“Bharat Mata ki Jai!” is a common slogan that one is bound to hear every now and then in India, especially during patriotic events. Although we hear this so often, few of us reflect on the whole concept of Bharat Mata or Mother India and how it emerged.
The personification of India through Mother India was a very interesting and important notion that took birth during India’s freedom struggle against the British. As can be seen from the history of our country, almost every clan, whether it be the Rajput kings or the Marathas, had a clan goddess who was worshipped before the kings led their armies to the battlefields. It was believed that the blessings of the goddess would lead them to victory. Thus, clan goddesses were a symbol of hope and triumph. So, it can be said that this belief also inspired the creation of the Bharat Mata.
In India, Goddesses, especially those associated with warfare, such as Durga and Kali, have a strong iconography. While Durga is shown riding a mighty tiger (or lion), Kali’s garland of severed heads and skirt of severed hands vividly depict her ferocity. Such depictions of powerful goddesses conditioned people's imagination in a way. Hence, Bharat Mata's image too, was imagined as a nearly similar portrayal of strength and valor.
However, contrary to people’s belief Abanindranath Tagore created a Bharat Mata that neither had a wild animal as a ride nor a petrifying appearance. She was also not armed with any kind of weaponry. So, who was this Bharat Mata, and how did she instill nationalist values among the Indians? Let’s explore in-depth!
Bharat Mata Painting by Abanindranath Tagore
ABANINDRANATH TAGORE'S BHARAT MATA
Bharat Mata, created by Abanindranath Tagore is unique in every aspect. Unlike popular Indian goddesses, Bharat Mata, represented by Tagore, is a simple yet godly young woman clad in a plain saffron saree draped in the Bengali style. Even though she is absolutely unembellished, she radiates immense beauty. Here, she does not look like a goddess, but a simple traditional Indian woman. It is her multiple hands and the halo around her head that gives her a divine appearance.
In her four hands, she holds a Rudraksha mala, a white cloth, sheaves of paddy, and a palm leaf manuscript. The Rudraksha mala is strongly associated with Shaivism and is also known as the beads of salvation. Thus, it represents the spiritual strength of the nation. The piece of white cloth that she holds refers to the clothing that we wear. While the white color may be a symbol of peace, it may also represent cotton, which has always been an important contributor to India’s economy. The palm manuscripts are the Vedas that are the source of all knowledge and reflect the country’s strong educational background. Lastly, the rice paddy emphasises the rich food that our country produces. Thus, Tagore’s Bharat Mata is a personification of India’s rich economy and cultural heritage.
The Bharat Mata depicted by Tagore is a gentle, vulnerable, and saintly figure that acts as a reminder of the many gifts our motherland grants us- Shiksha (knowledge), Diksha (spiritualism), anna (food), and Vastra (clothing). No doubt this painting helped Indians reconnect with their lost heritage.
Bharat Mata painting was created in 1905 or1906 as a part of the Swadeshi movement. During this period, the entire country was bursting with rage after the partition of the important cultural, political, and economic center- Bengal, in 1905. However, this painting that became a symbol of the nationalist movement and inspired more recreations to instill patriotism amongst the citizens was not meant to be called "Bharat Mata" initially. In fact, Tagore wanted it to be an ode to the Bengali women and hence, wanted to call it “Bongo Mata” as a symbol of women empowerment. But the nationalism that the painting quietly exudes soon touched the hearts of the Indians, and thus, Tagore’s Bharat Mata became a national symbol of the country.