Kosambi on The Gita (Makrand Paranjape)

Kosambi
Makarand Paranjpe analyzes Kosambi’s writings on the Gita in his book Myth and Reality.

D. D. Kosambi attempted precisely such a reading of one of India’s most enduring literary texts, the Bhagawad Gita. In an essay called “Social and Economic Aspects of the Bhagawad-Gita,” published as the inaugural essay in Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture (1962), he argues at great length that the Gita is a text of “slippery opportunism” whose utility “derives from its peculiar fundamental defect, namely dexterity in seeming to reconcile the irreconcilable.” Composed between 150-350 A.D. and inserted into the Mahabharata corpus later, the Gita, according to Kosambi, served a peculiar class function which made so many leading exponents of Indian culture, including Sankara, Ramanuja, Jnanesvar, Gandhi, Tilak, Aurobindo, and others, return to it again and again. Kosambi believes that:

THE GITA FURNISHED THE ONE SCRIPTURAL SOURCE WHICH COULD BE USED WITHOUT VIOLENCE TO ACCEPTED BRAHMIN METHODOLOGY, TO DRAW INSPIRATION AND JUSTIFICATION FOR SOCIAL ACTIONS IN SOME WAY DISAGREEABLE TO A BRANCH OF THE RULING CLASS UPON WHOSE MERCY THE BRAHMINS DEPENDED AT THE MOMENT. (Emphasis in the Original)

In other words, the Gita is a synthetic text that manages to incorporate a wide diversity of complex and, often, contradictory doctrines. Kosambi believes that such a text could only be written at a certain period during which the competition over the surpluses produced wasn’t so intolerable as to result in class conflict:

FUSION AND TOLERANCE BECOME IMPOSSIBLE WHEN THE CRISIS DEEPENS, WHEN THERE IS NOT ENOUGH OF THE SURPLUS PRODUCT TO GO AROUND, AND THE SYNTHETIC METHOD DOES NOT LEAD TO INCREASED PRODUCTION. (Emphasis in the Original)

from Pocket

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