Sunday, April 19, 2009

Raminder Kaur, “Spectacles of Nationalism in the Ganapati Ustav of Maharashtra”

Raminder Kaur, “Spectacles of Nationalism in the Ganapati Ustav of Maharashtra” in Picturing the Nation: Iconographies of Modern India, Richard H. Davis ed. (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2007), 206-241

SUMMARY: Article looks at the nationalist representations in mandap at the annual Ganapati festival in Mumbai and Pune. Categorizes the mandap (208), gives a history of the festival (209-211), describes the 6 kinds of nationalist (rashriya) displays (211-213). The rest of the essay is spent describing the 7 tropes used in the tableaux (214): first explains the use of religious themes in the tableaux (215-218); heroes (218-220); events (221-223); space (223-225); gender (225-228); the Other (228-230); progress (232-235); and anicononic emblems (236-238). The author ends by saying these types or “imagining” are different than the media’s type (239-241).

208-“This chapter considers the main features of…nationalist displays and performances.”, like those at the Mumbai Ganapati Ustav (festival) celebrating India’s independence anniversary, “Indigenously described as rashtriya (nationalist), such displays deal directly with issues to do with the nation—its history, present constituencies, crises, celebrations, and its hope for future prosperity and well-being. The tableaux can be presented in the form of a single vignette or, as…a masala display. Masala narratives invoke religious stories embroidered with the historical, social or topical, and then channeled into a nationalist narrative. For purposes of analysis—an act not removed from festival participants themselves—rashtriya displays can be segregated further into different kinds of nationalism, such as Hindu chauvinistic, “secular” and regionalist. Hindu chauvinist tableaux tend to prioritize the holiness and integrity of the nation and the Hindu religion. “Secular” ones tend to have the Congress predilection. They emphasize the brotherhood between all national religions, primarily, Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity, although they posit external threats intent on breaking this bhai-bhai (brotherhood) situation. And regionalist displays refer specifically to a Maharastrian sense of heritage and cohesion. These versions of nationalism lie on a continuum where imagery and concepts to do with particular versions of nationalism seep into one another.”

209-in preparation for the festival, many various members of the community participate in constructing the pandal (canvass to protect visitors from monsoon rains) and the mandap (shrine) for Ganish/Ganapati, many local mandal (organizations) are also involved

-“The deity, Ganapati, is considered vighnaharta (the remover of obstacles), sukhakarta (one who makes happiness and peace), and dukhaharta (one who removes pain and sadness). The scribe of the Mahabharata embodies both wisdom and mischief. He is considered fearful and warrior-like yet benign and beneficent. Effectively, he is an ambivalent god, Ganapati’s devotees see him as lying on the threshold of the divine and mundane realms—a teller of mythical tales, but also a feature of much more earthly tales as shown by the elaborate festive tableaux. In several cases, as we shall see below, Ganapati’s characteristic as a remover of obstacles is vividly re-enacted in terms of his role in ‘removing’ evil from Indian society—whether it is in the form of colonialism, political shenanigans or other social ills.”

210-“The public (sarvajanik) festival was indeed the outcome of an emergent nationalist consciousness. From the 1890s, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and a number of other key community leaders, such as the Ayurvedic doctor Bhausaheb Rangari, were instrumental in politicizing the Ganapati ustav. When the British took over the Peshwa’s rule in western India in 1818, the festival was primarily a religious occasion confined to households and mandirs. From the 1890s, the celebrations were conducted on a grand public scale over a period of eleven days, along with ceremonies, lectures and debates on current issues. British colonial laws against political gatherings were circumvented with the use of a religious festival to publicly disseminate views against the ills of society—including colonialism.”

-“In recent years, nationalism has undergone catalytic change. Anti-colonial struggles embedded in the history of the sarvajanik Ganapati utsava have predisposed the festival to revivalism of nationalist ideals as well as it being part of a campaign for ‘public awakening’ (lokjagriti). The public circuits of media networks and collective gatherings provided a performative occasion to disseminate messages that were probably motivated but often veiled in religious allegories.”

-some have complained about the “’vulgarization’ of the festival—namely, the excessive commercialism, racketeering, and ‘obscene’ behaviour and dances during immersion processions. This was largely a middle-class response to what was seen as the increasing plebeianization of a religious festival. In 1986, newspaper-oriented competitions began to encourage festivals based on religiously and socially progressive grounds. Of these, the Girnar-Loksatta Ganeshotsava competition is one of the longest running, having been established in 1987. Organizers here advocated the principle of national integration through festival praxis, a theme that was adapted by other festival competitions. Centennial celebrations since 1992 recalled the festival’s glorious past during colonial times, when it was seen as having a progressive role to play without undermining its religious purpose to unite people with each other and with god.” Cf Kaur Performative Politics

-“Such project have been coterminous with the political agenda of the Hindutva brigade, particularly since the 1980s…(211)the festival was increasingly used to propagate ideas conducive to the Hindutva project. Topical matters were often filtered through Hinduitva-influenced narratives in mandap tableaux”, Therefore, “versions of the nation are played out in several ways in the festival context”, plus “contradictions and contestatory opinion unsettle overriding conclusions as to the festival’s character…the repertoire of images and themes is shared, but it is given a twist in accord with self- or group-interests. Tehre is a fine line between rashritya (nationalist) and rajnaitik (political) conduct. However, their ethical associations are distinct and, in the end, subject to partialities: to be seen as rashtriya is to be seen as selfless devotion to the nation, where as rajnaitik conduct is seen as self-interest and manipulative.”

-rashriya displays “are a significant component of a wide range of displays”, lists 6 kinds: 1) “religious or mythological” that depict stories of gods and goddesses, usually from the Mahabharata or Ramayana, (212) and Ganapati is sometimes palced in it; 2) historical (aitihasik)—recent historical events (Shivaji, Pshwa’s Court, British, etc); 3) “topical or ‘latest’”, current news; 4) “social” (samajik)—“public good or health-related themes”, environmental awareness, vaccinations, education, need for jobs, water conservation; 5) “theme-based”: Ajanta caves, Nine Planets, etc; 6) “Entertaining” or “commercial”, circus, dancers, etc

-sometimes they are combined; and if you look at cultural representations as indicating nationalism, then they all could be seen as nationalistic and therefore also (213) political, but “rashriya tableaux are still indigenously perceived as distinct from dharmik ones: the former clearly about the nation, the latter ostensibly about religious subject matter. Thus I do not directly consider tableaux depicting solely religious themes around the figure of Ganapati here, only so much as to acknowledge their potency in fueling an already ‘spiritualized culture’ of nationalism. [cf Kapferer Legends of People] The relevance of dharmik tableaux for nationalism in the contemporary festival is implicit due to the (re) constructions of the nation as a Hindu site. Re-presentations of versions of a more inclusive nation, although still articulated in the folds of a Hindu festival, correspond to festival participants’ notion of rashtriya tableaux. In the process, views of the nation are fetishized and eternalized; sacrifices for and veneration of the nation are encouraged and consistently maintained.”

213-“Nationalist ideas appear to be ubiquitous in contemporary India, as increased economic liberalization, media connections and international polity have led to the emergence of greater self-awareness and identity politics.” Which existed in colonial times but increased with growing media economic, and political networks [cf Kothari “Globalisation and Revival of Tradition”], and “narratives of modernity” are mixed with older images to adapt with the Indian context

214-“tropes through which the nation is visualized are premised on several interrelated themes”: 1) people idealized as heroes in struggle for sovereignty and democracy; 2) important events for national consciousness; 3) “representations of gender”; 4) “constructions of the Other”; 5) “presentations of space, nature and territory”; 6) “indices of national progress and modernization”; and 7) “aniconic emblems that evoke the national ideal”

215-“The majority of Hindu festival participants acquiesce with the hegemonic schema, particularly as representations of the nation, and indeed of Ganapati, tend to represent moral universes, and are believed to lie beyond contestation.”, though there are still different kinds of representations/interpretations [cf Richman “Epic and State: Contesting…” and Monkekar “Television Tales”] but there is a “’bounded’ range of innovations and negotiations” and none are copies of another; and even for a single display the creators (from the mandal president to the art director) have different ideas of its meaning, and human agency

216-and since the political ideas are mixed with ethics and other values, “the political can be sanctified” in colonial times nationalistic ideas had to be hidden but now nationalistic themes are free to be and are promoted, but political views are subsumed to the people appear as though they are putting society before self interest

-Ganapati is highly revered, seen as the “guarantor of justice” and “has come to symbolize the nation itself for festival participants>’, “Conversely, the nation—with its constellation of heroes and heroines, particular histories, achievements, heritage and perceived vulnerability inb the face of outside (217) threats—is considered as sacred and ineffable as the deity.” And is thus the “object of devotion” [direct quote from Kapferer], and the mandaps are then combined with “entertainment idioms” which also (218) give pleasure to the viewer

218-the heroic figures displayed include martyrs, freedom fighters, social workers and even sports and cultural icons “as they are deemed to contribute to the glory of the Indian nation on an international scale”; “As national status lends an air of divinity to the protagonists, their personal and political allegiances are leveled out so that they appear as ‘personalities without personalities’…they are essentially types without psychological individuality, hypostasized icons rather than realistic portraits.”, and while realistic portraits cause viewer to identify with the person, the icon status of these mandal doesn’t

219-and “historical figures” are used even if the user has different political allegiances (eg Shiv Sena and its mandal idolize Gandhi); but “there is perpetual cultural contestation” over these figures (eg some Hindutva groups praise Nathuram Bodse, Gandhi’s assassin) so there is a hierarchy of national icons

-and the figures have “valorized the notion of sacrifice”, the (220) “renouncer-in-the-world”; and people also represent ideals like “unity in diversity” and “soldier, farmer, scientist” (eg mother Theresa and Tilak, respectively)

221-iconic events are portrayed to show a place has a historical lineage (often pre-dating 1947) to create national identity; assassinations play important roles; (222) some religious tableaux show stories of a halcyon national past that becomes corrupted and is redeemed through events—and so this idealizes certain activities to help the nation succeed in its struggle against tyranny, (223) it’s an “invented golden age”; and contemporary issues are also included; (223)-also there are representatives of India’s land and landscape, with (224) the image of the state often anthropomorphosized and scarred or crying over various problems (Kashmir, famine)—(225) representations of nature are linked to “the sanctity of the country”

225-there are common gender prepresentations, “reinforced by latter-day Hindutva”, they show most often “masculine fighters” and “upstanding” females, though there are some exceptions; and men are shown as the products of tilling, (226) “the sons of soil” and women are shown as the tillers and sacred cow—opposed to the androgynous idea adopted by Gandhi “to defeat colonial dichotomies”—men are also associated with Ram, women with Sita—a testament to Chatterjee’s idea (in The Nation and its Fragments) that the inner/home spirituality is extended to make the homeland a sacred space; (227) plus women’s issues are put into the idea that the nation is deteriorating; and women are held up to the sati ideal and (228) therefore are increasingly domesticated

228-representations of the Other are “required” for nationalist discourse, and they vary in rashriya tableaux—British, Muslim, etc; “The Other acts as (229) a foil against which national identity is further crystallized”, Hansen showed that there was a “demise of the Ganapati Utsav as a national vehicle in the 1950s and 1960s when nationalism was seen to have reached its goal and the Other in the form of colonialism was officially expelled in 1947”, but wars with Pakistan (’48, ’64, ’71, ’99) and China (’62) caused an increased feeling of national identity; and now Muslims are “stereotyped as the over-sexed, deceitful, disloyal aggressor” [cf Chakravarty “Towards a Genesis…” in Communalism in India], and frequently Muslims/Pakistanis are shown as non-human beasts or (hindu) demons and disrupting “the harmonious fabric (230) of society”; (230) “internal cleavages of caste and class are to varying degrees mitigated” , and sometimes people of all religions are shown as living together in harmony

232-citing Anderson, says: “Looking forwards, going upwards, advancing forth, gliding into a ‘limitless future,’ are all metaphors which are implicated in nationalist representations.”, and mountains are seen as epitomizing that height; and technological devices (eg planes, satellites, computers) are also often displayed to represent India’s advancement, (233) but these advancements are only considered good if they are useful for the common man, (234) though early on technology was seen as representative of greedy capitalists (235) threatening traditional ways of life, but now this has changed and “This is where the modernist pantheon of ‘farmers, soldiers and scientists’ resides in the national imaginary.”

236-nationalist iconographies are also common and get embedded with “emotional attributes”, eg the tricolor flag is seen as immortal [cf Singh Our National Flag], though there is contestation because Hindutvas promote the saffron flag, but (237) since 1971 it has been illegal to desecrate the tricolor flag as well as national historic sites and the national bird, the peacock, though there was once a Ganapati murti with the tricolors; they have also used a lot of images of light (alluding to darkness of anti-national forces)—though Dyer in White (1997) showed how “light is a fundamental quality of European Christian imagery, which correlates with an ethic of racialized whiteness.”—but fire also connotes purity/sacrifices; plus there’s the internationally popular torch of freedom; so heroic figures are bathed in light in the sound and light shows, and evil figures are in darkness; (238) darkness is also associated with colonialism and self-interest

234-the media allows for the nation’s imagining, but performative events are another kind—not just (240) “projections of the mind, but also the physicality of presence amongst like people. To be in the same place at the same time is not necessarily to say that we make face-to-face encounters but the knowledge and experience of being there in spirit and in mind enables other vectors of national imagining.”, and “The representation of space in the compositions of mandap tableaux, and the territorial use of space, and in the public spread of the mandap, and the public processions to immersion sites are crucial to the national project in envisioning, activating and asserting territorial control and prosperity.”

240-due to the festival’s timing, it becomes an “experience of history in present”, (241) children dress up as national heroes, and so history is also re-lived

241-and because the ideas presented are fluid and can be downplayed or emphasized, through their complex relationships, this is “propagation of cultural, or quite literally, spectacular nationalism”

No comments: