Caste, class and religion
Caste, class and religion
Mithila’s mythology of monarchy and militancy
JANAKPUR—The capital of Mithila looks like a boomtown gone bust. There is haphazard growth and the infrastructure has almost collapsed. But the magnificent Janaki Temple continues to be the centre of everything.
Compared to the festivities of Ram Navami, celebration of Janaki Navami is a low-key affair. Other than a session of bhajans in temple premises, there is no sign of birthday of Janaki being marked in what is believed to have been her hometown. But Maithil women are now conscious enough to see a “male, royal and high-caste conspiracy” behind this tradition.
Inside the temple premises, a modern Sita pointedly asks her Ram, “Why do we still have a national holiday on Ram Navami but not even a mention of Janaki Navami though she is the daughter of our soil? Is it because she was merely the consort of a ruler rather than a reigning Queen? Does her indeterminate caste as the offspring of Mother Earth make her less sacred?”
Ram’s answer: “It has been a Pahadiya conspiracy. They celebrate Chaite Dasain, and Ram Navami holiday is merely a cover to get an extra day.” When asked whether he is a Maoist, this particular Ram responds that his politics are closer to NC and TMLP rather than the Maoists or MJF.
Mythology is stronger in Mithila than history. Janak is the synonym for king in Maithil legends. Maithili language and literature are believed to have reached their apogee in the courts of minor kings of the region. Maithil pundits went to Gorkha and other Baise-Chaubise kingdoms to draft their laws. They were the mainstay of Malla courts in Kathmandu Valley.
When Durganand Jha threw a bomb at King Mahendra after he usurped all powers in a royal-military coup in 1960, he became the first Brahman to get capital punishment in Hindu Nepal. Continued neglect of Durganand by successive governments in the post-1990 period rankled the Madhesis. The TMLP has now honoured Jha by nominating his widow to the constituent assembly.
The love-hate relationship of Maithils with monarchy persists. The king will probably find that he has sizeable support in the town where a Shah king was physically attacked but has been neglected since. The attendant of municipality guesthouse reverentially touches the couch on which King Gyanendra reportedly rested during a brief visit to the town two years ago.
Perhaps it’s the monarchical bent of the Maithil mind that refuses to accept the Maoist ideology. That could be the reason journalist-turned-politician Roshan Janakapuri almost lost his deposit even though he is quite popular and commands the respect of local intelligentsia for his literary pursuits.
But adherence to tradition does have its pitfalls: caste is much more important than either class or religion. Your surname is a marker of identity. Mainstream Nepali society has long pretended that the issue of the Madhes didn’t exist, but the uprising was waiting to happen.
After the national language controversy over the use of Maithili in Rajbiraj municipality, the conspiracy against citizenship laws, and the Hritik Roshan riots in 2001, denouement has been long overdue. Despicable though they may have been, the demolition of Bhanubhakta’s statue in Janakpur and anti-Maoist violence in Gaur represented the rage of the oppressed.
Popularity based on resistance to authority may win elections, but will that be enough to secure justice for Madhesis? That’s a question Upendra Yadav will have to face as he works on electoral arithmetic to share power at the centre. Mithila has existed for over 5,000 years. It can wait for the restoration of its mythic glory.
Entry filed under: Articles.