Tomorrow at 12:30 hours IST, Tomsk court, Russia, is due to pass its verdict on banning the Bhagavad Gita. An "anti-cult" group affiliated to the Russian Orthodox Church, has called for a ban on the Gita terming it an 'extremist' text. And the verdict can have far reaching repercussions - either way.
An expert panel was constituted to examine if the text incites religious hatred and humiliation.
"Banning the Gita as an extremist piece of literature would mean banning the Russian chapter of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - one of the biggest Hindu organizations in Russia with a following of around 40,000, of which nearly 1,000 people visit the temple in Moscow every day," said Swami Bhakti Vigyan (nee Vadim Touneev), scientist by training and head of ISKCON, Russia, currently in Delhi.
This is not the first time that the Bhagavad Gita has been involved in a court case. "There were two others in a Moscow court, but Moscow being more cosmopolitan, these cases were dismissed. This one time, they have gone ahead and pressed charges and it has come to court for hearing in Tomsk," said Swami Bhakti Vigyan.
So what is so objectionable about the Bhagavad Gita - the text or commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada? "Contrary to what the Russian government's spokesperson has to say, what the court is objecting to is not Prabhupada's commentary but the Bhagavad Gita itself," Swami says, who helped translate the text into Russian. "I have been involved with the translation of the Gita, especially its third edition, released in 2007. All I did was to make a few stylistic changes. The rest of the book remains the same as it was in 1984 when the Gita was first distributed in Russia. We have given out more than 10 million copies since," he adds.
A majority of the Russian population, 70 percent, would align themselves with the Russian Orthodox Christian Church, the religion prevalent in Russia before the Soviet rule, say experts, while 10 percent follow Islam. The rest are mostly atheists. "I do agree that there is a difference in the Christian and ISKCON conception of God, I understand the court has a problem with terms such as 'demons' for asuras and 'fools' for mudhas but Russians are philosophical by nature, with a high level of receptivity. They seek answers to what is the meaning of life after death and why we are born. Many Christians have told me that their understanding of the Bible has become deeper after reading the Gita," said Swami Vigyan. "The contention is that we differ at a theological level, but a normal court is not the place to debate these differences. The core teachings of both Christianity and ISKCON are the same - love thy neighbour, love God," he added.