Malinar, Angelika: “The Great Unveiling”: Annie Besant and the Bhagavadgītā, in Bornet, Philippe und Cattoni, Nadia (Hrsg.): Significant Others, Significant Encounters: Essays on South Asian History and Literature, Heidelberg: Heidelberg Asian Studies Publishing, 2023, S. 169–190. https://doi.org/10.11588/hasp.1155.c16217

Identifier (Buch)

ISBN 978-3-948791-50-6 (PDF)
ISBN 978-3-948791-51-3 (Hardcover)




Angelika Malinar

“The Great Unveiling”

Annie Besant and the Bhagavadgītā

The importance of the Bhagavadgītā (BhG) in the larger debates on Hinduism that evolved in the nineteenth and early twentieth century has been widely acknowledged in various academic studies. The text became an arena for negotiating Western-style historical and philological analysis, Indian scholastic discourse, and interpretations of individual authors—Indian and Western—pursuing their own philosophical, religious-spiritual, and political commitments. Some of them proved to be quite popular among contemporary audiences and thus constitute an interesting site of the entangled history of the colonial-modern discourse on Hinduism. Theosophist Annie Besant’s translations and interpretations of the BhG are part of this discourse. At a biographical level they are connected to her moving to Indian and settling down in Varanasi as representative of the Theosophical Society. With respect to her larger engagement with the “ancient wisdom” of the East, these publications indicate her increasing commitment to Hinduism and Indian nationalism. Furthermore, Besant seeks to establish herself as an authority in theosophical circles, wherein several translations and interpretations of the text had been published. By combining historical and allegorical perspectives in her interpretation of the BhG she connects the “hidden meaning” of the text to both individual spiritual aspirations and concrete political constellations. In her interpretation the metaphor of “the unveiling” as the modus operandi of the Divine plays a central role. The metaphor serves to draw together the history of divine logos, the place of individual agency in this history, and the authority of spiritually advanced persons (including herself ) in disclosing its meaning.

Keywords theosophy, modern Hinduism, Bhagavadgītā, translation studies, colonialism in India