The basic ontological concepts in the Bhagavad-Gītā
1. Bhagavad-Gītā as a literary text
“Every activity of the human being is to be considered a failure unless he inquires about the nature of the Absolute.”
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Bhakti-vedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda
Bhagavad-Gītā1F presents a basis for this research which aims to hermeneutically analyze some of its ontological concepts. These concepts were and, hopefully, are still fundamental in the life of the individual, since they offer answers of the pivotal questions such as: what are the purposes and duties in life, where does the individual belong in the world, what is the nature of his relationship towards the Godhead and, ultimately, how can one achieve the stadium of transcendental knowledge. Not only the Bagavad-Gītā, but the Māhabhārata as a whole, engages in a debate about “being and what there is” (Hiltebeitel 2001: 162).
Contrary to the dominant, religious treatment of this Upaniṣat, there are readings of the Bhagavad-Gītā that treat the text as literary, as opposed to its primary interpretation as a sacred text. According to Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Bhakti-vedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, one of the translators and commentators of the Bhagavad-Gītā, the religious treatment of this Upaniṣat is the only legitimate approach, in order for a devotee to acknowledge and acquire the highest stage of knowledge. The difficulty in choosing the right approach towards a text such as this, lies in the notion that there are multitudes of diverse readings, which may all be legitimate to a certain point. Every methodologically different reading offers subjective or personal insight in a text, often neglecting its wholeness, undermining what Walter Benjamin defined as the “aura of the text”. Every literary text offers myriad of interpretations and this is understandable, especially if we note that even written laws and legal acts can also be subjected to mutually exclusive interpretations, in favor of a particular subject (Kulavkova 2003: IX).
The involved in the “Kṛṣṇa Consciousness”, a religious organization which nurtures the notion of Kṛṣṇa as “the Supreme Personality of Godhead”, believe that any unauthorized commentary (or māyāvāda-bhāsya) on the Bhagavad-Gītā, would be considered “a great blunder” (Prabuphāda 2006: XVIII). It is evident that Prabuphāda’s understanding of the Gītā is through the optics of bibliolatry and that kind of approach is often infested with solely and purely subjective interpretation that strays from the principal content a text has to offer. But, then again, a text exists only to be read and interpreted and there will be as many interpretations as there are readers. A literary work, as Barthes suggested, is paradoxical in its essence because it not only presents a history, but also an opposition to that same history (Bart 1971: 145). Therefore, we propose a reading of Bhagavad-Gītā that will analyze some of its basic ontological concepts, neglecting the fact that it requires a great deal of effort to explain, in evidently Western terminology, a text that simply cannot be addressed in such theoretical manner. Western terminology is full of moral concepts and ethic categories that are inadequate to concisely portray the ideological and spiritual matrices of Bhagavad-Gītā. Hence, we risk on venturing on the borders of the religious and the philosophical, the contemplative and the hermeneutical, in the attempt to reveal the mystic nature of this inspiring work.
2. The background of the Bhagavad-Gītā and the status of Vyāsa
Bhagavad-Gītā is consisted of eighteen chapters and it is located in the sixth book of the Mahābhārata named Bhīsmaparvan (or Bhishma Parva). It consists of 700 verses, formulated in the metrical forms called śloka and tristubh. However, there is evidence to show that some older manuscripts had 745 verses (Gambhīrānanda 2003: XVII). Literary critics, hermeneutists and other erudites who had the chance to write about the Bhagavad-Gītā, agree that it is almost impossible to accurately determine the exact date of its origin. According to Drashko Mitrikjeski, Bhagavad-Gītā was completed in its final form not later than 100 B.C. and its completion lasted for approximately two hundred years (Mitrikjeski 1998: 14). Its occurrence can be traced in the pre-Buddhist period in India.
We encounter a similar inconsistency in aspects of its authorship. It is assumed that the poet Vyāsa, Veda Vyāsa or Kṛṣṇa Dvaipayāna2F was responsible for the authorship not only of the Bhagavad-Gītā, but of the Mahābhārata as a whole, of the four Vedas and the Purāṇas. According to the legend, Vyāsa was an avatar of Viṣṇu and he was one of the seven Chirajivins or “deathless people” (Apte 1965: 900). The etymology of the word stems from Jīva, meaning “individual soul”, “embodied self”, “living entity” – from the verb root jīv, meaning ”to live” and chira, meaning “long life” (Grimes 1996: 147). He was the son of Satyava or Satyavatī and Parāśara, born before Satyavatī’s marriage with Śāntanu. Right after he was born, he retreated to the wilderness where he led a life of a hermit, practicing the most rigid austerities, until he was called by his mother to beget sons on the widows of her son Vichitravīrya. Thus, he was the father of Pāndu, Dhṛtarāshtra and Vidura.3F According to Dumézil, Vyāsa had the task of organizing not only the four Vedas, but also the fifth – the Mahābhārata (Dumézil 1973: 58; Apte 1965: 900).
The problem of the authorship can be further emphasized on another level, especially if we take in consideration that the noun vyāsa can also be translated as “arranger” (“Ordner”) or “compiler”. In this sense, Mitrikjeski and Winternitz believe that it is highly likely that the Mahābhārata had more than one compiler and this argument is far more convincing, than the belief that the epic was created by one individual only, especially if we bear in mind its length and mise-en-abyme structures. It was thought that all poets, arrangers or compilers, which were involved in the creation or compilation of the Mahābhārata, were attributed with the common noun vyāsa. The poet Vyāsa was reincarnated whenever there was a need of compiling of the sacred texts (Mitrikjeski 1998: 14). “If he [Vyāsa – K.D.] is [or represents] the author, he must be [or represent] the author of the epic’s kernel: a martial story for which the text itself conveniently gives what some have thought to be an early martial name, Jaya or ‘Victory’ and also a length of eight thousand eight hundred verses. […] Nowhere is Vyāsa said to have authored a Jaya before the Mahābhārata. The other notion is that if Vyāsa is a character in the Mahābhārata, most if not all of his interventions must be attributed to a process of textual growth” (Hiltebeitel 2001: 41).
In the introduction of the Bhagavad-Gītā – As it is, Prabuphāda indicates a fragment from the Mahābhārata which testifies of the emergence of Gītā. At the beginning of the third millennium, known as Tretā yuga (or second Yuga of the world),4F the knowledge of the relationship between the individual and the “God Head” was transferred to Vivasvat, one of the sun gods, who then transferred it to Manu Vaivasvata, the “seventh Manu” and the founder of the solar race of kings (Apte 1965: 892, 997). Manu Vaivasvata, “the father of mankind” and one of the ancestors of the Raghu dynasty, passed on this knowledge to his son, the Maharaja Ikṣvāku. The devotees of the “Kṛṣṇa Consciousness” believe that Kṛṣṇa, as a supreme deity and the one and only Brahman, transferred this knowledge to Vivasvat, who afterwards passed it to future generations. Hence, the text we have nowadays, originates from the times of the Maharaja Ikṣvāku, Prabuphāda believes. “While the date of the Mahābhārata war is debated among Western scholars, tradition says that it occurred 5,000 years ago and that the great sage Vyāsadeva put the Gītā and the rest of the Mahābhārata into written form at that time” (Rosen 1955: 23). Eliade, on the other hand, believes that the relations between some of the characters in the text, do not correspond to the religious atmosphere and time in which the Mahābhārata was completed, when Viṣṇu and Śiva were dominant gods. The text could have not originated from the Vedic time, when Agni and Soma5F played the most important role in the Hindu pantheon. This brings us to the notion that the epic portrays the pre-Vedic period (Elijade 1991: 188-89). Similarly, the myths in which the god Śiva occupies a position far above all gods, indicate a much later stratum of brahmanical poetry in the Mahābhārata; old brahmanical myths and legends were revised in accordance with Viṣṇu or Śiva worship (Winternitz 1972: 396). The notion of Gītā as pre-Buddhistic follows from the fact that it does not refer to Buddhism, and the usage of the term nirvana six times in the text serves as a clear indication of its post-Buddhist origin. “The construction of many sentences as also archaic forms of words in the Gītā does not follow the grammatical rules of Pānini (c. sixth century B.C.). Besides, the word yoga is used in the Gītā in a much wider sense than it is in the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali, who followed Pānini 100 or 150 years later” (Gambhīrānanda 2003: XIV). The Mahābhārata seem to serve its author(s) to ground intertextual projects of their own time in a historical periodization of their own fashioning (Hiltebeitel 2001: 15).
The etymology of the name of the text can be explained by deciphering the words Bhagāvan, which can mean a myriad of terms, such as: “Lord”, “God”, “revered person”, “venerable”, from the verb root bhag, which means “good fortune, wealth, splendor, power” and van, which means “possessor, Master, having” (Grimes 1996: 81) and Gītā, which means “song”. Bhāgavan is “the ultimate in the Absolute Truth” (Prabhupāda 1972: 75), the supreme puruṣa (Smith 1994: 101). Grimes believes the etymology stems from the verb root bhaj, which means “to love, revere” and gā, which means “to sing” (Grimes 1996: 81). Rosen translates the name of the text as “The Song of the Beloved Lord” (Rosen 1955: X) and Knott as “Song of the Lord” (Knott 1988: 17).
Bhagavad-Gītā is known as Gītopanisad, a term that underlines the essence of all infallible Vedic knowledge, which of Gītā make one of the most important upanisadah. The core of the Song is built on the essence of these teachings (Prabhupāda 1972: 2, 32).6F “Traditionally, the Gītā is identified with smṛti [‘that which is remembered’], a category of sacred texts that are considered secondary to the Vedas, which are known as śrúti [‘that which is heard’]. However, the upanisadah7F are part of the Vedic canon and so the Gītā is often considered śrúti as well, giving it Vedic status. The Gītā’s traditional colophons, too, affirm its Upaniṣatic identity” (Rosen 1955: XI). “The word of the Veda contains absolute validity and that the pursuit of the four purusarthas or goals of life: dharma, artha, kama and mokṣa, must be carried out in accordance with this word. Yet, from the very outset, a major problem arose: very few knew or understood the words of the Vedas. Nevertheless, this did not prevent massive attempts at its interpretation. This problem has been addressed by pandits and scholars alike for thousands of years with little agreement, except that a few principles of interpretation must be established that can confer upon the Vedas relevance to life, as it is usually experienced in this world” (Smith 1994: 99). The upanisadah are texts that serve as “excerpts” of the sacred and secret knowledge contained in the four Vedas. The number of significant upanisadah varies – from 50 to 108, to even 235 fundamental upanisadah (Jovanovski 1984: 7). If Veda Vyāsa made the Mahābhārata the fifth Veda, he did so by way of its imbrication with Vedic stories in a Vedic ritual. More pervasively, he did this by way of his composition’s Vedic allusions. “We may thus say that Vyāsa imparts what he knows and teaches about Veda not only along with the Mahābhārata, but through it” (Hiltebeitel 2001: 42).
One of the theories of the etymology of the word Upaniṣat is that it is derived from the parts upa, which means “near” and sat which means “sitting”. This illustrates the image of the disciple who sits down near a teacher or a sage, during a session or séance (Griswold 1990: 43). It also captures an image of subordinance or superimposition8F of the disciple who sits below his teacher. In the introduction given in Devette temelni upanishadi i Bagavadgita, Jovanovski suggests that the core of the word Upaniṣat implies a sacred, esoteric doctrine (Jovanovski 1984: 9). According to Ling, the word itself means “secret teaching”, as the context of the upanisadah shows us (Ling 1990: 79). Griswold deciphers the name of the word in the sense of a “mystic import”, “secret name”, “hidden sense” and “secret doctrine” (Griswold 1990: 42). The word has another meaning – of “subsidiary”, “subject” or “secondary”, – a reference either to the attitude of pupils sitting at the feet of a teacher or to literary works subsidiary and supplementary to other works, other meanings or secondary and allegorical as opposed to the primary and natural sense. The word was a standing term for the distinction between the theological and the sacrificial mysticism. It can also mean a verse or section containing the doctrine of Brahman or a collection of such doctrines in the form of a dogmatic textbook belonging to a particular school or sect (Griswold 1990: 44, 45-6).
The name metaphorically implies “the destruction of ignorance by revealing the knowledge of the Supreme Spirit and outing off the bonds of worldly existence” (Apte 1965: 287). The root sat indicates demolition and destruction. This means that the purpose of the upanisadah is to aim towards destruction of passions and eradication of ignorance and, consequently, towards their conversion to knowledge and freedom. Here, the concept of freedom is deciphered as liberation from the cyclic births and deaths, i.e. the liberation from saṃsāra. The English translators of the Gītā note that this word, in the context of the text, refers to “life in the world” or “worldly existence”, and that in Bengali, the word does not have negative connotation as it is usually believed (Giri 2001: 2).
3. The duty of a Kṣatriya
Bhagavad-Gītā is “a sermon” (Sathapathy & Muniapan 2008: 146) and it is structured in a dialogical discourse that develops between Arjuna, one of the five Pāndava brothers, son of Pāndu and Kunti (“that which calls the substance”) and Kṛṣṇa, the supreme Principle of Divine, param brahma,9F an avatar of Viṣṇu10F and Arjuna’s cousin. Gītā is actually based on the divine knowledge which Kṛṣṇa tries to transfer to Arjuna. In other words, Arjuna presents a chosen individual who is selected to come out of the dark, to free himself from ignorance and to acknowledge the secret ways of acquiring liberation.
The plot begins at the battlefield of Kurukṣetra,11F where the army of the hundred Kauravas12F – the sons of king Dhṛtarāṣṭra – are faced with the army of the five Pāṇḍavas – the sons of Pāndu. Dhṛtarāshtra (“Mind”) and Pāndu (“Without description and pure”, but also “Pale”) were brothers and sons of king Bharata, born in the Kuru dynasty and descendants from the lineage of the Maharaja Śạntānu (Giri 2001: 1). The throne and, consequently, the reign over the country, was to be inherited by the oldest son after his father’s death, but since Dhṛtarāshtra was born blind, it was Pāndu who had the honor. After Pāndu’s death, his five sons – Yudhiṣṭhira, Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva13F – were left to the mercy of their uncle, who succeeded the throne after the death of his brother. The main conflict began at the moment when Duryodhana, Dhṛtarāshtra’s oldest son, wanted to take over the Imperial crown and to deprive the Pāṇḍavas of their legal right to the throne. Scholars believe that the battle at Kurukṣetra was a historic event and that it was fought at the end of the Dvāpara-yuga; the next yuga, the Kali-yuga, is believed to have started on February the 18th, 3102 B.C. (Gambhīrānanda 2003: XI). The battle was not recorded in any source, but was remembered as an important event. The battle at Karempudi is considered a much more important event, which happened in 1182, and for which we have more reliable data, than that of the Kurukṣetra (Haisworth & Hatto 1989: 196, 198-99).
Although the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas were related by blood, their treatment in the text shows us how different they are. “The Kauravas became devious, the Pāṇḍavas virtuous. As they grew older, the Kauravas used their military right for selfish reasons, while the Pāṇḍavas were greatly loved and spiritual minded political leaders. […] It was clear that the Pāṇḍavas were better suited to rule the kingdom” (Rosen 1955: 23). In one of the myths dedicated to Indra, we read that this god lost his spiritual energy, strength and beauty and that these attributes were absorbed by Ṣarma, Vayu and the two Aṣvins, who later on used them to create the Pāṇḍavas (Dumézil 1973: 111). The five brothers embody the union of the brahman and the kṣatra powers, a condition also found in legends about members of the Bhargava gotra14F (Hiltebeitel 1990: 80). If they are depicted as loyal, honest and devoted to religious practices, then their counterparts, the Kauravas, are their opposites and are portrayed as evil and thirsty for power and might. In the version of Srimad Bhagavad-Gītā, the Kauravas are given the attribute of atatayis, which translates as “criminals” (Giri 2001: 24).
Wanting to avoid the necessary evil of the fight itself, the God Kṛṣṇa tried to negotiate with Duryodhana, the “political genius”,15F but to no avail. Duryodhana presents an embodiment of Kali, i.e. “an incarnation of iconic evil” (Elijade 1991: 186; Hiltebeitel 1990: 94). He is “no authority of the questions of morality” (Dumézil 1970: 32) and is, in fact, Kali Puruṣa, the demon Kali in human form (Rosen 1955: 22). He is a figure of the “bad” king and a literary despot par excellence (Hiltebeitel 1990: 58; 2001: 177). Some even translate his name as a combination between vanity and “the ability to fight in an evil way” (Giri 2001: 7).
In Text 24 of the first Chapter, Arjuna is referred to as Gudākeśa, which literally means “one who conquered the darkness of sleep”. The term also has an indirect meaning of someone who is “ignorant” or even “simple minded”. This ignorance comes from the weakness of mind and from forgetting the duties that need to be done. But, Arjuna does not really fear for his life, nor from death itself. After the “enlightenment” he achieves after the theophany of Kṛṣṇa, his delusion is dispelled and afterwards his questions no longer have dramatic value. He is “convinced” and is merely asking for clarification on points of doctrine (Hiltebeitel 1990: 118-19).
Wolfe gives an interpretation of Kṛṣṇa as a revengeful deity who tries to influence Arjuna’s mind and stimulate him for a bloody battle which from “holy war turns into unholy carnage” (Wolfe 2009: 4).16F Although theoretically valid, this approach is not plausible because the general and common moral categories are not applicable for Kṛṣṇa. According to Wolfe, there is a more efficient way to resolve the disputes that concern the kingdom, than by war as the fastest solution. He mentions diplomacy and negotiations for achieving mutually beneficial deal between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas. However, before the start of the battle, Duryodhana and his brothers try to kidnap Draupadī, but their attempt of dishonoring her was prevented by Kṛṣṇas’ intervention. After this incident, Kṛṣṇa took the initiative to resolve the dispute through dialogue with Duryodhana, but Dhṛtarāshtra’s son refused to listen. These were actually pro forma exhortations to peace and compromise. This is the first reason for the inevitable battle. The second reason lies in the fact that Arjuna is a member of the order of Kṣatriyas and “a Kṣatriya is not supposed to refuse to battle or gamble when he is so invited by some rival party” (Prabhupāda 1972: 66). The Kṣatriyas are “[…] specially trained for challenging and killing, because religious violence is sometimes a necessary factor” (Prabhupāda 1972: 117). “The Kṣatriya’s duty is to protect the citizens from all kinds of difficulties and for that reason, he has to apply violence in suitable cases for law and order. Therefore, he has to conquer the soldiers of inimical kings, and thus, with religious principles, he should rule the world” (Prabhupāda 1972: 118-19). If Arjuna did avoid the battle, the ultimate result will be his demotion as a warrior and his action would have defied the war code of the Kṣatriyas. “Violence is also necessary in a situation where good arguments fail” (Prabhupāda, Ibid., 186). Arjuna does not have a choice, but to fight. Ahimsa (non-agression, physical and mental non-meanness or literally “not having the desire to kill”) is not an option in his particular case. As a virtue, ahimsā bears the ascetic imprint of the desire not to kill or harm creatures, which, in its ascetic framework, is a desire to overcome the desire for life. “Ahimsā can be adjusted not only to the practice of sacrifice, but to the sacrifice of battle” (Hiltebeitel 2001: 203). This means that Arjuna’s itinerary is, in a Western sense, predestined. Despite his fondness towards his cousins, he “wastes his time in being overly affectionate for family”. Prabhupāda defines these as krpanas or miserly people. “The krpana thinks he is able to protect his family members from death; or the krpana thinks that his family or society can save him from the verge of death” (Prabhupāda 1972: 83). It is not proper for a wise man to grieve over unworthy things, because scientifically knowledgeable beings are not remorseful over the presence or absence of anything in this world (Giri 2001: 6). Bhawuk believes that Arjuna has a choice to do or not do his duty, although neglecting one’s duties is equated to earning demerit or sin, thus presenting a strong deterrent against the shirking of these duties (Bhawuk 2011: 94-95). Gandhi, however, notes that Arjuna shows no aversion to fighting as such. His main dilemma is against whom should he fight (Gandhi 2009: 6).
4. The true beginning of the Self
It is known that Mahatma Gandhi himself preferred to read Gītā as a big metaphor for the human soul and that the process of self-questioning, the soul’s reluctance and its fears in backsliding in the possible choices and actions, is accurately presented through Arjuna as an Atman principle in the text. Bhagavad-Gitā describes how to nurture and to train the psychological astral powers of Yudhiṣṭhira (“calmness”), Bhīma (“life-force control”), Arjuna (“non-attachment of self-control”), Nakula (“power of adherence to good rules) and Sahadeva (“power to resist evil”). On the other side, the Kaurava stand for one hundred sense inclinations in the form of formidable foes whose variations can be innumerable. The negative aspects are symbol of not only a hundred Kaurava’s, but also of innumerable Kaurava’s (Awari 2013: 3). Swami Sriyukteshvar Giri, for example, believes that the sons of Dhṛtarāshtra present “the clans of mind and ego” and that Arjuna’s dilemma whether to fight his cousins or not, is in fact a result from the fear that if these clans are destroyed, then the individual (not only Arjuna, but “Everyman”) will lose all possibility of any pleasure (Giri 2001: 23). The destruction of these implicitly means destruction of oneself as well. “Because – in what way can we have the enjoyment of happiness if we eradicate these eternally revered faculties of mind?” (Giri 2001: 24).
“To participate in Kṛṣna’s universe is to be his ‘friend and devotee’ […] that is, both to uphold dharma and to seek mokṣa” (Hiltebeitel 1990: 120). The Bhagavad-Gītā actually describes the end of a world (pralaya) and a new birth under Yudhiṣṭhira’s and Parikṣira’s reign. In a sense, we can discuss about a revaluation of the old mythical and ritualistic scenario of the New Year, but in this case, we are not discussing about the end of a year, but of a whole cosmic period (Elijade 1991: 188). “When Atman meets with the Supreme Being, Brahman, it is said to become a part of the Supreme Being. In that paradigm, when one experiences the real self, one becomes a part of the infinite supreme being. In other words, much like the social self that has the potential to grow infinitely, the real self has the potential to become a part of the infinite being. This implies the potential of the Atman to become a part of the infinite being” (Bhawuk 2011: 72).
The unity of Atman-Brahman shows us the complexity of human nature. “What part of him [man – K.D.] is identical with his source?”, asks Griswold. “What is the real man, the real self? It is not ‘the man made out of essence of food’ [annarasamaya], the physical man […], for this aspect of man’s nature may be stripped off like an outer husk. Nor is it the vital self-consisting of breath or life [pranamaya], for this too may be eliminated. So with the self-consisting of thought and will [manomaya], and the self-consisting of cognition and worship [vijnanamaya]. They do not represent the real self and so may be stripped off. Finally, the core of reality both in man and in nature is found in the self-consisting of bliss [Anandamaya], the inmost self of all” (Griswold 1990: 50). The “universe is created out of two fundamental substances. One is consciousness-substance and the other is matter-substance. ParaBrahman is beyond this creation, “tranquil and One” (Giri 2001: 3). This eloquently describes the differences between the status Arjuna has as an Atman, because of the possibility of personal change, growth and evolution and Kṛṣna as puruṣottama (Hiltebeitel 2001: 213), a supreme being who is “already completed” and who has achieved the highest level of being.
Man, his identity and even his acts of creation, are not based only on one centre. Man presents a “circle-like, spiral microcosm in which the center is a fictive point, constantly in motion and subjected to [individual] perceptions and, in this sense, it is dependent on this point, the subject and the act of perception itself” (Kulavkova 2009: 23). Mayhap one’s true form can be recognized and that would be a form which is free from desire, from evil and fear. “That is the highest goal, the highest world, the highest bliss” (Griswold 1990: 54).
All ground of knowledge and being is suggested by consciousness. Only when a man liberates himself from the five kleṣas or troubles, karma, its detrimental consequence – saṃsāra, and ambition, only then he can achieve the highest result of liberation from all the chains that bind him.
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Visuvalingam, Elizabeth-Chalier. 1989. “Bhairava’s Royal Brahmanicide: The Problem of the Mahabrahmana”. In: Hiltebeitel, Alf (ed.) Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism. State University of New York Press, p. 157-231.
Winternitz, Moriz. 1927. A History of Indian Literature. University of Calcutta.
1. Due to formatting issues that were beyond the author’s control, certain Sanskrit terms and names might appear in their incorrect IAST form. They reader is asked to follow the textual context, so these unpredictable changes – that do not occur in the original text as sent to the editors, – would not perturb his understanding of the text.
2. He bears the name of Kṛṣna Dvaipayana supposedly because of his dark complexion (“Kṛṣna” meaning “black” or “dark”) and because he was brought by Satyavāti, his mother, on a Dvipa or island in the Yamunā (Apte 1965: 900) or Jumnā (Winternitz 1927: 322). He is “the island-born Dark one” (Hiltebeitel 2001: 151). In Indian myths and Vaisesika philosophy, the attributes of blackness and odor to the earth qualities are shared by Kṛṣna–Draupadī and Vyasa’s mother Satyavāti or Kali (Hiltebeitel 1990: 68).
3. Vidura is mentioned as an incarnation of Dharma with his impure Śūdrā alter ego (Visuvalingam 1989: 119) because of his mother’s origin. He has “mixed blood” (Dumézil 1973: 59). However, in another version of his story, he was born into the world as Atri’s son – Atri being a celestial Vedic Rṣi or one of the Seven Sages of the Big Dipper (Hiltebeitel 2001: 45). Comparable to his origin is Yudhiṣṭhira’s, who is Dharma’s son and he incarnates his father through the invocation of enemy-destroying black magic on the battlefield. Dharma is mentioned as a synonymous to Yama, with “deep destructive designs” (Hiltebeitel 2001: 188). The exclusive ownership of magic was a “genuine privilege possessed by the Brahmans and recognized by the Kṣatriya caste of nobles and kings” (Mauss 2005: 33).
4. There are four Yugas and the duration of each is to be respectively 1.728,000, 1.296,009, 664,000 and 432,000 years of men, the four together comprising 4.320,000 years of men, which is equal to one Mahâ-yuga. “It is also supposed that the regularly descending length of the Yugas represents a corresponding physical and moral deterioration in people who live during each age, Krita being called the ‘golden’ and Kali or the present age the ‘iron’ age” (Apte 1965: 786). These divisions of yugas have been so named because of the condition of dharma at the time and when all four parts of dharma manifest, the age is named Satya. When only three parts manifest, it is Treta. When two, it is Dvapara and when only one manifests, the yuga is called Kali (Giri 2001: 7).
5. On the basis of unity of function, we have the conception of “dual gods”, according to which two gods are combined and then viewed as a unity. “Sometimes, too, the functions of all the gods are apparently conceived as overlapping and more or less identical […]” (Griswold 1990: 22-23).
6. “One who is perfectly aware of the true meaning and significance of this śāstra – there is no śāstra unknown to that person” (Giri 2001: 9). The Mahābhārata is not only a work of poetic art, but it is, at the same time, a śāstra or manual of morality (Winternitz 1927: 321).
7. Please consult footnote 2.
8. Although this is not the most appropriate term.
9.He is also Kutasthachaitanya, or uninvolved with any work or authority. “Totally in the present” (Yoga Niketan 2013: 301).
10. Despite the twenty-eight known avatars of Śiva, there are only ten avatars of Viṣṇu (Koterel 1998: 132). It is interesting, in this context, to note the conclusion of Harry Haler, Hesse’s Steppenwolf, who finds that the old Indian concept of the Self is unknown to the heroes of the Indian epics and that they are incarnations of many different individuals (Hese 2008: 57).
11. In the Vedas, the battlefield of Kurukṣetra is treated as a sacred place where the necessary, religious rites were performed. This battlefield is referred to as “Dharmakṣetra”, meaning “the field of dharma”, i.e. of duty and righteousness (Rosen 1955: 22). It is an actual place that lies in the state of Hariyana in modern India (Bhawuk 2011: 99). Kurukṣetra implies a metaphorical dimension in the text and can be read as a depiction of the human body where an unending battle is raging between the forces of good and evil (Satpathy & Muniapan 2008: 146).
12. Or Kuruides, according to Winternitz (Winternitz 1927: 317).
13. Yudhiṣṭhira was born from the relationship between Kunti and Yama, “the lord of righteousness”. Dumézil, however, mentiones him as the son of Dharma and as a rejuvenation of Miṭra (Dumézil 1970: 73). Karna, the solar hero hidden in Varunic obscurity, is fathered by Surya, the sun god, Bhīma by Pavandeva, the mighty wind god, the twin brothers by Ashwinikumar, the god of twins, and Arjuna by Indra (Yoga Niketan 2001: 2; Visuvalingam 1989: 176). Dumézil designates the twin Nāsatya as the father of the twin brothers (Dumézil, ibid.).
14. A Brahmin community in India.
15. As the publishers of the second edition of Bhagavad-Gīta – As it is name him.
16. This depiction of Kṛṣna resembles Indra’s nature as a sinner, as a god with changeable nature who strives for full authority and independence, much like Kṛṣna in the Gīta. In the Brāhmana, Indra is represented as a killer of his own father (Dumézil 1970: 65-68).