The Gita is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna. At the start of the Dharma Yudhha (righteous war) between Pandavas and Kauravas, Arjuna is filled with moral dilemma and despair about the violence and death the war will cause. He wonders if he should renounce and seeks Krishna’s counsel, whose answers and discourse constitute the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna counsels Arjuna to “fulfill his Kshatriya (warrior) duty to uphold the Dharma” through “selfless action”. The Krishna–Arjuna dialogue covers a broad range of spiritual topics, touching upon ethical dilemmas and philosophical issues that go far beyond the war Arjuna faces.
The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of Hindu ideas about dharma, theistic bhakti, and the yogic paths to moksha. The synthesis presents four paths to spirituality – jnana, bhakti, karma, and raja yogas. These incorporate ideas from the Samkhya-Yoga and Vedanta philosophies.
Numerous commentaries have been written on the Bhagavad Gita with widely differing views on the essentials. Vedanta commentators read varying relations between Self and Brahman in the text: Advaita Vedanta sees the non-dualism of Atman (soul) and Brahman as its essence, whereas Bhedabheda and Vishishtadvaita see Atman and Brahman as both different and non-different, and Dvaita sees them as different. The setting of the Gita on a battlefield has been interpreted as an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of human life.
The Bhagavad Gita is the best known and most famous of Hindu texts, with a unique pan-Hindu influence. The Gita’s call for selfless action inspired many leaders of the Indian independence movement including Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi; the latter referred to it as his “spiritual dictionary”.