17 February 2010

"I am become Death"

Video from an interview in 1965.
Since Oppenheimer was proficient in sanskrit he read the original text, and the translation is his own; I haven't found any other translation with "am become". It certainly gives a certain something to the line, however, and it might had been at least somewhat less well known had it been "I am death" or "I have become death".

Here's the verse in question with a little context (translated by Ramanand Prasad). Prince Arjuna hesitates to attack the enemy with his army; Vishnu, in the incarnation of Krishna, encourages him, and motivates him by explaining how the world works, with reincarnations, Brahman, Maya etc. Arjuna asks to see Vishnu in his "cosmic", i.e. real, form, a wish that is granted. The overwhelmed Arjuna asks:
Tell me who are You in such a fierce form? My salutations to You, O best of gods, be merciful! I wish to understand You, the primal Being, because I do not know Your mission.

The Supreme Lord said: I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world, out to destroy. Even without your participation all the warriors standing arrayed in the opposing armies shall cease to exist.

Therefore, get up and attain glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a prosperous kingdom. All these (warriors) have already been destroyed by Me. You are only an instrument, O Arjuna.
Bhagavad Gita, chapter 11, verses 31-33
Further explanation at Factoids, via Could it be Madness - this?


  1. My favorite cartoon of all time (from The New Yorker, at least 30 years ago) shows a suburbanite couple on the deck of a home having a drink, while inside a cocktail party is ongoing. The two of them are staring at a monstrous apparition in the night sky, a gigantic figure with eight arms, bedecked in necklaces of skulls, face contorted in a terrifying roar.

    The man is saying matter-of-factly to the woman, "It appears to be Vishnu manifesting as Lord of Destruction, but what he's doing in Hartsdale on a Tuesday night, I have no idea."

    I clipped it and sent it to my sister, who had it framed. It still hangs in her bathroom.

  2. http://www.americanprometheus.org/Home.htm

    I read this recently. Very in depth, very good book.

  3. That translation is quoted in the film "Hunt for Red October" in the scene between Connery (captain) and Skarsgad (political officer).

  4. Here is the original verse from Shreemad Bhagawad Geeta Chapter 11 Verse 32.

    कालोऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत्प्रवृद्धो
    लोकान्समाहर्तुमिह प्रवृत्तः।
    ऋतेऽपि त्वां न भविष्यंति सर्वे
    येऽवस्थिताः प्रत्यनीकेषु योधाः॥

    English Translation:
    I am time, the great destroyer of the worlds and I am here to destroy all people. Even with out you [i.e. even if you don't fight or kill them], all the soldiers here on both sides will not remain.

    Please let me know if you need more information on this.


  5. Thank you, Kiran. "Time" as the destroyer of things makes even more sense to me than "death."


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