The Haryana government organized Gita Festival in Kurkshetra with a budget of Rs 100 Crores. This was to celebrate the teachings of Bhagavad Gita. This is the place where Lord Krishna is believed to have delivered the sermons that form the core of a version of Hinduism. The celebration of the Gita Festival has been very meticulous to involve most of the districts of Haryana and is replete with seminars and cultural programs around the teachings of this holy book. As such it is a Holy Scripture, which has been most in news from last quite some time. Those taking part in the festival include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Yog Peeth, Ram Krishna Mission, and ISKCON.
This state funded festival comes in the backdrop of the Modi Sarkar coming to power at the centre. Modi, in his innumerable trips abroad has been gifting Gita to the dignitaries overseas. Also his foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had once proclaimed that Gita should be declared as the national book. One recalls that many BJP ruled state Governments like MP have started teaching Gita Saar (Essence of Gita) in their schools. When BJP was in power in Karnataka, the State government had planned to introduce the teaching of Gita in its schools. There is also an attempt to present this holy tome not as a religious book but a book of Indian Philosophy, cutting across different religions. For example Madhya Pradesh High court has ruled (Jan 2012) that “Gita is essentially a book on Indian philosophy, not a book on Indian religion”. This judgment seems to be influenced more by the dominant political ideology than the theological understanding of Hinduism or the principles of Indian Constitution or even by the practices of the Courts themselves. One knows that Gita is used in the courts for administering oath to Hindus before they depose.
The Bhagwat Gita or Gita (Song of God) is a 700 verse scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata. As it is drawn from Mahabharata it can be labeled as Smriti text (from memory). Some sects of Hinduism give it the status of Upanishad, thereby making it sruti (revealed) book. It is also regarded to represent the summary of Upanishadic teachings and so it is also called as ‘Upanishad of Upanishads’. In this Holy Scripture Lord Krishna teaches Arjun about his duties as a Prince belonging to Kshtriya Varna. Arjun was faced with the dilemma of the war, the possibility of killing his own kin. Lord tells Arjun that it is his holy duty to undertake the war. As most holy scriptures are the revelations from the supreme God, in Gita also Krishna reveals his identity as Supreme Being himself (Svayam Bhagvan) and this book is also regarded as the core of Hindu philosophy.
The Gita elaborates on the central part of Hindu theology, the origin of Varnas. In Purush Sukta of Vedas tell us as to how Lord Brahma created four Varnas from the body of Virat Purush (Primeval man). In Gita on similar lines Lord Krishna also tells about the divine origin of Varna’s. Lord says that the fourfold order was created by him according to the divisions of quality (Guna) and work (karma).
One knows that origin of Hinduism is different from the Prophet based religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and Islam. Here there has been an evolution of the Hinduism over a period of time and today while Hinduism is a religion, Gita is its Holy Scripture. To take the stand that it is Indian philosophy and not religious one is far from truth. There is philosophy also in many a Holy Scriptures. Notwithstanding that, they are primarily religious scriptures. From the religion of Pastoral Aryans to the practices of Hindus today, there is a long journey. The communal forces want to introduce this text in schools as not only they want to impose Hindu nation in this country but also through this book, they aim to reinforce the concept of Varna, which is one of the core doctrine of Brahmanical version of Hinduism, and Gita tells this by attributing Varna to the divine creation by Lord Himself. While there are many a philosophical formulations in this divine book there is also the subtle defense of what the Hindutva politics wants to bring in today, Varan- Jati in a repackaged form.
Dharma spoken of in Gita is essentially is Varnashram Dharma, which is a graded hierarchy, which is against the spirit of Indian Constitution, the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Gita’s Varnashram Dharma violates the principles of equality. So here you are showing that violation of norms of equality. Surely, Gita is a Holy Hindu scripture. We are a secular country, where citizenship is equal for people of all religions. So here you violate the secular ethos of our country by state sponsoring a festival in its name. Ambedkar, the Chairman of drafting committee of Indian Constitution, had an interesting take on Gita. In his work ‘Philosophy of Hinduism’ (Critical Quest 2010) where he points out that ‘Bhagwat Gita is a Manusmriti in Nutshell’. His supporting the burning of Manusmriti was symbolic of opposing the hierarchy inherent in the Brahmanical Hinduism. It is also true that what has been asserted as Hinduism from last two centuries is Brahmanical Hinduism. Gita does represent the Brahmanical Hinduism, in contrast to other Hindu traditions like Nath, Tantra, Siddha, Shaiva and Bhakti. These traditions are away from Brahmanical hierarchical values. RSS-Hindutva has made Brahmanical values as the base of their politics.
So while there is a lot of confusion among many who eulogize Gita, the practitioners of Hindutva politics RSS-BJP are very consciously promoting Gita, as the restoration of caste and gender hierarchy is the core agenda of their politics. Gita is not a national book; it is a Holy Hindu Scripture for sure. Indian Constitution is our National book. The verdict of the court needs re-examination as it is not conforming to the belief of millions of Hindus who have been away from Brahmanical notions.
Writer is a IIT Prof. and Involved with human rights and activities, communal harmony and initiatives to rising tide of fundamentalism in India.