Pride and Prejudice: Dalits' symbols of worship
NDTV Correspondent, Saturday June 5, 2010, New Delhi
While political parties calculate gains and losses of a caste based
census in terms of votes. Post Mandal, Dalits have started asserting
themselves in every field, even in matters of faith and belief.
Images of Dalits offering prayers at the Jagannath temple in
Kendrapara, Orissa, through holes in the compound wall shocked the
country. Five years ago a compromise was reached. Only the temple
priest is now allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum.
Today most temples are open to Dalits, but many continue to worship
pictures of gods at home. A trend which started in the 1920s with the
mass production of religious images.
"Where earlier a Hindu image could not be worshipped until it was not
ritually consecrated with the service of a Brahmin priest, the mass
produced image changed this. So, there was a kind of democratization
of image and the relation of the worshippers to the image became more
independent of prescribed norms of worship," said Dr Jyotindra Jain,
an Art historian.
As Dalits began to assert themselves politically, post Mandal, they
also started searching for their own icons in the Hindu pantheon of
gods and goddesses. So, the author of the Ramayan, Valmiki, is
transformed into a modern day deity.
"Valmiki is a Dalit devata so, they want to worship him separately
from the others. Earlier, posters showed Valmiki writing the Ramayan,
with Ram and Sita watching him from the skies and everyone worshipped
that image. Now he is alone," said M L Garg, MD, Brijbasi Art Press.
But outside their homes, for all Dalits, Hindus and neo-Buddhists, Dr
Ambedkar's statue still remains the most powerful and popular public
symbol of pride and identity.
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