When I bought myself yet another copy of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, my brother queried humbly, “why do you keep on purchasing so many books over the same subject”? To which I replied with all collected spiritual wit “Maybe the Shlokas in books are verbatim pieces – The God’s Word, but what about the interpretation, translation, quotation and overall meaning which may be author’s own opinion or philosophy? And I can’t confine myself to the view of just a single person”. Thus, explanation of Shlokas being a subjective term, I personally consider it worthwhile to go through as many as of them (different versions) and pick the essence as per my own intuition.
Limited knowledge being expressed and explained in unlimited ways – this is probably a fact attributed with Bhagavad Gita too.
Lord Krishna’s discourses to Arjuna prior to the inevitable battle of Kurukshetra is being considered as the most revered, enlightening & divine doctrine since ages. And since then, the wisdom has been transcribed into myriad perspectives, interpretations & languages. Also, as I said above, since most of the transcriptions are interpretative in nature (explaining shlokas), referring through a multitude of books may come to an aid for those who want to do it holistically. But unlike me, those who would like to take a bibliographical dip into the universal truth and unravel its meaning without much of exhaustive readings, any single book listed below can be a path to nirvana.
Since the list is endless, I’m recommending my top picks here which I think are one of the best books written over it (the numbering don’t correspond to any ranking which as per me will be an unforgivable sin !)
Best Versions of Srimad Bhagavad Gita
1. Srimad Bhagavad Gita – Gita Press
Publisher: Gita Press
Being one of the largest publishers of Hindu Religious Texts, they have been with us since decades. Yes, Gita Press books are something which I personally reminisce as a Grandma’s piece which finds itself a respected place at home. Books with those signature Yellow Bindings are legacy with many Indian households! This particular edition of Gita comes to be the simplest and straightforward in terms of narration. Very legible and bold typography is yet another reason why I recommend it to many, especially elders. Other factors are the cheap price & easy availability of books from Gita Press which has been their trademark since they came into the being.
2. Srimad Bhagavad Gita : Sadhak Sanjivani – Gita Press
Author: Swami Ramsukhdas
Publisher: Gita Press
This is for the one who would like to delve into the literary aspect of the Shlokas presented along with the detailed meaning of each – word by word. This would very much please Hindi readers who like to get the literal description of everything that is being written. If included in school curriculum, I’d personally pronounce this as a reference textbook!
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3. Bhagavad Gita: As It Is – Swami Prabhupada
As the title suggests, this is yet another esteemed version of Bhagavad Gita successfully which tries to be faithful to the original text. Published by BBT, this comes into nearly 60 languages. The book contains a good translation of the original message that was conveyed by the God itself without much of the wisdom jugglery. The emphasis has been laid on what exactly Lord meant and has been written As It Is. A best seller in its category too.
4. Bhagavad Gita As Viewed By Swami Vivekananda
Primarily a compilation which has been taken straight out from the 9 volumes of Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. I’m not only recommending it because of what has been written, but also because the one who has explained it – the greatest spiritual scholar of all time – Swami Vivekananda. Bigger than a booklet, this can be tagged as an easy read but with thought provoking write-ups.
5. God Talks with Arjuna : The Bhagavad Gita – Paramahansa Yogananda
His book, “Autobiography of a Yogi” which is designated as one of the 100 Most Important Spiritual Books of the 20th Century was a compelling reason for me to go with this one too. In a set of two volumes, this book guides efficiently in all the 18 lessons with impeccable approach & meticulous effort. All the verses are immaculately deciphered with easy translations.
6. The Bhagavad Gita – Swami Nikhilananda
An accomplished writer and thinker, Swami Nikhilananda, the direct disciple of Holy Mother Sarda Devi is also credited for other literary works and translation of Spiritual texts. The preface reads “The aim of this new translation of the Bhagavad Gita is to present the book to the English-speaking public of the Western world as a manual of Hindu religion and philosophy “. Unlike other books, which sports Verses & Explanation simultaneously, this is merely a direct translation.
7. The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi – M K Gandhi
A concise yet potent description of the devotional scripture in words of Mahatma Gandhi. This too contains all the 18 lessons which were a conversation between Nar & Narayana. The book though contains no Sanskrit verses but is a direct translation of them followed by eventual summaries. Its simple language and the explanation that follows is the key feature of this book.
8. Bhagavad Gita: A Handbook of Students – C Rajagopalachari
I personally recommend this to everyone. An interpretation rather than a translation, C Rajagopalachari, a scholar par excellence has done full justice to the Gospel. I admit it to have bought it for the sake of having complete trilogy from Rajaji (Ramayana & Mahabharata among others), but this is a worthy read for those who want to get into the scripture which is a guiding star to humanity.
9. Shrimad Bhagavad Gita – Ramesh Menon
When reading any translated works in English, I have a personal discomfort of language sometimes being too theatrical followed by vintage English especially when addressing each other. After coming across Mahabharata – A Modern Rendering, which seemed to be very practical in conversation with typical storytelling approach, I was sure that Gita by the same author will not disappoint me too. A must read for modern readers with all the nectar of scripture scholastically preserved.
10. The Bhagavad Gita – Eknath Easwaran
My personal favorite out of all those English editions of the scripture in concern. First-time readers may find it very lucid, simple and easy to understand. The format that the book follows makes it a charm to read. And it’s the sheer brilliance of literal wizardry that catapults it to be the bestselling translation. Other titles from the same author like Essence of the Bhagavad Gita & The Bhagavad Gita For Daily Living (3 Volume Set) also makes up for a complementary read.
11. The Bhagavad Gita – Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Simple, succinct, lucid & enlightening! Dr. Radhakrishnan churns out the prose to the readable premise which may both attract first time and seasoned readers. The books also tend to be very straightforward without much of word mincing which sometimes takes away all the joy while reading any scriptural works. If asked to compile the list of top 5, this will be a definite pick.
12. My Gita – Devdutt Pattanaik
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Rupa Pubications India
Buy From: Amazon
Devdutt Pattnaik has not re-written Gita, he has re-written the rules that how mythology should be written, spoken & talked about. ‘My Gita’ by this celebrated author is a simplistic presentation of the subject. The book opens up with introductory notes and diagrams to make the explanation more lucid and clear which both layman and other readers will appreciate. Not only that, Devdutt also renames all those 18 chapters according to the message & morales packed with each. Tiny but terribly simple is what that defines this book. Have it!
Other Read-worthy Mentions:
Though I’m yet to procure these books, but they seemed to be very promising (courtsey: online previews and ebooks)
The Bhagavad Gita – A Walkthrough for Westerners (Jack Hawley)
The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita – Swami Dayananda (not to be confused with Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati)
The Bhagavad Gita (Penguin Classics) – Juan Mascaro
Relevant works of Sri Aurobindo
Do let me know of your favorite pick or suggest, if any, which you think is the best version of the Gita.
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya …