An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Was Krishna's Gita a Rebellion of his times?

Lord Krishna has been known as the greatest Vedic philosopher of his time, probably of all times. Vedas – four as they are named in modern times – are said to be the scriptural authorities for the Hindus. They represent the eternal knowledge captured in words. These four are:

– Rig Ved
– Yajur Ved
– Sam Ved
– Atharva Ved

Amazingly, Krishna mentions only the first three in Bhagwad Gita. It was quite strange that he does that repeatedly in Chapters 9 and 10. For someone known to be the greatest Vedic philosopher of all time to cite only three out of four Vedas is strange. I am not sure why this is so, but I intend to find some answer soon.

The tutelage and his later understanding and preaching of the Vedic/Upanishadic (I feel it is more of the Upanishadic message than Vedic) message is very interesting story. He was taught by Maharishi Ghor Angiras (see the shloka). Maharishi Angiras is historically said to be one of the greatest Rishis of his time and was a Sam-Vedi (Sam Ved expert). That is why some say that when Lord Krishna describes his "characteristics", and comes to liken himself to various entities and emotions, the good and the bad – he calls himself "Sam Ved". "Amongst the Vedas, I am Sam Veda" he says (Chapter 10, verse 22). Which was intriguing to me when I first heard that shloka, for logically if he has to liken himself with any Veda, it should have been Rig Veda! Why Sam Veda? The last of the three Vedas he refers to?? But when you see which Vedic School he belonged to, it becomes clear why.

Now, this is where interesting things start happenning. Something about Maharishi Ghor Angiras – he was a royal blood, who had become an ascetic and performed very harsh penance and meditation (Ghor epithet comes from there). He was also supposed to be a cousin of Krishna. Somewhere during that time he renounced all things and became a non-violence proponent and is known as the 22nd Tirthankar in Jainism – Neminath.. There are references to him in Jain scriptures as well as Upanishads (Chhandogyopanishad).

This seems to bring us to the most amazing diversion between Lord Krishna’s teachings and those of his Guru. In verse 25 of Chapter 10, after announcing himself as akin to Sam Veda, Krishna likens himself to Maharishi Bhrigu, and not Maharishi Angiras.

इन्द्रियानार्थान्विमूढात्मा मिथ्याचार:

Was this deliberate?

Well, if this wasn’t enough, read this – for a student of an ascetic (who went on to do harsh penances & meditation after giving up active life), to say that to forcibly give up action and start meditating or perform penance is idiocy and the work of a hypocrite (mithyachaari), is pretty harsh for a Guru’s chosen path!! In fact, while Maharishi Angiras went on to be the high level preacher of non-violence; Krishna, on the other hand, became famous for having given the call for battle to Arjun.

Another thing that is striking about Krishna’s treatise on the Vedic knowledge in Gita is that he repeatedly extols the importance of "understanding the core" of the Vedas as opposed to the knowledge of the Vedas. Specially in Shloka 46 of chapter 2, he makes a very categoric statement for the knowing of Tatva (or the essence) of the Vedas as opposed to the Vedas. Why is that so?

I have often felt when reading the Gita that Krishna was delivering a message that was going against the grain of prevailing wisdom or interpretation of Vedas (at least the three that he lists – probably they were the only ones which were there originally). His message seems like a rebellion to the standing authority of that time, as it were. And if you take the entire scenario into picture:

  • – Gita is nothing but a commentary of Vedas and Upanishads.
  • – He is giving this knowledge to Arjun, who has had the greatest education that money and pedigree could provide at that time. So to assume he had never read or heard about Upanishads and Vedas is impossible.
  • – Arjun seems to be in states ranging from curiousity, disbelief, confusion to lack of basic understanding of Gita’s message. When Krishna delivers it seems that Arjun’s understanding of some of the Vedic treatise was entirely different. So, does Gita represent a radical breakaway from Arjun’s knowledge of the same Vedic/Upanishadic philosophy?

Why is that? It is hard for me to believe that Arjun had not heard of these precepts if he had even done a one time crash course in Upanishads. Was the message of the Vedas and Upanishads twisted by then (and so needed to be re-aligned to its “core”?)?

यावानर्थ उदपाने सर्वत: सम्प्लुतोदके |
तवंसर्वेषु वेदेषु ब्रह्मंणस्य विजानत: ||

In fact in Chapter 2, where Krishna takes pains to explain the importance of understanding the essence of Vedas as opposed to getting the knowledge of Vedas, that chapter is about Sankhya Yoga (the beginnings of duality as an explanation in Vedic times). The philosophy was given by Rishi Kapil. Although this one chapter is totally and namely devoted to Sankhya Yoga, but the commentary on its most important precepts is throughout the entire Gita.

What are then the most important lessons that come out of Gita and why?

  • – Balanced and unattached action
  • – Predominant importance of Knowledge and understanding of the essence of the core
  • – God is everything – the good, the bad, and the neutral
  • – It is not just important to be good (or Sattvik) but beyond the good and the bad (गुनातीत)

What does all this point to? Going past attachments. How can that happen? When there is no duality. Duality assumes relationship, and so attachment. When there is only one and there is realization of that ONE as you, and you as IT, any concept of relationship and attachment becomes irrelevant. For such "going-beyond" he does not recommend or suggest escape from attachment – which most Rishis and Maharishis were fond of, but accepting the avenues of attachment and dealing with them with complete equanimity. Nor the love nor any hatred. When the becoming ceases, the being emerges. This simple message, it seems, was too radical at that time. Intriguing!

Interestingly, another major lesson emerges: revering Guru and his message without “Manan” is useless. And even a Guru can be debated against. Reverence without introspection is useless in the spiritual journey. That is why the word for human being is मनुष्य (Manushya) – the one who introspects.

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14 Comments
  1. Anonymous says

    Desh, Interestingly, the Quran is recited in the tune of the Saam Ved. As you know, each of the Vedas have a distinct chant. My family hail from a line of vedic scholars in the south, and we follow the Rig-Veda, and are called “Vaidikis”, aka followers of the Vedas. Of course since i’m married to a ‘Mareddy’ I now dont follow the ‘tradition’!

    PS: I have cross posted this article at chilligavva
    – Lakshmi Mareddy

  2. Desh says

    Lakshmi, thanks for cross-posting. It is amazing to know someone who comes from that rich Vedic tradition. I did not realize that there were families which were experts in one Veda only and followed that tradition. For something that was passed on verbally, it makes complete sense.

    Krishna is one protagonist amongst all philosophers and great thinkers that has fascinated me. I am intrigued by the way he describes himself as God and defines himself. It seems that each example he gave – Maharishi Bhrigu, Himalaya were all for a reason.

    Maybe I will write about it one day.

    -d.

  3. Desh says

    Lakshmi, thanks for cross-posting. It is amazing to know someone who comes from that rich Vedic tradition. I did not realize that there were families which were experts in one Veda only and followed that tradition. For something that was passed on verbally, it makes complete sense.

    Krishna is one protagonist amongst all philosophers and great thinkers that has fascinated me. I am intrigued by the way he describes himself as God and defines himself. It seems that each example he gave – Maharishi Bhrigu, Himalaya were all for a reason.

    Maybe I will write about it one day.

    -d.

  4. Shyam says

    Geeta 4.2 answers your doubts about Arjuna not knowing essence of Vedas beforehand.
    Krishna says that this yoga was ‘luptapray’ (almost lost) for some time and hence Arjuna didn’t know about that.

  5. Shyam says

    Geeta 4.2 answers your doubts about Arjuna not knowing essence of Vedas beforehand.
    Krishna says that this yoga was ‘luptapray’ (almost lost) for some time and hence Arjuna didn’t know about that.

  6. Desh says

    Thanks Shyam! I read that shloka as well but I disagree with the interpretation. If you read through the Upanishads you will know that some of the verses in Gita are almost verbatim. Gyan can be interpretated in two ways – the text itself and the intrepretation. Was tthe text “lupt” or its interpretation? If you read some other parts – Krishna emphasized not on the texts of the Vedas but its core or “Tatva”! Was the text lost or its meaning? To think that the text of Vedas and Upanishads had been lost in not believable.

  7. Desh says

    Thanks Shyam! I read that shloka as well but I disagree with the interpretation. If you read through the Upanishads you will know that some of the verses in Gita are almost verbatim. Gyan can be interpretated in two ways – the text itself and the intrepretation. Was tthe text “lupt” or its interpretation? If you read some other parts – Krishna emphasized not on the texts of the Vedas but its core or “Tatva”! Was the text lost or its meaning? To think that the text of Vedas and Upanishads had been lost in not believable.

  8. Kumar Narasimha says

    Desh,

    Thought provoking post.

    Lakshmi,

    Interesting to know Quran is recited in the tune of Sam Ved. Can you please point any sources that suggest/establish this?

    Regarding Vaidikis of Andhra Pradesh, yes, the term ‘Vaidiki’ means ‘followers of the veda’ and vaidikis from different areas within AP and North Tamil Nadu claim to follow Rig, Atharva or Yajurveda.

    However, what this means is that those Brahmin sects do their ‘karmas’ (ceremonies like shraddh, upanayanam etc.) based on the customs specific to their sect. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not indicate that those families have expertise in that particular veda. Most of them (with the exception of few genuine vedic scholars) would not know the difference between the vedas at all.

    The term Vaidiki actually indicates families that were engaged in priestly duties once upon a time.This community produced temple priests, teachers, and physicians. And in some cases, advisors to the kings. The ‘Niyogis’, are actually the more numerous sect. Most of the administrative officials are from this community. So, vaidiki is just a term to differentiate the priest and the clerk.

    All brahmins in India have a lineage that can be traced to one of the major rishis/vedic scholars.The ‘gotra’ is the indicator for this lineage.For example, I am a Vaidiki brahmin, and my gotram is Koundinyasa. That means I have descended from the rishi koundinya.

    The Kshatriyas have ‘gotras’ such as ‘Surya Vamsa’, ‘Chandra Vamsa’ etc. The intermediate castes have ‘gotras’ named after plants and fruits.

    cheers,
    Kumar

  9. Kumar Narasimha says

    Desh,

    Thought provoking post.

    Lakshmi,

    Interesting to know Quran is recited in the tune of Sam Ved. Can you please point any sources that suggest/establish this?

    Regarding Vaidikis of Andhra Pradesh, yes, the term ‘Vaidiki’ means ‘followers of the veda’ and vaidikis from different areas within AP and North Tamil Nadu claim to follow Rig, Atharva or Yajurveda.

    However, what this means is that those Brahmin sects do their ‘karmas’ (ceremonies like shraddh, upanayanam etc.) based on the customs specific to their sect. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not indicate that those families have expertise in that particular veda. Most of them (with the exception of few genuine vedic scholars) would not know the difference between the vedas at all.

    The term Vaidiki actually indicates families that were engaged in priestly duties once upon a time.This community produced temple priests, teachers, and physicians. And in some cases, advisors to the kings. The ‘Niyogis’, are actually the more numerous sect. Most of the administrative officials are from this community. So, vaidiki is just a term to differentiate the priest and the clerk.

    All brahmins in India have a lineage that can be traced to one of the major rishis/vedic scholars.The ‘gotra’ is the indicator for this lineage.For example, I am a Vaidiki brahmin, and my gotram is Koundinyasa. That means I have descended from the rishi koundinya.

    The Kshatriyas have ‘gotras’ such as ‘Surya Vamsa’, ‘Chandra Vamsa’ etc. The intermediate castes have ‘gotras’ named after plants and fruits.

    cheers,
    Kumar

  10. Desh says

    Thanks Kumar, for the very interesting comments! I guess this tradition of Vaidekis must have been started to pass over the knowledge over the ages but it got restricted to following rituals later on forgetting that Vedantic tradition – specially the Upanishads were more than that!

  11. Lakshmi says

    Kumar, I think I should clarify.. I meant that the Quran and Sama ved are sung in a similar fashion.. I apologise if my sentence conveyed otherwise..

    As you must be aware, being a vaidiki, that each veda has a distinct tune, and is sung in a specific manner. [recitation is a more modern approach, quite like our poetry tradition.] We used to have a family friend who actually pointed out the similarities, but I was around 12-13 years then, and do not recollect. That was the first time I even heard of a similarity. But this point has always intrigued me, and hopefully I shall find content that will add or detract. But at the moment, i do not have documentary data to make my case.

    Regarding gotra, my personal opinion is that its just a system that is India centric. When you consider humanity in totality, a DNA approach is much wiser, than say gotra.

    There is an ancient Indian tradition called “Pravara” which is a way of introducing yourself to a stranger and in the recital, you recite your lineage upto 7 generations. That is how people relate to you. In the olden days, our tradition was more oral than written and this system worked as good as the western “Letters of Introduction”. In English the recital would translate to “I son of “GHI”, who is the son of “FGH”, who is the son of “EFG”…” upto 7 generations back..

    On the net, V. Ramachandra Rao has written a good deal about the cultural heritage of AP that makes an interesting read.

  12. Desh says

    Thanks Kumar, for the very interesting comments! I guess this tradition of Vaidekis must have been started to pass over the knowledge over the ages but it got restricted to following rituals later on forgetting that Vedantic tradition – specially the Upanishads were more than that!

  13. Lakshmi says

    Kumar, I think I should clarify.. I meant that the Quran and Sama ved are sung in a similar fashion.. I apologise if my sentence conveyed otherwise..

    As you must be aware, being a vaidiki, that each veda has a distinct tune, and is sung in a specific manner. [recitation is a more modern approach, quite like our poetry tradition.] We used to have a family friend who actually pointed out the similarities, but I was around 12-13 years then, and do not recollect. That was the first time I even heard of a similarity. But this point has always intrigued me, and hopefully I shall find content that will add or detract. But at the moment, i do not have documentary data to make my case.

    Regarding gotra, my personal opinion is that its just a system that is India centric. When you consider humanity in totality, a DNA approach is much wiser, than say gotra.

    There is an ancient Indian tradition called “Pravara” which is a way of introducing yourself to a stranger and in the recital, you recite your lineage upto 7 generations. That is how people relate to you. In the olden days, our tradition was more oral than written and this system worked as good as the western “Letters of Introduction”. In English the recital would translate to “I son of “GHI”, who is the son of “FGH”, who is the son of “EFG”…” upto 7 generations back..

    On the net, V. Ramachandra Rao has written a good deal about the cultural heritage of AP that makes an interesting read.

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