Gods and Heroes of the Bhagavad Gita

A Brief Description of the Mythology of Ancient India as Contained in the Bhagavad-Gita,
Including Technical Terms and Explanations in the Light of Theosophy

Geoffrey A. Barborka

Originally published in 1939 by Theosophical University Press. Electronic version ISBN 1-55700-173-1. All rights reserved. This edition may be downloaded for off-line viewing without charge. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial or other use in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Theosophical University Press. For ease of searching, no diacritical marks appear in this electronic version of the text.



Most Theosophists are aware of the fact that it was H. P. Blavatsky's especial wish that a selection from the Bhagavad-Gita should always be read at commemoration services held on the day of her passing, which she desired to have known as White Lotus Day. There must have been a potent reason for thus singling out this ancient work, and we have her words stating that the 'Gita' is an esoteric work. A clue to this is the fact that the very first word of the Bhagavad-Gita (in the Sanskrit text) is Dharmakshetre, meaning 'on the field of Dharma,' and indicating that what is about to be recounted occurs not only 'on the field of the Kurus' (i. e., Kurukshetre - the second word of the text), but on the field of moral law (dharma), and is to be interpreted in a cosmic sense.

W. Q. Judge's high regard for the book is well known, and an interpretation is suggested by him in his 'Antecedent Words' to his recension.

Readers of the Bhagavad-Gita have doubtless pondered upon the signification of the many Sanskrit words and names appearing in this philosophical work. Perhaps some, having been deeply impressed by the teachings inculcated, have commenced a study of the background of the work, and have thus acquired a knowledge of the main events in the great epic of India - the Mahabharata - in which the episode of the Bhagavad-Gita occurs. But the task of looking up all the characters mentioned, and finding a satisfactory meaning of the terms, is a difficult one. To meet this need the present book is offered, as a means of gaining a deeper understanding of the work.

The Bhagavad-Gita is pre-eminently an ethical treatise. It inculcates teachings applicable to daily life, suited to the time in which it was written. These are considered from the standpoint of two highly philosophical systems of thought which were then prominent, namely, the Sankhya and the Yoga. Furthermore there is a philosophical and religious background which is not very prominent in the theme, yet is always present: this is the mythology of ancient India, a consideration of which is necessary for a complete understanding of the Bhagavad-Gita. It is information along this line that the present handbook supplies.

It would seem from a study of the mythology of Hindusthan that it may be divided into three main periods: (1) the Vedic period, containing the original exposition of the deities, etc., as found in the Vedas; (2) the post-Vedic period, consisting of The Laws of Manu and the two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; (3) the post-Mahabharatan period, as found in the Puranas.

Pursuing this line of thought one finds that along with the modifications which the deities undergo during these three periods, there is a corresponding change in religious outlook. As religious ideas and beliefs do not change suddenly but arise slowly and only after considerable lapses of time, the conclusion naturally follows that great periods of time must have elapsed between the production of the Sanskrit works above enumerated; and the works themselves indicate the trend of thought of the time in which they were written.

The characters and terms used in the Bhagavad-Gita represent the religious outlook and mythology of the Mahabharatan-period. Nevertheless the information given in this handbook in regard to the deities comprises the three periods above outlined. This plan has been followed in order to give as complete an explanation as possible.

Although there are voluminous commentaries upon the ancient Sanskrit literature, written by Eastern sages, the keys to an interpretation of the mythology of India were not known in the West until Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (the founder of the modern Theosophical Movement) published her books. Such keys are not easily accessible, however, as they are scattered throughout her works. The effort in this handbook has been to place this information before students. Wherever possible the inner meanings which H. P. Blavatsky gave to terms or to deities have been included herein (with references subjoined). These esoteric explanations are of inestimable value, as they give a means of understanding the Bhagavad-Gita in a new light. Witness the following citation: the author is referring to the story about Vaivasvata-Manu as told both in the Mahabharata and the Puranas:

All this, which seems a jumble to the profane, is full of philosophical meaning to the Occultist. On the very face of the narrative a secret and sacred meaning is perceivable, all the details, however, being so purposely mixed up that the experienced eye of an Initiate alone can follow them and place the events in their proper order.
The story as told in the "Mahabharata" strikes the key-note, and yet it needs to be explained by the secret sense contained in the Bhagavad Gita. It is the prologue to the drama of our (Fifth) Humanity. - The Secret Doctrine, II, 139

The best information about the characters occurring in the Bhagavad-Gita is the Mahabharata itself, for the stories about the gods and heroes are therein told in detail. This epic was used for the background of the compilation. Verification was made by use of Monier-Williams's Sanskrit Dictionary, and the systemic spelling for the names and terms adopted; also the orthography. The labor of preparation has been materially aided by access to this standard authority. Further, material has been drawn from Dowson's Classical Dictionary. Due acknowledgment is given to these works, as well as to the Theosophical works of H. P. Blavatsky and G. de Purucker for the illumination and clarification which Theosophy brings to an understanding of the Sanskrit terms employed in its literature.

Root-meanings of Sanskrit words have been placed in parentheses at the conclusion of articles, because the root-meaning of a Sanskrit word provides the key to its correct understanding.

The names and terms in this book are those that appear in the recension of the Bhagavad- Gita made by William Q. Judge (the work principally known to Theosophists), and his latest edition (the sixth) was used in regard to pagination - which the 1939 Point Loma edition also follows.


Theosophical University,
Point LomaCalifornia
May, 1939.


adj. = adjective

B.G. =Bhagavad-Gita (W. Q. Judge's Recension). B.G. followed by a number has reference to the page in which the word first appears in W.Q.J.'s edition of 1896, and Point Loma edition of 1939

comp. = compound

dict. = dictionary form or 'crude form.' Sanskrit words when not used in sentences (i. e., when isolated without grammatical form) have a special form; this is the manner in which they appear in dictionaries (e.g. Atman - dict.; Atma - nominative case.)

lit. = literally - the literal meaning of the word

m. = meaning of the word itself

Manu = The Laws of Manu (Manava-Dharma-Sastra)

N.B.G. = Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita by Subba Row

nom. = nominative case

q.v. = quod vide ('which see')

S.D. = The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky

Theos. Gloss. = The Theosophical Glossary by H. P. Blavatsky

* (asterisk preceding a Sanskrit word) = derived from the verbal root

Favorite Quotations from The Bhagavad-Gita

(Recension of W. Q. Judge - in order of occurrence)

[Taken from Gods and Heroes of the Bhagavad-Gita, pp. 121, 124-127]

With the loss of virtue, vice and impiety overwhelm the whole of a race. p. 7

Those who are wise in spiritual things grieve neither for the dead nor for the living. p. 11

I myself never was not, nor thou, nor all the princes of the earth; nor shall we ever hereafter cease to be. p. 11

As the lord of this mortal frame experienceth therein infancy, youth, and old age, so in future incarnations will it meet the same. p. 11

He to whom pain and pleasure are the same, is fitted for immortality. p. 12

It (the Spirit) is not a thing of which a man may say, 'It hath been, it is about to be, or is to be hereafter'; for it is without birth and meeteth not death; it is ancient, constant, and eternal, and is not slain when this its mortal frame is destroyed. p. 12

As a man throweth away old garments and putteth on new, even so the dweller in the body, having quitted its old mortal frames, entereth into others which are new. p. 13

Death is certain to all things which are born, and rebirth to all mortals; wherefore it doth not behoove thee to grieve about the inevitable. p. 13

Make pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, the same to thee. p. 15

Be free from the 'pairs of opposites' and constant in the quality of Sattwa. p. 16

Let, then, the motive for action be in the action itself, and not in the event. p. 16

Do not be incited to actions by the hope of their reward, nor let thy life be spent in inaction. p. 16

Equal-mindedness is called Yoga. p. 17

Yoga is skill in the performance of actions. p. 17

The man whose heart and mind are not at rest is without wisdom or the power of contemplation. p. 20

Do thou perform the proper actions: action is superior to inaction. p. 23

The man who doeth that which he hath to do, without attachment to the result, obtaineth the Supreme. p. 25

Whatever is practised by the most excellent men, that is also practised by others. The world follows whatever example they set. p. 25

It is better to do one's own duty, even though it be devoid of excellence, than to perform another's duty well. p. 27

It is better to perish in the performance of one's own duty; the duty of another is full of danger. p. 27

Both I and thou have passed through many births. Mine are known unto me, but thou knowest not of thine. p. 31

1 produce myself among creatures, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world. p. 31

In whatever way men approach me, in that way do I assist them; but whatever the path taken by mankind, that path is mine. p. 32

That man who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among men. p. 33

There is no purifier in this world to be compared to spiritual knowledge. p. 36

The man of doubtful mind hath no happiness either in this world or in the next or in any other. p. 36

Renunciation of action and devotion through action are both means of final emancipation. p. 38

The devotee who is engaged in the right practice of his duties approacheth the Supreme Spirit in no long time. p. 39

Whoever in acting dedicates his actions to the Supreme Spirit and puts aside all selfish interest in their result is untouched by sin. pp. 39-40

The man who is devoted and not attached to the fruit of his actions obtains tranquillity. p. 40

He whose heart is not attached to objects of sense finds pleasure within himself. p. 42

Action is said to be the means by which the wise man who is desirous of mounting to meditation may reach thereto. p. 44

He who seeth me in all things and all things in me looseneth not his hold on me and I forsake him not. p. 49

Never to an evil place goeth one who doeth good. p. 51

The man whose devotion has been broken off by death goeth to the regions of the righteous. p. 51

In whatever form a devotee desires with faith to worship, it is I alone who inspire him with constancy therein. p. 55

All worlds up to that of Brahman are subject to rebirth again and again. p. 60

There is that which upon the dissolution of all things else is not destroyed; it is indivisible, indestructible, and of another nature from the visible. p. 61

Light and darkness are the world's eternal ways. p. 62

All this universe is pervaded by me in my invisible form. p. 64

I accept and enjoy the offerings of the humble soul who in his worship with a pure heart offereth a leaf, a flower, or fruit, or water unto me. p. 68

I am the origin of all; all things proceed from me. p. 71

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