Written almost 2,000 years ago, the Bhagavad Gita is probably the most widely read of the Hindu scriptures, and it lays out some of the basic ideas of Hindu culture. The poem is actually part of a larger Indian epic, the Mahabharata, which tells the story of the struggle between two closely related leading families. The Bhagavad Gita begins just before the start of the great battle between the families. It is written in the form of a conversation between one of the warriors, Prince Arjuna, and his chariot driver, Krishna—actually a god in disguise.
epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
As the poem opens, the two armies are lined up facing each other across the battlefield. Prince Arjuna questions his part in the war. He wonders whether he should follow his duty and fight, even though this would mean killing friends, relatives, and teachers in the opposing army, or whether he should throw down his arms and let himself be killed. Krishna reminds Arjuna that everyone has certain duties in society. As a member of the warrior
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caste, Arjuna's duty is to fight and kill. Yet he should do this only after understanding that all beings have the same divine self.
caste division of people in Hindu society into classes based on birth
Selfless devotion to duty is just one of the lessons taught in the Bhagavad Gita. Through the conversation between Arjuna and Krishna, the reader learns of the many ways to express religious belief, including meditation, worship, and work. The poem also teaches that Krishna is a loving god who is concerned about people's welfare and who appears on earth to help during times of trouble.