śrī-bhagavān uvāca
imaḿ vivasvate yogaḿ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ‘bravīt

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 4.1

The Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshavaku.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

Herein we find the history of the Bhagavad-gita traced from a remote time when it was delivered to the royal order of all planets, beginning from the sun planet. The kings of all planets are especially meant for the protection of the inhabitants, and therefore the royal order should understand the science of Bhagavad-gita in order to be able to rule the citizens and protect them from material bondage to lust. Human life is meant for cultivation of spiritual knowledge, in eternal relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the executive heads of all states and all planets are obliged to impart this lesson to the citizens by education, culture and devotion. In other words, the executive heads of all states are intended to spread the science of Krishna consciousness so that the people may take advantage of this great science and pursue a successful path, utilizing the opportunity of the human form of life.

In this millennium, the sun-god is known as Vivasvan, the king of the sun, which is the origin of all planets within the solar system. In the Brahma-samhita (5.52) it is stated:

yac-caksur esa savita sakala-grahanam
raja samasta-sura-murtir asesa-tejah
yasyajnaya bhramati sambhrta-kala-cakro
govindam adi-purusham tam aham bhajami

“Let me worship,” Lord Brahma said, “the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda [Krishna], who is the original person and under whose order the sun, which is the king of all planets, is assuming immense power and heat. The sun represents the eye of the Lord and traverses its orbit in obedience to His order.”

The sun is the king of the planets, and the sun-god (at present of the name Vivasvan) rules the sun planet, which is controlling all other planets by supplying heat and light. He is rotating under the order of Krishna, and Lord Krishna originally made Vivasvan His first disciple to understand the science of Bhagavad-gita. The Gita is not, therefore, a speculative treatise for the insignificant mundane scholar but is a standard book of knowledge coming down from time immemorial.

In the Mahabharata (Santi-parva 348.51–52) we can trace out the history of the Gita as follows:

treta-yugadau ca tato
vivasvan manave dadau
manus ca loka-bhrty-artham
sutayeksvakave dadau
iksvakuna ca kathito
vyapya lokan avasthitah

“In the beginning of the millennium known as Treta-yuga this science of the relationship with the Supreme was delivered by Vivasvan to Manu. Manu, being the father of mankind, gave it to his son Maharaja Ikshavaku, the king of this earth planet and forefather of the Raghu dynasty, in which Lord Ramacandra appeared.” Therefore, Bhagavad-gita existed in human society from the time of Maharaja Ikshavaku.

At the present moment we have just passed through five thousand years of the Kali-yuga, which lasts 432,000 years. Before this there was Dvapara-yuga (800,000 years), and before that there was Treta-yuga (1,200,000 years). Thus, some 2,005,000 years ago, Manu spoke the Bhagavad-gita to his disciple and son Maharaja Ikshavaku, the king of this planet earth. The age of the current Manu is calculated to last some 305,300,000 years, of which 120,400,000 have passed. Accepting that before the birth of Manu the Gita was spoken by the Lord to His disciple the sun-god Vivasvan, a rough estimate is that the Gita was spoken at least 120,400,000 years ago; and in human society it has been extant for two million years. It was respoken by the Lord again to Arjuna about five thousand years ago. That is the rough estimate of the history of the Gita, according to the Gita itself and according to the version of the speaker, Lord Sri Krishna. It was spoken to the sun-god Vivasvan because he is also a kshatriya and is the father of all kshatriyas who are descendants of the sun-god, or the surya-vamsha kshatriyas. Because Bhagavad-gita is as good as the Vedas, being spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this knowledge is apaurusheya, superhuman. Since the Vedic instructions are accepted as they are, without human interpretation, the Gita must therefore be accepted without mundane interpretation. The mundane wranglers may speculate on the Gita in their own ways, but that is not Bhagavad-gita as it is.

Therefore, Bhagavad-gita has to be accepted as it is, from the disciplic succession, and it is described herein that the Lord spoke to the sun-god, the sun-god spoke to his son Manu and Manu spoke to his son Ikshavaku.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

In the fourth chapter, the Lord speaks of the reasons for his appearance, the eternal nature of his appearance and activities, and also speaks of the excellence of jnana in such things as the brahma yajna.

In this chapter, the Lord praises jnana yoga (imam yogam), the goal of niskama karma, which he had already mentioned in the two previous chapters.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

4.1 – 4.2 The Lord said — This Karma Yoga declared to you should not be considered as having been taught now merely, for creating encouragement in you for war. I Myself had taught this Yoga to Vivasvan at the commencement of Manu’s age as a means for all beings to attain release, which is man’s supreme end. Vivasvan taught it to Manu, and Manu to Iksvaku. The royal sages of old knew this Yoga transmitted by tradition. Because of long lapse of time and because of the dullness of the intellect of those who heard it, it has been almost lost.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

Here Lord Krishna is praising karma yoga or the performance of Vedic activities by explaining that He, Himself previously had instructed the eternal knowledge of yoga or the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the Ultimate Consciousness. The Supreme Lord did this in order to illustrate the appearance and disappearance of an avatar or incarnation and to discern between Thou referring to the individual consciousness and That referring to the Ultimate Consciousness, following the great Vedic dictum of Thou art That. In chapter two and three the path of jnana yoga or the cultivation of Vedic knowledge through the medium of karma yoga has been established as the means to moksa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death in the material existence. In order to elaborate further by the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures which give a vision for the mind to imagine when performing yagna or Vedic worship like Brahman is the ladle to pour the ghee and Agni is the fire to receive it. The Supreme Lord is praising this yoga and explaining in this first verse how He instructed it and in the next two he shows that that it is confidentially instructed under the auspices of parampara or authorised disciplic succession.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

The third chapter established that one desiring moksa or liberation from the cycle of birth and death, whose desires for sense gratification had not been extinguished should engage themselves in karma yoga or performance of prescribed Vedic activities assisted by some Vedic knowledge and feeling completely free from the fear of falling from one’s position. Everyone is not qualified for jnana yoga or the cultivation of Vedic wisdom and even those who are qualified should still follow the path of karma yoga performing prescribed Vedic activities as a matter of duty as an example to the common man for the maintenance of world order.

Now in the fourth chapter Lord Krishna explains karma yoga in the light of historical tradition and that by instructing the knowledge of yoga or the science of the individual consciousness attaining communion with the ultimate consciousness, He Himself performed karma yoga in giving these instructions in the past to Visvavan the demigod of the sun and now to His friend Arjuna because he is His surrendered disciple. It should not be thought that Lord Krishna is speaking it just to motivate Arjuna to battle or that the science of this eternal yoga is recent because it was spoken before 120 million years previously at the commencement of this time period of Manu in order to protect all the worlds. Lord Krishna taught this imperishable yoga for the highest benefit of the human species and for the preservation of universal order. Visvavan after gave it to his son Satyavrata who was the Manu of that time period and he later gave it to his eldest son Iksvaku.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

4.1 In the beginning of creation, with a veiw to infusing vigour into the Ksatriyas who are the protectors of the world, aham, I; proktavan, imparted; imam, this; avyayam, imperishable; yogam, Yoga, presented in the (preceding) two chapters; vivasvate, to Vivasvan, the Sun. Being endowed with this power of Yoga, they would be able to protect the Brahmana caste. The protection of the world becomes ensured when the Brahmanas and the Ksatriyas are protected. It (this Yoga) is avyayam, imperishable, because its result is undecaying. For, the result-called Liberation-of this (Yoga), which is characterized by steadfastness in perfect Illumination, does not decay. And he, Vivasvan, praha, taught (this); manave, to Manu. Manu abravit, transmitted (this); iksvakave, to Iksvaku, his own son who was the first king. [First king of the Iksvaku dynasty, otherwise known as the Solar dynasty.]

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

4.1 See Comment under 4.3

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

sri-bhagavan uvaca
imam vivasvate yogam
proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha
manur iksvakave ‘bravit

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

śrī-bhagavān uvāca — the Supreme Personality of Godhead said; imam — this; vivasvate — unto the sun-god; yogam — the science of one’s relationship to the Supreme; proktavān — instructed; aham — I; avyayam — imperishable; vivasvān — Vivasvān (the sun-god’s name); manave — unto the father of mankind (of the name Vaivasvata); prāha — told; manuḥ — the father of mankind; ikṣvākave — unto King Ikṣvāku; abravīt — said.