Many Indian and foreign scholars have written voluminously on Bhagavad Gita. Being a repository of learning and philosophical thoughts in ancient times, Kashmir has also contributed in this field.
In ancient times, several elucidatory commentaries on the Gita were available in Kashmir but at present the Valley treasures 11 commentaries written by scholars of the soil. These are: Rajanak Ramkanth’s "Sarvatobhadra" (850 AD), Bhatta Bhaskara’s "Bhagavad Gita Tika" (900 AD), Abhinavgupta’s "Bhagavadgitarth Samgraha" (950 – 1050AD), Anandvardhan’s "Anandvardhini" or "Anandi Tika" (11th century), Keshavabhatt Kashmirin’s "Tattvaprakashika" (16th century), Rajanak Lakshmi Ram alias Lassa Kak’s "Laski Tika" (17th century), Sahib Koul’s "Gita Sar" (17th century), Sahib Ram’s "Gita Vyakhya Sahibi" (19th century), Pandit Daya Ram’s "Bhagavad Gita Tika" (19th century), Jagdishwar Vedpathi’s "Ranvirsamithbhodini" (19th century), Rajanak Lakshman Joo’s commentary with extra verses of Bhagavad Gita (20th century). Rajanak Ramkanth’s Sarvatobhadra (circa 850 AD) is the oldest commentary on Bhagavad Gita. It lays equal emphasis on Jnana (knowledge), Karma (action) and Bhakti (devotion).
Bhatta Bhaskar’s commentary has interpreted Bhagavad Gita from the Shaiva point of view. It seems that he was better known by the fame of his father. Bhatta Bhaskar introduces himself as "Daiwakaribhaskaroham Antevasiganerita" (son of Diwakar, a Kashmir scholar) and referred by Abhinavgupta and Yograj (Kashmiri Shaivites) as "Bhatta Diwakarvatsa" (Bhatta, Diwakar’s son) in Ishwarpratibhijna Vimarshini and Parmarthsartika respectively.
Around 50 years later in 900 AD, Abhinavgupta, the famous proponent of the monistic Shaivism of Kashmir, came up with "Bhagavadgitarth Samgraha" which is written through Shaiva perspective. It tells us that Jnan (Knowledge) and Karma (Action) are not two different things.
Abhinavgupta in the beginning of his commentary says “Tasu Anyeyh Praktanaih Vyaakhyaa Kritah Yedyepi Bhuyesa. Nyayah Tathapi Udyumo Mei Tadgoodarth Prakashkah” (verse 5). It means that though several commentators interpreted the Bhagavad Gita extensively, yet his effort is proper to bring into light the hidden meanings contained in it.
Abhinavagupta refers Bhaskara with honorific Bhatta Bhaskara in his commentary "Bhagwatgitarth Samgraha" in these words - “Tatpraktanaireva Tatrabhavat Bhatta Bhaskaradibhi Vitataya VimrishtamIti” (Chapter 18, Verse 20). It means that the essence of Bhagavad Gita has been elaborated before him(Abhinavagupta) by Bhatta Bhaskara and others.
Shaiva scholars of Kashmir speak of Bhagavad Gita as an Agama (divine exposition) and regard it as the one among the Agama class of texts. As such Rajanak Ramkantha, Bhatta Bhaskar and Abhinavagupta have authored their commentaries on the Gita from the Shaiva point of view.
It is worth noting that Abhinavagupta has remarkably written a condensed verse (Samgraha) after the completion of each chapter in his commentary on Bhagavad Gita. That verse sums up the ideas expressed in the chapter.
In the 11th century, Anandvardhan, a famous rhetorician during his period, wrote Anandvardhini or Anandi Tika. His commentary says that coordination of Jnan (knowledge) and Karma (action) can lead a person to salvation.
Keshavabhatt Kashmirin, a commentator of 16th century, wrote "Tattvaprakashika". It is based on a recension of the Gita containing 700 verses. He was a follower of Nimbarka sect of Vaishnavas. He has viewed the Gita on the essentials of Vaishnava theology of Dvaitadvait (duality in unity). Factually, this commentary is a based on Nimbaditya’s commentary on the Gita to which he refers at the end of this book. It is a common belief that he had met Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Around a century later, in 17th century, Kashmiri scholar named Rajanak Lakshmi Ram also known as Lassa Kakin his commentary Laski Tika reveals the essence of the Gita through the lens of Kashmir Shaivism like his predecessors in the past, Rajanak Ramkanth and Abhinavagupta.
In the same century, another Kashmiri commentator Sahib Koul who was a follower of Kaul cult of Kashmir Shivaism describes the essence of the Gita in brief in "Gita Sar".
In 19th century, Sahib Ram wrote a commentary on the Gita known as Gita Vyakhya Sahibi. Rajanak Lakshmi Ram was the maternal uncle of Sahib Ram. He was appointed head of the Vidya Vilas Sabha by Maharaja Ranvir Singh of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The manuscript of Sahib Ram’s Gita Vyakhya Sahibi is preserved in Archives Department, Srinagar.
Sahib Ram’s son Pandit Daya Ram wrote two commentaries - one on Linga Puran known as Bhavarthtika and second on Bhagavad Gita - in 19th century. A reference of "Bhagavad Gita Tika" by Pandit Daya Ram is found in the introduction of MA Stein’s catalogue on manuscripts of Kashmir - “Among the original works composed or compiled by individual authors are by Pandit Daya Ram Shastri of Srinagar on Bhagavad Gita, No 3657 and Linga Puran No 3921.”
Jagdiswhar Vedpathi used to recite the Bhagavad Gita and Srimat Bhagwatam to Dogra ruler Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jammu and Kashmir(1857 – 1885 AD). The unique feature of Ranvirsamithbhodini (preserved in Sri Ranbir Sanskrit Research Library, Jammu) is that in the end it is written, “Ranounmukh Arjune Achyuteretaam Sugeetika Pura, Tadaagya Ranaarthga Vitanetay Mayaaduna.” It means that by His order (Maharaja), the Gita having the meaning (in the conjugated phrases) of battle has been elaborated now. It exhibits that Bhagavad Gita has been interpreted in the form of science of war.
Rajanak Lakshman Joo, a Shaiva scholar of 20th century, has written a short commentary on the extra verses found in Abhinavagupta’s commentary. According to him, these extra verses contained some important mystical truths that were possessed by Kashmiri Shaivites.
In the last decade of 20th century, a well accomplished astrologer of Kashmir, Jyotshi Prem Nath Shastri used to explain the essence of Bhagavad Gita to a selected audience at Vijayeshwar Panchang Karyalaya, Jammu. He has explained it in the context of Advait Vedanta in a lucid Kashmiri language and related it with passages from some Upanishads and Purans. The whole discourse on 18 chapters of Gita has been recorded. As per the family sources, his discourse will be published in a book.
Most of the commentaries are based on recension of the Gita containing 700 verses but some Kashmiri commentators have adopted slightly variant recension known as "Kashmiri Recension" as per the text of Mahabharata - “Shatshatani Savimshani Shlokanam Praha Keshvah, Arjuna Saptpanchashat Saptshashtimch Sanjayah, Dhritrashtra Shlokam Ekam Gitaya Manam Uchatey.” (Bhishma Parva, Chapter 43, Verse4) - wherein it is described that total number of verses of the Gita should be 745, out of which 620 are spoken by Krishna, 57 by Arjuna, 67 by Sanjay and 1 by Dhritrashtra.
A trivia related to Kashmiri commentaries of Bhagavad Gita is that Prof Otto Schrader, a German indologist and philologist, opined that till ten century, Kashmir was ignorant about the Adi Shankara’s (728 – 820 AD) commentary on Bhagavad Gita. But Prof Schrader’s theory was refuted when Kashmiri commentator Bhatta Bhaskar’s commentary on the Gita was founded by Sanskrit scholar/researcher RG Bhandarkar. The citations from Adi Shankara’s "Bhashya" (commentary on Gita) on Bhagavad Gita by Bhatta Bhaskar in their respective commentaries sufficiently prove that Kashmiris were very much aware of the Adi Shankar’s commentary before tenth century.
Although Bhagavad Gita has remained a subject of multiple interpretations from ancient times even then scholars world over are still exploring the esoteric meanings in it. These commentaries may be propagating a particular theory or exhibiting erudition of the author, one thing is clear that these commentaries present deeper insights regarding purpose of human existence, immortality of soul and its relationship with supreme soul and accomplishment of self-realisation or salvation.