Rabindranath Tagore's novel 1916 The Home and the World consists of chapters told from the point of view of varying characters. One of these is Sandip, who is a militant nationalist and an active participant in the Swadeshi movement. In the third chapter, which is narrated from Sandip's point of view, there is a discussion between Nikhil's old tutor Chandranath and Sandip. (Nikhil is one of the novel's main characters and refuses to take part in Swadeshi.) The passage that is relevant to this question is the following (emphasis mine):

Chandranath Babu began to talk about Swadeshi. I thought I would let him go on with his monologues. There is nothing like letting an old man talk himself out. It makes him feel that he is winding up the world, forgetting all the while how far away the real world is from his wagging tongue.
But even my worst enemy would not accuse me of patience. And when Chandranath Babu went on to say: "If we expect to gather fruit where we have sown no seed, then we . . ." I had to interrupt him.
"Who wants fruit?" I cried. "We go by the Author of the Gita who says that we are concerned only with the doing, not with the fruit of our deeds."

The Gita is obviously the Bhagavad Gita, which is attributed to Vyasa. According to the chapter summaries on Wikipedia, Sandip is most likely alluding to something from Chapter 3. Is this correct and what are the exact lines that Sandip is alluding to?


1 Answer 1



Bhagavad Geeta 2:47

Source of Sandip's allusion

The passage Sandip alludes to is indeed from the Bhagavad Geeta. The exact source is Chapter 2, verse 47:

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन ।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ॥


karmaNyevaadhikaaraste ma phaleShu kadaachana
maa karmaphalaheturbhuurmaa te sa~Ngo.ostavakarmaNi

Translation (mine):

You have control over action alone, none whatsoever over its fruits. Neither consider yourself the cause of the fruits of action, nor be attached to inaction.

The context of this, the best-known verse from the Geeta, is as follows: Arjuna, the most skilled warrior on one side of an epic battle, loses heart just before the battle begins. He finds himself ranged against his cousins, his gurus, and his elders. Since bonds of affection and gratitude bind him to them, he feels unable to take up arms as he is required to. He considers renouncing the battlefield. Arjuna's close friend Krishna, who has agreed to be his charioteer in the war, counsels him that since the war is just, participating is the only viable option. When Arjuna says that he does not want to cause the death of his kinsmen, and adds that winning the kingdom would not be worth that price, Krishna responds with this verse.

The word translated here as control, अधिकार / adhikaar, has a wide range of meaning that includes authority as well as right or entitlement. Arjuna should not see his actions as the cause, हेतु / hetu, of their outcome. Krishna counsels Arjuna that he must act responsibly, but without any expectation regarding the consequences. Action is within his control, so he is both entitled and obligated to act. However, he is not entitled to any specific results, nor are they within his control.

The Bhagavad Geeta in the Mahabharata

While regularly treated as a stand-alone text, the Bhagavad Geeta is a small part of a much longer Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. It comprises chapters 23-40 of Book 6, the Book of Bhishma. The Geeta is considered a late interpolation into the epic. The earliest written references to the Mahabharata date back to the 4th C BCE, with an oral tradition going back to the 8th or 9th C BCE. By contrast, the Bhagavad Geeta likely dates to the 2nd C BCE. In the context of the larger epic, the source of Sandip's allusion would be Mahabharata 06:24:47 rather than Geeta 2:47.

Attributed Authorship of the Geeta

The question mentions that the Geeta is attributed to Vyasa. That is certainly true, in that the entire Mahabharata is considered Vyasa's. Nevertheless, as touched upon in an answer to another question on this site, the Mahabharata is told through a series of narrative frames. The action on the battlefield is related in real time to the blind king Dhritarashtra by his charioteer Sanjaya, whom the gods have granted divine sight so that he can see the entire battle in real time. Putting this together with the overall narrative frame of the Mahabharata, what we read is:

  • a text that represents what
  • Ugrashravas said to Shaunaka, that
  • Vaishampayan said to Ugrashravas, that
  • Vyasa said to Vaishampayan, that
  • Sanjaya said to Dhritarashtra that
  • Krishna said to Arjuna.

These narrative frames notwithstanding, a good Hindu would attribute the Bhagavad Geeta to Krishna rather than Vyasa. The Bhagavad Geeta literally translates to The Song of God. Sanjaya uses direct speech to narrate Krishna's words to Dhritarashtra. So the chief speaker of the Geeta is Krishna, with Arjuna and Sanjaya getting some words in edgewise. Krishna's speeches are marked with श्रीभगवानुवाच / shriibhagavaanuvaacha, "the Lord God says".

Nikhil's challenge to Chandranath is therefore pretty audacious, relying as it does on the words of God himself.

Note on Transliteration

The first vowel in Geeta is a long [ i ]. IAST convention would represent गीता as Gītā. Strict iTrans would represent it as giitaa. Since IAST is hard to type on an ASCII keyboard, and iTrans specifically designed for such a keyboard, I tend to use the latter. Unlike IAST, however, iTrans is case-sensitive; G and g represent two different sounds. This makes it awkward to use for titles when capitalization would ordinarily be desirable. Geeta is probably the most common conventional, if nonstandard, transliteration of गीता, and I've defaulted to that for the title. The same is true for proper names: Krishna is conventional and nonstandard; IAST would be kṛṣṇa (or Kṛṣṇa); iTrans, kR^iShNa. Direct quotations from the text use iTrans.

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