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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Symbols and Substance: GITOPADESA

In the famous scene of Gitopadesa, there is a chariot with a flag,with Hanuman as the symbol. That flag tells us that the chariot belongs to Arjuna. Arjuna is standing on the side of the chariot. Krishna is at the helm holding the reins of the horses. The story behind this scene at Kurukshetra is well-known. The meaning behind the scene can be found in a couple of slokas in Kathopanishd.
Aathmaanam rathinam viddhi; shareeram rathameva cha
Buddhim cha saarathim viddhi mans prgrahameva cha.
Vignana saarathih ………………………….…..

In other words, the chariot represents the human body. The owner of this particular body is Arjuna. Lord Krishna, the charioteer is the Atman/Brahman. The horses represent the sense organs and the reins represent the mind. The message is that our sense organs and our mind are like uncontrolled horses. They will run in all directions. Hand over the reins to the Lord in you and let Him lead you safely through life. What a wonderful symbolism!

The same idea is expressed by Vidura in his conversations with Dhritarashtra in Vidura Niti (Sloka 60):
Rathah shariram purushasya rajan
Atma niyanthi indriyani asya cha ashvah
Thairapramatthah kushali sadhashvaih
Anthe sukham yaathi rathaiva dheerah.

The meaning is: “ A man’s body is the chariot, O king! The driver is the mind within and the senses are the horses. With the aid of these well-trained horses, a wise man, like a clever charioteer unerring goes on the journey of life comfortably”.

Interestingly, the Greeks also used the chariot symbol to represent human mind and its control, but with variations. In his famous piece entitled “Phaedrus”, Plato talks about a chariot with two horses, one white and one black. He says : “ And let the figure be composed of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. …one of them (horses) is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed. .. the right hand horse is upright and cleanly made; he is a lover of honesty and modesty and temperance…. He needs no touch of the whip. …. The other is a crooked and lumbering animal…. The mate of insolence and pride….”. Plato describes how it is very difficult to control the chariot with these horses pulling in different directions and how the charioteer (intellect) has to wield his reins.

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