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Facets of Hinduism in the Cultural-Nationalist Programme of the Hindu Mela

Shivdasani Lecture
OCHS Library
Dr Swarupa Gupta
Monday, 26 November 2012 - 2:00pm

The Hindu Mela (1867) was the first organised expression of cultural nationhood. This lecture will examine the triadic intersection between (Hindu) religion,  culture, and nationalism as reflected in the Hindu Mela. It studies how this intersection formed a reference point for comparing the selective emphasis on Hindu heritage in the earlier (late nineteenth century and early twentieth century) phase, and later, in emphatically communal and political discourses. I will focus on the shifting connotation of ‘Hindu’, and argue that despite the nomenclature: ‘Hindu Mela’, there was a flexibility. This was evident in the contextual inclusion of non-Hindu groups in the Mela. Lines of religious divisions were blurred. The Mela was open to Indians of all classes, srenis [occupational-cum-social groups], and religious-communal groups. The ideology of the Mela was yoked to ideas about swadesh or Bharat Bhumi, which was not necessarily the land of the Hindus alone. This inclusion occurred despite the use of Hindu religious imagery. Using a comparative model, I track how and why this was different from / similar to the use of Hindu ideology and imagery by the Moderate Congress leaders and by the Extremists. In this regard, I explore how the Mela depicted / picturised Hindu Gods, e.g., a pushkar bijmala was given to Shiva; how Krishna was transmuted to the idol of Kali (done by Kasisvar Mitra, Rajendranath Deb and others). Further, I also address the issue of dissemination: for instance, at the national theatre, religious plays were staged. I also aim to investigate how the use of religious icons and images was accepted / not accepted by non-Hindus.

Swarupa Gupta, Ph.D. in History, SOAS (University of London, 2004) is Assistant Professor at the Department of History, Presidency University, Calcutta. Her publications include: Notions of Nationhood in Bengal: Perspectives on Samaj, c. 1867-1905 (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2009); an edited volume entitled Nationhood and Identity Movements in Asia: Colonial and Postcolonial Times (Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2012); and a book manuscript: Ethnicity, Otherness and Cultural Constellations in Eastern India and Beyond. She has also contributed to various peer-reviewed international and national journals such as Modern Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press), Economic and Political WeeklyStudies in HistoryJournal of the Asiatic SocietyEncounters; and also to several edited books. She is the recipient of Felix Scholarship, University of London Central Research Fund award, SOAS fieldwork grant, and an invited visiting fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany.