Who Was The First Person to Translate The Bhagavad Gita?

Hey! So I was reading the Bhagavad Gita today and thought just popped up in my mind that ‘Who was the first person to translate the Bhagavad Gita’.

The Holy Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu epic which is considered as the longest poem is a part of Mahabharata written by Rishi Ved Vyasa.

Bhagavad Gita is the most translated Asian text which counts to an astonishing 1891 translations and more. No matter you have read this book or not you should have heard its name from someone. But do you know that it is originally written in the Sanskrit language?

Yes, The Holy Bhagavad Gita was written in Sanskrit but then the question arises that who was the first person who translated it?

Who Translated Bhagavad Gita?

who translated Bhagavad Gita

Charles Wilkins was the first person to translated Bhagavad Gita in 1785
and introduced it to the world. He translated Bhagavad Gita from the Sanskrit Language to English with the help of a group of Bengali pundits. 

This translation was initiated by Warren Hastings who encouraged the translations of Hindu scriptures.

His translation of Bhagavad Gita was completed by November 1784. Charles Wilkins’s translation was further translated into different languages like German, French, and Latin. It was translated to many more languages so that it can be easily accessible to many westerners.

The Bhagavad Gita deals with many problems in human life in a very human appeal which makes it more famous among the people. It has tremendous demand and has inspired millions of Indians for centuries.

Carles Wilkins Translation of Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita was never exposed to the western people till the 17th century. But when it was exposed to them Charles Wilkins translated it so that the world can get the knowledge which the Bhagavad Gita provides.

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When it was first translated, the westerners were not much fascinated to read it as they saw it as some poetry and failed to see its life-transforming message.

But after some years The Gita provoked interest and curiosity in the minds of the people.  Now as you know who has translated Bhagavad Gita let’s know more about him.

Who was Charles Wilkins?

Charles Wilkins First Person to Translate Bhagavad Gita

Charles Wilkins

Charles Wilkins was born in 1749 in Fome, Somerset. He is known as the first person to translate the Bhagavad Gita into English. He worked for the British East India Company and learned Sanskrit in Varanasi from a Bengali teacher named Kalinath Bhattacharya.

Charles Wilkins under the support of Warren Hastings (First Governor-General of India) started his work on translating the great Indian epic Mahabharata under the guidance of Kalinath Bhattacharya but he could complete only one-third of the epic.

Though the translation was not completed, he started his work on translating the Gita which was published in 1785 by the name Bhagvat-Geeta, or Dialogues of Krishna and Arjoon (London: Nourse, 1785).  In the introduction of his first-ever translated Gita Warren Hastings wrote:

I hesitate not to pronounce the ‘Geeta’ a performance of great originality, of a sublimity of conception, of reasoning, and diction, almost unequalled, and a single exception, among all the known religions of mankind.

Warren Hastings in the Introduction to the First-ever English Translation of the Bhagavad Gita (4- 10- 1784)

Charles Wilkins First Translation Of Gita

There are many arguments in Charles Wilkins’s translation that show that he has gone into the depth of the meaning which Lord Krishna was trying to bestow to the world. One of his notes in his translations says:

first person to translate the bhagavad gita

It seems as if the principal design of these dialogues was to unite all the prevailing modes of worship of those days, and, by setting up the doctrine of the unity of Godhead in opposition to idolatrous sacrifices and the worship of images, to undermine the tenets inculcated by the Vedas.’ Although the author (of the Gita) dared not make a direct attack, either upon the prevailing prejudices of the people or the divine authority of those ancient books, yet, he seemed to offer eternal happiness to those who worship Brahma, the Almighty. As for others, who follow other Gods, it shall be but a temporary enjoyment of inferior heaven, for a period measured by the extent of their virtues. His (Krishna’s) design was ‘to bring about the downfall of polytheism, or, at least to induce men to believe God present in every image before which they bent and the object of all their ceremonies and sacrifices.

Charles Wilkins Gita translation

Source: boloji.com

The following work, forming part of the Mahabharat, an ancient Hindu poem, is a dialogue supposed to have palled between Krishna, an incarnation of the Deity, and his pupil and favourite Arjun, one of the five sons of Pandu, who is said to have reigned about five thousand years ago, just before the commencement of a famous battle fought on the plains of Kurukshetra, near Debly, at the beginning of the Kalee-Yug, or fourth and present age of the world, for the empire of Bharat-versh, which, at that time, included all the countries that, in the present division of the globe, are called India, extending from the borders of Persia to the extremity of China and from the snowy mountains to the southern promontory.

This was one of his best not and seeing this Charles Wilkins guiding head Kalinath Bhattacharya and William Hastings were also astonished.

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Though he has done some amazing work he wrote that he faced many difficulties while translating the Gita.

The Brahmins esteem this work to contain all the grand mysteries of their religion and so careful are they to conceal from the knowledge of those of a different persuasion and even the vulgar of their own, that the translator might have fought in vain for assistance.

He lost his main patron after the departure of Warren Hastings and returned to England where he married Elizabeth Keeble.

Fun Fact: It is also been said that Charles Wilkins took his translations to some Bengali pundits to check his translations on wages of a rupee a day.

Final Thoughts

It was because of Charles Wilkins and Warren Hastings that the world got to know about the universal knowledge of Bhagavad Gita as they were the first people to translate it into English.

Charles Wilkins was a great learner and a curious being, he had known about other religions and was also a scholar of Islam.

He has done much eminent work in writing and shared it with the world.

The translation of the Bhagavad Gita he gave helped many other curious scholars to learn more about Hindu Scriptures.

Mukund Kapoor

I'm Mukund Kapoor, a reader, thinker, and self-taught writer. Welcome to Mukund Kapoor's blog. I love to write about Spirituality, Success and Self-improvement. I sincerely hope my articles help you find the answers you're looking for, and I wish you a pleasant voyage over the vast expanse of existence. Wishing you all the best.
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