Bhārat Mātā

Sumathi Ramaswamy

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:
Bhārat Mātā


Bhārat Mātā (a Sanskrit phrase that literally translates as “India Mother”) is also widely known across India as “Mother India.” Since her emergence in the late 19th century, this novel mother/goddess has been imagined as the substantial embodiment of Indian national territory, as well as its inviolable essence. As a powerful rallying symbol in the struggle for independence from British colonial rule, she gathered together in common celebration and devotion large sections of the subcontinent’s vast population fissured by language, ethnicity, and local and regional attachments. All the same, she has also come to be perceived as escalating the rupture that had developed by the early decades of the 20th century between the dominant religious communities of the region (Hindu and Muslim) and that eventually led to the partition of British India in August 1947. Her very appearance on the Indian patriotic landscape compels us to ask why a nation yearning for form makes a turn toward the anthropomorphic figure of a female deity. The figure of Mother India also brings to the fore other critical issues, such as the place of religiously inflected symbols in modern democratic polities and politics, and the undertow of Hinduism in a country aspiring to be secular, diverse, and plural. There has been a tendency in the scholarly literature to identify Bhārat Mātā exclusively with the ideologies of a resurgent Hindu nationalism; however, it is clear that a heterogeneous range of interests, including leaders associated with pluralist parties such as the Indian National Congress, has contributed to the feminization of Indian national territory and body politic as mother and goddess. Indeed, such a feminization has been largely underwritten by the new ideology of motherhood that accompanied the consolidation of industrial modernity in various parts of the world in the 19th century, India included. All the same, the passions that Mother India has managed to arouse in the subcontinent, and the structures of sentiment in which she comes to be embedded, are also distinctive enough that she is not a mere recurrence in the South Asian context of comparable national icons such as Britannia, Marianne, or Our Lady of Guadalupe. As such, a study of her iconography, her deployment in nationalist politics, and the range of sentiments expressed about her furthers our understanding of the complexities and nuances of late colonial and postcolonial Indian modernity.

Article.  7921 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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