Durga, Kali- The fierce Goddess of Revolutionaries-II

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The votaries of Bharat Mata ensured that along with the caring and nourishing nature of hers, she could pick up weapons at will so as to not to be perceived weak or passive especially at the times when the colonial state itself was trying to create a narrative of how weak, passive and lack of courage the subjects possessed (see part-I). The colonial officers initially were not off the mark in suspicions of Durga and/or Kali as being mapped to the mother India, however, they were concerned over the combative and fierce persona that were revealed as visual imagery during the early twentieth century. The secret associations with violent anti-colonial motivations whose agendas mushroomed in different parts of India were indeed devotees of Durga and/or Kali.

Nirmala, The goddess Durga. Printed by Jothi, acquired circa 1995.

H.L. Salked the magistrate on special duty assigned to investigate the militant secret society Anushilan Samiti in Dhaka in 1908 was alarmed to discover pictures of Kali on its premises, and in response to the discovery he writes,

“In this picture of Kali, Siva upon whom she is dancing, the severed heads which form her garland and the various limbs and heads lying above and receiving the attention of crows and jackals, are white. I am told this is a recent change in the setting of pictures of Kali.” 

He also notes,

“Kali-Adya Sakti, primordial energy—a manifestation of Durga, for the purpose of destroying the demons . . . The demons of oppression are, of course, the English, and naturally, Kali is the favorite deity of the revolutionist who takes his vows before her image.”

At least one patriotic worshipper of the goddess around 1906 confirmed this colonial suspicion:

“The Mother asks for sacrificial offerings. What does the Mother want? The coconut? No . . . sheep or buffalo? No . . . She is thirsting after the blood of the Feringhees [Europeans] who have bled her . . . Slaying the Feringhee white goat . . . is not murder . . . for behold! Kali rises in the East.”

From the words of H.L. Salked it can be predictably observed that the British officers were worried about the ‘terrible Goddess’ as Valentine Chirol, a British Journalist and historian would describe it. The Colonial administration was most probably confirmed about the view that the cosmic demons or the Mahisha or the white goats were replaced with the white Britishers,  hence, they turned their attentions towards Bazaar and the offices/locations of the revolutionary groups to catch hold of more of such visual imageries as well as the relevant allegorical explanations. One of the Prominent, James Ker’s work, ‘Political Trouble’ which includes collection of literature for the benefit of British officials, consider’s Kali’s and/or Durga’s wrath responsible for inciting Indians to kill the colonial officers.

James Ker, a member of the influential Indian Civil Service and a personal assistant to the director of Criminal Intelligence from 1907 to 1913 had direct access to the highly confidential documents relating to political literature which had become a major embarrassment for the British Officials. The frontispiece to James Ker’s widely read report from 1917 on the numerous anticolonial activities of the early nationalist century featured one such lithograph printed in Calcutta possibly around this time. The image of Naren Kali in Howrah shows a naked blue-grey Kali sticking out her bloodied tongue and wearing a garland of severed male heads. She holds a blood-stained scimitar in one hand, and a severed head in another, while she stands over the pale body of Siva laid out on a lotus. 

Naren, Kali. Chromolithograph published by K. P. Hazra, Howrah, early twentieth century. (© British Library Board, T21493)

In another pamphlet, Bhawani Mandir, attributed to Aurobindo Ghosh, which served as Hindu religious ideals for the revolutionary work, points out that Bhawani is one of the manifestations of the Durga, the tutelary Goddess of Shivaji. The pamphlet starts with salutations, ‘Om Namo Chandikayi’, He further advocates,

Image Reference: greatheretic.wordpress.com

“A temple is to be erected and consecrated to Bhavani, the mother, among the hills.’ ‘Who is Bhawani?’ ‘Bhawani is the Infinite energy, She is love, She is knowledge sometimes, She is renunciation sometimes, She is pity. This infinite energy is Bhawani, She also is Durga, She is Kali, She is Radha the beloved, She is Lakshmi, She is our Mother and the Creatress of all of us’”

Aurobindo in this pamphlet to awake the sleeping tamas, inactivity within the Children of Bharat Mata writes, ‘In the present age, the Mother is manifested as the mother of the strength. She is pure Shakti.’ He further adds,

“It is mighty Shakti, composed of the Shaktis of Millions, of units that makes up the nation, just as Bhawani Mahisha Mardini sprang into being from the Shaktis of the all millions of the God assembled in one mass of force and wielded into unity. The Shakti, we call India, Bhawani Bharati is the living unity of Shaktis of three hundred million people; but she is inactive, imprisoned in the magic circle of tamas; the self-indulgent inertia and ignorance of her sons. To get rid of the tamas we have but to wake the Bramha within.”

The pamphlet was noticed by British officials for first in 1905 when a copy was anonymously sent from Baroda to the Head Clarke to the District magistrate at Broach. Another copy, in the course of searches in Calcutta, in May 1908, was found at the BandeMataram office with the name of Barindra Ghosh on the cover, also a copy was found at the Bomb store, Harrison road and another one in the house of Debrata Bose, who was committed for trial as a member of conspiracy but acquitted.

Another book named ‘The Chandi’ whose four copies were found in the Maniktolla Garden, had the following quotations from the songbook of one of the members of Anushilan Samiti who was most probably a poet. The connotation ‘wicked demons’, ‘Shambu’ and ‘Nishambhu’, ‘Chanda’ and ‘Munda’, used here are for none other than the Britishers,

“Come oh Mother, Bharabi! Come oh Mother adorned with Skulls, to this earth, making the earth tremble with dreadful sound to kill the hosts of wicked demons ”

“Here a cremation ground extends far and wide; Come of mother to the cremation ground of India. Where will you find India a better place? The demons have reduced India to ashes, commiting terrible oppression upon her.

“Come oh, Chandi to punish in a different age, Chanda and Munda. Scoundrels are mangling the body to pieces with violent fury. The earth is dumbfounded and tears flow from the eyes of all at the insolence of Shambu and Nishambu”

James Ker surely did take notice of demons mentioned above and could relate that they were none other than Britishers as ‘different age’ here meant ‘current age’. To quote James Ker on this literature, ‘The book called Chandi is named after one of the epithets of Goddess Durga regarded as the destroyer of the demon Chanda.’ He further adds, ‘The destruction of the demons is a regular metaphor in the Indian revolutionary literature, the Gods being the people of India and the demons the English and this accounts for the great popularity of the book in these circles.

With the ‘destruction of demons’ being mapped to ‘killing of Englishmen’, James Ker maps one such attempt by an Indian revolutionary Khudiram Bose, to kill Magistrate Kingsford, which unfortunately led to the death of Mrs. and Miss Kennedy as a ‘first revolutionary sacrifice’. He insists that “the Muzaffarpore bomb outrage,” which claimed the lives of two Englishwomen on April 30, 1908, was “the first revolutionary sacrifice to the goddess Kali” since it had been enacted on the night of a new moon, which was deemed by nationalists such as Bipin Chandra Pal to be the most auspicious time to appease the Goddess.

Given the swadeshi sentiments and the boycott of the pardeshi products at the initial years of the twentieth century, there were many imageries and the associated allegorical explanations which fueled the swadeshi sentiments. One of such image, titled Rashtriya Jagruti (National awakening), which was printed around 1909 by Sridhar Waman Nagarkar of the central Indian town of Nasik and subsequently proscribed find a detailed description of it based on a report prepared by Sir Charles Cleveland, who was charged with investigating seditious organizations in the Central Provinces. In this picture, the goddess Devi, charged with killing the demon Mahisasura in Hindu mythol­ogy, is reincarnated as the multi-armed Rashtriya Jagruti. Ker interprets the picture for his colonial bosses in the following manner:

“Her lion or tiger is labeled ‘Bahiskar’ (Boycott) and is attacking the bovine monster labeled ‘Pardeshi Vyapar’ (Foreign Trade), on whose back the goddess has placed her foot after, apparently, cutting off its head. The demon near the severed head of the monster is labeled ‘Vilayati Mal’ (English Goods) and is being bitten in the arm by a snake called ‘Swabhiman’ (Pride of Self), which is held in one of the hands of the heroine, while the same demon’s head has been injured by the knife labeled ‘Svavalamban’ (Self-Independence). The demon being held by the hair [by the goddess] is labeled ‘Desha Droha’ (Disloyalty to Country) . . . the hand which holds his hair is labeled ‘Desh Seva’ (Service of Country)”.

Unfortunately, we don’t have an image representing such an explanation, however, the image depicting Devi killed the wicked demon Mahisha was used with full measures for arousing the ‘Swadeshi’ sentiments too.

Another British critic, Valentine Chirol, in his work, ‘The Indian Unrest’  was drawn to “a very popular picture of the goddess” showing her “holding in her hand her head, which has been severed from her body, whilst the blood gushing from her trunk flows into her open mouth . . . The great goddess as seen therein symbolizes ‘the Motherland,’ decapitated by the English, but nevertheless preserving her vitality unimpaired by drinking her own blood”.

Goddess Chinnamasta|Image Reference: Ishta Devta

Here, too the image is not locatable, however, Sumathy Ramaswamy in her work, ‘The Goddess and the Nation Mapping’, with Chirol’s description suggests it to be the fierce Chinnamasta, a goddess who is not popularly evoked for the visualization of Bharat Mata.

Not surprisingly, innumerable such paintings of the fierce, warrior Goddess of the Hindu Pantheon i.e. Durga, Kali, Chandi with the cosmic demons as Britishers and/or the old age being matched to the current colonial rule were seditious pictures which hastened the passage of the Press Act of 1910 that armed the colonial state with the power to proscribe such “mischievous” harbingers of the fall of the Raj. However, that didn’t stop the revolutionaries to put forward such imagery that could strike terror in the minds of the British.

Note: The images used are for purely educational purposes.

Reference:

  • The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India, Sumathy Ramaswamy
  • Political Trouble in India: 1907-1917, James Campbell Ker
  • The Indian Unrest, Valentine Chirol

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Sairaj Desai
About Sairaj Desai 9 Articles
Sairaj is currently working in a start-up based on providing 5G solutions. He is a post-graduate from the communications background in IIT, Madras. His areas of interest include history, culture, heritage and science & technology.