Genesis of Bharat Mata

Print edition : April 29, 2016

1. The oath prescribed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) for its men: “Remembering Almighty God and my forbears, I take this oath. For the betterment of my sacred Hindu religion, Hindu culture, and Hindu community, I will devote myself to the prosperity of my Holy Motherland. I swear that I shall serve the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh with my body, my mind, and my money. I will be faithful to this oath throughout my life.”

2. Savarkar’s Hindutva: “Every stone here has a story of martyrdom to tell! Every inch of thy soil, O Mother! Has been a sacrificial ground! Not only ‘where the Krishnasar is found’ but from Kashmir to Sinhal it is ‘Land of sacrifice’, sanctified with a Jnana Yajna or an Atmaajna (self-sacrifice). So to every Hindu, from the Santal to the Sadhu, this Bharat bhumi this Sindhusthan is at once a Pitribhu and a Punyabhu—fatherland and a holy land.

“That is why in the case of some of our Mohammedan or Christian countrymen who had originally been forcibly converted to a non-Hindu religion and who consequently have inherited along with Hindus, a common Fatherland and a greater part of the wealth of a common culture—language, law, customs, folklore and history—are not and cannot be recognised as Hindus. For, though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu, yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smack of a foreign origin.…

“Ye, who by race, by blood, by culture, by nationality, possess almost all the essentials of Hindutva and had been forcibly snatched out of our ancestral home by the hand of violence—ye, have only to render wholehearted love to our common Mother and recognise her not only as Fatherland (Pitrubhu) but even as a Holyland (punyabhu); and ye would be most welcome to the Hindu fold.” The country is an object of worship; “a common Mother” who is also a Holyland.

3. In the Preface to his pamphlet We or Our Nationhood Defined, dated March 22, 1939, the RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar wrote: “I offer this work to the public as an [ sic] humble offering at the holy feet of the Divine Mother—the Hindu Nation in the hope that She will graciously accept this worship from an undeserving child of Her Own.” The “Hindu Nation” is approximated to the “common Mother” and both are objects of worship. ( Golwalkar’s We or Our Nationhood Defined : A Critique by Shamsul Islam with the full text of the book; Pharos Media & Publishing P. Ltd., New Delhi 110025; page 5.)

4. Chetan Bhatt of Goldsmith College, University of London, has written a very incisive and well-documented analysis, Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths; Berg, Oxford and New York, 2001. He points out that the song Bande Mataram is “virtual anthem for the contemporary Hindutva movement” (page 27). It means “Hail to Thee O Mother (land)” and figures in Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s novel Anandamath. Chetan Bhatt characterises the slogan Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Victory to (Holy) Mother Land) as the “Hinduised nationalist slogan” (page 45).

He recalls that “during the 1991 election, the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] had campaigned on the slogan ‘Towards Ram Rajya’ (the mythological ‘rule of Ram’). Its election manifesto declared it to be ‘the party of Nationalism, Holism and Integral Humanism’ and exactly reproduced Savarkar’s definition of Hindutva: ‘From the Himalayas to Kanya Kumari, this country has always been one. We have had many States, but we were always one people. We always looked upon our country as Matribhoomi, Punyabhoomi (Motherland and Holyland).’

“The Hindutva political language of the 1991 BJP manifesto was deceptive in crucial respects. For example, its one apparently affable declaration that ‘Hindus and Muslims are blood-brothers’ did little more than rehearse the old Savarkarite formula that Muslims were originally ‘biological’ Hindus…” (page 172).

The BJP’s 1996 election manifesto declared: “Hindutva is a unifying principle which alone can preserve the unity and integrity of our nation. It is a collective endeavour to protect and re-energise the soul of India, to take us into the next millennium as a strong and prosperous nation. Hindutva is also the antidote to the shameful efforts of any section to benefit at the expense of others…. On coming to power, the BJP government will facilitate the construction of a magnificent Shri Rama Mandir at Janmasthan in Ayodhya which will be a tribute to Bharat Mata. This dream moves millions of people in our land; the concept of Rama lies at the core of their consciousness.”

In a brilliant passage Chetan Bhatt writes: “Of considerable significance is that a strategy involving devotio n was used, rather than the more austere paths of esoteric knowledge or physical practice that exist in (especially upper) caste Hinduism. This required the formulation of novel overarching nationalist religious symbols, which cannot be said to have traditional endorsements within Hinduism, but which could nevertheless not be explicitly opposed either. One key symbol was that of Bharatmata, a devotional rendering of the Mother Goddess as equivalent to the geographical territory of ‘Akhand Bharat’.… In the Hindutva symbolic imaginary ‘ Bharatmata’ stands in for ‘Hindu Rashtra’, and worship of the latter, …” (page 187).

5. Dr D.R. Purohit’s able work Hindu Revivalism and Indian Nationalism (Madhupriya, Bhopal, 1990) deserves a much wider readership than it won. What he writes of Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s novel explains its true significance. “Durga, the goddess and the mother became one with the country, the greater goddess and the mother. In his well-known novel, Anandamath, he presented the country as Goddess Kali, black because of intense misery, naked because denuded of wealth, with human skulls round her neck because the country was no less than a vast burial ground. But the future India would be like radiant Durga who will annihilate the ‘demons’ and usher in an era of plenty and prosperity.”

English translation of Bande Mataram: “I bow to thee, Mother, richly-watered, richly fruited, cool with the winds of the south, dark with the crops of the harvest, the Mother! …

‘It is thy image we raise in every temple, For thou art Durga holding her ten weapons of war, Kamala at play in the lotuses and Speech, the goddess, giver of all lore, To thee I bow!

‘I bow to thee, goddess of wealth, pure and peerless, richly-watered, richly fruited, the Mother! I bow to thee Mother dark-hued, candid sweetly smiling, jewelled and adorned, the holder of wealth, the lady of plenty the Mother!’ Thus nationalism with Bankimchandra became the national religion. Nationalism as the religion of India could be the only way of attaining the status of a national state” (page 76-78).

Anandamath’s depiction of the future “Mother India” was singularly religious: “Future Mother India was Durga, the goddess with resplendent face, wearing all sorts of weapons of force in her hands, and in the left hand seizing the hair of the Asura, her enemy, and in the right hand assuring all not to be afraid.” The revolutionaries, who moved incognito as “Sanyasins”, were like the characters in Anandamath. Durga, the goddess and the mother, became one with the country, the greater goddess and the mother.” (See J.N. Farquhar; Modern Religious Movements in India; pages 354-355 and 358).

Small wonder that the Congress Working Committee decided to excise some lines on October 26, 1937. A poem that invites surgery cannot become a national anthem that inspires all. Purohit adds: “Bankimchandra Chatterjee raised nationalism to the dignity of a religion. He stirred the souls of many men in this country by placing new religious ideals before them. The country did not remain with him a mere fact of geography. He identified the motherland with old religious deities. He added a new image—the image of the ‘Motherland’—in the pantheon of the Hindus. The ‘Bande Mataram’ song became an equally inspiring national hymn. In doing so, he promoted the spirit of nationalism and influenced the ideas of Bipinchandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose” (page 79).

6. Aurobindo Ghose’s contribution was no different, as Prof. Donald Eugene Smith noted in his classic India As a Secular State (Princeton University Press; 1963). “Some of the most passionate statements of the Extremist creed came from the pen of Aurobindo Ghose. ‘Liberty is the fruit we seek from the sacrifice and the Motherland the goddess to whom we offer it,’ he wrote in 1907. ‘Into the seven leaping tongues of the fire of the yajna (ritual sacrifice) we must offer all that we are and all that we have, feeding the fire even with our blood and lives and happiness of our nearest and dearest; for the Motherland is a goddess who loves not a maimed and imperfect sacrifice, and freedom was never won from the gods by a grudging giver.’ Aurobindo’s religious symbolism was much more than vivid imagery; he identified the country with its ancient faith so completely that patriotism and worship became indistinguishable. ‘Nationalism is not a mere political program; nationalism is a religion that has come from God.’

“The cult of Durga or Kali, with its tantric ritual and animal sacrifices, quickly became associated with revolutionary terrorism in Bengal. A pamphlet printed at a secret press called upon the sons of India to rise up, arm themselves with bombs, and invoke the Mother Kali. ‘What does the Mother want? A coconut? No! A fowl or a sheep or a buffalo? No! … The Mother is thirsting after the blood of Feringhis (foreigners) who have bled her profusely.’ While most of the Congress leaders condemned the terrorism in Bengal, Tilak gave veiled approval by his silence.

“Bepin Chandra Pal, another Extremist leader, wrote in The Soul of India that the traditional gods and goddesses who had lost their hold upon the modern Hindu mind were now being reinstated with a new nationalist interpretation. Hundreds of thousands of people had now begun to hail their motherland as Durga or Kali. ‘These are no longer mere mythological conceptions or legendary persons or even poetic symbols. They are different manifestations of the Mother. This Mother is the spirit of India. This geographical habitat of ours is only the outer body of the Mother. … Behind this physical and geographical body, there is a Being, a Personality—the Personality of the Mother’” (pages 90-91).

7. Yogesh Vajpeyi’s summing up is apt. “Though Raja Rammohun Roy was the first to attempt it, it was Bankim who gave the project to unite Hindus under one umbrella a mass appeal. His eulogy of goddess Kali in the hymn ‘Vande Mataram’ instilled the idea of the motherland as a divine entity” ( Indian Express; June 30,1998).

This is the record on “Bharat Mata”. When the upstarts of the BJP tell us that it is “anti-national” not to proclaim it, it is because they do not bear loyalty to Indian nationalism, but to Hindu nationalism or Hindutva.

A.G. Noorani

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