A new Indian version of the Bible recently, published by the Catholic Church, has run into controversy over its inclusion of verses from the Bhagavad Gita, a form of Hindu chant, and references to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
An illustration in the new version, New Community Bible, depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph as poor Indian villagers. Mary wears a simple sari and has a bindi on her forehead alongside Joseph in a turban and loincloth.
According to the 30 Indian biblical scholars who worked for more than 15 years on the new edition, the Bible draws on "the rich cultural and religious heritage of India."
Although approved by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and published by the Society of St. Paul, the Bible met the disapproval of Protestants and other Christian groups, who believe it diverts from biblical truth.
Pastor Vijay Thomas, who heads a Bible college in Chennai, told Christian Today, "By making it appear 'Indian' with references to Hindu scriptures and great poets, people will not come to the truth. This is a complete turn back from the real Bible."
Oswald Gracias, the Catholic Archbishop of Bombay, defended the Bible edition, saying, "I am sure this Bible, made in India and for Indians, will bring the word of God closer to millions of our people, not only Christians."
Accompanied by extensive commentary notes to assist readers in interpreting the verses, the edition also references Indian ancient literary works such as Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Jesus' words about storing "treasures in heaven" in the Gospel of Matthew, for example, are compared to the Bhagavadgita's teaching that "work alone is your proper business, never the fruits it may produce."
The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, Asia's first Nobel laureate, are also referred to in the commentary.
The general editor of the New Community Bible, the Rev. Dr. Augustine Kanachikuzhy, admitted that references to Hindu scriptures had drawn complaints.
"This was expected," he said. "It will take some time for the [new Bible] to gain acceptance."
Kanachikuzy still believes the Bible to be a huge hit. "It has proved to be extremely popular among the Christian community with over 15,000 copies sold out within barely 10 days. Now it has gone for a reprint," he added.