The Goddess and the Nation

Mapping Mother India

The Goddess and the Nation

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 152 illustrations, incl. 100 in color Published: April 2010

Asian Studies > South Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Making the case for a new kind of visual history, The Goddess and the Nation charts the pictorial life and career of Bharat Mata, “Mother India,” the Indian nation imagined as mother/goddess, embodiment of national territory, and unifying symbol for the country’s diverse communities. Soon after Mother India’s emergence in the late nineteenth century, artists, both famous and amateur, began to picture her in various media, incorporating the map of India into her visual persona. The images they produced enabled patriotic men and women in a heterogeneous population to collectively visualize India, affectively identify with it, and even become willing to surrender their lives for it. Filled with illustrations, including 100 in color, The Goddess and the Nation draws on visual studies, gender studies, and the history of cartography to offer a rigorous analysis of Mother India’s appearance in painting, print, poster art, and pictures from the late nineteenth century to the present.

By exploring the mutual entanglement of the scientifically mapped image of India and a (Hindu) mother/goddess, Sumathi Ramaswamy reveals Mother India as a figure who relies on the British colonial mapped image of her dominion to distinguish her from the other goddesses of India, and to guarantee her novel status as embodiment, sign, and symbol of national territory. Providing an exemplary critique of ideologies of gender and the science of cartography, Ramaswamy demonstrates that images do not merely reflect history; they actively make it. In The Goddess and the Nation, she teaches us about pictorial ways of learning the form of the nation, of how to live with it—and ultimately to die for it.


“[A] spacious and perspicacious study . . . with vibrant, evocative illustrations.” — Lisa Blansett, Imago Mundi

“Ramaswamy has produced a vivid book that unearths a host of pictorial and historical evidence. The book belongs on the shelf of all serious South Asian scholars (graduate level and beyond) of visual media, history, and gender.” — Kathleen O’Reilly, Journal of Historical Geography

“Ramaswamy’s pictorial archive is impressive, as is her narrative of the contentious practices of Indian nation-making. . . . Her work, a visual genealogy of the nation’s becoming, poses important questions about the visual practices with which images are engaged and their affective charge realized.” — Mary Hancock, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“Sumathi Ramaswamy’s recent work The Goddess and the Nation serves as an elegant and insightful docent to the visual imagery of Bharat Mata in the late colonial and postcolonial periods. . . Ramaswamy’s most recent work is a valuable addition to the growing corpus of scholarship that engages Hindu nationalism in late colonial modernity and in the contemporary period. It also provides an important socio-political narrative for scholars who examine art, media, and visual culture in India in the modern period.” — Amanda Huffer, History of Religions

“The ideas presented in the book raise pertinent issues, and the discussion establishes a good starting point for further geohistorical investigations into the visual representation of Mother India. It stands on its own as a contribution to the visual study of Mother India’s appearance in paintings, posters, and print throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Goddess and the Nation reveals Ramaswamy’s passion for her subject as well as her exhaustive research on the topic.” — Pradyuma P. Karan, Geographical Review

The Goddess and the Nation is a masterpiece – panoramic and yet deep in content. . . . Going far beyond delivering only a formalistic catalogue
of this icon, Ramaswamy . . . presents challenging and thought-provoking discussions for scholars and students within and outside the realm of South Asia Studies.” — Christiane Brosius, Social Anthropology

The Goddess And The Nation is a well-documented pictorial historiography of the paradoxical emergence of the Mother Goddess, Bharat Mata, concurrently with the modern Indian nation state – it is a treasure-trove of images and arguments that will inspire artists and political commentators alike.” — Anjali D'Souza, Art India

“Sumptuously illustrated. . . . This fascinating case study successfully synthesizes two important themes in the critical history of Indian nationalism: the relationship between religious and secular conceptions of power, and the appropriation of elite cartographical projects by popular groups. Ramaswamy shows that images are not mere re?ections of history but its active agents.” — Maria Misra, American Historical Review

“Ramaswamy provides a lively pictorial history of Bharat Mata (Mother India), that ubiquitous figure of Indian nationalist culture. Ramaswamy has compiled a rich archive of over 150 imagistic representations of Bharat Mata that spans the late 19th century to the present.” — Priya Shah, American Anthropologist

“Sumathi Ramaswamy skillfully draws on visual studies, gender studies and the history of cartography to demonstrate that images do not merely reflect history; they actively make it.” — Vallari Gupte, India West

“This is an engrossing, meticulously researched, beautifully presented book, whose scholarly reach transcends South Asian historiography to embrace cartography, feminist studies, nationalist and colonial studies, and politico-religious iconography. The Goddess and the Nation contributes a fresh perspective to discussions of imagined political and religious communities, to feminist discourse on gendered identities, to the study of Indian ‘bazaar’ images, to religious studies, and to visual studies.” — Zo Newell, Journal of Asian Studies

“Filled with important and arresting observations, The Goddess and the Nation is a magnificent example of the possibilities of visual history. Guaranteed to have a substantial impact in South Asian cultural history, it also ought to be seen as a milestone for all historiography. Sumathi Ramaswamy situates a massively informed cultural history of India from the late nineteenth century onward in relation to broader literatures and debates on the history of cartography, iconographies of nationhood and motherhood, and a feminist dynamics of gendered identifications.” — Christopher Pinney, author of “Photos of the Gods”: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India

“This deft and lively history of visual patriotism, evoked through both words and images, combines the pleasures of looking with the rigor of serious analysis. Sumathi Ramaswamy writes lucidly and wears her considerable erudition lightly, but there is no mistaking the striking ambition of her project. The book does nothing less than demonstrate by example the novel interpretive possibilities that only a pictorial history of nationalism based on a recognition of the constitutive impact of images can bring. The great success of this endeavor is that it makes us see the familiar pictorial juxtaposition of the female figure of Mother India with the territorial map of the country again, as if for the first time: such, indeed, is the revisionary contribution of this insightful study. The scholarship on the ubiquitous nationalist discourse of Mother India, or, indeed, on the impact of the modern cartographic project in India, will never again be the same.” — Mrinalini Sinha, author of Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sumathi Ramaswamy is Professor of History at Duke University. She is the author of Lost Land of Lemuria: Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories and Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India and the editor of Beyond Appearances? Visual Practices and Ideologies in Modern India.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xv

Prologue: Yearning for Form 1

1. Formal Concerns 13

2. Other Women, Other Mothers 73

3. Vande Mataram 117

4. Enshrining the Map of India 151

5. Between Men, Map, and Mother 177

6. Daughters of India 237

Epilogue: Pictorial History in the Age of the World Picture 283

Notes 301

References 353

Index 371
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4610-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4592-3
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