Bhagavad Gita integrates various schools of thought, notably Vedanta, Samkhya and Yoga, and other theistic ideas. It remains a popular text for commentators belonging to various philosophical schools. However, its composite nature also leads to varying interpretations of the text. In the words of Mysore Hiriyanna,
[The Gita] is one of the hardest books to interpret, which accounts for the numerous commentaries on it–each differing from the rest in one essential point or the other.
Different translators and commentators have widely differing views on what multi-layered Sanskrit words and passages signify, and their presentation in English depending on the sampradaya they are affiliated to.
Richard H. Davis cites Callewaert & Hemraj's 1982 count of 1891 BG translations in 75 languages, including 273 in English.
The oldest and most influential medieval commentary was that of Adi Shankara (788–820 A. D.), also known as Shankaracharya (Sanskrit: Śaṅkarācārya). Shankara's commentary was based on a recension of the Gita containing 700 verses, and that recension has been widely adopted by others.
Ramanujacharya's commentary chiefly seeks to show that the discipline of devotion to God (Bhakti yoga) is the way of salvation.
Madhva, a commentator of the Vedanta school, whose dates are given either as (1199–1276 CE) or as (1238–1317 CE), also known as Madhvacharya (Sanskrit: Madhvācārya), wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, which exemplifies the thinking of the "dualist" school. Winthrop Sargeant quotes a dualistic assertion of the Madhva's school that there is "an eternal and complete distinction between the Supreme, the many souls, and matter and its divisions". His commentary on the Gita is called Gita Bhāshya. It has been annotated on by many ancient pontiffs of Dvaita Vedanta school like Padmanabha Tirtha, Jayatirtha, and Raghavendra Tirtha.
In the Shaiva tradition, the renowned philosopher Abhinavagupta (10–11th century CE) has written a commentary on a slightly variant recension called Gitartha-Samgraha. Other classical commentators include Nimbarka (1162 CE), Vidyadhiraja Tirtha, Vallabha (1479 CE)., Madhusudana Saraswati, Raghavendra Tirtha, Vanamali Mishra, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 CE), while Dnyaneshwar (1275–1296 CE) translated and commented on the Gita in Marathi, in his book Dnyaneshwari.
At a time when Indian nationalists were seeking an indigenous basis for social and political action, Bhagavad Gita provided them with a rationale for their activism and fight against injustice. Among nationalists, notable commentaries were written by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, who used the text to help inspire the Indian independence movement. Tilak wrote his commentary Shrimadh Bhagvad Gita Rahasya while in jail during the period 1910–1911 serving a six-year sentence imposed by the British colonial government in India for sedition. While noting that the Gita teaches possible paths to liberation, his commentary places most emphasis on Karma yoga. No book was more central to Gandhi's life and thought than the Bhagavad Gita, which he referred to as his "spiritual dictionary". During his stay in Yeravda jail in 1929, Gandhi wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in Gujarati. The Gujarati manuscript was translated into English by Mahadev Desai, who provided an additional introduction and commentary. It was published with a foreword by Gandhi in 1946. Mahatma Gandhi expressed his love for the Gita in these words:
I find a solace in the Bhagavadgītā that I miss even in the Sermon on the Mount. When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavadgītā. I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies – and my life has been full of external tragedies – and if they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teaching of Bhagavadgītā.
Although Vivekananda did not write any commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, his works contained numerous references to the Gita, such as his lectures on the four yogas – Bhakti, Gyaana, Karma, and Raja. Through the message of the Gita, Vivekananda sought to energise the people of India to claim their own dormant but strong identity. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay thought that the answer to the problems that beset Hindu society was a revival of Hinduism in its purity, which lay in the reinterpretation of Bhagavad Gita for a new India. Aurobindo saw Bhagavad Gita as a "scripture of the future religion" and suggested that Hinduism had acquired a much wider relevance through the Gita. Sivananda called Bhagavad Gita "the most precious jewel of Hindu literature" and suggested its introduction into the curriculum of Indian schools and colleges. In the lectures Chinmayananda gave, on tours undertaken to revive of moral and spiritual values of the Hindus, he borrowed the concept of Gyaana yajna, or the worship to invoke divine wisdom, from the Gita. He viewed the Gita as a universal scripture to turn a person from a state of agitation and confusion to a state of complete vision, inner contentment, and dynamic action. Teachings of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organisation which spread rapidly in North America in the 1970s and 1980s, are based on a translation of the Gita called Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Other modern commentaries
Among notable modern commentators of the Bhagavad Gita are Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Vinoba Bhave, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo , Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Chinmayananda, etc. Chinmayananda took a syncretistic approach to interpret the text of the Gita.
Paramahansa Yogananda's two volume commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, was released 1995.
Eknath Easwaran has also written a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. It examines the applicability of the principles of Gita to the problems of modern life.
Other notable commentators include Jeaneane Fowler, Ithamar Theodor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Sadly Vasvani.
The first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita was done by Charles Wilkins in 1785. In 1981, Larson listed more than 40 English translations of the Gita, stating that "A complete listing of Gita translations and a related secondary bibliography would be nearly endless".:514 He stated that "Overall... there is a massive translational tradition in English, pioneered by the British, solidly grounded philologically by the French and Germans, provided with its indigenous roots by a rich heritage of modern Indian comment and reflection, extended into various disciplinary areas by Americans, and having generated in our time a broadly based cross-cultural awareness of the importance of the Bhagavad Gita both as an expression of a specifically Indian spirituality and as one of the great religious "classics" of all time.":518 Sanskrit scholar Barbara Stoler Miller produced a translation in 1986 intended to emphasise the poem's influence and current context within English Literature, especially the works of T.S. Eliot, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The translation was praised by scholars as well as literary critics and became one of most continually popular translations to date.
The Gita has also been translated into other European languages. In 1808, passages from the Gita were part of the first direct translation of Sanskrit into German, appearing in a book through which Friedrich Schlegel became known as the founder of Indian philology in Germany. Swami Rambhadracharya released the first Braille version of the scripture, with the original Sanskrit text and a Hindi commentary, on 30 November 2007.[web 30] The former Turkish Scholar-Politician, Bulent Ecevit translated several Sanskrit scriptures including the Gita into Turkish language. Mahavidwan R. Raghava Iyengar translated the Gita in Tamil in sandam metre poetic form.