The Bhagavad Gita is the most important manuscript written during the Epic age (stretching from 600BCE to 100BCE) and it fills the space between the mysticism of the Upanishads and the systemised Yoga of Patanjali. BKS Iyengar in ‘Light on Yoga’ calls the Gita ‘The most important authority on Yoga philosophy’.
The Gita is part of the Mahabharata ,which is written by ‘Vyasa’ which Georg Feuerstein translates as meaning ‘collator’. It is generally thought to be the work of many authors, although it is also possible that it was written down by one person bringing together the work of many. However, some scholars think that the Bhagavad Gita is an independent text, written by the elusive ‘Vyasa’, which has been incorporated into the Mahabharata. On the other hand, others point out the continuity between the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita.
Either way, the Mahabharata is thought to be about 3,000 years old and is the longest piece of poetry in existence, at 100,000 stanzas it is eight times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey put together. It is one of the founding epics of Indian culture as well as a highly dramatic and enthralling story. It centres around a royal family who are at war with each other and has themes of heroism, bloodshed, hate, intrigue, gods, heavenly cities and vivid super human characters. Philosophy, history and cosmology are explored.
Within the Mahabharata, the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ is the spiritual discussion between Krishna and Arjuna which forms the cornerstone of Hindu religion.
While waiting for the start of the great battle of Kunukshetra, Arjuna was troubled by the thought of the bloodshed and suffering that would ensue, especially as his opponents, the Kauravas were his relatives. Krishna, the eighth avatar (incarnation)of the great God Vishnu., disguised himself as Arjuna’s charioteer and offered the hero comfort and spiritual teaching. Just as the opposing armies are about to attack each other, Krishna reveals and elaborate on the Gita philosophy which comprises about 700 verses (chapters 13-40 of the sixth book). What starts as a conversation between two friends, turns into a spiritual discourse between God and a sadhaka.
The Gita does not systematically outline Yoga as the Yoga Sutras do. However all the themes and paths are there.