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The Bhagavad Gita was written in the first century CE, but it tells a story that was ancient even at that time. The Gita, as it is often called, is at once an independent story and part of a larger epic, the Mahabharata, that recounts a great civil war which, according to legend, took place in northern India around 3000 BCE.
Northern India was experiencing real war and turmoil when the Gita was written. The mighty Mauryan empire had fallen, and there were constant battles for power between the smaller kingdoms that sought to take its plac. The basic problem Arjuna faces in the Gita—how to justify killing one's own family in a civil war—must have been lived by much of its original Indian audience.
The Gita is a Hindu text that has also influenced Buddhism. Buddhism was founded in India in the sixth century BCE, during the lifetime of Siddartha Guatama (563? — 483 BCE), and so it was younger than Hinduism, which developed over the centuries of 800-500 BCE. Both religions were practiced by the Indian people. Long after the fall of the Mauryan empire, the Gita remained an important text for all Indians, including Hindus.
One of its most important readers was Mahatma Gandhi. For Gandhi, the text was not just to be read but lived: "I have [made] an effort to enforce the meaning of the Gita in my own conduct [for] forty years… It is a misuse of our intellectual energy and a waste of time to go on reading what we cannot put into practice."
This may seem surprising, since the Gita teaches that war and violence are acceptable in the service of dharma, while Gandhi completely renounced violence of any kind, even for the noblest of causes. Krishna teaches throughout the text that one can fight a real war and kill real people without sin so long as it's done in support of dharma, one's sacred duty to the good order of the universe.
Gandhi believed that when Krishna talks about killing, he is speaking metaphorically. What people should do is "kill" the negative thoughts and motives inside their minds, even though these thoughts and motives are so familiar that we may see them as "friends" or "family." This is a kind of violence that is in line with ahimsa, or non-violent protest. Using this interpretation, Gandhi swayed the Indian independence movement away from violence and saw India become a sovereign nation in 1947 without firing a shot.
The Bhagavad Gita was written in Epic-Puranic Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an ancient Indo-European language, (which developed in) what is now India around 1600 BCE. Remarkably, Sanskrit is in use today. Sanskrit was first written down around 300 BCE, during the Epic-Puranic period, and this is the language of The Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita is written in epic narrative stanza—a quatrain with eight syllables in each quarter. Like The Odyssey, the Gita counts the length of syllables to create meter rather than the stress on each syllable. Also like The Odyssey, the Gita uses epithets, descriptive words or phrases, to keep the meter flowing properly.
There is a reason why the Gita and The Odyssey have these connections. Sanskrit is a root language of ancient Greek and Latin, and indeed of all European languages except for Finnish and Hungarian. Modern European languages, including English, still hold traces of their Sanskrit roots. For example, there are correlations between some personal pronouns, like vayam (we), yuyam (you), asman (us); and some verbs. like bhu (be), and as (is).