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In Chapter 1 and 1st verse of the Bhagavad Geeta, Dhritarashtra said.:

"O Sanjaya, after my sons and the sons of Pändhu assembled in the place of pilgrimage at Kuruksetra, desiring to fight, what did they do?"

So I know that the rishi Vyasa bestowed on Sanjaya the spiritual power of seeing everything taking place over that battlefield from a distance. So one should infer that the king's enquiry in the 1st verse to be in the present tense but that is not the case. Why did Dhritarashtra said what did they? (and why not what are they doing right now?) ?.

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  • This is simply because after seeing whatever transpired in the war, Sanjaya would come and inform Dhritarashtra. It was not a live telecast and live narration. So this whole prasang starts when Sanjaya comes and informs Dhritarashtra that Bhishma has died. Dhritarashtra then asks how. Then he goes on to narrate the entire war events.
    – Adiyarkku
    Feb 6, 2023 at 11:25

2 Answers 2

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By the time of Sanjaya's narration of the Bhagavad Gita to Dhritarashtra, Bhishma was already lying on a bed of arrows, having fallen in battle, and Sanjaya is narrating events that already happened in the past.

Bhagavad Gita parva (not the proper Bhagavad Gita) starts at chapter 13 in Bhishma parva (sacred texts edition of Mahabharata). At the start of this parva, it is declared that Bhishma is fallen in battle.

Vaisampayana said,--"Possessing a knowledge of the past, the present and the future, and seeing all things as if present before his eyes, the learned son of Gavalgana, O Bharata, coming quickly from the field of battle, and rushing with grief (into the court) represented unto Dhritarashtra who was plunged in thought that Bhishma the grandsire of the Bharatas had been slain."

"Sanjaya said,--'I am Sanjaya, O great king. I bow to thee, O bull of Bharata's race. Bhishma, the son of Santanu and the grandsire of the Bharatas, hath been slain. That foremost of all warriors, that grandsire of the Bharatas, hath been slain. That foremost of all warriors, that embodied energy of all bowmen, that grandsire of the Kurus lieth to-day on a bed of arrows.

Then, in chapter 14, Dhritarashtra asks Sanjaya to narrate the battle events.

How, O Sanjaya, was my father Bhishma slain by the enemy? Duryodhana and Karna and the deceitful Sakuni, the son of Suvala, and Dussasana also,--what did they say when Bhishma was slain?......

Therefore, tell me, O Sanjaya, everything that happened there,--everything that happened in the battle, born of the folly of my wicked son. Ill-ordered or well-ordered, tell me everything, O Sanjaya. Whatever was achieved with the aid of energy in the battle by Bhishma desirous of victory,--by that warrior accomplished in arms,--tell me all fully and in detail. How, in fact, the battle took place between the armies of the Kurus and the manner in which each happened.'

The proper Bhagavad Gita starts at chapter 25, and events have already happened by this time. Hence past tense is used.

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The use of the past tense in the first verse of the Bhagavad Gita is due to the concept of "bhavanta-darshan" in Hinduism. According to this concept, everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen is all present in the eternal now for those with spiritual insight. So for Dhritarashtra, who is seeking a report from Sanjaya about the battle, the events of the battle are already present and past from his point of view, even though they have not yet taken place in linear time. This is why he asks about what "they did" rather than what "they are doing." This use of tense reflects the idea that time is not absolute in Hinduism, and that events can be perceived as happening in the past, present, or future depending on the point of view of the observer.

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