Vinoba’s ‘Gita Pravachane’ or ‘Talks on the Gita’ is a work unique and wonderful in many respects. It not only interprets the Gita in a novel and refreshingly different way and brings out the quintessential message of that great spiritual classic in a language that is simple, lucid and intelligible even to ordinary readers, but also lays bare the essence of true spirituality that includes whatever is the best and the most enduring in the religious traditions of the world and still transcends all of them. Needless to say, its power to purify the hearts and the lives of the readers has few parallels. That it has been translated in 24 languages and around 2.5 million copies have been sold is a testimony to its popularity and potency.
The work had been translated in English as well and this is the seventeenth edition of the English translation. An edition had also been published by George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London.
The work had earlier been translated by Shri K. Swaminathan. It has now been almost re-translated by Dr. Parag Cholkar, although he has liberally drawn on the earlier translation as well as the relevant portion in ‘The Intimate and The Ultimate’ edited by Satish Kumar. Several persons have gone through the new version and made suggestions which have been taken care of. Labours taken by Shri Sarvanarayandas and Shri Vasant Palshikar deserve special mention. It has also received the blessings of Ms. Vimla Thakar, one of the tallest living spiritual guides. Several footnotes on important philosophical terms as well as individuals and incidents from Indian mythology and epics have also been added.
These talks were delivered in 1932 in the Dhule jail where Vinoba had been incarcerated by the British for his participation in the freedom movement. There were hundreds of political prisoners lodged in that jail. How Vinoba transformed jail life and the jailor, a strict disciplinarian, who later became his admirer is a fascinating story, but one must avoid the temptation to recount that story for paucity of space. Prison inmates expressed a desire that Vinoba should speak on the Gita. Vinoba agreed to give a talk every Sunday and delivered 18 talks on the 18 Chapters. P.S. Sane alias Sane Guruji, a great writer and freedom-fighter, wrote them down in long hand. There was no question of their being taped and their publication was also not thought of. In fact, Vinoba had given talks on the Gita many times in the past, but none of them had been published. However, Sane Guruji preserved the notebooks and the talks were published first in his weekly newspaper, and then in the form of a book in 1940 when Vinoba was in jail even before he could find time to go through them for necessary editing. It was only thereafter that Vinoba edited the talks. He also divided them into 108 sub-divisions and 432 paragraphs and wrote aphorisms (totaling 540) on each of them in Sanskrit so that the contents could be reflected upon and understood with ease. The collection of those aphorisms, named ‘Samyasutra-vritti’ has been appended to most of the editions in Indian languages.
As has already been mentioned, these talks were written down from the notes taken by Sane Guruji, whose literary style is evident to any discerning reader. The spirit, of course, has been kept intact, and that is perhaps why Vinoba put his seal of approval on their publication. That these talks were taken down by a man of rare purity like Sane Guruji had a special significance for Vinoba.
Few liberties have been taken with the text while translating and the stress is on the communication of the content even at the cost of the flow and lucidity of the language, if necessary. Only a few words or a sentence or two have been deleted or added. It may be added that the talks are replete with analogies and examples and sometimes they may appear a bit out of place to the modern rational mind, which may also fail to grasp some of them because of their milieu. This is inevitable in the translation of any work in a foreign language. In fact, Vinoba had doubts whether English readers could appreciate these talks. That the English translation has also been well received is clear from the fact that it had already run into sixteen editions totaling 80,000 copies. What is, after all, important is the spirit and the essence.
It is not an academic treatise on the Gita. These are the talks given before ordinary individuals from different walks of life. It was Vinoba’s firm conviction that the Gita is meant to spiritualize human life; to transform and make it divine. That is exactly what these talks too are meant to bring about. Their success in doing so in good measure has been amply testified. That is why Vinoba considered this work as a vehicle for the propagation of the Bhoodan (Land-gift) movement; in fact, for the revolutionary transformation of the individual and social life.
The readers are requested to convey their comments and suggestions so that necessary changes could be made in the next edition, and the translation made as authentic as possible.