The Gita vs. secularism in India

A couple weeks back we pointed you toward a “biography” of the Bhagavad Gita, which pulled off some of the usual, easy layers of understanding that admittedly great and instructive text.

We now can have the news follow up.

Over the weekend, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj suggested that the Gita should be made a “national scripture.” From a Hindu story:

“Bhagavad Gita has answers to everybody’s problems and that’s why I said it while standing in the Parliament that, ‘Shrimad Bhagavad Gita’ should be declared as the national holy book.”

“Everyone should read two shlokas of Gita everyday…it is a scripture of 700 shlokas and it can be finished in a year. Read it again and continue this till the end. After reading it three to four times, you will discover a path to lead a life, the way I discovered,” she said, addressing the crowd.

“When I read Gita for the first time, I did not agree with the concept of whatever happens, happens for the best and whatever happens in future, will be for good. But when I read it for the third and fourth time, I understood its meaning. This has helped me all through my life. Even now, when I am handling the External Affairs and the challenges related to it,” she said.

Make sense?

Well, if so, let’s put this out there: How would you feel if the Bible were made the “national holy book” of your country? (I’d insert the “U.S.” there but not all of our readers are from the U.S.) What about the Koran? The Hebrew Scriptures?

This is where secular society — in the U.S. we think about it in terms, largely, of the First Amendment / freedom of religion — bumps up against religion. India, like the U.S., is secular, and so naming one religious text, even one so deeply tied to the country/region’s history, as “the text” is extremely problematic.

These letter writers, responding to the above story, point this out:

First, the concept of “a national book” is ambiguous. Second, it is pernicious to our secular spirit. The Minister should not forget that the Gita might be a holy scripture for Hindus but for people from other religions it is uncomfortable to accept it as a “national scripture”. As a secular country the government should respect the feelings and sentiments of other religions, too. There is no doubt that the Gita is steeped in high philosophical values, but every other religion in India can lay claim to have such a work.

Buddhadev Nandi,

Bishnupur, West Bengal

The RSS-backed BJP government and a responsible Union Cabinet Minister should not court controversy. From Ms. Swaraj’s observation, the Gita has all the basic philosophical answers to questions in human life. But how can anyone say that it is the only such work of its kind without researching other holy books? According to the Constitution, one can follow his or her own religion. Ms. Swaraj needs to respect this right.

R. Subbuvenkatraman,

Puliyangudi, Tamil Nadu

What do we expect next? That the Gita be made a mandatory text book in educational institutions? Nobody is stopping politicians from reading the Gita or the Koran or the Bible. Citizens have the right to choose what they want.

G. Padmanabhan,


Perhaps we all instead could get behind an international push to make Aghori rituals the right, instead of left, path. (Warning: Link isn’t for the faint-hearted. But it is the best bit of click bait I’ve seen in a while.)

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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