Myth and Reality The Historicity of Bharat Mata: Myth and Reality

By D N Jha

Due to the majoritarian propaganda often some ideas, figures, entities appear as historic as if they have existed without any change since the inception of human history. In the context of the Indian subcontinent the idea of ‘Bharat Mata’ is one such example that is being taken uncritically to the extent that it is difficult to dissociate the image of ‘Bharat Mata’ from the history of the subcontinent. Different imageries of Bharat Mata have been appropriated and utilized by all sections of the proponents of majoritarianism. In this lecture D N Jha traces the origin and changes in the idea of Bharat Mata. It appears that she was almost invented by the leaders of Hindu revivalism during the last quarter of nineteenth century and suddenly appropriated by those aspiring for a Hindu Rashtra as a symbol of their aspiration without participating in the anti-colonial struggle.

Not a single historical source of the subcontinent ever mentioned anything called ‘Bharat Mata.’ In fact, the idea of ‘Bharat’ representing the geographic entity expanding from Hindukush mountain range down to the Indian ocean in the south, is not recorded anywhere. Texts like Puranas and eulogies belonging to different rulers often mention either Bharatvarsha or Jambudvipa as a spatial entity suggesting an area between the Himalayas and Vindhya region. However, its contours are by no means fixed. In the wake of the revivalist movement during the last decade of the nineteenth century, the Hindu upper caste elements not only established a feminine identity of the motherland, i.e., Bharat Mata but also attributed upper caste symbols to the entity. Slowly she came to resemble a Hindu goddess. Her temples were set up in different parts of northern India, venerated and validated by both the communal and pseudo-secular forces. This distorted idea of a nation in the form of a mother has often used to persecute minorities, rationalists and those believe in the secular and inclusive idea of nation.