We all know that in the Mahabharata, during the battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna was expertly guided by the wisdom of Krishna in determining right from wrong. We also know that it was somehow captured verse for verse, word for word (I have always wondered how ‘shlokas’ muttered in the heat of battle by Krishna sitting in front of the speeding chariot, to Arjuna standing behind - bow in hand, got captured on paper without any errors…Early tape recorders maybe??) in the great Bhagavad Gita. Hopefully somebody can educate me on this!!
At least one present day invasion has Bhagavad Gita as the guiding light behind it, not for the act itself, but as the motivator for the indecision faced by the leader. Today the person involved is no more, but the country is becoming popular in India after being pictured in the Mani Ratnam’s movie ‘Guru’ (remember Mayya mayya?) the ongoing soap “Kasam Se’, Sanjay Kapoor’s recent cooking sessions and other serials by Ekta Kapoor, the lady with a vengeance. The country is none other than Turkey, a place where we spent over five years of our life and very dear to me.
And the person who was guided and motivated by the Bhagavad Gita? The late prime (1925-2006) minister of Turkey and an Indophile – Bulent Ecevit. Ecevit Bey had the Gita to support him many a time in his political career, including an occasion when he had to fight his friend Ismet Inonu in the political arena. Ecevit studied Sanskrit, then Bengali after reading Tagore’s Gitanjali. Only after he had learnt Bengali did he venture to translate those works into Turkish.
WHEN Bulent Ecevit decided, on July 20th 1974, to send an invasion force to Cyprus, he could find many reasons for it. Greeks and Turks on the island had been killing each other for years. Turkish-Cypriots, the minority, needed protection against "genocide". A coup had been staged by a Greek guerrilla leader in the name of union with Greece; and if it succeeded, Turkey's southern coast would be "almost imprisoned", as Mr Ecevit put it later, among the Greek Aegean islands. But these considerations, weighty as they were, were not what fortified him as he was briefed that day, in an underground bunker, by a group of sweating generals. He was thinking of the Bhagavad Gita", which he knew in the original Sanskrit; and the "Gita" taught that if a man was sure he was morally right, he should not hesitate to take action.
The first Turkish translation of the Gita was done by Ecevit who had just finished college then (they say, in 1947) but it was soon banned in Turkey by Adnan Menderes, the then PM of Turkey. It was Ecevit who eventually lifted the ban after he became PM in 1974.
As a young man Ecevit took some Sanskrit lessons at the Indology department of Ankara University. Later, when posted as cultural attache to the Turkish embassy in London, his love for poetry and a philosophic bent led him to Rabindra Nath Tagore and the Bhagavat Geeta. He learnt Sanskrit to better understand the Geeta and Bengali to appreciate and later translate some poems from Tagore's Geetanjali. Most of Tagore's works, numbering about 20, have been translated into Turkish.
Ecevit always reaffirmed his faith in the Gita and while visiting India in 2000, he went on to say that the Gita could be considered Krishna’s advice to all politicians. He added that the Gita reminded him of his duties as a politician, and as a crisis document that should be always at hand for one, especially when you have to go against a person you like and whose views you may not agree with!!
It is all strange, India found fault with Turkey invading Cyprus and supported Greece on the issue in the world arena, while its leader was citing the Gita!!
Tail note – Prachi Desai, our Bani maam seems to have had a great time out there in Turkey, shopping and sight seeing. I can only agree with her. It is a great country to visit and live in!!! Sometimes I sit back and smile thinking of the Turkish reaction to the hordes of Indians at Topkapi and other historic places, a country where the common man knows little about India other than Raj Kapoor in Awara. I still remember the time when my parents visited us in Turkey. The Dolmabache palace we took them to while sight seeing had a school excursion going on and the children were wide eyed seeing my mother dressed in a Sari, they had never seen one before and clamored to get photographed with the strange looking ‘Hintli’ (Indian) woman. Much to my mom’s embarrassment!!