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Nithin Sridhar

Is Bhagavad Gita a violent book? Lord Meghnad Desai, the economist and professor emeritus at the London School of Economics, seems to think so.


While speaking on the topic ‘Gandhiji`s views on violence’ during the 12th Prof Ramlal Parikh Memorial Lecture organized by Indian Society for Community Education in Ahmedabad, he is reported to have said: Gandhiji`s endorsement of Bhagvad Gita, whose end outcome is that ultimately everybody should go out and kill everybody. Mahabharata war, if taken literally, was similar to a holocaust.”

In other words, Gita promotes mindless violence and along with Mahabharata propagates holocaust, according to Lord Desai.

The statement is not only objectionable, but is also highly incorrect and misleading. But, before proceeding further, it must be added that Lord Desai is not the first person to make such shallow claims.

Wendy Doniger, an American scholar of Hinduism, who has become well-known for distortions and perversions of Hindu symbols, had once spoken about Gita thus: “The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think…Throughout the Mahabharata … Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war…. The Gita is a dishonest book …

Thus, these mindless attacks against Bhagavad Gita is not at all new. But, nevertheless, the incorrectness of these assertions must be called out each time such assertions are made.

The very first thing that Lord Desai fails to do is to examine Gita on its own terms. Gita is basically a book on Dharma, a term, which actually does not as such mean religion. Dharma means ‘that which upholds’ the universe as well as each being in the Universe. In the context of humans, Dharma refers to duty and righteousness. Thus, Gita contains the teachings of Lord Krishna on human duties and righteousness.

In other words, Lord Krishna does not goad human beings to commit ‘murderous behaviors’ as alleged by Wendy Doniger nor does Mahabharata endorse holocaust, as alleged by Lord Desai. Instead, Gita only asks people to practice their duties and never to abandon them. But, Arjuna, to whom Lord Krishna had revealed Gita, was a Kshatriya (Warrior). He was from a Royal family and thus his duty was to fight in a war for justice, righteousness, and protection of kingdom. Lord Krishna only asked Arjun to fulfill his duties without running away from them.

That, Mahabharata does not endorse mindless war is further established by the fact that the Pandavas and Krishna made their best attempts to avoid a war. Duryodhana not only refused to give half the kingdom which rightfully belonged to the Pandavas, he completely rejected their demand for granting at least five villages so that he can live peacefully. Only when Duryodhana refused to mend his ways and continued to act unjustly and unrighteously that Pandavas decided to wage a war. Mahabharata, thus, was a righteous war waged to end injustice and unrighteous rule.

It is true that any war results in hundreds of thousands of deaths. But that in itself does not make war bad. The kind of pacifism and total non-violence advocated by some people is not only impractical, if it is implemented it would be disastrous. If a nation or a society does not maintain armed forces for ensuring security of its citizens, then such a nation is always under the threat of being annexed by powerful nations and societies. This is not mere conjecture. It is well established in history, how powerful nations always conquer weaker nations.

It is keeping this in mind that Hindu scriptures, including Gita never prescribe pacifism. It is also to be noted that at an individual level, total non-violence is only possible when people completely overcome their desires. Because, desires ultimately lead to exertion to fulfill them and this almost always is accompanied by some form of violence. Further, the inability of a person to acquire the object of his desire will lead to frustration, which again leads to violence. Thus, Hinduism prescribes total non-violence only to the renunciates, who have already transcended their desires. And for all others, it preaches righteous means for fulfilling desires that involves the least possible violence.

The fact that Lord Desai or Hinduism scholars like Doniger have made such sweeping statements about Mahabharata without understanding these nuances, actually casts serious doubts about their scholarships and motives.

The Bhagavad Gita is a beautiful text which, not only imparts teachings of the highest truth and ideals, but also imparts practical instructions regarding how to inculcate those ideals and attain the highest truth.

Most importantly, Gita is not a manual of dry philosophy, preaching unattainable and impractical ideals like pacifism, which in practice will have catastrophic effects on people, society, and nation. Instead, it teaches people to follow their Swadharma– duties and righteousness- that would slowly take them to the highest truth. (Photo: blog.onlineprasad.com)


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