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Abstract

Believed to have been written well over 2000 years ago, the Gita's original social, cultural, and religious or philosophical context is far removed from the context of the present, and it is written in a language no longer used in daily speech. In its original form, it was not even a complete, independent text, it was a small part of the Mahabharata epic and only one of many texts expounding vedantic ideas. Yet, the Gita enjoys currency, new translations are released by major publishers every year. The Gita is believed to be the most translated text after the Bible today. This essay investigates the process by which the Gita has achieved its canonical status and thinks about why the Gita—and no other Hindu text—is today regarded the representative text of Hinduism. For this purpose, the essay surveys recent history over the last 200 years since Wilkins' translation into English and the process of interpretation, translation, and dissemination by which the Gita was adapted to contexts and made instrumental to ideologies. Comparing the Gita to other Hindu texts provides clues for the suitability of the Gita, time and time again, to such adaption.