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					                    The Life and Times of Bharat Mata
                                 Nationalism as Invented Religion
                                                               Sadan Jha

         Maye ji ki paon ki chamari phat gayi thi. Lahu se pair lathpath ho gaye the .... Maye ji ka dukh dekh kar,
         Ramkishan babu ka bhakhan sunkar aur Tiwari ji ka geet sunkar wah apne ko rok nahi saka tha. Kaun
         sambhaal sakta tha us taan ko? .... Ganga re Jamunwa ki dhar nayanwa se neer bahi. Phutal bharathiya ke
         bhag bharathmata royi rahi.... Wah usi samay Ramkishan babu ke paas jaakar bola tha –“Mera naam suraji
         main likh lijiye.
         (The mother’s feet were torn and bloodied. After seeing the mother’s agony, listening to Ramkishan babu’s
         words and hearing Tiwari ji’s songs, he could not stop himself. Who could resist that pull? …. Tears flowing
         from her eyes like the waters of the Ganges and the Yamuna. Mother India sorrowing over the fate of her
         children…. Straightaway he went to Ramkishan babu and said, “Put my name on the Suraji list.”)
                                                                   -- Phaniswarnath Renu, Maila Anchal, 1953, p.35



     T
              he      image       of     the    certain Swami Ramtirth, including a         the second subtext, however, the body
              suffering mother, found in        passport-size photograph of the man;        of the nation has been defined in a
              these lines from the popular      and c) the photograph of RSS                very systematic and anatomical
     Hindi novel, Maila Anchal, is              supremo Rajju Bhaiya and the                fashion. The cultural signifiers of the
     undoubtedly the most central among         announcement of an upcoming mass            visual image have been provided with
     those visualisations which have            meeting in New Delhi.                       a set of concrete meanings and
     shaped and reshaped national                   In the central image, we see a          contexts. The quotation says:
     identities, spanning both pre- and post-   woman occupying the map of the                I am India. The Indian nation is my
     colonial India. As we see in the above-    nation, giving the nation as body a           body. Kanyakumari is my foot and
     quoted example, the crucial aspect of      very tangible female form. We have            the Himalayas my head. The Ganges
     this image of the nation as body is that   here an image which takes its meanings        flow from my thighs. My left leg is
     the body involved is neither               from a wide range of cultural signifiers:     the Coromandal Coast, my right is
     anonymous nor abstract. It is a familiar   the smiling face of the goddess               the Coast of Malabar. I am this entire
     one, revered and adored, one which         standing in front of her lion, looking        land. East and West are my arms.
     evokes profound memories, and one          directly into the gaze of onlookers. In       How wondrous is my form! When I
     which, at this narrative moment, is in                                                   walk I sense all India moves with me.
     grave distress. Even in deep pain, this                                                  When I speak, India speaks with me.
     body commands respect. What is also            In India, the imaginary                   I am India. I am Truth, I am God, I am
     worth pointing out is that this body is        bonding between nation                    Beauty.
     presented as perishable, in the most             and citizen is often                      There is an interesting
     literal sense of the word.                    mediated in and through                  contradiction here between the first
          We have a number of instances                                                     and second subtexts of this frame.
                                                    religion. Unfortunately,
     where the anthropomorphic form of                                                      Note the use of masculine gender in
     the nation, Bharat Mata, has been                   in the dominant                    the words in bold face that follow:
     shown along with India’s                         discourse of recent                   “Jab main chalta hoon to sochata
     cartographic form, its map. 1 A               decades, the complexity                  hoon ki pura Bharatvarsh chal raha
     popular wall calendar of the Hindu                of the relationship                  hai. Jab bolta hoon to sochata hoon
     right wing organisation, the Rashtriya                                                 ki pura Bharat bol raha hai.” The
                                                      between nation and                    earlier subtext has given us to believe
     Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is one
     such example (see figure 1). We can                religion has been                   that that the body of the nation is
     divide this poster into three main            reduced to an analysis of                female; however, the second subtext
     subtexts. These are a) the central                   communalism.                      makes it very clear that the body in
     image; b) a quotation attributed to a                                                  consideration is male.

34                                                                                                                        MANUSHI
                                                                                     in the Indian context. He suggests that
                                                                                     it would be “impossible to gather up
                                                                                     the heterogeneous modes of seeing
                                                                                     the nation in the subject centered
                                                                                     meaning of the word ‘imagination’. For
                                                                                     the nation in India was not only
                                                                                     ‘imagined’, it may have been darshan-
                                                                                     ed as well.”2 Unfortunately in the
                                                                                     dominant discourse of recent decades,
                                                                                     the complexity of the relationship
                                                                                     between nation and religion has been
                                                                                     reduced to an analysis of
                                                                                     communalism. An alternative way to
                                                                                     examine the multilayered discourse on
                                                                                     the relationship between religion and
                                                                                     nation is via an understanding of some
                                                                                     of the representational sites where
                                                                                     nationhood and religious practice
                                                                                     meet.
                                                                                         The imageries of Bharat Mata
                                                                                     provide one such location. From
                                                                                     Abanindranath Tagore and Anand
                                                                                     Coomaraswami’s treatments, to the
                                                                                     calendars of the RSS, there has always
                                                                                     been a celebration of the nation’s
                                                                                     female body – and of her citizens’ male
                                                                                     gaze. Nor has Bharat Mata failed to
                                                                                     find a place in the plethora of “invented
                                                                                     traditions” that abound in the popular
                                                                                     religious space.3 Her temples have
                                                                                     even been accorded room in at least
                                                                                     two of India’s holiest sites of
                                                                                     pilgrimage, Haridwar and Benaras.
                                                                                           The Icon in History
                                                                                         The genealogy of the figure of
                                                                                     Bharat Mata has been traced to a
                                                                                     satirical piece titled Unabimsa Purana
                                                                                     (‘The Nineteenth Purana’), by Bhudeb
                  Figure 1: Bharat Mata in RSS calendar art                          Mukhopadhyay, first published
                                                                                     anonymously in 1866. Bharat Mata is
      The third subtext puts the poster    to the Christian or Common Era            identified in this text as Adhi-Bharati,
  in a contextual frame. This is an        calendar perhaps simply because it        the widow of Arya Swami, the
  announcement of the arrival of R.S.S.    would be more expedient.                  embodiment of all that is essentially
  supremo, Rajju Bhaiya in New Delhi.         Religion and Nationhood                ‘Aryan’. The image of the
  His schedule has been announced              The Bharat Mata icon and its          dispossessed motherland also found
  according to the Vikram Samvat,          various scopic regimes are, obviously,    form        in      Kiran     Chandra
  despite the fact that this calendar is   quite mythical. In India, the imaginary   Bandyopadhyay’s play, Bharat Mata,
  not in general use. This would lead      bonding between nation and citizen is     first performed in 1873. The play
  one to suppose that the objectives of    often mediated in and through religion.   influentially entered into nationalist
  this poster go much further than its     Writing on “Nation and Imagination”,      memory in its early phase.4
  temporal frame, that is the provision    Dipesh Chakrabarty has questioned             The landmark intervention in the
  of information about a public event.     the use of the word ‘imagination’ for     history of this symbol was Bankim
  A concession is, however, also made      the phenomenon of ‘seeing the nation’     Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Ananda

No.142                                                                                                                           35
     Math. In this classic text, the figure of    offers in her four hands… What                 [the] mother bore a child to the
     the mother has an evolutionary               [Tagore] sees in Her is made clear          foreign lord, and he was pleased
     biography marked in three phases. The        to all of us. Spirit of the                 there at, and deemed that she (for it
     journey takes place from the figure of       motherland, giver of all good, yet          was a girl) should be a young
     ‘mother as she was in the past’ to           eternally virgin.... The misty              woman after his own heart, even as
     ‘mother in the present’ who still            lotuses and the white light set Her         the daughters of his own people,
     retains the power to transform herself       apart from the common world, as             and she should be fair and wealthy,
     into ‘mother as she will become in the       much as the four arms, and Her              and a bride for a son of his people.
     future’. In her present form she is Kali,    infinite love. And yet in every             However, when this child was born,
     supposedly haunting the cremation            detail, of “Shankha” bracelet, and          the mother was roused from her
     grounds and dancing on Shiva’s               close veiling garment, of bare feet,        dream.
     chest, signifying the reversal of order      and open, sincere expression, is              But, the girl grew strong, and
     and suggesting a parallel between the        she not after all, our very own,            would carry little of her father’s
     land of Bharat and a cremation ground.       heart of our heart, at once mother          tyranny, and she was mother to the
     The final image is that of Durga, the        and daughter of the Indian land,            children of the children who came
     ten armed mother, the symbol of              even as to the Rishis of old was            before her, and she was called the
     power with all her shining weapons.          Ushabala, in her Indian girlhood,           mother by all…” Her children rose
     Such representations suggest a               daughter of the dawn?6                      in revolt against their father but
     nascent nationalism in the process of         From Goddess to Mother                     were subdued. The mother helped
     widening its popular appeal by                   The post-swadeshi period                her children this time and she left
     appropriating prevalent religious           witnessed another shift in imaging           the foreign lord, and when the
     culture. Jasodhara Bagchi also points       India, from goddess-figure to                foreign lord would have stopped it,
     out that Ananda Math was Bankim’s           housewife and mother, as seen in a           she was not there, but elsewhere;
     response to the positivist ideology         short story entitled Bharat Mata by          and it seemed that she was neither
     of order and progress.5                     Anand Coomarswami. This is a story           here, nor there, but everywhere.
          Very soon the terms of                 of “a tall, fair and young woman”. She          And the writer concludes
     engagement and iconographic                 was “wealthy and many had sought           philosophically, “And this tale is yet
     vocabulary shifted to the form of the       her hand, and of these, one whom she       unfinished; but the ending is not afar
     goddess. The artist Abanindranath           loved least had possessed her body         off, and may be foreseen.”7
     Tagore portrayed Bharat Mata as             for many years; and now there came              Ninety years after its publication,
     Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity          another and stranger wooer with            this story, read from a post-colonial
     and wealth, clad in the apparel of a        promises of freedom and peace, and         location, is perhaps not very exciting.
     vaishnava nun. For Sister Nivedita          protection for her children; and she       Yet, while its personification of the
     here is “a picture which bids fair to       believed in him, and laid her hand in      nation is one to which we are now
     prove the beginning of a new age in         his.”                                      accustomed, the shift that has taken
     Indian art.” She says:                          The story goes on:                     place here, from nation as goddess to
         In this picture...we have a                 Some other children were roused        a more earthly figure is crucial. A
       combination of perfect refinement           against him, by reason of his            parallel can also be observed in Sri
       with great creative imagination.            robbing them of power and                Aurobindo’s ways of looking at
       Bharat Mata stands on the green             interfering with the rights and laws     Bharat Mata. Writing in 1920, he
       earth. Behind her is the blue sky.          that regulated their relations to each   remarks,
       Beneath the exquisite little feet is a      other; for they feared that their           …the Bharat Mata that we ritually
       curved line of four misty white             ancient heritage would pass away            worshipped in the Congress was
       lotuses. She has the four arms that         for ever. But, still the mother             artificially constructed, she was
       always, to Indian thinking, indicate        dreamed of peace and rest and               the companion and favourite
       the divine power. Her sari is severe,       would not hear the children’s cry,          mistress of the British, not our
       even to Puritanism, in its enfolding        but helped to subdue their                  mother…The day we have that
       lines. And behind the noble                 waywardness, and all was quiet              undivided vision of the image of
       sincerity of eyes and brow we are           again. But, the wayward children            the mother…the independence,
       awed by the presence of the broad           loved not their new father and could        unity and progress of India will
       white halo. Shiksha-Diksha-Anna-            not understand their mother.                be facilitated.
       Bastra, the four gifts of the                  The turning point of the story             But Aurobindo warned that the
       motherland to her children, she           comes when                                 vision had to be one that was not

36                                                                                                                        MANUSHI
  divided by religion. He concluded,       times. Here, India’s most celebrated                           unchanged in the visual registers are
     …if we hope to have a vision of       rivers become the bearers of                                   the goddess-like qualities of Bharat
    the mother by invoking the indu’s      prosperity and wealth. A similar                               Mata.
    mother or establishing Hindu           thought is evident in M.F. Husain’s                               Temples to a New Deity
    nationalism, having made a             sketch, specially created for The                                  The institutionalised entry of the
    cardinal error we would be             Times of India’s special issue for the                         icon into the domain of religious
    deprived of the full expression of     fiftieth year of Indian independence                           practice goes back to the 1930s. In
    our nationhood.8                       (see figure 2).                                                1936, a Bharat Mata temple was built
         India of the Villages                   In the 1920s, Bharat Mata’s                              in Benaras by Shiv Prashad Gupt and
      Sumitranandan Pant’s famous          representations take on sharper                                was inaugurated by none less than
  poem, Bharat Mata, provides a            political overtones. The inclusion of                          Mahatma Gandhi. The temple contains
  different vision of romantic             political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi,                         no image of any god or goddess. It
  nationalism. Here the image of Bharat    and of scenes such as those of Bhagat                          has only a map of India set in marble
  Mata is a rural one; Mother India is a   Singh in prison, began to redefine the                         relief. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I hope
  woman of the soil, worn with             constructs of suffering in the semiotic                        this temple, which will serve as a
  centuries of suffering, dispossessed     space. A tendency can be seen to                               cosmopolitan platform for people of
  and an alien even in her own home. In    push Bharat Mata into the                                      all religions, castes and creeds
  its original, this poem employs the      background, making her a kind of                               including Harijans, will go a great way
  metaphors of the Ganges and the          inspirational force for political                              in promoting religious unity, peace and
  Yamuna as rivers of tears,               figures. Another significant change                            love in the country.” 10 In the
  symbolising the pain of the nation. In   in the semiotic field was the                                  Mahatma’s speech we see a concern
  a post-Independence version,             introduction of the tricolour flag.                            for the universal mother, not restricted
  however, lines were added to reflect     However, unlike in the literary                                to the mother that is India but the
  the buoyant, resurgent mood of the       treatments,         what     remained                          mother that is the earth.
                                                                                     The Times of India       A little under fifty years later,
                                                                                                          Swami Satyamitranand Giri founded a
                                                                                                          Bharat Mata temple in Haridwar. The
                                                                                                          consecration of this temple took place
                                                                                                          on 15 May1983, followed six months
                                                                                                          later by an ektamata yajna, a sacrifice
                                                                                                          for unity, involving a six-week, all-India
                                                                                                          tour of the image of the goddess. Both
                                                                                                          these events were organised by the
                                                                                                          Vishva Hindu Parishad. Unlike its
                                                                                                          Benaras precursor, this temple
                                                                                                          contains an anthropomorphic statue
                                                                                                          of its deity. Here, Bharat Mata holds
                                                                                                          a milk urn in one hand and sheaves of
                                                                                                          grain in the other, and is accordingly
                                                                                                          described in the temple guide book as
                                                                                                          “signifying the white and green
                                                                                                          revolution that India needs for
                                                                                                          progress and prosperity.” The guide
                                                                                                          book also tells us that, “The temple
                                                                                                          serves to promote the devotional
                                                                                                          attitude toward Bharat Mata,
                                                                                                          something that historians and
                                                                                                          mythological story teller may have
                                                                                                          missed.”11
                                                                                                              I look at these two temples as a
     Figure 2: M.F. Hussain’s Golden Jubilee vision of Independent India                                  process of the institutionalisation of a
                                                                                                          particular form of nationalism. These

No.142                                                                                                                                                 37
                                                                                           satire on the Boticelli Venus, depicted
                                                                                           Nehru as an elderly and avuncular
                                                                                           cherub, drawing a cover over the nude
                                                                                           form of the nation. (see figure 3). The
                                                                                           cartoon, with all its wit, can hardly be
                                                                                           termed asexual and this goes against
                                                                                           all stereotypical treatments of the
                                                                                           nation symbol.
                                                                                               Such cartoons provide a
                                                                                           counterfoil to images of Bharat Mata,
                                                                                           such as those here discussed, whose
                                                                                           symbolic value depends heavily upon
                                                                                           the religious vocabulary and practices
                                                                                           of this country. Heterogeneous modes
                                                                                           of      engagement          with     the
                                                                                           representations of nation similarly
                                                                                           demand a search for non-modular and
                                                                                           fragmentary forms of the ways in which
                                                                                           the nation has been produced,
                                                                                           circulated and consumed.
                                                                                           Endnotes
                                                                                           1
                                                                                              See, Ramaswami, Sumathi. “Visualising
                                                                                           India’s Geo-Body: Globes, Maps,
                                                                                           Bodyscapes”, Sumathi Ramaswami (ed.),
                                                                                           Contributions to Indian Sociology, New
                                                                                           Series, vol.36, nos.1&2, January-August
        Figure 3: Cartoonist Shankar’s take on socialism and Mother India                  2002, pp:151-190.
                                                                                            2
                                                                    The Times of India         Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “Nation and
                                                                                           Imagination”, Studies in Histroy, vol.15, no.2,
     shrines to Bharat Mata frame not          of Vaishano Devi, one of the most           1999, p.204.
     merely the gaze of onlookers (as do       popular goddess of twentieth century         3
                                                                                              See, Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger
     posters and popular prints) but make      north India.                                (ed.), The Invention of Traditions,Cambridge
                                                                                           University Press, 1983.
     claims over the entire body of the            Shifting the scopic register, one        4
                                                                                              Indira Choudhury, The Frail Hero and Virile
     visitor. The moment one enters a          can say that posters and calendars          History, OUP, Delhi, 1998. p.99.
                                                                                           5
     temple complex, the human body is,        carry out this task at much more               Jasodhara Bagchi, “Reprsenting Nationalism
                                                                                           : Ideology of Motherhood in Colonial
     potentially at least, transformed into    ordinary moments of daily life. For         Bengal”, Economic and Political Weekly, 20-
     the body of a devotee. This               instance, at the back of the RSS poster     27 October 1990, pp: WS-65-71.
                                                                                           6
     transformative characteristic has         discussed in the beginning of this              Sister Nivedita, “Bharat Mata”, The
                                                                                           Complete Works of Sister Nivedita, Birth
     sufficient ability to change the nature   essay, a loop is attached, so that it can   Centenary Publication, vol.III,Ramkrishna
     of the icon, Bharat Mata itself. In the   be properly displayed on a wall. This       Sarda Mission, Calcutta,1967, p. 58.
                                                                                           7
     Benaras and the Haridwar temples, we      simple loop converts the poster into a         Coomaraswami, Anand. “Bharat Mata”,
                                                                                           The Modern Review, April 1907, pp:369-71.
     may see a shift in the locale of the      wall-hanging, and, as a wall-hanging,       8
                                                                                              Cited by Bose,Sugata. “Nation as Mother:
     image of Bharat Mata, from                this text transforms the domestic into      Representations and Contestations of ‘India’
     nationalism drawing upon the              the public sphere.                          in Bengali Literature and Culture, in Sugata
                                                                                           Bose and Ayesha Jalal (ed.), Nationalism,
     vocabulary of religious cultures to           A Different Framework                   Democracy and Development: State and
     religious cultures trying to upgrade          I have so far discussed the ways        Politics in India, OUP, Delhi, 1999, p. 68.
                                                                                           9
     themselves by mobilising resources                                                       Gandhi, Mahatma. “Speech at Bharat Mata
                                               in which the icon of Bharat Mata has        Mandir, Benaras”, The Collected Works of
     from nationalism.                         travelled in history within a modular       Mahatma Gandhi, vol.63, The Publication
         The proliferation of Bharat Mata’s    frame of deity and motherhood.              Division, Delhi, 1976, p.388.
                                                                                           10
     imagery as a member of the Hindu                                                         Mc Kean, Lise. “Bharat Mata: Mother India
                                               However this framework, with its            and Her Militant Matriots”, in Devi :
     pantheon has other effective and fluid    enphasis on the pure, sacred nature         Goddesses of India, edited by John S.Hawley
     popular registers. Her incorporation in   of the Bharat Mata icon, is disrupted       and Donna M.Wulff, Motilala Banarasidass
     the long list of the gods and             once we turn to a different visual          Publishers, Delhi, 1998(1996), p. 263.
     goddesses of the Hindu pantheon can       register, the world of cartoons. The        The author is a Ph.D. scholar at
     be seen, for instance, on the web-site    famous cartoonist Shankar, in a clever      Jawaharlal Nehru University.

38                                                                                                                             MANUSHI

				
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