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The Idea of Bharat Mata: A Nationalist Mythology?

Devdutt Patnaik decodes the nationalist mythology behind the slogan, ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai.’

Updated
India
2 min read
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ has assumed renewed significance with allegiances being marked on the basis of refusal or willingness to chant this century-old slogan.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had recently said the new generation needs to be taught to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai‘, speaking against the backdrop of the JNU row over alleged anti-India sloganeering. AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, on the other hand, refused to say it “even if a knife was put to his throat”.

Recently, India has witnessed a remarkable escalation of political tensions over this century-old metaphor.

But, does just chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ prove one’s patriotism? And what really constitutes this ‘idea of India’?

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The Many Matas

Slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Jai Hind’ emerged during India’s freedom struggle.

As the RSS insists on chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ as patriotism’s litmus test, author and mythologist Devdutt Patnaik decodes the nationalist mythology. Drawing parallels from other modern nation-states in his article ‘Bharat Mata and other Matas,’ Devdutt Patnaik explains what really embodied ‘the patriotic spirit’ and ‘the idea of homeland mother goddess.’

If India has Bharat Mata, then Britain has Britannia, France has Marianne, New Zealand has Zealandia, Sweden has Mother Svea and America has Columbia. These are Homeland goddesses who emerged in colonial times and consolidated themselves as ‘mothers’ with the rise of the nation-state. The idea of homeland mother goddesses probably originated with the concept of Roma, embodiment of the Roman Empire, who was seen as laurel wreath wearing mother by the Romans, a w***e by Christian martyrs, and a saint in the Holy Roman Empire.
Devdutt Patnaik, Mid-Day

Patnaik argues that ‘the idea of Bharat Mata’ is nothing but a ‘nationalist mythology constructed by boys, for boys, who want to impress their Ma.’

The idea of Bharat Mata emerged during India’s freedom struggle from the 19th century plays of Kiran Chandra Banerjee, novels of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya, essays of Bipin Chandra Pal, and the painting of Abanindranath Tagore, where she is depicted wearing saffron, and holding in her four hands beads (faith), Vedas (knowledge), rice stalks (food) and fabric (clothing) for her children. Later, she was visualised riding a lion, or a chariot pulled by lions, with the tricolour flag in her hands, presented as Sita who is abducted by the British-Ravana or Draupadi abused by the British-Kichaka, or Kali, unclothed and naked, because of the greed of Britannia, and even Durga ready to lead ‘noble patriot children’ in war against ‘anti-national scum’.
Devdutt Patnaik, Mid-Day

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