New Delhi: There is much debate swirling around the slogan “Bharat Mata ki Jai!" but the question is where and how did it originate?

From various accounts, the origins of “Bharat Mata" can be traced back to a play by Bengali nationalist Kiran Chandra Bandyopadhyay that was first performed in 1873.

Set during the famine of Bengal in 1770, it dramatizes the story of a housewife and later her husband who have to flee into the jungle and fall in with a group of rebels. A priest then takes them into a temple to show them Mother India.

Emboldened by this,they lead a rebellion which culminates in the defeat of the British.

From here, the concept of “Bharat Mata" seems to have caught on with Indian nationalists.

Similar depictions of Bharat Mata started to appear in Indian nationalist publications at the start of the twentieth century. Though varied, the images have a few basic essential characteristics.

They feature a woman in a sari with a crown in the foreground being depicted with or in relation to a cartographic representation of India.

As India’s struggle for independence progressed, nationalist heroes were incorporated into pictures, shown as standing next to the “mother" with a lion symbolizing courage and valour.

According to a 2012 thesis by TG Fiorito, a scholar at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, “as the British had created India’s cartographic shape through its colonial geo-body,a new cultural image of India was created by Indian nationalists."

A report in the magazine Manushi founded by author Madhu Kishwar, however, traces genealogy of the figure of “Bharat Mata" to a satirical piece titled Unabimsa Purana or “The Nineteenth Purana" by Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, first published anonymously in 1866.

In this, “Bharat Mata" is identified in this text as Adhi-Bharati, the widow of Arya Swami, the embodiment of all that is essentially “Aryan," the Manushi report says. It also refers to Kiran Chandra Bandyopadhyay’s play, Bharat Mata which depicts the image of the dispossessed motherland.

In the 1920s, Bharat Mata’s representations take on sharper political overtones, the Manushi essay notes, including references to Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh. Another significant change is the introduction of the tricolour in the image, it says.

The entry of the icon into the domain of religious practice goes back to the 1930s, the Manushi essay says. In 1936, a Bharat Mata temple was built in Benaras by Shiv Prashad Gupt and was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi.

The temple contains no image of any god or goddess. It has only a map of India set in marble relief, according to the essay.

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