India's government is being accused of blasphemy by its political opponents for saying some of Hinduism's most important texts are not proof of the existence of Hindu gods.
The government made the claim in a statement on Tuesday to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a dispute over India's plan to bore a shipping lane through a ridge of rock and sand between India and Sri Lanka which some Hindus think was built by a god.
The Ramayana and Ramcharitmanas, two religious texts, recount the life of Lord Ram, a Hindu god said to have commanded his army of monkeys to build a bridge to Sri Lanka thousands of years ago so he could rescue his kidnapped wife, Sita.
But the government of mainly Hindu but officially secular India says the ridge was moulded by the ocean tides.
"The contents of the Valmiki Ramayana, the Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas and other mythological texts ... cannot be said to be historical record to incontrovertibly prove the existence of the characters or the occurrence of the events depicted therein," the government's affidavit said.
The affidavit was written by the Ministry of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India, a government agency.
The main opposition, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), immediately accused the government of blasphemy and appeasing people who follow other religions.
L.K. Advani, the leader of the opposition, was quoted in the Indian Express saying the government's position was "questioning the faith of millions of Indians".
A party spokesman called the statement a "crude attempt to insult our culture, civilisational heritage, and Hindu sentiments," according to newspaper reports.
Even before the government, led by the Congress party, had made its statement, thousands of Hindus protested in the streets in several Indian states on Tuesday morning, including in the capital, New Delhi.
They want the government to drop the $560-million Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project, which its builders say will shave up to 36 hours off ship journeys between India's western and eastern coasts. It is sometimes called India's Suez Canal.
Besides religious objections, conservationists say the construction work and increased traffic will kill whales and other marine life in the region, and harm the livelihoods of Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen.
Last Mod: 13 Eylül 2007, 19:17