Bharat Mata and Her Maps

Speaking of maps, Bharat Mata (Mother India) is often depicted in the shape of India. Or the map of India, as it were. The nationalism in these depictions is glaringly apparent. Depending on the way Bharat Mata is depicted, you can learn a lot about the creator or presenter of the map. Take, for instance, this map in the 1957 film Mother India. The map is created by the protagonist’s village as they come together to recover from a storm that destroyed their land. This film was meant to be released in celebration of the 10th anniversary of India’s independence. But along with independence came partition. The map presented here shows India as a complete nation, including East and West Pakistan. By including these regions in this map, the creators of the film were boldly proclaiming that these regions not only had a place in India, but were an essential part of it.screenshot from Mother India showing a map of India

In many renderings, Bharat Mata is depicted as the goddess. Here she is shown with her lion, bestowing her blessing on the image’s viewers.

image of the goddess standing on India

Or try this one on for size, where Bharat Mata becomes the map. Her body is exposed. This rendering was not particularly well received.

provocative painting of Mother India

In one instance, a temple has been built for Bharat Mata. This is a photo of the map on the floor of the temple.

photo of temple map

These examples take me back to Roland Barthes. In a previous post, I discussed Barthes’s approach to understanding signs. In his semiological system, words are hardly the only mode of communication subject to this analysis. In fact, images play a large role in his analysis of popular culture in the first half of his Mythologies. I don’t wish to get into the nitty gritty of that here. (It is Iron Bowl Saturday.) My point here is simply that these depictions of Bharat Mata are out there and there’s a good deal of work that they do that’s worth exploring. A good book on the subject is The Goddess and the Nation by Sumathi Ramaswamy. Okay, I’m gonna go watch some football now.