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Letters from India
Worshiping Motherland as a Deity: An Indian Festival’s Way
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
The Bharat Mata Pujan, a five-day festival, held in Guwahati, India

The festivity of Bharat Mata Pujan, organized annual with an aim to celebrate the legacy, culture and traditions of the great land, kick-starts on 1 Kati of 1430 Bhaskarabda coinciding the Sharadiya Durgotsav. Thousands of cultural personalities, art connoisseurs and patriotic nationals assembled at Chandmari AEI field of Guwahati in the far-eastern part of Bharat to participate in the unique festival, where the motherland is worshiped as a deity.

Organized under the aegis of Pragnya (wisdom, a prominent cultural organization), the five-day spiritual extravaganza was inaugurated by veteran Sattriya dance exponent Nrityacharya Jatin Goswami on Oct. 19, 2023 by lighting the sacred lamp in presence of Taren Boro (former president of Bodo Sahitya Sabha), Jitul Sonowal (president of Pragnya), Manmath Barua (president of Bharat Mata Pujan committee) with other hundreds of distinguished personalities.

It was preceded by Akhand Bharat Parikrama, where thousands with earthen lamps on their hands walked around the Bharat Mata idol amidst a model of the Indian subcontinent comprising India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. A collective dance with nearly 1,000 participating young artistes on the theme of Vande Mataram turned out to be a visual feast and a group dance competition featuring 70 teams enthralled the audience.

A series of cultural programs including Guru Pujan, Kanya Pujan, Mohiyasi Matri Sanman presentation, Alpana contest, puppet shows, folk musical performance, mime shows, exhibition and splendid cultural functions are on the card during the festival showcasing the essence of Bharat. The visiting children are being entertained every evening by the traditional Assamese string-puppet theatres during the festival that will culminate on Maha Navami of Durga Puja.

Showing regard to motherland as a goddess may be unusual for other nations across the globe, but the Indian people continue calling the sacred land as Bharat Mata (or Bharatamba) since time immemorial. The personification of India as a mother goddess gained momentum during the freedom movement against the British colonial forces.

Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay introduced a hymn titled ‘Vande Mataram’ in his Bengali language novel ‘Anand Math’ (1882) and Kiran Chandra Bandyopadhyay performed a play titled ‘Bharat Mata’ in 1873. Since then Bharat Mata, wearing red-coloured sari with a saffron flag on hands with an accompanying lion, symbolises a unified motherland (Akhanda Bharat) for millions of Indians.

Abanindranath Tagore, the eminent artist nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, portrayed Bharat Mata as a Hindu goddess in a 1905 painting. The four-armed deity, wearing saffron coloured traditional garments, carried a book, an Akshmala, sheaves of rice and a piece of white cloth (symbolising Shiksha, Diksha, Anna & Bastra). Bharat Mata as a Devi was also drawn on the cover of Tamil language magazine ‘Vijaya’ (edited by poet Subramania Bharati) in 1909.

But initiating such a celebration in northeast India was always a challenge, as a larger population of this region pursued the idea of separate lands arguing that this part of the world came under the political Indian territory only after the 1826 Yandabu peace treaty (between the colonial British and Burmese invaders).

Even though many Assamese freedom fighters sacrificed in the national movement, a number of separatist militant outfits preached for independence (out of India) and they often adopted violent means to manipulate the people in their favour. They even succeeded in misguiding the indigenous population for some decades with the inherent support from anti-Bharat campaigners (including intellectuals and editor-journalists).

There was a time when the armed militants dictated the people not to celebrate the national occasions like Independence Day and Republic Day in the region (terming it the western part of southeast Asia). But a small group of brave scribes and patriotic citizens broke the diktat two & half decades back and started observing both the auspicious days at the local press club premise.

The bold initiative of those patriotic individuals of Assam to pay tributes to numerous freedom fighters, who made supreme sacrifices to make India a sovereign nation, by hoisting/unfurling the national tri-colour slowly helped change the mindset of a larger section of people in the society. It now keeps rolling with the initiative of concerned authorities and nationalist civil society organizations like Pragnya.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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