Home Muslim culture Imaging the sacred cow as Mother India – The New Indian Express

Imaging the sacred cow as Mother India – The New Indian Express

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What was probably the religious or political ideology that determined the choice of theme, narrative structure, style, and why certain images or themes were recurring and popular at a particular time and space should be addressed in an art historical survey.

Only by seeking explanations for these self-imposed questions can art history reinvigorate itself to look at us both in the present and the past with a critical eye. However, rethinking art and art history in these terms must recognize from the outset that “human culture is made up of signs, each of which represents something other than itself, and the people who inhabit culture are busy giving meaning to these signs”. .” (Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson). In this sense, to enter into the socially constituted meaning of a work of art, it must be placed in a context that weaves it into a text from a system of signs.

This idea has recently reshaped the approach in the study of the social sciences. Despite this, art history as an academic discipline in Indian universities finds itself largely obsessed with the study of “representation”, interrogating style, iconography and patronage from religious and textual sources. . His reluctance to shed his habitual practice, in sum, shows his protracted interest in pursuing the notion of history and art that the nation had “imagined” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

As a nationalist project, some memorable episodes of history have been selected to build glorious cultural pasts. In the same way, he also forgot or deleted something “bad” from his story. As a result, countless riots and rebellions were either forgotten entirely or pushed aside from mainstream history to make it into “the wonder that was India” or “the amazing India”.

In following this sense of wonder and splendor, traditional art history remains dismissive of the popular visual culture of the past and therefore fails to offer a glimpse of looking at ourselves surrounded by similar images that permeate each of our daily spaces.

In this context, as an extension of the focus of my last discussion National Emblem Roaring Lion (July 20)I would like to draw attention to a brilliant study by Christopher Pinney, The Nation (not) photographed? Chromolithograph and “popular” politics in India, 1878-1995, which, in part, focuses on a series of posters of a ‘Cow Mother’. These posters were reproduced endlessly and widely distributed throughout the subcontinent, especially in northern India in the late 19th century. He analyzes them to show how a feeling of nation was articulated through his visual strategy.

In the first place, the poster looks innocent and harmless with the image of a sacred cow. But it has certain coded meanings to express through its images, which were apparently decoded in the context of a series of violent cow-slaughtering agitations of the 1880s and 1890s, the main cause of its production and circulation. .

Covered with gods and rishis over its entire body, the bovine is sacred and identified as the Mother Cow. In doing so, the cow not only becomes a sacred symbol, but also a sacred space – Mother India. Its details make this meaning explicit. Near the udders, a group of figures including Hindus, a Sikh, a Parsi, a Christian, a European and a Muslim are seen accepting milk from the milkman. It suggests assumed equality and community harmony.

However, the Muslim is shown in a dual role. Breaking the peaceful and harmonious moment of sacred ground, a butcher is depicted with a drawn sword moving towards the mother cow. With dark skin, long tousled hair and an open mouth full of teeth, this demonic figure is believed to be identified with a meat-eating Muslim. This interplay of meaning is further made explicit by a caption near his head: “he manusyaho, kaliyugi mamsahari jivomko dekho(Oh! humanity, look at the carnivorous souls of the kaliyug).

There are countless records showing that his viewers didn’t miss the point. An 1893 memo prepared by Indian Viceroy Lord Lansdowne (1888–1893) is telling. In response to the Earl of Kimberly’s question about the ever-increasing communal riots, Lord Lansdowne, quoted by Christopher Pinney, observes:

“[wandering ascetics] distributed throughout the country a picture of the cow, of a sort calculated to appeal strongly to the religious feeling of the people.

One, for example, depicts a cow being slaughtered by three Mohammedan butchers, and is titled “the current state”. Another shows a cow, in each part of whose body groups of Hindu deities and holy people are depicted, being beset by a monster with a drawn sword titled the ‘Kali Yug’ but which has been widely understood to characterize the Muslim community. .

Lansdowne also notes that Muslims were agitated and felt insulted because they heard of an image in circulation depicting a Muslim with a drawn sword slaughtering a cow.

Posters and calendars with the motif of a cow as a sacred symbol of a foster mother and mother India had been continuously reinvented and reproduced in subsequent periods throughout the country at an ever increasing pace.

While the religious sentiments and communal politics associated with it had been more widely accepted in the 20th century, it continued to proliferate uninterruptedly until the 1970s. Also from the 1980s it began to pervade our visual culture, but under new incarnations. I will come back to it on my next tour.

Chandran TV
Art critic and author. Teaches Art History at Thiruvananthapuram College of Fine Arts
([email protected])

What was probably the religious or political ideology that determined the choice of theme, narrative structure, style, and why certain images or themes were recurring and popular at a particular time and space should be addressed in an art historical survey. Only by seeking explanations for these self-imposed questions can art history reinvigorate itself to look at us both in the present and the past with a critical eye. However, rethinking art and art history in these terms must recognize from the outset that “human culture is made up of signs, each of which represents something other than itself, and the people who inhabit culture are busy giving meaning to these signs”. .” (Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson). In this sense, to enter into the socially constituted meaning of a work of art, it must be placed in a context that weaves it into a text from a system of signs. This idea has recently reshaped the approach in the study of the social sciences. Despite this, art history as an academic discipline in Indian universities finds itself largely obsessed with the study of “representation”, interrogating style, iconography and patronage from religious and textual sources. . His reluctance to shed his habitual practice, in sum, shows his protracted interest in pursuing the notion of history and art that the nation had “imagined” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a nationalist project, some memorable episodes of history have been selected to build glorious cultural pasts. In the same way, he also forgot or deleted something “bad” from his story. As a result, countless riots and rebellions were either forgotten entirely or pushed aside from mainstream history to make it into “the wonder that was India” or “the amazing India”. In following this sense of wonder and splendor, traditional art history remains dismissive of the popular visual culture of the past and therefore fails to offer a glimpse of looking at ourselves surrounded by similar images that permeate each of our daily spaces. In this context, as an extension of the focal point of my last discussion The Roaring Lion of the National Emblem (July 20), I would like to draw attention to a brilliant study by Christopher Pinney, The Nation (Un)Pictured? Chromolithography and ‘Popular’ Politics in India, 1878—1995, which in part focuses on a series of posters of a ‘Cow Mother’. These posters were reproduced endlessly and widely distributed throughout the subcontinent, especially in northern India in the late 19th century. He analyzes them to show how a feeling of nation was articulated through his visual strategy. In the first place, the poster looks innocent and harmless with the image of a sacred cow. But it has certain coded meanings to express through its images, which were apparently decoded in the context of a series of violent cow-slaughtering agitations of the 1880s and 1890s, the main cause of its production and circulation. . Covered with gods and rishis all over its body, the bovine is sacred and identified as the mother cow. In doing so, the cow not only becomes a sacred symbol, but also a sacred space – Mother India. Its details make this meaning explicit. Near the udders, a group of figures including Hindus, a Sikh, a Parsi, a Christian, a European and a Muslim are seen accepting milk from the milkman. It suggests assumed equality and community harmony. However, the Muslim is shown in a dual role. Breaking the peaceful and harmonious moment of sacred ground, a butcher is depicted with a drawn sword moving towards the mother cow. With dark skin, long tousled hair and an open mouth full of teeth, this demonic figure is believed to be identified with a meat-eating Muslim. This game of meaning is further made explicit by a legend near its head: “he manusyaho, kaliyugi mamsahari jivomko dekho” (Oh! humanity, look at the carnivorous souls of the kaliyug). There are countless records showing that his viewers didn’t miss the point. An 1893 memo prepared by Indian Viceroy Lord Lansdowne (1888–1893) is telling. In response to the Earl of Kimberly’s question about the ever-increasing communal riots, Lord Lansdowne, quoted by Christopher Pinney, observes: “[wandering ascetics] distributed throughout the country a picture of the cow, of a sort calculated to appeal strongly to the religious feeling of the people. One, for example, depicts a cow being slaughtered by three Mohammedan butchers, and is titled “the current state”. Another shows a cow, in each part of whose body groups of Hindu deities and holy people are depicted, being beset by a monster with a drawn sword titled the ‘Kali Yug’ but which has been widely understood to characterize the Muslim community. . Lansdowne also notes that Muslims were agitated and felt insulted because they heard of an image in circulation depicting a Muslim with a drawn sword slaughtering a cow. Posters and calendars with the motif of a cow as a sacred symbol of a foster mother and mother India had been continuously reinvented and reproduced in subsequent periods throughout the country at an ever increasing pace. While the religious sentiments and communal politics associated with it had been more widely accepted in the 20th century, it continued to proliferate uninterruptedly until the 1970s. Also from the 1980s it began to pervade our visual culture, but under new incarnations. I will come back to it on my next tour. Chandran TV Art critic and author. Teaches Art History at College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram ([email protected])