In a steamy makeshift courtroom inside New Delhi's central jail, the prosecution began presenting its case today against two police officers and a civil servant accused of assassinating prime minister Indira Gandhi.

The Tihar jail is being used as a court for security reasons.

The court adjourned without completing testimony from the second witness. Lawyers said the trial, which began in May, will take at least six months, and 144 witnesses are expected to be called.

About 60 persons crowded into a room about 18 feet wide and 35 feet long, cooled by three ceiling fans blowing hot air through the three barred windows.

The defendants, all members of the Sikh religion, are accused of killing Gandhi in retaliation for her ordering the Indian Army to storm the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, last June.

At times, the scene in the courtroom resembled a chaotic market place rather than a legal trial, especially when Judge Mahesh Chandra, the witness, the defense attorneys and the prosecutor all talked at once in Hindi and English.

A revolver, which the prosecution said was used in the Gandhi murder, was casually passed back and forth by Judge Chandra and the defense attorneys and occasionally pointed at spectators.

The three defendants are charged with murder and conspiracy in the Oct. 31 assassination of Gandhi in the garden of her official residence here.

One defendant, Satwant Singh, a member of Gandhi's security detail, is accused of the shooting, along with another bodyguard, Beant Singh, who was later gunned down by other bodyguards.

The other defendants, bodyguard Balbir Singh and Kehar Singh, a civil servant, are accused of conspiring with Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. All charges carry the death penalty.

All Sikhs, members of a 500-year-old amalgam of the Hindi and Moslem religions, carry the name Singh, which means "lion" in Sanskrit. All Singhs are not necessarily Sikhs.

The prosecution said Gandhi was killed as part of a plot by Sikh extremists seeking revenge for the storming of the Golden Temple at Amritsar, which militants had turned into an armed fortress. Gandhi's assassination unleashed anti-Sikh rioting in northern India in which at least 2,000 persons, mostly Sikhs, were killed.

The defense challenged the first witness, the duty officer at the nearest police station to the Gandhi residence, for failing to enter the names of the accused and eyewitnesses on his initial report.