DELHI - Close on the heels of India's liberal intellectual tradition receiving
a jolt with the removal of an essay - ''Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples
and Three Thoughts on Translations'' - by the late scholar A K Ramanujan from
Delhi University's BA history (honors) syllabus, comes a ban on the Bhagavad
Gita, one of the most sacred Hindu religious texts, this time in
The Bhagavad Gita, an important part of the Indian epic Mahabharata
written by Sage Ved Vyasa, faces the prospect of being branded as "extremist
literature" by a court in Moscow. The 700-verse Hindu scripture is frequently
treated as a freestanding text as it embodies the words and message of God
according to Hindu beliefs. The protagonist of the text is Lord Krishna, who is
revered by Hindus as a manifestation of God himself.
The Russian ban on the scripture has piqued the 15,000-strong
Indian community in Moscow while also upsetting the followers of the
International ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness)
religious movement. The ban, say both groups, was inspired by "religious bias"
and "intolerance" from a majority religious group in Russia.
What led to the ban of the text - whose distribution is now rendered illegal on
Russian soil - were complaints that the Gita's text, distributed locally by
ISKCON, "advocates war" and spreads "social discord".
Hindu groups are unambiguous that the Siberian court's orders infringe upon an
individual's right to practice religious beliefs of their choice. They have
made frantic appeals to the Indian mission in Moscow and to Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh to resolve the issue in favor of the Hindu religious text.
Ironically, the controversy raged in the backdrop of Manmohan's visit to Moscow
for a bilateral summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev from
December 15 to 17.
Apart from hurting religious Hindu sentiments, the ban also strikes at the
roots of the tenets of ISKCON - known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement
- founded in 1966 in New York City by A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The
movement's core beliefs are founded on traditional Hindu scriptures such as the Gita
which date back more than 5,000 years.
A court in Siberia's Tomsk city - which was to pronounce its verdict on
December 19 - has now deferred it to December 28. Sources suggest the date may
be deferred still as the case is fraught with diplomatic tensions. Indian
diplomats at the embassy have, meanwhile, been following up the case since the
time it was brought to their notice earlier this year. But to no avail.
The Siberian court, which took up the case filed by the state prosecutors in
June, had referred the book to the Tomsk State University for "an expert"
assessment on October 25 this year. But Hindu scholars will have none of this
as they feel the university lacks the relevant specialists.
Back home too, the issue has provided grist for the mill of obstructionist
members of parliament of various political hues. Angry parliamentarians forced
the adjournment of the Lok Sabha (lower house) on December 19 after Biju Janata
Dal leader Bhartruhari Mahtab raised the subject of the ban in the lower house.
He asked the Congress-led United People's Alliance combine government "to
intervene immediately to ensure the religious freedom of Hindus in Russia”.
The house plummeted into more chaos when Lalu Prasad, leader of the Rashtriya
Janata Dal (RLD), shouted that the Hindu scripture does not preach extremism.
"We will not tolerate any move to insult Lord Krishna," thundered Prasad
supported by several members. Prasad signed off the pro-Gita campaign
with cheers of "Jai Sri Krishna" (hail Lord Krishna).
The brouhaha has also attracted strong reactions from Indian luminaries who
feel the ban on the Gita reflects a flawed understanding of this sacred
and philosophical text. The book's rich and nuanced offerings, they feel, need
to be respected and its teachings incorporated into one's daily conduct for
success in life.
Delhi Metro chief E Sreedharan told an Indian daily that the Gita is
"the ultimate 'administrator's handbook" and that it "illuminates a calm and
clear way forward through the pettifogging of relationships, desires and
fears". "The Gita," said Sreedharan, "obviously has many facets and can
mean different things to different people. But extremist literature?"
Many other scholars too, admit they can't fathom the ballyhoo over the
scripture as it has Lord Krishna advocating universally accepted truths which
form the bedrock of many revered religious texts across the world.
Gita's teachings and philosophy, they iterate, have won plaudits not
only by prominent Indians such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi but also Aldous
Huxley, Albert Einstein, J Robert Oppenheimer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Carl Jung,
Heinrich Himmler and Herman Hesse.
The appeal of the Gita also transcends religion and geography. "The
thrust of Gita's teachings," elaborates retired professor T K Bannerji,
formerly with Delhi University, "is that man should not keep his interests on
the fruits of his deeds, but rather on the tranquility produced in the mind by
pursuing the deed itself. "The book advocates active and selfless defense of
dharma," says the academician, and "conforms totally to the pacifist Hindu
concept of non-violence."
Mahatma Gandhi too, point out scholars, believed that the Gita was not
so much about actual warfare (which it uses as an allegory) but the battle that
goes on within each individual heart. Before him, non-Hindus too, have found
the Gita to be thought-provoking literature. The 17th century Mughal
prince Dara Shikhoh was so enamored of it that he translated it to Persian.
Ironically, one of Russia's greatest artists - Nicholas K Roerich - who lived
and worked for years in India with his family, had made the Gita an
integral part of his life. He had even dedicated many of his paintings to the
sacred concepts of Vedic Hindu texts.
Neeta Lal is a widely published writer/commentator who contributes to
many reputed national and international print and Internet publications.
(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please
contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)