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Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Davis. Bhagavad Gita, a Biography. 2015

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Nov• 05•15

Davis GITADavis, Richard H. The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography. Lives of Great Religious Books. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2015. Pages: 243. ISBN: 978-0-691-139968.

Davis sketches how the Bhagavad Gita is received down through the ages. It emerged as part of the great epic Mahabharata and then gained an independent authority. In the first chapter the author tries to explain the content of Bhagavad Gita in its own context within Mahabharata. The discussion here includes its origin, authorship critical studies, etc.

Then on in the five remaining chapters and the epilogue Davis helps us to understand its reception and interpretation down through the centuries to our own time. While Mahabharata presents an adult philosopher Krishna who claims to be divine, the image of Krishna in the medieval times shifted to that of his early life. Here the Krishna devotion is around ‘a charmingly rambunctious infant and seductive flute-playing youth.’ Moreover, this Hindu scripture inspired many other Gitas of other gods, with contesting world-views.

However, Gita was not limited by space in India, the place of its origin. Davis also traces its passage from India to Europe and elsewhere. He tells us how it became a fascination for the English and German speaking world. We also learn how the work of Swami Vivekanda in the latter part of the nineteenth century brought it to the attention of the world. However, we are also told how its history is intertwined with British East India company’s imperial dream. Gita became a philosophical docuement with contesting itnerpretations in India and abroad. It became a tool in the hands of those who fought againt colonial rule in India. It redefined Hindu life and continues to do saw through performances, art etc.

This is a fascinating work; so much is packed in its 243 pages. Being thoroughly researched and documented this serves as a primer on Gita. And also a template for those who would like to study the impact of religious texts on the life and history of human race.

Without this volume the series LIVES OF GREAT RELIGIOUS BOOKS by Princeton University Press would have been incomplete.

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