Today the Bhagavad Gîtå is so readily accessible to European and American readers that it may be difficult to imagine a time when it
was absent from Western consciousness. But we should recall that the Gîtå only made landfall on European shores in the late eighteenth century. Until then, the religious and philosophical traditions of India were often figments of the European imagination-in large part because their great, representative texts remained mostly out of reach.
In the case of the Gîtå, all of that changed in 1785, when Charles Wilkins, one of the scholar/officials working for the East India Company, translated the text into English prose. While a part of the British effort to understand India in order to rule it, this act of scholarship quickly transcended colonialist circles. Along with other texts like William Jones’ translations of Ûåkuntala (1789) and the Manusm®ti (1794), the Wilkins Gîtå fuelled intense enthusiasm about India once it reached Europe, and German intellectuals were
particularly susceptible to it.
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