Mumbai Devi and Rahul

via Dr Vijaya Rajiva published on February 11, 2010

During his recent visit to Mumbai it  has been reported that Rahul Gandhi had referred to Mumbai by its British name Bombay. If true , there is certainly a problem. The British changed the name that the Portuguese gave to the region : Bombaim(good bay). The Shiva Sena is reportedly angry with him. Habits die hard and it is sometimes difficult for Indians of the older generation to remember that it is Mumbai, not Bombay, although both Gujaratis and Maharashtrians have always called the city Mumbai.

Rahul on the other hand belongs to the younger generation of Indians and there is no reason why he should use the name Bombay, even fitfully.   However, in his case, there might be some subconscious reason: Rahul is only part Hindu and Mumbai is the Hindu name of the city because the British anglicized the name, partly because they were not able to pronounce the name but also to show that they were the masters of the land.

Many beautiful Hindu names were, so to speak, massacred by them. The list is long, not only with regard to names of places (Madras for Madurangapatnam for example) but also of people. It cannot be said once too often that Mumbai is Mumbai Devi, the presiding goddess of the city. She stands for Earth Mother and the temple of Mumbai Devi draws worshippers from all over the city. It is an ancient temple.

Rahul is a pleasant young man, with some good ideas for the youth of India but one wonders whether he is not also something of a misfit. His mother is an Italian Catholic, who despite the sari and the Hindi that she painstakingly learnt,  still  seems to  have the mindset of  an adherent of the Christian faith. Reports are that she surrounds herself with Christian advisors (converts from Hinduism) and that she is indifferent to the concerns of the Hindu population. Rahul must surely be influenced by the maternal attitudes to India.

It is not evident that she knows much about the history of India, not merely the freedom struggle era but long before that, long long before the coming of the British or earlier still of the Muslim conquerors. Her husband Rajiv’s grandfather  Jawaharlal Nehru , India’s first Prime Minister, wrote the book. The Discovery of India.

This was his tribute to the land of his ancestors, but Nehru was never quite comfortable with Hindu India. Rajiv Gandhi was only partly Hindu, his father Feroze Gandhi was a Parsi (a Zoroastrian) and the  Parsis are descendants of refugees from Iran, who fled the Muslim conquest of that ancient country. The Parsis made immense contributions to the freedom struggle and many of India’s first industrialists were Parsis and they still are. Everyone knows the name of Ratan Tata. They have blended well into India’s multi ethnic ethos. And other non Hindu Indians have also identified whole heartedly with India.

Non Hindu Indians of the two proselytizing faiths (Christianity and Islam) rarely display a sense of India’s ancient history, stretching back more than 5,000 years, and which is most definitely Hindu. Their vision is  limited to the specific time period of their community’s association with India.

Even though most Christians and Muslims in India are converts from Hinduism, their  historical, cultural and religious memories are only from the centuries after Christ, because of their upbringing in matters of their specific faith.

While many from the two communities were also freedom fighters, since Independence they have withdrawn into their own special cultural fold, with only a nominal association with Hindu India. This is not to deny that many of them have made important contributions to Indian social,political and  scientific life. Dr. Abul Kalam Azad’s name is known through out India. But the  withdrawal from the harmonious co existence with Hindu India has accelerated since Sonia Gandhi’s ascendancy to power in the Congress Party, according to observers.

Recently there was a video showing a Christian denomination singing the National Anthem with substitute names such as John Paul ! (See the video in Haindava Keralam ). And can Shah Rukh Khan, self described patriot, in all honesty place his hand on his heart and sing Vande Mataram, Hail to the Mother ! Recently he has been using Arabic words and phrases in his interviews. And the  Muslim response to worshipping Mother India has been negative, by and large.

Hinduism’s ancient Vedic heritage calls for worship of the celestial, atmospheric and earth deities which for Hindus makes India a Punya Bhumi (Holy Land). Hindu scholars have shown that worship of the female goddesses were central to Vedic worship and a reading of the Rig Veda  shows that goddesses are invoked and worshipped in the Vedic ritual. Dr. S. Kalyanraman, Director of the Sarasvati Research Center (Chennai) has pointed out that Bharat Mata is derived from Bharati, the name for Sarasvati.

Bankim Chandra Chatterji (anglicized name for Chattopadhyaya) wrote Vande Mataram hailing the landscape of Bengal and all of India and the goddess Durga symbolizes the great goddess Devi, with  her many names.

Hindu India’s memory is drenched with the vision of Mother Earth and the Great Goddess, of whom Mumbai Devi is a manifestation. Rahul cannot relate to this, so it seems. And who can blame him ? During election time he and his  sister  are known to sport a red tilak, a Hindu sign and she has even visited a temple.

But India is not only about vote banks and elections. It is also about the Punya Bhumi. If Rahul can remember the name Mumbai all the time and each time, it might be a first step towards that process of understanding Hindu India. Undoubtedly,  Liberal voices will be strident in their claim that India is not only for Hindus, but is also for all communities. The Sangh Parivar says the same thing !  That idea is not the preserve of only the Liberals.

It is at the core of Hinduism, something the minority communities do not always appreciate. Neverthless, the continued respect for Mumbai Devi and ergo of the name Mumbai is an important symbolic gesture (at least) for non Hindus to make. Otherwise they can be rightly accused of clinging to the old colonial name, whether British or Portuguese. There was a land there before they arrived, there were people living there, and they contributed to the building of the city. Hindu  kings ruled there and so on and so forth.

Mumbai did not spring up overnight as Bombay.  

In the opinion of this writer, Hindu India is the last of the great civilisational defences against extreme and mindless modernization and the destruction of the planet. Historically, the two monotheistic faiths have been destructive of the planet and peoples. Hindu India has never been a conqueror. Its religion, culture and sciences, philosophy,medicine  and all its achievements spread peacefully to various lands especially in China and the Far East, and to the North west, to Afghanistan and beyond.

If this ethos is to be preserved then Mumbai Devi must continue to be respected and maybe worshipped also.

Vande Mataram !

( The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university).

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