How I came to write the "Gita Rahasya"
by Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Reproduced from Bhavan's Journal
Vol XIX No. 7, Diwali Number 1972, pp. 131-135
It is now nearly 43 years since I made my first acquaintance with the
Bhagavadgita. In 1872, during the last illness of my father,
the task of reading out to him a Prakrit commentary on the
Bhagavadgita called Bhasavivrtti fell to my lot. At that
date, that is, when I was only 16 years old, it was not possible for me to
fully understand the import of the Gita.
Still, as the impressions made on the mind in young age are lasting,
the liking for the Bhagavadgita, which then came into
existence, did not die out; and when I had later on made further
studies in Sanskrit and English, I had occasion to read time to time
the Sanskrit commentaries and other criticisms, as also the
expositions by many learned scholars in English and in Marathi on the
I was then faced by the doubt as to why the Gita, which was
expounded in order to induce Arjuna, who was dejected by the idea that
it was a sin to war with one's own relatives, to fight, should contain
only an exposition of the manner in which Release could be obtained by
knowledge (jnana) or by devotion (bhakti), that is
to say, of the moksa-marga; and that doubt gradually gained
ground because I could not find a satisfactory answer to that question
in any commentary on the Gita.
Gita doesn't preach Renunciation. Gita preaches Action!
It is quite possible that others too might have felt the same
doubt. One cannot say ``no" to that. When a person is engulfed in
commentaries he cannot find a different solution, though he may feel
that the solution given in the commentary is not satisfactory.
I, therefore, put aside all criticisms and commentaries, and
independently and thoughtfully read the Gita over several
I then got out of the clutches of the commentators and was convinced
that the original Gita did not preach the Philosophy of
Renunciation (nivrtti), but of Energism (Karma Yoga);
and that possibly, the single word yoga used in the
Gita had been used to mean Karma Yoga.
Though my opinion that the creed preached in the Gita was one
of Action became quite definite, and though I decided to reduce it to
writing, many years went by. And I thought that a considerable amount
of misunderstanding would arise if I merely published in a book form
this moral of the Gita, which had not been accepted in the
commentaries, criticisms, or translations now commonly available,
without assigning any reason as to why I was unable to accept the
conclusions arrived at by the former commentators.
At the same time, as the work of dealing with the opinions of all the
commentators, and exposing their incompleteness with reasons, and of
comparing the religion expounded in the Gita with other
religions or philosophies was one entailing great labour, it was not
possible for me to satisfactorily complete it within a short period of
And later on, when, in the year 1908, I was convicted and sent to
Mandalay, in Burma, the chance of this book being written came
practically to an end.
But when, after some time, Government was pleased to grant permission
to take books and other things essential for writing this book from
Poona to Mandalay, the draft of this book was first made in the
Mandalay Jail in the winter of 1910-1911 (between Karttik
Shuddha 1st and Falgun Vadya 30th of the Saka Year
1832); and thereafter, the draft was improved upon from time to time,
as things suggested themselves to me; and those portions which had
remained incomplete as the necessary books had not been available,
were completed after my release from jail.
It is true that this work was completed in the Mandalay Jail; but it
had been written with a lead pencil, and it contained corrections and
deletions on many places; so, when it was returned to me after
inspection by Government, it was necessary to make a fair copy of it
for printing; and if I myself had to do that work, who knows how many
months more would have passed before the work was published!
The Gita was not preached either as a pastime for persons
tired out after living a worldly life in the pursuit of selfish
motives nor as a preparatory lesson for living such worldly life; it
was preached in order to give philosophical advice as to how one
should live his worldly life with an eye to Release (moksha)
and to teach the true duty of human beings in worldly life.
My last prayer to everyone, therefore, is that one should not fail to
thoroughly understand this ancient science of the life of a
householder, or of worldly life, as early as possible in one's life.