Typographical error in the Bhagavad-Gita?

Ravi Chawla rchawla at DELLNET.COM
Tue Jan 4 22:27:40 UTC 2000

 Is there a typographical error in the Sanskrit script of the Bhagavad-Gita? Yes, to me it seems there is.  
 This error seems to be in Verse 32 of Chapter 9 of the Gita.

 This verse reads:

  "Mam hi partha vyapastriya ye'pi syuh papa-yonayah

istriyo vaisyas tatha sudras te'pi yanti param gatim."  

                               (Gita 9:32)

 This translates into:  "O son of Partha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower class - women, vaisya or sudra, - they can reach the supreme goal."

 Where is the error?  The error seems to be in the word 'Istriyo' ( women), instead I feel  it should be the word 'Ksatriyo' ( a social order).  It seems anyhow the word 'Istriyo' was transposed for the word 'Ksatriyo' centuries ago while Gita was being copied.

 As we know there were four social orders in Hindu India at the time when the Gita was composed, as they are among the Hindus even today.  At the top of the list is Brahmin (#4). Followed by in order of ranking are Ksatriya (#3), Vaisya (#2), and the bottom Shudra (#1).  Brahmins are of the highest order, we can say they are #4, then Ksatriyas they are #3, then Vaisyas #2, and finally Sudras #1.  #4 is the highest order, and #1 is the lowest order of the society.

 If we have to ask a question as to what number (in a range of numbers 4 to 1) precedes # 2 and # 1. The answer is very clear, the number that precedes #'s 2 and 1, is #3.  So we ask the same question, what word should precede 'Vaisya and Shudra' in social rank, the answer would be Ksatriya.  

 In the above-mentioned verse, the word 'Istriyo' precedes the words Vaisya and Sudra., This seems to be an error,  because the word 'Istriyo' is out of order.   Logically the word 'Ksatriyo' should precede the words Vaisya and Sudra, as we know that lower classes after the Brahmin class are Ksatriya, Vaisya and Sudra.  

 The women of Brahmin order are as much Brahmin as are the men of that order, and the same is true for women of each other orders.  The women of Vaisya order are as much Vaisya as men of that order, and so on.  There is no distinction in men and women while it comes to their belonging to a social order - both men and women equally belong to the social order to which they belong.  Why then in the above verse, the women of Brahmin class are combined with the lower classes of the social order? This does not seem right.

 Many scholars who have translated the Gita from the original Sanskrit into English or in any other languages, and all modern readers of the Gita must find it difficult to justify all women, even though of Brahmin class, lumped together with the lower social orders of the society.  

Because in the Sanskrit script, the word 'Istriyo' and the word 'Ksatriyo' are so similar, it is very easy to have made the mistake.  Who knows, centuries ago, at the time when a copy of Gita was being made by coping from one book to another, the word 'Ksatriyo'  in the original book was smudged, and the copier (the person who was copying it to another book) guessed it as 'Istriyo', and since then the mistake continued.

 What was true at the time when the Gita was originally written, that is also true today. This is the significance of the Gita.  And what is true today was also true at the time when the Gita was written.  If typographical errors are possible in the modern times, when we have spell checkers and dictionaries built-in in the computers, can we not imagine that typographical errors were possible during the time the Gita was written or copied? 

 In the above verse if we take word  'Istryo' (women) as correct, then the question comes, why then there is no mention of 'Ksatriya' class in that verse?  It was implied during those times that the spiritual knowledge and salvation was for the Brahmin class.  This verse says that the people of lower classes namely, Istriya, Vaisya and Shudra can also find salvation through the path of Yoga.  Why there is no mention of 'Ksatriyas' ? Moreover, the word  'Istriya' (women) does not make any sense while the verse mentions the class order of Vaisya and Shudra in the same sentence.  Replacing the world 'ksatriya' in place of 'Istriya'  will make all the sense, and that way the verse will cover all four orders of the society.  

 Then the question comes, how this error would have escaped during the last many centuries?  

  In my opinion, the Westerner Sanskrit scholars did not catch the mistake because they did not want to interfere with the original texts of the Hindus.

 The Eastern (Hindu) scholars never caught this error because of their faith in the scriptures.  The reason is that the Gita is a very holy scripture for the Hindus.  People who believe in a religion generally have a very strong faith in the words of their scriptures.  This is true with people of all religions - whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jews or Hindus.  That is why no one (Hindu scholar) discovered this mistake.  Further it seems it never occurred to any one that there is a typographical error in the verse. 

 I am sending this article to many Sanskrit scholars and to all members of Indology Network.  I am sure all members of this network would like to know as to how other members of the network feel about this topic.  Thanks to the modern internet technology and the efforts of Dr. Dominik Wujastyk, the founder of this network, that the ideas can be shared with so many scholars instantly.  

  I request all members of this network to please look into this matter with an open mind.  I know this will create a great controversy among the Hindus who believe in the words of the Gita as currently written. I further feel that women all over the world will like this article - they will be glad that someone finally found the error. 

 Even if the Sanskrit scholars and Hindu followers of Gita agree that there seems to be a typographical error in the above verse, then a further problem will arise, who will ultimately take the responsibility of fixing the error and make the necessary revision?  Can such an error ever be fixed?

 I will welcome comments of all readers through the Indology network.  The interested parties can also contact me directly by email at: rchawla at dellnet.com.  


 Ravi Chawla

January 4, 2000

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