The conundrum known as Bharat Mata

The greatest shortcoming of Hindus in the information age is their inability to weed out distorted information, and oscillating between exuberance or despair over issues that do not matter. Lets face it – if we could effectively weed out or stop reacting to such information, there would be no need for a site like this. The challenge is further compounded by the widespread prevalence of a certain breed of overzealous keyboard warriors – ‘Instagram-Hindus’ aka the ‘Spiritual-but-not-religious’ type, who unwittingly undermine Hinduism in their polemics against Abrahamics and Marxists.

It is relatively easy to identify them. Coupled with an authentic inability to think, they go after praise or fame with no concern regarding the long term impact of their actions. Their entire existence revolves around anti-Abrahamism instead of having anything to do with Hinduism. Since they haven’t read any Hindu scriptures, they go around sermonizing that Hinduism doesn’t have one book, one God, or even an established set of rules. “We can also pray in the shower, why make a specific room for puja ?” summarizes their lazy approach to Hinduism. To preach to the local unwashed masses, they will get their Hinduism gyan from Speaking Tree, mostly accidentally whilst perusing Page 3 to see if their latest party pictures are published.

As long as it suits their political agenda, they elevate the Constitution to the operative Dharmashastra of the current era, dissing Gurus and Paramparas all along. Therefore, it comes as not surprise when asked to choose between Dharma and nation, they come up with the cringest comment “My dharma teaches me nation comes first”. Their irrational exuberance for the very state that is dismantling Hindu institutions right under their nose will certainly reserve them a special place in naraka. Ironically, they are willing to pay this small price, because in their convoluted minds it is more important to be positioned against Abrahamics instead of for Dharma.

The biggest disservice these keyboard warriors have done to Sanatana Dharma is tampering with the structure or logic of sadhana system, without having sufficient basis or Adhikara, and on flimsy, fantastic ideas such as ‘God accepts all prayers even if one violates all rules’, and equating the political definition of patriotism with adherence to Dharma. This is a sure shot way to erode Hindu systems one step at a time, till eventually it resembles the fanatical monotheistic ideas these warriors claim to be fighting.

Vibhishana’s Dissent – Dharma vs Nation

Ramayana is unambiguous when it comes to this conjured-up dilemma. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of Ramayana knows that the key takeaway from the Vibhishana-Ravana spat is that Dharma comes before nation. Vibhishana sided with Dharma instead of his family, kinsmen and country (Dharma being personified as Lord Sri Rama). He pleaded with Ravana to return Sita ji as that was the right and moral thing to do

न नः क्षमम् वीर्यवता तेन धर्म अनुवर्तिना |

वैरम् निरर्थकम् कर्तुम् दीयताम् अस्य मैथिली || ६-९-१६

It is not appropriate to make enmity uselessly with Rama, who is valiant and who follows righteousness. Let Seetha be given away to him.

Yuddha Kanda, Sarga 9 , Verse 16

त्यजस्व कोपम् सुख धर्म नाशनम् |

भजस्व धर्मम् रति कीर्ति वर्धनम् |

प्रसीद जीवेम सपुत्र बान्धवाः |

प्रदीयताम् दाशरथाय मैथिली || ६-९-२२

Abandon soon your anger, which destroys happiness and piety. Resort to righteousness, which augments joy and fame. Become placid so that we may live with our sons and relatives. Let Sita be given away to Rama.

Yuddha Kanda, Sarga 9 , Verse 22

Before you draw narrow conclusions from the above verses, let us categorically point out that love for the motherland too is propounded in our scriptures. After killing Ravana, Sri Rama visits Rishi Bharadwaja’s ashram on his way back to Ayodhya. He enquired about the welfare of his mothers and Ayodhya, to which Rishi Bharadwaja replies –

मित्राणि धन धान्यानि प्रजानां सम्मतानिव |

जननी नन्म भूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसी || ६-१२४-१७

“The friends, the riches and the grains are highly honoured in this world. Mother and mother-land are far superior to even the heaven.

Valmiki Ramayan, Yuddha Kanda, Sarga 124 Verse 7

Clearly, the Ramayana places love and respect for motherland higher than desire for heavens. However, innumerable examples in our scriptures reiterate that one never goes against Dharma to obtain heaven. Similarly, one doesn’t abandon Dharma irrespective of love for the motherland (or the Constitution). Hindus were well versed with this fundamental principle for yugas, until late 19th century, when India’s independence movement gained traction. Not only did we mess up priorities of an independent nation, but also ended up deifying the motherland. With the benefit of hindsight, we can postulate that the former was the natural outcome of the latter.

Origin of Bharat Mata

There is no doubt certain aspects of Hinduism got an impetus during India’s independence movement when Puranic allusions were used to boost the movement. One such deity which lent credence to the movement was “Bharat Mata

‘Bharat Mata’ by Abindranath Tagore, 1905.

The earliest such depiction was during the early 20th century. Here, Bharat Mata for the first time was depicted as sadhvi in saffron clothing with a halo behind her head. In her four hands she held a sacred manuscript, an akshamala, a vastra and rice foliage. In essence, she was conveying that motherland had gifts of knowledge, spiritualism, food and clothing. The idea of Bharat Mata was well received by Hindus and soon various representations such as in martial form as Durga mata in tricolor clothing or blessing freedom fighters started to pop up and stirred patriotic feelings among Hindus.

In 1934, the Bharat Mata Mandir opened in Varanasi. Interestingly, there is no anthropomorphic image in the mandir – instead, the map of India is celebrated. This rare map covers Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka on a marble platform and is placed in the centre of the building. It was to inculcate faith and reverence towards mother India among freedom fighters. Certainly, the deity served the intended purpose of being the rallying point for freedom – depictions of her forlorn with white skinned mlecchas whipping her aroused passions. Unfortunately, it also ended up giving a feeling of permanency to this deity. According to Hindu scriptures, one does not earn merits or de-merits by worshipping a non-existent. However having devotion to such an entity does eat into the time meant for bhakti and sadhana for the actual Devis and Devatas.

Bharat Mata by PS Ramachandra Rao (1937)

Ironically, the favorite punching bag of Hindus, Jawaharlal Nehru, was helping the Hindu cause when he replaced divinity from Bharat Mata with Marxist ideology. In his “Discovery of India” musings he pushed the favorite Marxist trope of common man being inherently good and collectively having powers no less than that of God.

The scene opens with a panoramic visual of India and its colourful landscape. Occasionally, as Nehru reached a gathering, a great roar of welcome would greet him-‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’! He would ask the crowd unexpectedly what they meant by that cry, who was this ‘Bharat Mata’, whose victory they wanted? His question would surprise them, and then, not knowing what to answer, they would look at each other. He persisted in his questioning. At last a vigorous jat, wedded to the soil from immemorial generations, said that it was the Dharti (the good earth) of India that they meant. What earth was it? Their particular village patch, or all the patches in the district or province, or in the whole of India? Nehru would then endeavour to explain that India was all that they had thought, and much more. The mountains, the rivers, the forests, and the broad fields which gave them food, but what counted ultimately was the people like them who were spread out all over this vast land. Bharat Mata was essentially these millions of people, and victory to her meant victory to these people!

Bharat Ek Khoj – The Discovery of India Episode 1

Had he succeeded, the largely religious milieu would have soon understood that the myriad form of Bharat Mata was merely a “horses for courses” during the freedom struggle. Alas! Nehru failed miserably, and decades of depicting India as a Hindu goddess led to the belief that its not only a patriotic, but also a religious duty to partake in causes deemed nationalist by powers at the helm, even when such causes happen to be against dharma. This message was dutifully popularized by Bollywood, and ably exploited by politicians of all hue and colors over the decades, and continues to the present day. A ‘masterstroke’ in this experiment was conducted recently, as part of the so-called beautification drive in Kashi to convert it from a Tirtha Sthala to a tourist spot, a statue of Bharat Mata was installed, a full blown attempt to accord it Puranic deity status.

Know The Nation on Twitter: "The statue of Bharat Mata at the Kashi  Vishwanath Dham corridor #KashiVishwanathCorridor #DivyaKashiBhavyaKashi  #kashivishwanathtemple #bharatmatakijai" / Twitter
Statue of Bharat Mata installed at the Kashi Vishwanath Dham corridor in 2021

Final Thoughts

It is well established that post-modern Hindus suffer from a penchant to worship conjured up deities. For instance, in the 1960s, worship of ‘Santoshi Maa’ got popularized – a deity who has no mention in Itihasas or Puranas, and whose iconography spread through poster and pamphlet art, finally reaching its zenith with the 1975 film “Jai Santoshi Maa”. Suffices to say that a Goddess who was easily accessible through simple rituals conjured up and promoted by Bollywood met the “need of the market” . But, Bharat Mata worship does not even call for any simple rituals – good old sloganeering is more than enough, as patriotism is now synonymous with Hinduism, according to our keyboard warriors.

Indeed, if one defines one’s Hindu identity merely as anti-Abrahamism or anti-Marxism, by all means take the ‘Bharat Mata’ worship to the next level by composing Aavahan mantras for Bharat Mata. The other alternative, although seemingly harder in the ‘instant gratification’ generation, is to expend a little effort to learn Hinduism from those who have the Adhikara to teach, and be obsequious to the pantheon of deities explicitly mentioned in our scriptures, for our own well-being. As millions of Rishis have affirmed over millennia, the second alternative is richly rewarding, both in the material world, as well as the spiritual.

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