts it. He then takes you to the questions that Gita helps us resolve like ‘Who Am I’. He follows it up by also telling ‘What am I not’.

Read More – Bhagavad Gita by Mani Rao – Book Review

Technolgy-induced Arrogance

I saw myself agreeing to a lot of what the author says in this book. Something that does not happen very often. I loved his mention of technology-induced arrogance. I think it is one of the biggest mental barriers we have today that comes in the way of our own first-hand experiences. The only place I disagreed with is his differentiation between Kshetra and Tirtha. He says Tirtha is a pilgrimage place with a water body and Kshetra without one. I think Kshetra is a bigger area that contains one or more Tirthas. Like Ayodhya has about a hundred Tirthas mentioned within the Ayodhya Tirth Kshetra. As always, I am willing to be corrected.

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Understand Concepts

It is a book that helps you understand the concepts and terms that you need to know before you can really understand and enjoy a text like Bhagavad Gita. This kind of grounding is really required to appreciate and more importantly apply what the texts like Gita are trying to tell us. A couple of generations back, people probably understood these concepts inherently or by observing people around them. Today, we are living in a strange space where we are neither connected enough to our roots to be nurtured by them nor have we completely given them up and taken new roots. So, we need commentaries like these that guide us to read the texts we all know of, but most of us have not read.

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It is easy to read, but then I must say I am not the intended reader of this book. I have read a few scriptures in original and I am aligned with the way they tell us things. A millennium, who this book is written for would be a better judge. It helped me reaffirm a lot of things in my head.

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I hope Bibek Debroy writes more such books. There are not many people like him who have read and translated so many of our ancient scriptures. Even those who have read, do not have the ability to talk in the language of the intended audience – it is a rare gift. There are a couple of editing errors, like the sequence of translations not being consistent and few typo errors. They can be ignored.

Read Bhagavad Gita for Millennials.

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