An Indian court has asked a zoo in West Bengal state to change the names of two lions after a hardline Hindu group complained it hurt their religious sentiments.

The lioness was named after Hindu deity Sita while the lion was called Akbar, after the 16th Century Mughal ruler.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) challenged this, saying that naming the lioness after a goddess was blasphemous.

It also objected to keeping the lions in the same wildlife park.

The two big cats currently live in the North Bengal Wild Animals Park in Siliguri district.

On Thursday, the court observed that animals should not be named after "Hindu gods, Muslim Prophets, [revered] Christian figures, Nobel laureates and freedom fighters".

"You could have named it Bijli [lightning] or something like that. But why give names such as Akbar and Sita?" Justice Saugata Bhattacharya asked.

The court also asked if it would be prudent to name pets, including dogs, after people. "You could've avoided a controversy," the judge said.

In its complaint, the VHP - which has ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - alleged that it had received complaints from all parts of the country over the lions' names.

"She [Sita] is the consort of [Hindu god] Lord Ram and herself is a sacred deity to all Hindus across the world," it said. "Such act amounts to blasphemy and is a direct assault on the religious beliefs of all Hindus."

The organisation accused authorities in West Bengal, which is ruled by an opposition party, of doing this on purpose and threatened to hold protests if they didn't change the names and location of the big cats.

"Sita and Akbar cannot be allowed to live together," VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal said.


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