I found my India in Amsterdam

19th May 2019 0 By Nandini

It’s as if those feet that I bought in a shop in Amsterdam walked me into the museum quite spontaneously. I bought them because somewhere in the various layers of my brain, I knew they had some spiritual significance. I placed them on my altar at home, which consists of a motley collection of holy deities, symbols and figures from across the world.

In faraway India, the elections of 2019 were entering their fifth phase and almost everyone who has anything to do with Indian soil is forced to reckon with what makes or doesn’t make them Hindu. The elections began on April 11th and end today, on the 19th of May. Enough time to show their more Trumpian than Trump side. The hate speeches have grown more brazen as have ‘alternative facts’. Whats App, Twitter and Facebook are full of election ‘news’. Most mainstream media and many institutions favour the ruling BJP – a ‘Hindutva’ party. The recipe is to win a second term by stoking hate and fear in order to distract from the real problems of the day: the highest rate of unemployment in forty-five years, a tax levied under the present government that many find a bridge too far, farmer distress, rising inequality. Instead, ‘Hindus’ (not in my name) are ‘uniting’ to fight the ‘outsider’ who, (surprise, surprise) is the Muslim. An old, old trick of democracies at election-time. If there isn’t an enemy, find one to rally the forces. In present day India it is Islam. Without Islamophobia, this government wouldn’t get a second term. But I digress.

The feet that walked me into the museum on a day when I wasn’t planning to miraculously reappeared in a vitrine as a part of an exhibition called “What do you believe in?” And I learnt more about the feet and why my brain guided me to buy them many years ago, and a few other things.

This is how the feet in the vitrine are presented to the viewer: “The relief depicts the feet on an Indian holy man who lived in the fourteenth century. Hindus worship him as Ramdevji or Ramdeoji, while Muslims venerate him as Ramapir or Ramshah Pir. Once a year, on his birth date, Hindus and Muslims join together at his temple to celebrate his attainment of the highest state of enlightenment”.

Then there was a picture like many hundreds that I saw growing up in India and this is how it was described: “In south India, where next to a Hindu majority also live Christians and Muslims, posters such as this are put up. They stand for religious tolerance. From left to right: The Hindu god Ganesha, Jesus Christ and the Islamic sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina.

A picture in the same vitrine as the feet

A god on a horse

And I saw a god on horseback who is described thus:
“the Hindu God Khandoba was originally a rural deity of the forests and meadows, typically worshipped by herders….. Khandoba is a god for everyone regardless of caste or religion, and is venerated by Muslims, Hindus and Jains.

Also in this vitrine with it’s various figures, objects and deities, there was one of a parade, and these are the words on the museum wall to explain it: “this parade standard is adorned with Shia symbols, such as the hare, the lion and the mausoleum in the centre. But the mysterious female figures on either side of the building are more typical of Hindu art. They could be dancers like those frequently depicted on the facades of Hindu temples”.

So feet, thank you for walking me into the museum.

What do I believe in?

I believe in the India that rests on my altar and the one that I found in Amsterdam.

Vitrine of exhibits for “What do you believe in?” in the Tropen Museum, Amsterdam