Russia's Ban on Bhagavad Gita Incenses Indians

Russia's Ban on Bhagavad Gita Incenses Indians

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The Russian archbishop who tried to malign Lord Krishna and the Indian sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita, should have known that hell hath no fury like 885 million Hindus scorned.

That fury has been unleashed worldwide this week over remarks by Archbishop Nikon of the Russian Orthodox Church branding Lord Krishna, the protagonist in the Bhagavad Gita, an “evil demon.” State prosecutors in the Siberian city of Tomsk successfully sought help from the courts to ban the scripture for its “extremist” views and accused it of insulting non-believers, according to Russian media.

Following an appeal filed by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the court has agreed to hear what experts have to say on all this Dec. 28.

Earlier this week, angry Indian lawmakers forced parliament to close and protesters gathered outside the Russian embassy in New Delhi. “We will not tolerate an insult to Lord Krishna,” members of parliament shouted, until the house speaker adjourned parliament for several hours.

No fatwah has been handed down, but the Hindu diaspora worldwide and Hindus in India have banded together and written to Russian embassies, as well as the Indian Prime Minister, to use diplomatic pressure to force the Russian court to withdraw the ban.

S.M. Krishna, external affairs minister, said the Indian government is “closely monitoring the case” and that the ban is likely being sought by “ignorant, misled and motivated individuals.”

“The Russian embassy has expressed deep regret over the case,” he said. “We are confident that our Russian friends, who are culturally sensitive to our civilization, will resolve this matter appropriately.”

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy in New Delhi issued a statement by Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin.

“I consider it categorically inadmissible when any holy scripture is taken to the courts,” Kadakin said in the e-mail, adding that the Bhagavad Gita is a “great source of wisdom for the people of India and the world.”

“It is strange that such events are unfolding in the beautiful University City in Siberia,” the ambassador said,  adding that “it seems that even the lovely city of Tomsk has its own neighborhood madmen.”

For those who don’t know, the Bhagavad Gita is considered a manual for sensible living for all mankind, not just Hindus, even though the Gita is a part of the ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.

It has been glorified by such famous people as Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name a few. More than once did Mahatma Gandhi say that he drew moral strength from its 700 verses while he was imprisoned by the British during India’s freedom struggle.

In a letter urging the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, to ban the proposed construction of a long-awaited Hindu temple in Moscow, Archbishop Nikon reportedly characterized Lord Krishna as “an evil demon, the personified power of hell opposing God.”

The putdown is “a major setback for religious freedom and diversity in Russia,” observed Anutama Dasa, international director of communications of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in Maryland.

Dasa said that ISKCON has been the target of the ire of some Russian government officials because they see “minority religions not as neighbors but as threats.”

“Russia has been a difficult place for us to practice our religion,” Dasa said.

Ironically, ISKCON, an offshoot of Hinduism, was the first religious tradition to be officially recognized by Moscow since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Over the years, the group has been running the Food for Life program, a free kitchen, in various parts of Russia, like it does in many other countries. ISKCON has also translated into 80 different languages, including Russian, its founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. The translation has been widely distributed in Russia.

Last year, Russian prosecutors banned Adolf Hitler’s semi-autobiographical book, “Mein Kampf,” for the same reason they gave for banning the Bhagavad Gita: It was “extremist” literature.

The Tomsk court case has been going on since last June and the Indian government had been alerted to it by ISKCON, according to Indian news reports. But nothing was done about it.

“Perhaps they just tried to wish it away,” said Suhag A. Shukla, managing director and legal counsel of the Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group, providing the Hindu American voice. And she added: “It needed more than just wishing.”