adhiyajñaḥ kathaḿ ko ’tra
dehe ’smin madhusūdana
prayāṇa-kāle ca kathaḿ
jñeyo ’si niyatātmabhiḥ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 8.2
Who is the Lord of sacrifice, and how does He live in the body, O Madhusudana? And how can those engaged in devotional service know You at the time of death?
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
“Lord of sacrifice” may refer to either Indra or Vishnu. Vishnu is the chief of the primal demigods, including Brahma and Shiva, and Indra is the chief of the administrative demigods. Both Indra and Vishnu are worshiped by yajna performances. But here Arjuna asks who is actually the Lord of yajna (sacrifice) and how the Lord is residing within the body of the living entity.
Arjuna addresses the Lord as Madhusudana because Krishna once killed a demon named Madhu. Actually these questions, which are of the nature of doubts, should not have arisen in the mind of Arjuna, because Arjuna is a Krishna conscious devotee. Therefore these doubts are like demons. Since Krishna is so expert in killing demons, Arjuna here addresses Him as Madhusudana so that Krishna might kill the demonic doubts that arise in Arjuna’s mind.
Now the word prayana-kale in this verse is very significant because whatever we do in life will be tested at the time of death. Arjuna is very anxious to know of those who are constantly engaged in Krishna consciousness. What should be their position at that final moment? At the time of death all the bodily functions are disrupted, and the mind is not in a proper condition. Thus disturbed by the bodily situation, one may not be able to remember the Supreme Lord. Maharaja Kulasekhara, a great devotee, prays, “My dear Lord, just now I am quite healthy, and it is better that I die immediately so that the swan of my mind can seek entrance at the stem of Your lotus feet.” The metaphor is used because the swan, a bird of the water, takes pleasure in digging into the lotus flowers; its sporting proclivity is to enter the lotus flower. Maharaja Kulasekhara says to the Lord, “Now my mind is undisturbed, and I am quite healthy. If I die immediately, thinking of Your lotus feet, then I am sure that my performance of Your devotional service will become perfect. But if I have to wait for my natural death, then I do not know what will happen, because at that time the bodily functions will be disrupted, my throat will be choked up, and I do not know whether I shall be able to chant Your name. Better let me die immediately.” Arjuna questions how a person can fix his mind on Krishna’s lotus feet at such a time.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya
(combined commentary for verses 1 and 2)
In the eighth chapter, the Lord speaks about pure bhakti and yoga misra bhakti, in reply to Arjuna’s questions. He also describes the two destinations of the yogis.
At the end of the previous chapter, the Lord mentioned knowledge of seven items (brahman, adhyatma, karma, adhibhuta, adhidaiva, adhiyajna, and himself, Krishna). Wanting to know about these things, Arjuna asks questions about them in the first two verses of this chapter.
Who is the ruler of yajna in the body (atra dehe) and how should he be known in the body at the point of death? The sentence is completed with the next line.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
8.1– 8.2 Arjuna said — What are that brahman, Adhyatma and Karma which have been mentioned as what should be known by those who aspire for release from old age and death while they take refuge with the Lord? What are Adhibuta and Adhidaiva, which should be known by the aspirants for wealth? Who is Adhiyajna that is to be known by the three groups as their dying hour. In what manner are You to be known by these three groups who are self-controlled?
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Arjuna further wants to know who is the adhiyagna or the Supreme Being in which to give propitiation and worship to? Who is the director of all actions and the ultimate bestower of the rewards of action in this propitiation that is constantly going on in the physical body. First he asked about the nature of adhiyagna, now he wants to know about the manner in which it operates within the physical body. As the indwelling monitor how does He preside over yagna or propitiation and worship. The word yagna implies all authorised Vedic rituals and worship. Finally Arjuna wants to know by what means is the Supreme Lord to be known and remembered at the moment of death to those of controlled minds and senses.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
What is adhiyagna that is entitled for propitiation and to whom is this propitiation offered? Who is the specific god? Who is the receiver of this yagna or propitiation offered in worship? Is it Indra the chief of all the demigods or is it to the Supreme Lord? If the Supreme Lord is the receiver then is yagna offerred to Him internally residing inside the physical body or is it offered externally to His manifestation outside the physical body? If the yagna is offered internally then in what way does the Supreme Lord accept the offering? Finally it is asked how and in what way is the Supreme Lord Krishna to be realised at the time of death of the physical body? Arjuna addresses Lord Krishna in the vocative case using the anonym Madhusudana, the killer of the Madhu demon. The purport of this is that just as it is easy for Lord Krishna to terminate demons, it is also easy for Him to terminate the doubts in Arjuna’s mind concerning these subjects.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
8.2 In order to settle these questions seriatim –
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
8.1-2 What has been introduced by the Bhagavat by saying ‘They know that Brahmn etc.,’ [at the end of the last chapter], the same [the Sage] decides by raising nine questions [as follows] : Kim tad Brahman etc. Adhiyajnah etc. Who and how is the adhiyajna ? Who in this body ? : ‘does reside’ may be supplimented.
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
adhiyajñah katham ko ’tra
dehe ’smin madhusudana
prayana-kale ca katham
jñeyo ’si niyatatmabhih
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
adhiyajñaḥ — the Lord of sacriﬁce; katham — how; kaḥ — who; atra — here; dehe — in the body; asmin — this; madhusūdana — O Madhusūdana; prayāṇa-kāle — at the time of death; ca — and; katham — how; jñeyaḥ asi — You can be known; niyata-ātmabhiḥ — by the self-controlled.