Guest article – An Ahalya amidst us

By Nivedita Louis.

Maa…mata…the word evokes a deep emotion for us all Indians. Personification of nations as mothers- the motherland was a hitherto new concept that took off in India during the 1900s. The British called their Motherland Britannia 2000 years ago, The Scots named her Caledonia, the Germans though they loved calling it their Fatherland, had their own personification of the country- a robust blonde woman with a sword and German flag, christened Germania.

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It was in the year 1905 that  Abanindranath Tagore, the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore drew the first painting of Banga Mata. He named her Banga Mata as he thought it to be an embodiment of Maa Bengali. However, with a curious twist of fate, the saffron clad, four handed, ascetic look-alike watercolour struck gold with gusto as the 1905 Partition of Bengal fanned the patriotic fervor through Swadeshi Movement.

The Banga Mata quickly transformed into Bharat Mata, as Abanindranath was influenced greatly by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s work Anandmath of 1880s. As an act of ‘generosity’ towards the larger cause of nationalism, he renamed his Banga Mata as Bharat Mata and the name stuck.

The depiction of Bharat Mata from then on as the Mother struck at the roots of the Indian emotional system already on an overdrive and the Mother came to be depicted in so many forms. She featured even in matchboxes and textile advertisements. Imaginations of painters took wings and they drew hordes of her picture to lure more people into the freedom struggle.unnamed

In Tamilnadu, it was Subramania Bharati who laid the foundation for the Bharatha Thaai personification, impressed by a Bengali painting. It might have been Abanindranath’s version, no one knows. On April 10, 1909, the magazine of Bharati from Puducherry, Indhiya carried an advertisement of the new ready to launch magazine of Bharati- Vijaya where the Mother India is shown holding four children. The title read Bharat Mata in Hindi. The cartographed Bharat Mata became an instant hit in Tamilnadu.

The nationalist forces slowly penetrated the masses through religious places of worship, holding dramas, meetings and of course, through popular art. The Ashta Sakthi Mandapam of Madurai Meenakshi temple was renovated in 1923 and in one of the paintings depicting the Coronation of Goddess Meenakshi, a local painter included the picture of Gandhi. Irate British supervisor ordered it duly removed. The clever artist instead, painted long locks of hair in water colour to the Gandhi which was an oil painting. Slowly over the years as the colour wore off, Gandhi re-emerged. This instance has already been noted in history.

unnamed (1)But amidst us  has been a cheeky and sadly anonymous sculptor who chiseled, a beautiful sculpture of Bharat Mata in the Dhwajarohana Mandapam of Mylapore’s Kapaleeswarar Temple. The sculpture is an exact replica of a wall poster printed by Nagpur City Press, Bharat Mata with a crown, with flowing hair, clad in a saree, resting her left hand on a seated, decorated elephant, her right hand holding a Trishool, tied to which is the tricolor flag.

It is interesting to note that the Mandapam was a later addition to the temple, built in 1939, by Kaatupalli, Paiyur K N Shanmuga Mudaliar. That was when our freedom struggle was at its peak. What the reaction of the british would have been if they had realized it is subject to question. That was the time the Bharathiar songs and the Tricolor were banned.unnamed (3)

The sculptor who did the work proved his love for the Motherland. The Bharat Mata has silently stood for more than 70 years near our own Kapali- probably for someone to stumble on her and unearth her story! Agaligai, right in front of our eyes, in our own Mylapore!

Full time home maker and part time historian, traveller and columnist Nivedita Louis  does a guest post for us today.

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