Avik Chattopadhyay: Maatrabhumi or Pitrabhumi?

08 Nov,2022

Avik ChattopadhyayBy Avik Chattopadhyay

 

As a child I was fascinated by Abanindranath Tagore’s painting of a fragile lady with four arms and a beatific face. My mother explained to me that it was ‘Bhārat Mātā’. Then I came across the mention of Bhārat Mātā when I read the Amar Chitra Katha version of Bankim Chandra’s ‘Anandamath’. The curiosity grew. So, Bhārat Mātā must be the mother of Bhaarat. No, I was told. Bhārat Mātā is the goddess of Bhaaratvarsha, the land we live in. And Bhaaratvarsha is the land belonging to Bharatvansha, the lineage of a great legendary ruler called Bharat mentioned in both the Rigveda and the Mahabharata.

 

Abanindranath Tagore’s “Bharat Mata” of 1905; the cover of Bharati’s “Vijaya” in 1909

 

So, a large part of north Indians come from the lineage of Bharat whereas all Indians revere Bhārat Mātā. The revolutionary poet Subramaniya Bharati had carried the concept of Bhārat Mātā from Calcutta to Madras when he published the image in his magazine ‘Vijaya’ in 1909. So, what was a concept in 1880 in Anandamath became a depiction by Abanindranath in 1905 and an adaptation by Bharati in 1909. And the rest, as is said, is ‘Bhārat Mātā ki jai’.

 

The curiosity grew. So, what are we, a motherland or fatherland? Motherland, of course, said all!! If that is so, why are our mothers trudging 15 kilometres one way to get water while our fathers are tugging at their hookahs? Why does every government form ask for the father’s name and not the mother’s? silly boy, the land is the mother’s while the form is the father’s, okay? What really is the difference between a motherland and a fatherland? Why do some people address their nations as the motherland while for others it is the fatherland?

 

After some bit of reading and probing social scientists, I have understood that ‘motherland’ typically refers to the physical landform whereas ‘fatherland’ refers to the race. The former is about the soil or landmass while the latter is about the forefathers that lived on a certain landmass. While the former is defined by a certain boundary of land, the latter is more about the lineage irrespective of the geographical spread.

 

Hence, for nations like India, Russia, and Turkey it is the motherland whereas for Germany, Thailand, and France it is the fatherland. This has nothing to do with religion or faith, as for India it is ‘Bhārat Mātā’ while for Pakistan it is ‘Madar-e-Vatan’, both motherlands. Social scientists tell me that the reasons for such variances could go back to centuries when early man started travelling to various parts of the world out of what we know today as Africa. The fertile lands, full of food and water, were where the goddesses of fertility emerged, in various forms. And mother nature became a key deity to pray before and keep pleased. The soil was the “mother” and kept being addressed that way over the centuries, irrespective of faith. The inhospitable lands with severe weather were where more male deities emerged to help the community brave the forces of nature and move on. Hence the “father” becoming the pivot.

 

Can we therefore infer that the more ‘settled’ and ‘content’ peoples are the ones who are blessed with the motherland while the ones who are ‘restless’ and ‘conquering’ carry the flags of their fatherlands? Are those having motherlands not as patriotic as those proclaiming fatherlands? We surely cannot arrive at such sweeping statements. The Spanish and the English have been some of the biggest colonisers while the Swiss and the Tibetans have been some of the most pacific! While France has called itself a ‘fatherland’, one of its most enduring national symbols of Liberty is a lady, explaining for the Statue of Liberty in the US too. Joan of Arc has been a symbol of French patriotism. And the word ‘patriot’ is has been derived from the Greek ‘patris’ which meant fatherland, evolving into the Latin ‘patriota’ and then into the French ‘patriote’ and finally the English ‘patriot’.

 

Delacroix’s “Liberte” of 1830; Bartholdi’s head of “Liberty” in Paris in 1878, eventually into a full statue in New York in 1886

 

Then there are peoples who address their nations as ‘motherlands of our forefathers’ like the Jewish ‘Eretz Ha’Avot’, Japanese ‘Sokoku’ and Korean ‘Joguk’. The Persians use two specific terms ‘Sarzamin e Pedari’ and ‘Sarzamin e Maadari’ that are often used with more or less the same implication. Even in India there are distinct concepts of ‘Maatrabhumi’ and ‘Pitrabhumi’, the former being where I belong to and the latter being where I come from.

 

The subject is surely a bit confusing and has elements of intrigue and loving mystery for the same reason. And being still open to interpretations, it remains unbound by ritual and dogmas. In this context when I see bandana-clad, trident-laden, flag-wielding hirsute mobs shouting ‘Bhārat Mātā ki jai’ more to intimidate rather than endear, I wonder if they really bother with the subtleties and the underlying theology.

 

But then, as Tagore says, “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

 

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