'Bapu powered by Bhakti'
Times of India
AHMEDABAD: In his freedom movement as well as social reforms, Mahatma Gandhi derived inspiration and symbols from the Bhakti movement that began in Gujarat with Narsinh Mehta in the Sultanate era.
In his recently published book - 'Social, literary, cultural and economic effects of the Bhakti Movement', famous historian Makrand Mehta draws parallels between the movement of the middle ages with Gandhi's reformist movement of the 20th century. Mehta states that the Bhakti movement weakened the rigid social structure and created space for upliftment of the downtrodden. "Saints and reformers in Hindu religion strove hard to develop values of equality against the vested interest of their time. Their message was 'What is morally wrong can never be religiously right', and Gandhi later took up the same idea to eradicate untouchability," the book claims.
The historian claims that Gandhi's selection of Narsinh Mehta's bhajan 'Vaishnav jan' was mainly because the saint-poet reached the downtrodden and got ostracized from his Nagar community. Gandhi faced similar problem, when he settled dalit families in the Sabarmati Ashram. All industrialist-supporters stopped funds. A timely help of Rs 13,000 from Ambalal Sarabhai saved it. "The Sheth appeared like Shamaliya and saved my reputation," Gandhi wrote in a style quite reminiscent of Narsinh Metha's who projected the god as a baniya.
The book also shows how Gandhi's method of fund collection was first implemented a few centuries before him by a saint-poetess Janibai. Another poetess Ratanbai used powerfull symbol of charkha to generate wealth. "Gandhi envisaged economic and moral upliftment of the country in charkha," Mehta writes .
In this book, professor Mehta counters popular notion that the Bhakti movement was a reaction to the Muslim invasion, and asserts that its roots were in the rigid Brahminical society. A seminar is also organized at the HK Arts College on Sunday to debate this issue.