Many faces of the mother – Four voices on Bharat Mata and a quiz



Bharat Mata by Dr Lal Ratnakar

This image is from a post by Shachi Seth on India Resists:

Are demands for ‘azadi’ from blind state worship, systems of power and exploitation, such an impediment in the identity of Bharat Mata? Is the idea of Bharat Mata not ironic, given the depth to which the roots of patriarchy infiltrate our society? Is it not ironic that the Gau Maata and Bharat Maata which must mandatorily be respected and protected are bound by ideas of selfless giving and motherhood? Is the maata really not okay with being called by other names? Does the maata get to retaliate when her rights are violated, or is she an eternal symbol of sacrifice and docility? Where does the maata go when her resources are stripped to bring about development and when other females are stripped of their dignity on a daily basis? Is this benevolent, great mother in such great need of patronizing protection from the same men that threaten it when it isn’t dressed in a tri color sari? Will the mother ask me to go to the neighbors’ place if I happen to get in an argument with her? Am I not patriotic if I criticize my nation for knowingly or unknowingly allowing exploitation of its people?


During the Swadeshi movement in 1905, Abanindranath Tagore painted an image of ‘Banga Mata’ but decided to title it as Bharat Mata. An ascetic figure, very different from RSS’s Bharat Mata as depicted below.

This image is from an article by Sadan Jha in The Indian Express

In a milieu when allegations and allegiances are marked on the basis of slogans shouted or the refusal to chant one, it may be pertinent to note that Waris Pathan was willing to say ‘Jai Hind‘. His refusal was only for ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.

Both these slogans emerged during India’s freedom struggle. Both are reverential. Yet, both are markedly different. While in the first, the nation is abstract, in the second it is both abstract and an icon, a goddess, a mother. We know that various religions, including Islam, forbid the practice of idol worship and goddess worship…

In Kerala in early 1980s, three children of the Jehovah sect were expelled from a school for refusing to join other students in singing the national anthem. Instead, they stood in respectful deference during the singing. The sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not endorse or believe any sign/symbol of temporal power and only pays obeisance to its God, Jehovah. A case was filed against the children. The Kerala High Court maintained that, “there was no word or thought in the National Anthem, which could offend anyone’s religious susceptibilities; therefore, the plea that singing of the anthem infringed on one’s freedom of religion could not be sustained”. The Supreme Court, however, reversed the order by observing that no disrespect was shown to the national anthem by not joining in the singing. The court further observed, “Article 25 is an article of faith in the Constitution, incorporated in recognition of the principle that the real test of a true democracy is the ability of even an insignificant minority to find its identity under the country’s Constitution.”

What was applied in the case of the national anthem may also be judicious for a sacred national slogan like Bharat Mata ki Jai. Though the court maintained the significance of Article 51 (A) that deals with fundamental duties, it also recognised that the national flag and the national anthem are means to propagate the cause of the nation rather than the nation itself.

Om Thanvi writes in Sabrang, in an article titled हिंद को भारत से अलग करने की साज़िश:

यमुना पाट के आयोजन में पाकिस्तान ज़िंदाबाद के जवाब में रविशंकर महाराज ने ‘जय हिन्द’ कहा, भारत माता की जय तो नहीं कहा?

नहीं कहा, तो क्या फर्क पड़ता है अगर वे “जय हिन्द” कह देते हैं। भारत की जय बोलने में भारत माता की जय क्या शरीक नहीं? निश्चय ही शरीक है।

इसी तरह, ओवैसी अगर जय हिन्द अर्थात जय भारत कहते हैं, तो ‘भारत माता’ की जय अलग से बोलें न बोलें, उसमें इतनी हाय-तौबा क्यों?

भारत माता की जय बोलना न बोलना या राष्ट्रगीत वन्दे मातरम् को गाना न गाना देशभक्ति का पैमाना नहीं हो सकता। खयाल रहे, वन्दे मातरम् राष्ट्रगीत (National Song) है, राष्ट्रगान (National Anthem) नहीं है।

हमारे झंडे के रंगों की तरह कुछ जुमलों को भी धर्म और सम्प्रदाय के रंग में रंग दिया गया है। दुर्भाग्य से भारत माता की जय, मातृभूमे, Motherland, वन्दे मातरम् कुछ इसी किस्म के संघ-प्रिय जुमले बनते जा रहे हैं। उन्हें जबरन बुलवाने की जिद उन्हें सांप्रदायिक रंग दे रही है। भारत के झंडे में केसरिया रंग है, इसके बावजूद उस रंग से परहेज करने वालों पर हम उस रंग को उनके पहनावे आदि में थोपते तो नहीं; तो चुनिंदा जुमले या नारे उन पर क्यों थोपे जाएं? 


The RSS Bharat Mata, Hindu upper-caste and militant, superimposed on Akhand Bharat

This image is from an article by Shoaib Daniyal in

However, other streams of political thought in India at the time disagreed with this and strove to reclaim the Bankim Chandra tradition of conflating the nation with Hindu divinity. Chief amongst them was Vinayak Savarkar, a Maharashtrian who, like Aurobindo Ghosh, had once believed in violent struggle. Justlike Ghosh, Savarkar had been sent to prison by the British and had emerged a changed man, swearing to abjure anti-British violence.

In his seminal 1923 work, Hindutva, Savarkar outlined a nationalism based on religious identity. Charging the Indian landmass with sacredness, Savarkar’s definition of nationality was based on whichever religious groups had their places of worship in the subcontinent. Faiths such as Islam and Christianity, which originated in the Middle East, were seen to be unIndian. Otherwise a nonbeliever, Savarkar imagined “Hind” to be the “richly endowed daughter of god”.

Since then, Hindutva has reclaimed and greatly magnified the Bankim Chandra idea of Bharat Mata. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh conducts almost every event of its with blazing banners of Bharat Mata holding a saffron flag – and not the Indian tricolour.

Which leads us finally, to our fun quiz:


Image from the FaceBook page of Sherna Dastur

10 thoughts on “Many faces of the mother – Four voices on Bharat Mata and a quiz”

  1. Shoaib Daniyal in Scroll quotes social scientist Carl Olson as saying, “In 1875, Bankim Chandra composed Bande Mataram, a song about a benign goddess figure, which becomes an anthem for Indian nationalists in their struggle for liberation from British hegemony.” I don’t find anything remotely benign about Bankim C’s goddess figure. The monk Satyananda shows Mahendra the image of the motherland as she has become — presumably in 1771 — and she appears as Kali, “covered with the blackest gloom” and perfunctorily clothed in a garland of skulls.

    The “mother as she would be” in Bankim Chandra’s fevered imagination, in a Mussulman-less, British governed Bengal (“The English have saved Bengal from anarchy,” says BC in his preface to the first edition of Anand Math), is a ten-armed goddess, “her ten hands spreading on all sides and her varied powers appearing in them in the form of so many arms; the enemy trampled under her feet and the lion at her feet engaged in killing her foes; her hands point to all sides, the wielder of many arms and chastiser of her foes she stands…”

    BC is big on chastising foes.

    Vande Matarm, after the warm and fuzzy opening stanzas, quickly becomes homicidal. In Aurobindo’s overwrought translation,

    “Who hath said thou art weak in thy lands
    When the swords flash out in seventy million hands
    And seventy million voices roar
    Thy dreadful name from shore to shore?”

    How benign is that?

    The RSS Bharat Mata is only slightly more militant than Abanindranath’s somewhat anaemic figure, while a proper representation of Bankim’s Bharat Mata (or Banga Mata, the book doesn’t say) would make our eyes pop.


  2. The patriarchy of Bharat “Mata” is a diversion tactics of brahminical fanatics to wean away the rising opposition to the State-sponsored terrorism. The hue and cry on forcible slogan shouting to prove “patriotism ” by mostly “male patriarchal” right-wing fanatic BJP-RSS and their coterie is nothing but their desperate move to mobilise public through sentimentalizing the faith in “motherland” by glossing over strong protests on various important issues like discrimination, delay of justice to Rohith family, rising prices, etc. By keeping such trivial issues alive, the ruling elite is suppressing other debatable policies. “Pseudo nationalism ” is brushing under the carpet every space of dissent and dangerously camouflaging the real intent of values of politics.


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