The Modern Bhagavad Gītā: Caste in Twentieth-Century Commentaries


By the twentieth century the Bhagavad Gītā had become the single most important Hindu book. A clear indication of its popularity is that many of the major thinkers of that century wrote about it, often in book-length commentaries. In this article, we will analyze what Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sri Aurobindo, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Svāmī Śivānanda have to say about caste in their books about the Bhagavad Gītā. In colonial India, caste was understood to be a problem, at once critical to Indian society and critically in need of reform. A fundamental split had developed in the nineteenth century. Some social reformers condemned caste as a divisive, and therefore pernicious, institution. Others argued, on the contrary, that caste could be a force to unite social groups, if only it were properly overhauled. All but one of our twentieth-century authors advance modern reinterpretations of caste, moving it in a unifying direction. However, Śivānanda interprets the Bhagavad Gītā in a way that is traditional, striking particularly in this modern context.


Religious Studies

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Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bhagavad Gītā, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, caste, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Svāmī Śivānanda

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Journal Title

International Journal of Hindu Studies