Tasveer Ghar: A Digital Archive of South Asian Popular Visual Culture

Celebrating More Than the New Year

The Hindu Nationalist Greeting Cards

Christiane Brosius

This gallery exhibits a small selection of New Year Greeting cards produced, circulated and recycled by various groups and persons associated with a religio-political tendency claiming prominence of the so-called ‘Hindu way of life’. The more than twenty organisations identifying with the dominance of Hindu culture and religion, particularly in politics, has been very active in promoting their ideas among grassroots cadres as well as marginal supporters by means of an extensive popular visual culture. Among the other paraphernalia such as stickers, framed posters or watches, the Greeting cards caught my attention during fieldwork conducted in Delhi in the late 1990s on the visual culture of the Hindu Right. During this period I regularly visited paraphernalia shops that sold cards of Bharat Mata (Mother India) along with others that carry motifs addressing particular religious and/or nationalist events, leaders or narratives, Indian politics and history. Quite a range of them was painted in the 1990s by a volunteer from New Delhi.

For the sake of personal anonymity in the context of this homepage, his name has been changed to ‘B.’. He was well-established in the field of Hindutva propaganda with works circulating among wide sections of the established grass-roots networks of the Sangh Parivar. In personal conversation, B. provided me with insights into their own readings of the iconography, as well as their modes of production and distribution of their oeuvres. His work allows us to explore key issues raised in relation to the Hindutva’s visual culture as well as its national politics during the last decade. Such a discussion is relevant to the study of popular culture, its visual regimes and how it relates to and evolves from particular socio-political networks and notions of Hindu nationality from the late 1980s onwards. This is particularly relevant with respect to the staging of events connected to the Ayodhya ‘Movement’, the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 and the communal violence that followed its demolition.

 Inherent in the work of B. is a dynamic cross-referencing between those diverse media and iconographies, by which a dense visual space was constituted in which the idea of the nation could be
negotiated: we find references to school book illustrations (e.g. an ideal boy), to posters of national and regional heroes and deities (on bazaar prints, see the tasveer ghar - Links page).
B.’s work needs to be explored in the light of Hindutva’s culture of spectacle, that is a form of communication which aims at mobilising people through ‘infotainment’ and grand make-up.The ‘message’ is embedded in entertaining stage-like visual narratives that are intended to appeal to the audience by means of familiarity and innovation, employing images with specific ‘biographies’ from which particular aspects are then selected and highlighted, or even made up, according to the producer’s interests. The iconography reflects Hindutva’s construction of ideal types of citizenry and state, purportedly united by the experience of a crisis, which they claim can be dissolved by stabilising the projected ‘in-group’ (we, the Hindu people) through polarisation with an ‘outsider’ or external threat (Muslims, Westernisation, Christian missionary activities).

During his years at the college of fine arts, B. studied Indian and European art history, miniature painting, and the techniques of oil painting and water-colour. However, in the 1980s he shifted from the field of fine arts to popular arts and dedicated his work to the Sangh Parivar (kar seva). B. is proud of being an artist who can deliver works of fine art for smaller circles of patrons and address a wider populace with educational and ‘awakening’ iconographies. The majority of his works is executed for pamphlets of different organisations and their agenda, for several front-pages of the RSS’s mouthpiece The Organiser, pictorial comics for children,
calendars, and New Year greeting cards. B.’s works appear like nostalgic reminiscences from ancient glorious Indian history. The heroic figures that dwell in this arcadia are arranged stiffly in front of a theatrical backdrop or tableaux vivant. The vignettes carry traces of early 20th century oleographs, photostudio-setups, modern bazaar prints, festival mandaps (shrines) and Amar Chitra Katha comics.


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