‘Jai Shri Ram’ In West Bengal: Whose Ram Is It Anyway?
The pantheon of Hindu Gods are now on standby, wondering who will be called on next for some political bidding.
From 'Tomaar Naam, Aamaar Naam, Vietnam, Vietnam' to 'Tomaar Naam, Aamaar Naam, Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram'.
If we trace the history of Bengal politics over the last six decades in a sentence, that’s what it would be.
Lord Ram's importance in the state of late has brought up many questions:
Is 'Jai Shri Ram' a “part of Bengali ethos”?
Or is it a BJP import?
And, most importantly: 'Ram ke naam se Mamata Didi ko gussa kyun aata hai?’
Let’s tackle the first question. Does Lord Ram or his worship have a history in Bengal?
Well, yes and no.
To begin with, the Durga Puja that we celebrate in the state is called 'akal bodhon'; roughly translated, it means the worship of Durga at an “uncustomary time”. It refers to the invocation of the goddess by Lord Ram in the month of Ashvin as opposed to the customary time of worship during the Basant season, in order to seek her blessing before his showdown with Ravana.
Bengal also has a very rich Vaishnava tradition. Ram and Krishna are worshipped as incarnations of Vishnu. However, Krishna-worship has remained more popular, thanks to the work of Vaishnav saints like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
So, while Janmashtami has historically been part of 'tero parbon’ or the 13 festivals in the Bengali calendar, Ram Navami has remained a private festival, mostly celebrated by non-Bengali Hindus.
There are also shrines of Lord Ram in places like Medinipur, Nadia and Howrah, and a Bengali version of the Ramayana was written by Krittibas Ojha in the 15th century.
Literature has mentions of Ram too, one of the most popular being Michael Madhushudan Dutta’s Meghnad Bodh Kabya where Ram was the anti-hero to Ravan. However, the predominant Hindu tradition in the state is of Shaktism – the worship of the Devi in her various forms such as Durga, Kali, Santoshi Ma... have evolved as the main forms of deity worship.
The greeting used most often is therefore 'Jai Ma Kali' or 'Joy Durga' and not Jai Shri Ram.
Does it mean that Ram doesn’t exist in Bengal? No. ‘
Does it mean that Ram Navami isn't one of Bengal’s most celebrated festivals? Yes.
Is this the case because Hindu festivals were marginalised? No.
Coming to the next question: Is Ram a BJP import? No.
But is the celebration of Ram Navami where kids march with swords a BJP phenomenon? Absolutely.
Many believe that the watershed moment for the party in Bengal was Ram Navami in 2017 when it was “celebrated”. This celebration had people, including children in their school uniforms, march the streets with swords and other weapons.
The imagery shook Bengal, and the argument supplied was: “Why are you not devastated when the same thing happens year after year during Muharram?”
This was followed by a larger celebration in 2018, during which communal clashes erupted in places like Asansol and Purulia, due to which 3 people lost their lives.
Soon after, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ became the party’s rallying cry in Bengal, just like ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ in other parts of the country.
The seculars called it aggressive communalisation but the voters… well, the voters have said what they had to say.
Which brings us to the third question: Why does 'Jai Shri Ram' trigger Mamata Didi so much?
Well, let’s just say 'Jai Shri Ram' is to her now what leftist unions, students of Presidency College and all things 'red' were to her before 2014.
Just like she famously called students ‘Maoists' when they asked her tough questions in 2012, she now calls anyone chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' an outsider and a criminal.
Ram is how the BJP won 18 seats in Bengal and Didi quite clearly won't have him around.
In what seems like an afterthought, the BJP modified its slogan to include 'Jai Maa Kali', in a bid to counter Mamata’s attempts of branding the party ‘anti-Bengali’.
Tired of beating each other up, both parties have decided to inundate each other with postcards bearing religious slogans.
Meanwhile, the pantheon of Hindu gods stay on standby, wondering who will be called next to do some political bidding.
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