Literature with Other Arts
Edited By Haun Saussy and Gerald Gillespie
Translating the Bhagavad Gītā? From the German Lecture Hall to the Trenches of WW I/From Neo-Nazi Propaganda to the Opera Stage
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From the German Lecture Hall to the Trenches of WW I/From Neo-Nazi Propaganda to the Opera Stage
University of Georgia
Indian Studies scholars have claimed that the Western scholarly reception of the Bhagavad Gītā contributed to the refusal on the part of the philosophical establishment to take India seriously (Halbfass, Hulin, Droit). Indeed, the Hindu “Song of the Lord” has had a varied and controversial life in the West. In its own context, the Gītā promotes devotion to Lord Krishna, the mystical bond between the devotee and the Godhead, and a philosophy of action (karma) and knowledge (jñāna). It was the first Sanskrit text translated and published in the West, spawning commentaries by Schlegel, Humboldt and Hegel. It has also served as a battle hymn for various nationalist causes. More recently, the Gītā made a splash on stage in Satyagraha, an opera by the American composer Philip Glass. In this essay, I will outline the initial Western reception of this Hindu sacred text. In a previous publication, I suggested that the search for models in an Indian exotic ultimately collides with a vision of fatalism that certain nineteenth-century Europeans projected onto a fictive India or read into its literature (Figueira). I would like to expand this line of inquiry by examining a few twentieth-century appropriations of this emblematic Sanskrit text. Focusing primarily on Glass’s opera, I question whether the...
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