From the time of Shankaracharya, great philosophers customarily wrote their respective commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita. It was also translated from Sanskrit into many other Indian languages, such as the Jñāneśhwarī, written by Saint Jnaneswar in Marathi in the thirteenth century.
During the British Raj, the popularity of the Gita spread worldwide. It was first translated in English by Charles Wilkins, a merchant with the East India Company. His rendition made a deep impression on the American Transcendentalists, a group of independent thinkers in New England. Ralph Waldo Emerson made it the basis of his poem “Brahma.” Emerson made the Gita required reading for all those who objected to evangelical Christianity. His friend, Henry David Thoreau was also a tremendous enthusiast of the Gita and incorporated its teachings on Karm-yog in his own lifestyle and philosophy. And so, for the first time it became a part of the counter culture. A century later, TS Eliot had a lifelong interest in Indian philosophy and incorporated it in his poetry. The Gita also appealed to the German Romantics, notably Schlegel, Humboldt, and Goethe.
Back home in India, leaders of the independence movement, who were winning the respect of the nation, began attributing the source of their inspiration to the Bhagavad Gita. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the leader of the freedom struggle before Mahatma Gandhi and a respected karm yogi, wrote an extensive and scholarly commentary upon the Gita. After him, Mahatma Gandhi declared that whenever he faced disappointments, he turned to the Gita for guidance and solace. Gandhi’s thinking inspired two other giants of the twentieth century in the west, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. This cross-seeding of ideas that took place between east and west further enhanced the popularity of the Gita. In the 1960s another wave of counter culture swept America. Continuing in the tradition of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Yogananda who had visited the western world earlier, many Indian gurus began arriving in America, such as Swami Vishnudevananda, Swami Satchitananda, and Swami Prabhupada. They all referred to the Gita as the authoritative reference for their teachings. As a result, the Bhagavad Gita rapidly reached the status it possesses today as one of the most popular and well-read books of wisdom in the history of humankind.