The Bhagavad Gita was first translated into Russian in 1788, but if a court in the Siberian city of Tomsk rules against it this week, one version of the ancient Hindu text will be added to Russia’s 1,057-item list of banned material deemed extremist.
Prosecutors in Tomsk say a 1968 edition of the book, “The Bhagavad Gita As It Is,” which includes commentary by the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, is hostile toward other religious groups and contains extremist language. The case has caused outrage in India and has put the Russian government on the defensive.
In the face of mounting outrage from India, Alexander Lukashevich, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, tried to clarify the situation late last week. The case focuses not on the Bhagavad Gita text, but on the specific commentaries in the Hare Krishna version by the movement’s founder, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Mr. Lukashevich said in a statement released on Thursday.
“This is not about the book per se, but about the unsuccessful translation and the preface written by the author,” he said.
The case relies on testimony from several university professors who read the text for an audit by Russia’s Federal Security Service. According to a report in the Moscow Times, while the experts have said the book expresses religious hatred, one university dean included in the audit also said it “depends on perception” and another professor said the text is not “extremist,” but polemical.
The defendants, the Tomsk chapter of the “Russian Society of Krishna Consciousness,” say the potentially offensive quotes were taken out of context. On Monday, the national organization released a statement on a Russian Web site, “World Religions,” claiming that quotes under scrutiny, like one calling it a sacred duty to fight, “even if you have to fight with friends,” were taken out of context.
One of the quotes in question comes from Chapter 2: “Contents of the Gita Summarized,” from Text 15. It states (in the English translation):
“But one who is serious about making his life perfect surely adopts the sannyasa order of life in spite of all difficulties. The difficulties usually arise from having to sever family relationships, to give up the connection of wife and children. But if anyone is able to tolerate such difficulties, surely his path to spiritual realization is complete. Similarly, in Arjuna’s discharge of duties as a ksatriya, he is advised to persevere, even if it is difficult to fight with his family members or similarly beloved persons.”
The preface of Bhagavad Gita: “As It Is” was written in 1971 and contains, among other things, Swami Prabhupada’s reasons for writing the translation (he felt other English translations were “introduced to fulfill someone’s personal ambition”) and advice on following Lord Krishna, including:
“Lord Krsna first spoke Bhagavad-gita to the sun-god some hundreds of millions of years ago. We have to accept this fact and thus understand the historical significance of Bhagavad-gita, without misinterpretation, on the authority of Krsna.”
“Generally the so-called scholars, politicians, philosophers, and svamis, without perfect knowledge of Krsna, try to banish or kill Krsna when writing commentary on Bhagavad-gita. Such unauthorized commentary upon Bhagavad-gita is known as Mayavadi-bhasya, and Lord Caitanya has warned us about these unauthorized men.”
The Tomsk Hare Krisha group disputes the contention that the trial is directed not at the Baghavad Gita, but against the Krishna version, noting that texts labeled as extremist include quotes from the original book, as well as commentary by Swami Prabhupada.
The organization, which has grown in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, has battled charges of extremism before. For almost a decade, the Moscow branch struggled to gain permission to build a new temple, facing opposition from some members of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2010, the city’s new mayor gave the movement permission to build on a five-acre plot of land near Moscow’s largest airport.
In an interview last week on Indian television, Russia’s ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, harshly criticized the complainants, calling them “madmen.”
“It is not the Russian government that started the case,” he told IBN TV. “These are some petty people in a far away, though very beautiful, city of Tomsk who did it. The government has nothing to apologize for. The government can only testify and reiterate the love and affection and highest esteem our nation has for Bhagavad Gita.”
Glenn Kates is a reporter with the New York Times in Moscow. You can follow him on Twitter at @gkates.
source: New York Times