It’s just not about diversity. There are truly some of the most unusual sights and tourist attractions that you will encounter in India. But often the murkiness of religion, politics and “idiotic norms” muddies the water. The reason for today’s Monday feature is two-fold:
Firstly, 23rd March is celebrated in India as the Shaheed Diwas or Martyrs’ Day. It’s the day when India remembers the three freedom fighters – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, who were hanged to death in the Lahore Central Jail in British India. It’s not the day that sparked this feature post. But a twitter post came to my notice. Consisting it’s a cartoon, I still felt it requires its due mention since it invariably leads to my second point.
History is on the verge of repeating itself. 37 years ago, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had given a unanimous judgment in favour of Shah Bano – a 62-year-old divorced Muslim woman – that she had the same right to alimony under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as women of other faiths enjoyed. The judgment aroused a storm of protest from Muslim organisations. The Rajiv Gandhi government hurriedly enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, which limited the wife’s right to alimony to the capital sum agreed upon by both parties at the time of marriage and three months’ worth of sustenance. Although a succession of subsequent court judgments evened the balance somewhat, they could not repair the damage this did to the secular credentials of the Congress, and of Indian democracy. The latest furore is obviously in reference to The Hijab vs uniform controversy that erupted nationally on January 1, 2022, when six girl students of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial college in Udupi gave a press conference to protest against the college authorities’ denial of permission to keep wearing their hijabs after entering their classrooms. While the spotlight on the Karnataka government has yet to be resolved, the latest controvery steps in with the the discussion of introducing Bhagavad Gita as part of the new school syllabus.
Why am I talking about “values”? Well, it intriguingly and ironically, reminds me of my trip to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh in February 2018 where I met the second most unique shrine in India – the Bharat Mata Mandir. (You will know about the first one soon enough!! :))
This shrine to Mother India predates Independence. Built in 1936, the Bharat Mata Mandir was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi. It is located in Varanasi’s Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith campus, built by the university’s founder and freedom fighter Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta. Under the guidance of Durga Prasad Khatri, 30 workers and 25 masons worked for 6 years and their names are carved in one corner of the temple.
The highlight of the temple is not the presence of any idols for divine interventions, but the enormous topographical map of the undivided subcontinent of India, built in marble on the floor of the temple. Mountains, rivers and seas are intricately outlined but there are no manmade boundary lines. The Indian Map constitutes of Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma (now Myanmar) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on Makrana marble. The map portrays the Himalayan ranges including Mt. Everest and K2 peaks, the oceans, rivers, and plateaus on precise. The scale and depth are also mentioned alongside.
With no prescribed rituals to follow, the temple invites the visitor to contemplate the idea of India for themselves. Unlike the hype of Varanasi from its busy streets to the most famous Kashi Viswanath jyotirlinga temple to the pre-Aryan Lolarka Kund fertility pond, this temple literally redefines what is it to be Indian, without fanfare, without any code of conduct, or without any lines of discrimination. On Republic Day and Independence Day, the map is immersed in water to make its water features more lifelike.
The temple also has the entire poem of Vande Mataram (also pronounced as Bande Maataram; বন্দে মাতরম্, Bônde Mātôrôm transl. Mother, I bow to thee) written in highly sanskritized Bengali by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in 1870s inscribed on the wall panels at the entrance. The poem was included in his 1882 Bengali novel Anandamath. The poem was first sung by Rabindranath Tagore during the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. The first two verses of the poem were adopted as the National Song of India in October 1937 by the Congress Working Committee, prior to the end of colonial rule in August 1947. Interestingly, the first two verses are an abstract reference to mother and motherland, whereas the later verses does mention goddesses such as Durga. Another interesting fact:
There are 65 seconds of circumstantial specification for the rendition of this song unlike the national anthem “Jana Gana Mana” that specifies 52 seconds.
Motherland. Madre Patria. We are born of a nation, and we are shaped by its features. Whatever that nation offers — whether it’s hardship or opportunity — is our inheritance. When we see ourselves belonging wholly to our nation, it can be difficult to decipher its flaws and shortcomings. We make excuses for its failures and contradictions, just as family members sometimes cover for one another. It’s a form of denial. Conversely, when your own nation lets you down, when it leaves you vulnerable, when it fails to make good on the promises of citizenship, the sense of betrayal you’re left with is nothing short of traumatic.Tracy K. Smith (author of Wade in the Water; Life on Mars, winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
Interesting isn’t it? From conceptualising India as a feeling to bigotry in the name of religion, the spokes on the wheel of the change has somehow become very twined, twisted and maybe blurred. While I have always believed that Change is the only true constant, I still wonder if it can be counted as change if there is no growth in association? Thoughts?
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