Ambedkar and Gandhi on the Bhagwat Gita

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Ambedkar and Gandhi on the Bhagwat Gita

The Bhagwat Gita is regarded as the most sacred religious book in Hinduism. It is also considered to be a book of ethics, championing eternal moral values. It has been translated into various languages. Great thinkers and political leaders, both in medieval and modern period, have been inspired by this book and have also written commentaries upon it. The objective of this paper is to compare the contrasting views of Gandhi and Ambedkar on the Bhagwat Gita. Both Gandhi and Ambedkar, have divergent opinions on the Gita.

What does Ambedkar say about the Bhagwat Gita?
Ambedkar was a champion of the shudras and ati-shudras in our society, therefore his approach to the assessment of Gita is entirely different. He was a severe critic of Hindu religion and society. According to Ambedkar “the Bhagwat Gita is neither a book of religion nor a treatise on philosophy. What the Bhagwat Gita does is to defend certain dogmas of religion on philosophic grounds.” It uses philosophy to defend religion. Ambedkar develops the argument of revolution and counter-revolution for understanding the Gita. His interpretation of the changes in ancient Indian society and a detailed study of the ancient religious books conclude that the Aryan community of the pre-Buddhist era did not have a progressive sense of moral values and it was the arrival of Buddhism that caused a moral and a social revolution in this society. The Aryan community of pre-Buddhist time had many social evils. Drinking and gambling were very common; they had no rules and regulations over their sexual relationships; they had a custom of renting out their daughters to others for a while; they participated in yajna or animal sacrifice; and, their religion was a series of observances behind which there was no desire for a good and righteous life. In short, there was no spiritual content in the religion they practiced. The first great reformer in this society was Buddha and Buddhism could be called a revolution in Ambedkar’s view. Ambedkar has equated Buddhism to the French revolution, because, he felt, it transformed the whole social order. Buddha criticized and campaigned against three things: he rejected the authority of the Vedas; he condemned yajna and the practice of animal sacrifice; and opposed the caste system. Buddhism was open to all, to shudras, women and even to remorseful criminal. This social revolution turned into a political revolution after mauryan emperor Ashoka adopted Buddhism. During this period, the interests of the brahmins had suffered; they lost all state patronage and were reduced to a secondary position. After the decline of the mauryan empire, the brahmins abolished the Buddhist state and in its place instituted a brahmin political order. This is what Ambedkar calls a counter-revolution and this counter-revolution reinstated brahminism. The brahmins were made a privileged class under this order and varna was turned into caste. It paved the way for a system of graded inequality based on birth. According to Ambedkar, the Bhagwat Gita was created to give ideological and moral support to this counter-revolution. What are the dogmas of religion that the Bhagwat Gita defends? Most Hindus regard the Gita as a book of ethics but Ambedkar does not agree with this view. He, on the other hand, criticizes a few standpoints on moral questions taken by the Gita. The first instance is the justification of war. Arjuna had asserted that he was against the war and killing people for the sake of property. But Ambedkar points out that Krishna proposes a philosophic defence of war and killing in war. It proceeds along two lines of arguments; one line says that anyhow man is mortal and bound to die, therefore it should not make any difference whether a man dies a natural death or whether he is put to death by an act of violence and the second line says that body and soul are separate, in the sense that the body is...
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