MOSCOW: Russia has rejected as misplaced India's complaints about the trial in the Siberian city of Tomsk against a translation of the Bhagavad Gita.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was not the Bhagavad Gita as such that was on trial but some comments contained in a 20th-century Russian translation of the scripture.

Russian prosecutors are seeking a court ban on the book, which they claim is extremist and insulting to non-believers.

“I would like to emphasise that this is not about ‘Bhagavad Gita,' a religious philosophical poem, which forms part of the great Indian epic Mahabharata and is one of the most famous pieces of the ancient Hindu literature. In Russia, the book was first published in Russian in 1788 and then went through many editions in different years and in various translations,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

“The Tomsk court case is about classifying as extremist material the Russian-language edition of the Bhagavad Gita. As It Is, written in 1968 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” Mr. Lukashevich said in reply to a request from The Hindu to clarify the Russian official position on the court trial.

The statement came a day after India upped the ante in the controversy.

“The Russian authorities have been approached at high levels to appropriately resolve this matter,” said Indian Ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra.

“The Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the most important and respected scripture in the world. First translated into Russian in 1788, it is not merely a religious text, but one of the defining treatises of Indian thought,” Mr. Malhotra said in a statement.

“The Bhagavad Gita has circulated freely across the world for centuries and there is not a single instance of it having encouraged extremism. So, the case before the Honourable Court in Tomsk is indeed absurd, bordering on the bizarre,” he added.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that the Tomsk court was not trying the ‘Bhagavad Gita.”

“As evident from the testimony, the complaints of law enforcement authorities relate, not so much to the text of the book as such, even though its double translation contains distortions, but rather to the author's commentaries, which are considered to fall under Article 13 of the Federal Law ‘On Counteracting Extremist Activity',” Mr. Lukashevich said.

On Monday the Tomsk court adjourned the case till December 28 as it agreed to hear testimony from the Russian Ombudsman on Human Rights and Russian Indologists, who favour dismissal of the charges.

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