Bharat Mata Temple: A Shrine Dedicated to Mother India

Jul 15, 2021 0 comments

The ancient city of Varanasi, in central India, draws pilgrims from all around the world. One of the most important religious hubs and the holiest among all Hindu cities, Varanasi has a wealth of sacred sites ranging from temples to forts to river banks, but one that often gets overlooked is a shrine dedicated to the country itself.

The Bharat Mata Mandir (literally, Mother India Temple) located in Varanasi's Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith campus, was built by the university's founder and freedom fighter Babu Shiv Prasad Gupta. Instead of worshipping a god or a goddess, the temple has a huge topographical map of the Indian subcontinent carved in marble. The map is the temple’s deity.

Bharat Mata Temple

Photo: MIXA Co. Ltd/Getty Images

Construction of Bharat Mata Mandir began in 1918 and completed in 1924. The temple was officially inaugurated in 1936 by Mahatma Gandhi. The 20th century Hindi poet Maithili Sharan Gupt, fondly called Rashtra Kavi (national poet) composed a poem on the inauguration of the temple which is also put up on a board in the building.

The massive relief map of the undivided Indian subcontinent lies flat on the floor of the temple. The map depicts the mountains, plains and oceans in an exaggerated vertical scale. It even shows the continental shelf and the country’s various islands. Every year on the occasion of India’s Republic Day and the Independence Day celebration, the oceans surrounding the landmass is filled with water and the land areas are decorated with flowers.

Bharat Mata Temple

Photo: Anders Blomqvist/Getty

Aside from modern India, the map also shows Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, based on the nationalistic concept of “Akhand Bharat” (undivided India), which posits that all the above mentioned countries are one nation. The term took root during India’s independence struggle in response to the British’s “divide and rule” policy that sought to break solidarity among different factions and religions in India to weaken their movement.

The idea was propounded by activist and politician Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi and was supported by Mahatma Gandhi. During the 1937 annual session of Hindu Mahasabah, the Indian activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar declared that India “must remain one and indivisible from Kashmir to Rameswaram, from Sindh to Assam.” He said:

All citizens who owe undivided loyalty and allegiance to the Indian nation and to the Indian state shall be treated with perfect equality and shall share duties and obligations equally in common, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, and the representation also shall either be on the basis of one man one vote or in proportion to the population in case of separate electorates and public services shall go by merit alone.

Even today, more than seventy years after India’s partition and after numerous wars with Pakistan, many Hindu nationalists still dream of a grand Indian reunification.

Bharat Mata Temple

Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr


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