The poem is a rhyming narrative from the point of view of an English soldier in India, about an Indian water-bearer (a bhishti) who saves the soldier's life but is soon shot and killed. In the final three lines, the soldier regrets the abuse he dealt to Din and admits that Din is the better man of the two for sacrificing his own life to save another. The poem was published as one of the set of martial poems called the Barrack-Room Ballads.
In contrast to Kipling's later poem "The White Man's Burden", "Gunga Din" (/ /) is named after the Indian, portraying him as a heroic character who is not afraid to face danger on the battlefield as he tends to wounded men. The English soldiers who order Din around and beat him for not bringing them water fast enough are presented as being callous and shallow, and ultimately inferior to him.
Although "Din" is frequently pronounced to rhyme with "bin", the rhymes within the poem make it clear that it should be pronounced // to rhyme with "green".
The poem inspired a 1939 adventure film of the same name from RKO Radio Pictures starring Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Fontaine, and Sam Jaffe in the title role. The movie was remade in 1961 as Sergeants 3, starring the Rat Pack. The locale was moved from British-colonial India to the old West. The Gunga Din character was played in this film by Sammy Davis, Jr.. Many elements of the 1939 film were also incorporated into Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
In 1958, Bobby Darin wrote and recorded the song "That's the Way Love Is" in which, referring to the unsolved riddle of love, he sings "And if ya come up with the answer, You're a better man, sir, than I … Gunga Din". 
In 1962, Sonny Gianotta recorded a novelty song "The Last Blast of the Blasted Bugler" based on Gunga Din.
In 1963, Flanders and Swann recorded "At the Drop of Another Hat", which in the song "Sounding Brass" includes the line, "The object is to Gunga-din your neighbor". This means to one up your neighbour in the context of the song.
In 1969, The Byrds recorded a song named "Gunga Din" written by Byrds drummer Gene Parsons for the 1969 Byrds "Ballad of Easy Rider" album.
In 1973, the TV show M.A.S.H. shows Hawkeye Pierce reciting part of this poem in the episode, "Dear Dad... Three". Also in 1973, Gunga Din was included in the title song of the film "'The Adventures of Barry McKenzie sung by Smacka Fitzgibbon. "Barry McKenzie was a better man than you are, Gunga Din".
In December 2012, in the Downton Abbey's special Christmas episode, Isobel Crawley preempts a marriage proposal from a slightly inebriated Dr. Clarkson with the retort: "Are you thinking of getting married Dr. Clarkson? Because if you are, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din."
In 2015 British rock band The Libertines released a song titled Gunga Din, their first in 11 years. The band are big Kipling fans and have referenced his poems in previous songs.
- No Heaven for Gunga Din, with a similar theme about the treatment of native servants by colonial military officers.
- Jaap van Ginnekan, Screening Difference: How Hollywood's Blockbuster Films Imagine Race, Ethnicity, and Culture, p.143. ISBN 978-0-7425-5584-6 "Spielberg conceded that Gunga Din was one of the major sources of inspiration for the second Indiana Jones movie, and it does indeed contain many of the same elements."
- Bobby Darin "That's The Way Love Is"
- George Robinson: Gunga Din (article on the 1939 Hollywood film). Soldiers of the Queen (journal of the Victorian Military Society). September 1994.