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Gita Rahasya – Commentary of Bhagavad Gita by Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Gita Rahasya is a popular commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Lokmanya Tilak is one the earliest leaders of India’s freedom movement. The full title of the book is Srimad Bhagavad Gita Rahasya. It was written in Marathi and published in June 1915.

The book is also known as Karma Yoga Shastra. It was translated into English as ‘The Philosophy of Energism.

Lokmanya Tilak wrote much of the Gita Rahasya within about five months (November 1910 to March 1911), while he was undergoing his six-year sentence of imprisonment in a jail in Burma.

Tilak held that in the whole of Sanskrit literature, there is no other work that explains the principles of Hindu religion in such a succinct yet unambiguous manner as the Bhagavad Gita. It takes the character of a universal work in as much as it provides fresh inspiration to human beings according to changing times.


Tilak’s Gita Rahasya profoundly influence his countrymen at a time when the country was stirring itself up for action against foreign rule.

The work is divided into two parts, the first consisting of thirteen chapters and the second of two chapters.

The fifteen chapters form the substance of the essay Gita Rahasya, which as Tilak says in the introduction is scientifically divided into chapters, each of which deals with the various subjects or doctrines which one comes across in the Gita.

The essay is followed by a translation of the text stanza by stanza, with exhaustive commentaries. Thus, the work is complete in itself with the text, translation, commentaries and Tilak’s point of view, namely, the Bhagavad Gita’s message is Karma Yoga or proper action.

In emphasizing Karma Yoga, Tilak says that he was led to do so because the extant commentaries were not helpful in clearing his doubt as to why the Bhagavad Gita should deal with the subject of Moksha when the work opens with Arjuna’s dilemma as to whether he should fight or not.

As one belonging to the warrior caste it was his duty to fight, but in so doing he would have to kill elders, teachers, and kith and kin. While the former would be in accordance with dharma, the latter was sinful act. Tilak felt convinced that the Bhagavad Gita preached not the philosophy of nivrtti (renunciation) but of Karma Yoga (energism) and the word Yoga meant only Karma Yoga (sinless action).

In Tilak’s own words “Bhagavad Gita has propagated the device of performing action in such a way that one ultimately attains release without committing sin, namely, karma yoga founded on knowledge, in which devotion is the principal factor.”

Tilak points out that, according to the Bhagavad Gita no man is free from action and that (desireless) action should never be given up.

The book was initially translated into the Indian languages Hindi (1917), Gujarati (1917), Kannada (1919), Telugu (1919), Bengali and Tamil (1924).

The English translation of Gita Rahasya by B.S. Suththankar appeared in 1936 in two volumes. This translation runs into 1220 pages.

Source - page 294 of Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume IV published by India Heritage Research Foundation.

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