Who first translated the Bhagavad Gita into English and what was its impact on the western world?
The Gita was first translated into English by Sir Charles Wilkins and published by the British East India Company with an Introduction by Warren Hastings, the first British Governor-general of India, in which we find the following prophetic sentence: ‘The writers of the Indian philosophies will survive when the British Dominion in India shall long have ceased to exist, and when the sources which it yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance.’
A century later, another beautiful rendering of the Gita in English appeared, namely, The Song Celestial by Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904). He had learnt the Sanskrit language while he was working in India; in Pune and other places. He developed a great love for Indian culture, and after he went to England, he produced this outstanding book and another equally outstanding book about Buddha, namely, The Light of Asia.
Both have gone through more than fifty to sixty editions. Both go straight to the heart of the reader. The Bhagavad Gita deals with human problems in a human way. That is why it has a tremendous appeal. It has inspired the human mind in India for centuries and centuries,and today, it is inspiring millions of people in various parts of the world. It is interesting to see that in all these countries, after reading the Gita, people find their whole outlook changed. Thinkers and writers like Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Thoreau in U.S.A, and Carlyle in England, experienced this broadening and deepening of their outlook after studying the Gita, and their writings also began to convey a new message.
Reference: Universal Message of the Bhagavad Gita Vol. 1 by Swami Ranganathananda (p.13)