When I lay my hands upon the book titled “Who Wrote the Bhagavad Gita? – A Secular Inquiry into a Sacred Text” by Meghnad Desai, I knew little about the controversy that the book had the potential to evoke. Reading this book as an open-minded person, not clinging to the faith of any particular religion was definitely one reason I could enjoy the thoughts and perspective presented in this book.
Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai or Baron Desai, the famous Indian-born, naturalized British economist and Labour politician, has confessed on a number of occasions that he is not an expert on scriptures and is a self-proclaimed atheist. Keeping that background in mind, when I went on to read the book ‘Who Wrote the Bhagavad Gita?’, I was at times perplexed by the conclusions presented the book and at times a little undeterred about the thoughts that accompany the mind of any person with a Hindu upbringing. With that said, I take the liberty to declare that it is not my position to comment upon the authenticity of the text presented in the book and therefore in my review I am trying my best to leave the content to every reader’s interpretation.
The book opens up with the background of Bhagavad Gita and its importance since the ancient times. It further goes on to describe how the sacred book was used in the Indian freedom struggle as a uniting factor. We are taken on a brief tour of how Mahabharata evolved from Jaya to Bharata and to the one epic saga as we know it today. Comments on the Bhagavad Gita made my legends such as Swami Vivekananda to Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Tilak to Babasaheb Ambedkar are presented before us.
Going forward, Lord Desai uses G.S. Khair’s ‘Quest for the Original Gita’ to further strengthen his point in raising a question about the exact authorship of Bhagavad Gita. By analyzing the different changes in context and style of composing the verses across the Gita, he comes to the conclusion that Gita must be authored by 3 different persons over the course of time. He explains the motives of these authors and how it influenced the audience of various ages.
The part in the book where Desai portrays how some themes in the Gita reinforce social inequality and lack of concern for the other, makes it look like he finds Gita to be toxic – which has certainly become the reason why the book is being bashed by critics. If one is a firm believer of the Hindu way of life, reading about the questions raised on the origins of Bhagavad Gita might be a bitter experience.
I, for one, believe that the author should’ve used more facts and figures as well as presented significant research work to support the strong point he is trying to put across to the readers. Like what is being said by many other reviewers like me, if more independent inquiry had been made, the answers to this intriguing question, would have been more interesting to read.
I would recommend the book to anyone who has interest in reading the works of humanist critiques. Those who have done research in the field of Hindu religion and philosophy may be able to better comment on the thoughts served afresh in this book, that have the potential to evoke a lot of further queries, thus making this book worth a read.
Rating – 3/5
About the Author
Meghnad Desai is an Indian born, British economist and labor politician. He is an atheist and a member of the National Secular Society. He has been honored with the Padma Bhushan award.