The Bhagavad Gita, also known as the “Song of God,” has many translations from the ancient Sanskrit to modern day English. So much so that it may be challenging to know where to begin if you’re looking to immerse yourself in it's essential living wisdom.
The Gita, as it is also lovingly called, is a body of spiritual wisdom found within a larger work of ancient wisdom known as the Mahabharata, one of the largest texts known to man. The Gita was said to be spoken by Lord Krishna in a beautiful melodious manner — a rhyme that, when spoken, is harmonious and pleasing to the ear.
(For some background information to start, try Beat the Blues With Hindu's Lovable Lord Krishna.)
With such an intricately woven and delicate text, translations can be tricky. How do you know where to find the best one? Your copy of the Gita is one you’ll want to cherish as you study it slowly and carefully, so finding the perfect translation is essential.
Let’s take a look at some of the best translations of the Gita out there, so that you can make an educated choice when investing in your yogic and scholarly purchase.
Top 5 English Translations of the Bhagavad Gita:
1. The Accessible Translation
One of the most gorgeous translations of the Bhagavad Gita comes from the late scholar, Eknath Easwaran. Originally from Kerala in southern India, Easwaran was an English professor, meditation teacher, Hindu scholar and spiritual leader who moved to California to write and teach. His version of the Gita is one of the most revered for its accessibility and accuracy. The text reads smoothly and includes various notes, a Sanskrit glossary and colorful introductions. Easwaran also authored a treasure trove of spiritual books that you'll want to check out.
2. The Scholarly Translation
A more scholarly translation of the Gita comes from Georg Feuerstein, another prolific author who has made his name in the realm of yogic literature. His translation is good for those students looking for something more academic and with detailed notes. Most notably, this translation contains the entire original Sanskrit text, with both the Romanized version as well as the original Devanagari. There’s even a guide to pronunciation, a word-for-word translation and an extensive glossary. For students who are serious and want to delve deeply into the ins and outs of the Gita, Georg Feuerstein’s translation is one of the best.
3. The Easy-to-Read Translation
Another highly respected rendition of the Bhagavad Gita is the one brought to us by scholar Stephen Mitchell. Mitchell has made a name for himself as one of America’s most talented translators of spiritual literature. It’s an easy-to-read book, with poetry-like fluidity in its wording. He makes reading the ancient text enjoyable and fun. With its accessibility, this one would be a good pick for a book club or discussion group on the Bhagavad Gita. Many yogis enjoy this translation for it's accessibility without compromising any of the ancient meaning.
4. The Casual Translation
If you’re looking for a version of the Gita that’s not overly academic or large in size then you might consider “The Living Gita,” by Sri Swami Satchidananda. The notes and commentary in this translation are superb and there’s no Sanskrit to read, so if you're looking for something less bulky and academic, this may be a good fit. The author also provides commentary about his own life and spiritual journey, which is fun to read for further insights.
5. The Big, Beautiful Translation
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a version of the Gita that looks like The Bible, "The Holy Geeta" by Swami Chinmayananda is it. This is the type of heirloom you'll want resting permanently on your bedside table because it’s so pretty to look at. There’s even a ribbon attached to a bookmark inside. This beautiful hardcover book has a lot of commentary — 1,273 pages of it! If you love big, pretty sacred texts, you’ll love this one!
The Gita for You
Translations of the Bhagavad Gita are as widely varied as the yoga students that study them. We’re all different and we all have different preferences in our learning styles and capacity for knowledge. Therefore, the right translation should be one that speaks to you. It's the one that you get as much out of as you’d hope to get when studying an ancient book of profound knowledge and wisdom, which you'll hopefully soon see is quite a lot!
(Read on for Yogapedia's Interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.)