This jewel of a book would be among the first three on my desert island shortlist. A jewel in its entirety, there are pearls of wisdom in almost every line and verse; wise answers to common questions that cover the entire gamut of the human condition.
The Bhagavad Gita is only a fragment, part of the sixth book of the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharatha; but a fragment in sixteen chapters.
On the eve of the great battle between the clans that is the central event of the Mahabharata, Arjuna, the great warrior and embodiment of kingly virtue, is despondent and surveys the opposing armies with great sorrow. He thinks of withdrawing from the battle in order to avoid bloodshed, although he knows his cause is just. Arjuna’s divine charioteer Krishna draws up the war chariot between the two armies and speaks to Arjuna about duty, making choices, finding the right path in life, the moral ambiguities of the human condition, good and evil, right and wrong. All of this in magnificently sonorous verse that makes for impressive listening even if you don’t know a word of Sanskrit.
See the YouTube link above for a recitation in Sanskrit with titles in English translation.
For anyone who wishes to read the text, there are many translations in English available. The best version I know of is by Shri Purohit Swami, who was an internationally known writer and scholar in the 1930s, and a close friend of Irish poet WB Yeats. Interestingly, before this stint of international scholarship, in the 1920s Purohit Swami spent several years in India living the life of a mendicant; travelling the length and breadth of the country, begging bowl in hand.