There is currently some controversy about installation of a Bharat Mata murti at Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The claim is that this is installing ‘fake & modern political deity’ – something with no connection to the authentic religious sphere.
This is false.
Bharat Mata is ‘recent’, in the sense that this form of the deific appears more than a century ago and in context of political struggle. But is an expression of an undying essence.
We can directly link this to, of course, understandings for Devi – the theology fits admirably.
We can also link this to another familiar ancient concept – that of the Nagara Devata, the Deific of the City. Something that is quite well attested in various places – I am mostly familiar with NW and Central Asian examples, due to the nature of my work.
Now there is no contradiction between the Protector / Patron (Matron?) of the City being, well, just exactly that – and also an expression of a more broadly engaged with deific. Indeed, quite the opposite. We frequently find specific prominent Gods in such ‘loka-lized’ expression.
To the point that when it comes to the archaeological side of things, we actually have significant difficulty some of the time telling whether a Goddess representation is this or that Goddess ‘generally’, or is actually the specific Goddess of the City.
The ‘Protector of the People’ understanding is, of course, pretty prominent running right back into the Vedas for Devi; and we can demonstrate via the quite directly parallel understandings to Bharat Mata right across the IE sphere that it is not a ‘modern innovation’ –
even if this specific occurrence is modern-prominent; and the last such deific expression to actually be remembered consciously to be a Goddess rather than, say, a ‘mascot’ or whatever we want to think of Mother Svea, Britannia, or the way Madrid feels about its Cybele statue.
The best example, of course, is Athena – of Athens. Her City. This does not vitiate Athena being worshipped elsewhere – but that ‘special connection’ is quite iconic.
We similarly find the theonymics, the titles, the epithets – Πολιας (Polias), Πολιουχος (Polioukhos), Πολιατις (Poliatis), all effectively meaning ‘Of the City’, ‘Protector of the City’; and there are many other “City-of” theonyms out there as well.
All that has happened viz. Bharat Mata – all that is “modern” – is that instead of the ‘People’ being a rather narrow thing.. the inhabitants of a single city, or the people of a single small tribe of the earlier Iron Age or later Bronze.. the Goddess is encompassing a country.
A modern nation-state, sure – with more than a billion inhabitants, and stretching out across a pretty immense territory not only of earth but of mind as well.
Ancient (indeed, Eternal) concept – Modern times, therefore Modern expression. Easy.
Now if people want to get up in arms about alterations to the Kashi Vishwanath precinct being ‘political’ – then that is something they are going to do. If they want to say that adding such a Murti to the precinct is an ‘innovation’ – then ok, sure, perhaps it is.
But it is not the case that Bharat Mata is ‘fake’ or purely ‘political’ , simply because She is ‘recent’ in expression.
One might as well say that Bhavani was somehow ‘fake’ because She appeared to ShivaJi in order to energize a ‘political’ project called the Marathas.
Or, as I have said – insist that the Goddess expressions that cities and nations of antiquity hailed as Protectress of the City, of the Nation , were somehow “fake” because of that fact.
Funnily enough, something kinda like that actually happened once. Some years after Cybele [‘Great Mother’, ‘Mountain Mother’] was brought to Rome at the height of the Second Punic War in order to empower the Romans to victory over the hated Carthage – a Tribune of the Plebs objected.
This did not derail the military victory which She gave to the Romans, however said Tribune wound up mysteriously dying of illness shortly following his objection to the ‘political’ engagement of the Great Goddess.
In 2018, I wrote an (A)Arti-cle for Indian Independence Day looking at the broad Indo-European expressions of this National Deific concept and showing that Bharat Mata is not some threadbare “innovation” of ‘branding’.
But instead an ancient, vital and quite definitely Divine figure that is simply experiencing a modern saliency.
Given the ‘symbolism’ at play in the Kashi Vishwanath restoration effort – it is not out of keeping that an ancient Deific in modern expression be found there.
After all – some Flames are truly eternal !
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