Trailblazers: Simplifying The Bhagavad Gita – Avinash Kumar, PGP 1994
The Bhagavad Gita literally translates to The song of God, and has been a source of guidance and motivation to many. It is believed that an understanding of The Gita can help us with our daily lives and is an invaluable practical guide. However, it is not very simple to read and comprehend. The verses are in Sanskrit which are long, complicated and difficult to understand.
The Bhagavad Gita always inspired Avinash and wanted the teachings of Gita to reach larger masses. He took on the task of translating of The Gita, into a simpler poetic Hindi version. This took him seven years to accomplish and the result is beautiful. Gita Saar by Avinash captures the essence of Gita and presents it with utmost simplicity.
When and how did you get the idea to translate the Bhagavad Gita into a simplified Hindi version?
Bhagavad Gita inspired me right from the beginning. Even as a child, we used to study various books discussing the tenets of Gita, but there were differences across interpretation of various authors. I always had the desire to read it first hand and understand the same. About 6-7 years back, I started reading Gita. As I read, I also thought that it would be even better if I could render a translation to alleviate the same challenge that I faced, i.e. reading through Sanskrit. As the thought developed, I found it a more compelling proposition to not just translate Gita, but also render it in simple poetic form, so that the rhythm and rhyme adds to the experience. Thus began my journey of reading, understanding, translating and creating a poetic version in simple Hindi.
What was the your driving force behind taking up such a mammoth task?
I always believed in the profound tenets of Karma, Bhakti and Gyan Yog enunciated in Gita. It pained me a lot to see that several people who could also benefit from Gita, are simply not able to do so because of language barrier. Ramcharitmanas is a household name, thanks to Goswami Tulsidas, who created a simple Avadhi version of Ramayana, originally written in Sanskrit. Even as there are several version of Gita in various languages, there is not a single popular version of Gita in Hindi (the most popular language and the national language of our country) that delivers Gita in simple poetic form. Gita is perceived to be a gateway to moksha, and often associated with passing on from this life. Public perception therefore relates to Gita more as an instrument to derive peace during a bereavement, rather than an source of wisdom for our day to day lives. As a result, very few people know and benefit from simple but eternal roadmap for leading a purposeful life. It was the desire to bridge this gap, that I decided to create a version that is easy to listen and recite. I sincerely hope, that as more and more people read / hear Gita, they would be able to resolve their day to day conflicts, without an impression that teachings of Gita are too idealistic, or difficult to follow.
What kind of research and efforts went into accomplishing the translation?
The research was very arduous. I would have gone through more than 500 versions of Gita across booka, audio books and videos to understand various perspectives. I read about a dozen translations of Gita to geta good grasp on the nuances. At times, I even referred to the Rig Veda and SamVeda, to polish my own understanding, as Gita has drawn significantly from the Vedas. But most of this research was spread over couple of years – as and when I found time from work – over the weekends, early mornings, during flights etc. I would pull out some artefact on Gita and revisit my thoughts. Quite often, I came across versions that sought to promote Hinduism under the garb of Gita, interpretations aimed at promoting a particular sect or seer, and translations heavily influenced by the author’s own belief, rather than the real teachings imparted by Krishna. It was a tight rope walk in eliminating such biases, while retaining the underlying knowledge. Finally, I was able to create a version that closely mirrored Krishna’s teachings, bereft of personal agendas.
Once I had the base ready, I started translating verse by verse into plain Hindi poetic form. There would have been at least half a dozen revisions to the first draft – improving upon the rhymes, vocabulary, content and implied meaning. The first version of the entire compendium of 700 shlokas became ready in early 2020. Thereafter, I started working on putting together a summary via video, because I realised that not everyone would have the time or inclination to go through entire Gita in one go. Hence was born the Gita Saar video of under an hour, in plain, simple Hindi, which viewers can hear, recite or use a splay back as they begin their morning chores.
It’s an interesting moment in time for a new translation of the Gita to come out. What would you say the Gita might have to offer in these troubled times?
Gita becomes especially handy during times of distress because we are often attached to our wishes, karma and results. When we do not get anticipated results, or unexpected twists (often undesirable), we are engulfed with anger, sorrow, helplessness, vulnerability and regret. The profound wisdom in Gita is there to help us at three levels –
- Self – If we are able to delink our existence from our own actions, desires and outcome, we are able to view at events in a holistic manner putting aside our own lens. This helps in levelling further expectations and related misery.
- Others – If we start seeing others as various manifestation of one God, our prejudices against their form and deeds disappear, and this helps in connecting with everyone as an extension of our own.
- Dharma – If we are able to discover our true selves, then we shall be able to align our action with our Prakriti, or nature, and thereby define and follow our Dharma. Only our inherent Dharma, devoid of attachment, ego and wishes can result in Karma that can earn genuine Credits, in the cycle of birth and death.
Who will benefit the most from your simpler version of Gita?
While every adult, thinking and acting in their own might can, and will, benefit from reading Gita, middle-aged people are likely to gain most. I say this because by then, one is expected to have navigated through several challenges in life with respect to education, career, family etc. and also hold the maturity to self reflect. Needless to say, the person has to be curious to seek answers to their problems and passionate to resolve the same. My work is likely to reward all those who believe in Gita, but feel challenged due to the original being in Sanskrit. Also, those who easily get “bored” reading long texts, are likely to find a rhyming, poetic version easier to follow, that too in a video format.
I anticipate Gita to hold immense value for –
- Young adults and students who have several questions around practices, policies, decisions but rarely get a convincing answer.
- Couples – to define their commitment to each other and families around them
- Employers – in defining their HR policies, firm-wide Communications and Competitive strategies
- People challenged with any disability, mental health or crises – in discovering their strength and coping mechanisms.
Gita lays bare an infallible framework for one’s self-discovery, conduct, choices and outcomes – equally applicable across age groups, race, religion, class or status in the society.
In what format will the readers be able to enjoy your translation?
The core piece of work is a compendium of 700 shlokas in plain poetic Hindi. However, we are yet to publish the same in the public domain. Until that happens, we have a one hour long Gita Saar video on YouTube – https://youtu.be/CQItVumCwWo that gives a glimpse of Gita to the uninitiated. We hope to add commentaries, points of view and synopsis of individual concepts on our YouTube channel on a regular basis, going forward.
What is your favourite verse in the Bhagavad Gita?
I have cherished so many shlokas of Gita that is hard to say, which one is my favorite. Plus, after studying Gita concepts like “favorite” appear to have lost their meaning. Everything is now equally attractive, interesting or appealing. I would like to quote Shloka 09 from Adhyay 14 offering insight into the three primary Gunas:
Satvik Gun binds an Aatman with God through Knowledge. A Satvik person is a seeker who desires to achieve unison with God.
Rajo Gun binds an Aatman with action through results. A Rajasi person is a Doer who wishes to do more Karma to get more power, wealth and fame.
Tamo Gun binds an Aatman with trappings through addiction. A Tamasik person is an indulger who makes himself dependent on pleasures and vices of life.