Preface from Ācārya Madhva’s Gītātātparyanirṇaya


Spanning virtue arrays, He who is flawless

I state this Gītā purport paying obeisance to Nārāyaṇa

 The Brahmānda Purāṇa states –

‘The essence of all scriptures is Bhārata. Even in that, the essence is in the thousand names of Viṣṇu and Kṛṣṇa’s Gītā. Awareness of these results in swift deliverance from sorrow.

‘When it is said that there is no scripture equivalent to Bhārata, then, whence can one fetch something that is equivalent to these?!

‘Back then, directed by sage Vyāsa, dēvatas led by Brahma, placed all the Vēdas in a weighing scale pitting it against the Bhārata. The scales tilted towards Bhārata from its weight.

‘In terms of size as well as intent, this is a great work; a ‘bhāravatt’ (weighty) work. That is how it got its name Mahābhārata. He who understands the latent meaning of this name, is freed from all sins.

‘Nārāyaṇa who was worshipped by dēvatas led by Brahma, Rudra and Indra Himself incarnated as Vyāsa and composed the unique fifth Veda called ‘Mahābhārata,’ for the sole purpose of providing spiritual clarity.’

Arjuna was the direct incarnation of Indra. A senior soul amidst those entitled, in the path of knowledge and extremely dear to Bhagavān. The shroud of attachment to kith and kin, however did not spare him too. Kṣatriyas specially shoulder the prime responsibility of eliminating those who hate Bhagavān and their supporters too. Entangled in the bonds of kinship however, Arjuna considered such duty as adharma and was ready to relinquish it; it is at this juncture that Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa revealed to him the inner secret of dharma: The best dharma is that which is performed devotedly, as Bhagavān’s worship, in a vocation that is in sync with one’s nature. Anything contrary is adharma. This is because everything is regulated by Him – this is the gist of Bhagavān’s message.

All these aspects become clear from the following ślōkas in the Gītā. Let us see how.

That war is Arjuna’s synergistic dharma is stated in –

‘If you do not fight this war, which should be rightfully performed as per dharma, disregarding your own stipulated duty (dharma) and esteem, you will be committing sins.’ (2.33)

That it is important to perform duties that are in sync with one’s nature, as worship to Bhagavān is stated in – is stated in – is stated in –

‘All actions of living beings are regulated by Bhagavānsiddhi[27] as His worship.’ (18.46)))

‘Rather than striving to perform a duty that is not stipulated (in sync with one’s nature), better it is to perform one’s stipulated duties, even if it is imperfectly done. Should one die while performing such stipulated duties, it still does augur well. Duties not stipulated for one are like a dreadful habitation.’ (18.47)

‘Listen again, to some more of my significant words; to the supreme secret. You are very dear to Me. It is thus that I impart this good counsel to you. Rest your mind in Me. Be My devotee. Worship Me. Let your body be suppliant to Me. Resultantly, you would attain Me. You are my favourite. It is as such that I direct you. This is true. Bequeath all your duties to me and surrender exclusively to me. I shall deliver you from all sinful bindings. Do not grieve.’ (18.64-66) etc.,

Devotion to Visnu is supreme in all endeavours; it is only devotion that leads to parokṣa[28] jñāna; solely from devotion flows aparokṣa[29] jñāna too. That a wise one attains mokṣa only through devotion is stated in –

‘Of My forms that you have seen, these cannot be visualised by a study of the Vedas, or by penances, or by charitable acts, or for that matter by sacrificial rituals. To see me thus, is possible only through single-minded devotion. O’ Paraṅtapa,[30] this is also to realise Me, see Me verily, as also to attain Me,’ (11.53-54) etc.,

A devotee too must engage in Godly duties and also relinquish performing any forbidden duties is stated in –

‘Perform all duties as worship to Me. Be aware that I am the most supreme of all principles in your devotion to me. You must be detached from all sense objects and fruits of action. Shun any hatred towards all beings. O’ Arjuna, it is one who does all this, that attains me.’ (11.55) etc.,

Even a learned one needs to perform Godly duties is stated in –

‘All earlier generations treaded the path of duty. Even prior to that there existed a tradition of duty. Therefore, you too should solely perform your duty.’ (4.15) etc.,

That Arjuna was a supreme adhikari[31] and an aparōkṣa jñāni is stated in –

‘My form that is not easily visible to others was seen by you. Even dēvatas continue to wait for ages to get a glimpse of this form.’ (11.52)

‘You are extremely dear to me. I therefore impart this salutary advice to you.’ (18.64)

‘Divine wealth leads to mokṣa. Demoniac wealth diverts to dark deeds. Do not despair, however, O’ Arjuna; you are born endowed with divine wealth.’ (16.5)

‘O’ Arjuna, the great ones who have attained divine wealth, worship Me with single minded devotion, knowing me as the basis for the whole world and that My supremacy is perpetual.’ (9.13)

‘Arjuna was revealed the amazingly glorious divine form.’ (11.9) etc.,

Bhagavān is totally different from everything, everything is dependent on Him, He is dependent on none. He is par excellence and a perfect embodiment of all qualities. All scriptures denote Him exclusively. Mokṣa is possible only by knowing Him.

The above, and other similar things are contained in –

‘Neither dēvatas nor mahaṛṣis[32] have understood My supremacy. Is it not I, as the Mūlapuruṣa,[33] that created the dēvatas and rṣis?’ (10.1-2)

‘There is no birth for Me. None has given birth to Me. I am the sole Lord of all living beings. He who has known this, among humans, is freed from all delusions and delivered from all sins.’ (10.3)

‘Awareness, wisdom of action – inaction, ability to be un-deluded, forbearance, truthfulness, being well balanced in mind / senses, faith in God (all these characteristics are bestowed by me).’ (10.4)

‘The ancient seven maharṣis (and the like are created by me).’ (10.6)

‘He who has understood my supreme form and capabilities (attains yoga siddhi).’  (10.7)

‘I have created everything. I am the cause for all action. Those learned ones who are my devotees, know and worship me thus.’ (10.8)

‘Out of compassion for such people, I wipe out the darkness of ignorance in them.’ (10.11)

‘I help such people cross over the ocean in the world of birth and death.’ (12.7)

‘I am the receiver of all yajñas,[34] and penances. I am the supreme Lord of all worlds. I am an ally of the inner scape of all living beings. He who understands me so, attains mokṣa.’ (5.29)

‘I shall enlighten you comprehensively on the knowledge of my Supremacy and its intricate details. If you know all this, there is nothing further that remains to be known.’ (7.2)

‘I am the one who creates the whole world. I annihilate it too. O’ Dhananjaya[35], there is no principle that is superior to Me. Just as beads are strung over a thread, the whole universe is threaded in Me.’ (7.6-7)

‘You are not envious of the Supreme Power. It is for this reason that I am revealing all supreme secrets, spiritual awareness / science, to you. On being aware of this, you shall be freed from all inauspicious things.’  (9.1)

‘Among all branches of knowledge, this is the highest. The most esoteric of esoteric.’  (9.2)

‘I have encompassed the whole world in an invisible form. All living beings are under my refuge; I am not under their patronage.’ (9.4)

‘All beings are sustained by me; I am not under their sustenance.’ (9.5)

‘There is none equal to You [Kṛṣṇa]. How can one talk of one superior to You?’ (11.43)

‘I shall impart further to you, the best that can be known among all knowledge streams.’ (14.1)

‘The entity called Śrī is my wife. In her I have placed the womb of the universe. From there are created all living beings, O’ Arjuna.’ (14.3)

‘I am the patron of the imperishable as well as un-deformable entity called Śrī. I am the cause for the eternal dharma as well as the unique happiness derived from it. (14.27)

‘Two types of puruśas (persons) exist in this universe; perishable and imperishable puruśas. All classes of living beings are perishable puruśas. The entity of Śrī is an imperishable puruśa. Paramātma is set apart from both these. His presence is in everything across all the three worlds and He sustains everything. The imperishable Parameśwara.’ (15.16-17)

‘I am renowned in the world as ‘Puruśōttama’ as I stand surpassing both, the perishable and imperishable puruśas. He who is beyond delusion and knows Me as Puruśōttama, knows everything. O’ Arjuna, he worships only me, in all manner. This is an extremely cryptic advice. O’ sinless Bhārata, I have made you aware of this. He who has known this knows Bhagavān and is truly blessed.’ (15.18-20)

O’ Partha[36], in all the three worlds there is nothing that I need to endeavour and prove. There is no such thing, I do not possess, which I need to strive for and attain. (3.22) etc.,

Sayings from Śruti too are in agreement with this, as under –

‘O’ Viṣṇu! Learned ones pray to you through eulogies. Karma yōgis worship you through yajñas.’

‘Even an aparokṣa jñāni should engage in performance of duties, unquestionably. From that he would attain the ultimate happiness due to him.’

‘Bhagavān, yielding to devotion, will bestow pure knowledge. Alongside would accrue further devotion too. Yielding to knowledge and devotion, he would become visible. From His darśana[37], devotion gets further accentuated. Such aparokṣa and heightened devotion would result in His granting mokṣa. Even upon salvation the soul would continue to remain dependent on Bhagavān. Even in salvation, he would be lost in devotion. Devotion in salvation is a fruit in the form of happiness and not in the manner of any striving.’

‘Bhagavān is superior to Ramā (Lakṣmī), Brahma, Rudra and so on. He is independent. Everything else is dependent on Him. He is the base of all virtues. He is flawless – it is such thinking that defines the love of Viṣṇu, which is real devotion. This is the most superior of all mokṣa oriented endeavours. It is only through devotion that one attains mokṣa and not through anything else. In aparokṣa etc., devotion is merely an endeavour for accentuation.’

‘Among those entitled for mokṣa, humans are held in the lowest tier. Ṛṣi’s make up the middle tier. Dēvatas take up the uppermost (the best) tier. It is only Prāṅadēva[38] who is the best among the supreme.

‘All those who have realised Bhagavān, do not attain the status of dēvatas. Occasionally their thinking too is likely to be clouded. When so, they seek guidance from everything mentally, what they have repeatedly listened to, there would be no waning of their wisdom superiors.  At times this could be for mere amusement too. As they would have churned. This is what happened when dēvatas were born in the clan of Kṣatriyas as Pāndavās. Their wisdom remained firm from repeated guidance under sage Vyāsa.’

‘Rudra dēvata, who is attachment personified, attained the great status of Rudra as a fruit of his worshipping through sacrificial rites Lord Viṣṇu, the One who bestows all that one desires. O’ Aṣvi dēvatas, your existence, that which is bountiful from food, is also a result of His grace alone, isn’t it?’

‘In the beginning there was only Nārāyaṇa. Neither Brahma nor Śaṅkara existed. He contemplated silently. As a result of that, this Brahma, Vāyu, Rudra, Indra, Yama, Varuṇa, Agni and all, were born.’

‘Nārāyaṇa alone existed. Neither Brahma nor Ishāna was there.’

‘Prior to this creation, only Vāsudēva existed. Neither Brahma nor Śaṅkara existed.’

‘Whosoever Viṣṇu wishes, He can elevate to the status of Brahma. To the status of Siva. The statuses of everyone viz., Indra, Skanda, Surya, Yama, are His bestowed. On the other hand, there is none that can make Him Who He is.’

‘It is from the supremacy of the God of Gods, namely Viṣṇu, that all the Vedas derive the greater part of their purport. In no other sense are they prominent. This is true. It is only in an insignificant sense that they depict other gods. Therefore, puruṣārta is derived only from Nārāyaṇa.’

‘You are not subject to any limits. Your form fills the entire universe. No one can scale the heights of your supremacy.’

‘The supremacy of Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa’s attributes is infinite. In Him there is not even the slightest blemish. There is none that is either equal or surpassing Him. Neither was any in the past, nor can any emerge in the future. There is no other universal force that can change this order,’ etc.,

‘He who is experiencing soulful-bliss has no dutiful obligations,’ (3.17) states the Gītā. That however applies to those who have attained salvation. This is in line with the following saying from Skānda –

‘It is only one who is immersed in soulful-bliss upon salvation, that has no stack of duty. “Therefore you will have to perform duties,” Kṛṣṇa smilingly cautions Arjuna.’

‘It is only jñāna yoga that leads Jñānis to siddhi.’ (3.3) and statements of this type too signify that in a meditative state, hesitation to perform outwardly duties is not out of place and in the same sense –

‘None can remain action-less, even momentarily.’ (3.5)

‘If you say that you will not perform actions, from inaction, this life and occupation of the body too, would be impossible.’ (3.8)

‘O’ Partha, it is My firm opinion that shunning extreme attachment and desire for fruits, all these duties should be performed.’ (18.6)

‘A jñāni too should perform his prescribed duties persistently. At all times, however, the desire for fruits should be renounced.’

‘Nowhere is it possible for one to spurn all actions. Ascetics too are called ‘renouncers’ on account of the uncertainty about the relevance of external actions for them,’ etc.,

‘The realized shall instruct you,’ etc., too, are sayings which indicate that wisdom once gained is prevented from being forgotten.

*          *          *          *          *          *

All these are exemplified in Acarya Madhva’s preface to the Gītātātparya. It is the quintessence of the entire Gītā. It epitomises all scriptures.

We have now been able to see what the three principal commentators have stated in their Gītā prefaces, in their own words. Śrī Śankara and Śrī Rāmānuja have composed their prefaces basing them on the incarnation of Kṛṣṇa; Śrī Madhva’s preface, on the other hand, is based on the incarnation of Vyāsa. Barring this one important variation, in general, all the three have expressed the same opinion. A simultaneous examination of all the three presentations might reveal subtle differences in their opinions with greater clarity.

With the backdrop of the prefaces of these three commentators, let us step into the first chapter of Gītā.

In reality, for the first chapter, none of the commentators have scripted a commentary. Śrī Rāmānuja has just covered this briefly, here and there. It should not be construed that it means this chapter is insignificant in Gītā. He focused his attentions on the portions that had Śrī Kṛṣṇa advices. The first chapter has emerged as a prelude to this. This is the foundation. Ahead is the building.

As there is no significant difference in the meanings of the first chapter, across the three sects, what is given here below, is the commonly understood meaning. Only when there are variations in opinion, they are highlighted separately, where applicable.


[28] Insightful wisdom

[29] One who has experienced His direct presence

[30] Another name by which Arjuna is addressed; means one who has seen the supreme one (param) through penances (tapa)

[31] Authority stemming from spiritual knowledge

[32] Maha + ṛṣi = Great sages

[33] The Supreme One – origin of all existence

[34] Worship; a sacrificial rite

[35] One who has conquered material wealth or also, the wealth of knowledge; here it refers to Arjuna

[36] Reference to Arjuna, as son of Pruthe (Kunti)

[37] Divine sighting

[38] Prāṅa = life, breath, movement, knowledge etc.,

About Dr. Bannanje Govindacharya