Using AI to Interpret The Bhagavad Gita

Two researchers did an experiment to extract meanings from different translations of the sacred Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, and found common meaning among them. Many translations have been done of the piece but they vary in meaning and result in potentially different interpretations. The experiment is using artificial intelligence (AI) to extract the meanings from the translations and analyze their differences and similarities.

Krishna tells Gita to Arjuna

The approach taken in the experiment was to analyze sentiment and semantics (emotion and meaning) from a set of the translations of the Bhagavad Gita using an artificial intelligence system developed at Google for understanding language. Dr. Rohitash Chandra said of the comparison, “Despite huge variations in vocabulary and sentence structure, we found that the patterns of emotion and meaning were broadly similar in all three.”

The Bhagavad Gita (often referred to as the Gita) means “The Song by God.” It is a poem of a conversation between the Hindu deity Lord Krishna and prince Arjuna. It is 700 verses in length and comprises a part of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata that depicts a struggle within the Kurukshetra War between two factions of a family: the Kaurava and the Pandava. The Gita is the foundation of the philosophy of karma and a key element of the scripture of Hinduism, practiced by over 1 billion people globally. It is the potential of misinterpreted scripture that makes a project like the one done by Dr. Chandra so valuable.

The research was led by Dr. Chandra of UNSW Sydney and Venkatesh Kulkarni of IIT Guwahati. Dr. Chandra is a senior lecturer in data science who also leads a research program which applies AI to problems like climate extremes. He combined this with his interest in the philosophy of religion when beginning research into the interpretation of the Gita. Venkatesh contributed equally to the project as an engineer, providing implementation and experimentation and further contributing in results visualization and analysis.