Geetarahasya 1/n

Thoughts on Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s magnum opus.


उपक्रमोपसंहारौ अभ्यासो अपूर्वता फलम्
अर्थवादोपपत्ति च लिङ्गं तात्पर्यनिर्णये

I am reading Lokmanya Tilak’s Geetarahasya in Marathi, where I came across this shloka in the introduction. It has been a while since I did some “heavy” reading in Marathi, but Tilak’s writing is remarkably crisp and clear. In places where I get stuck due to my own limited vocabulary I use the excellent मराठी बृहद्कोश.

Tilak argues that the interpretation of the Geeta as told by Krishna in the context of the war in Mahabharat is primarily about Karmayog–how committing to appropriate action leads to Moksha. This is in contrast with most other popular interpretations where achieving Jnana or Sanyas is more important and Karma plays a minor role. Tilak points to the aforementioned shloka as a recipe to make sense of arguments presented in these interpretations. I related to it instantly as this is how I learnt to write and review academic papers in my graduate study. Tilak says the shloka comes from the Mimamsa tradition of Hindu philosophy. It is fascinating to see that people have presented arguments in the same way for thousands of years. A rough translation goes as follows: To make sense of a manuscript one must consider the following 7 important things:

उपक्रम (start), उपसंहार (end): Looking at the start and the end of the manuscript tells what the main point of the manuscript will be and what the starting assumptions are.

अभ्यास: The authors will typically drive home their point by repeating it multiple times or providing multiple arguments in favour of it–which is a version of “Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you just told them”.

Next is अपूर्वता or novelty. If one is going through the effort of writing an original work manuscript, they’d better have something novel to talk about. Tilak quips that this point probably became invalid with the invention of printing presses. I wonder what he would have thought of today’s online landscape.

फलम् (result): The argument is presented for a certain end result. Understanding which results are emphasized gives us a better understanding of what the argument was about. The फलम् of Krishna’s Geeta was that Arjuna went back into battle mode.

अर्थवाद: I liked this the best. All manuscripts presenting an argument also discuss alternative points of views to compare and contrast. These comparisons are not always fair or even legitimate. They could be meanderings to illustrate the main idea or simply obfuscations. Basically it’s fluff. It is important to identify these non-essential components and exclude them from your analysis.

Finally, उपपत्ति: which means systematic derivation of the main idea by developing supporting arguments–almost like a mathematical proof. Your arguments should take the reader from the start to the end step by step. Any mistakes in the middle weaken the argument.

Tilak applies each of these to analyze the Geeta and support his conclusions.

Reading rigorous academic writing in Marathi–especially from Tilak–is refreshing. The arguments sound more concise, forthright, and convincing than their English translations in my head. Can’t say if it is due to my informal intimacy with Marathi or just Tilak’s writing style. Either way I am enjoying it and will try to write more as I go through the tome.

Amod Jog
Amod Jog

My research interests include medical image analysis, computer vision, and machine learning/artificial intelligence.