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The Bhagavad Gita is a late chapter in the Mahabharata, and I've read in several places that it's central to Indian Philosophy; but I also read a counter-opinion which posited its importance as an artifact of Indias encounter with the West.

Which of these two opinions is closer to the truth?

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I don't have any sources, this is based on conversations I've had with several of my Indian friends:

The Gita is both more monotheistic and more prescriptive than the Vedas. It is only after their contact with Islam that Hindus started feeling the need for their religion to be monotheistic and prescriptive.

This only got exasperated once the British came, as both the Muslims and the British gave them the impression that traditional polytheistic beliefs are somehow primitive compared to monotheistic religions.

It's also at that point (British colonization) that Indian culture started to unify, and a web of interrelated religious beliefs, whose only common factor was belief in the concept of Karma coalesced into a single religion called Hinduism.

That is probably the source of the counter opinion you mentioned: That the Gita gained more importance in Hinduism as Hindus tried to "Westernize" their religion.

P.S: In this context Islam is as much a Western religion as Christianity is.

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  • Even when no firm date can be assigned to the Gita, it is dated in the time from fifth to second century BCE (Robert Zaehner). In any case, it has been written much earlier than the formation of Islam. - I also doubt that Hindus accept any impact of British colonialism onto the Gita. - I agree with you that the Gita mixes - others would say "unifies" - a set of different religious notions under the heading of yoga and propagates devotion to Krishna (= Vishnu) as the supreme deity.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 9 '15 at 0:07
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    @JoWehler the idea isn't that the Gita was directly influenced by either Islam or Christianity, but that it went from being one text among many to being the central text along with the Vedas because of western influence. Dec 9 '15 at 0:12
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The Bhagavad-Gita is considered by Hindus one of the deepest and most beautiful masterworks of literature in Hindu religion. It is ranked as part of the world literature canon.

Even when is has not been elevated to the formal rank of shruti like the Vedas.

Did you already scan https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions ?

What do you mean by "posited its importance as an artifact of Indias encounter with the West"? I am very curious to hear about a different opinion.

Personally I do not share the high estimation of the Gita.

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