How One tweet of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine provoked a wave of anti-Ukrainian protest among Indian users of Twitter. Researcher Mridula Ghosh explains why it happened and how it could have been prevented.
There is a proverb in English “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Learnt in school long ago, this very proverb was in my mind, the moment I came to know of the sham-fight on twitter. It looked like a battle of fools, which wise people will avoid. Those who posted and those who are commenting equal each other in their levels of ignorance. The whole saga was concentrated on an image, which risked mixing the unmixable – Marilyn Monroe and Hindu Mother Goddess Kali. You may ask, what is common among the two except that both images take the form of woman? And who did this?
Author Maxim Palenko perhaps can explain under what magical spell and flight of creativity he mixed these two and made a cartoon. I tried to look deeply. The root cause was the blast of smoke arising out and forming the shape of a skirt like cloud. No, not Pokrova Mother Mary, because that is a symbol of protection, instead Marilyn and Kali were his choice – Marilyn’s rising skirt, dress and blonde curls makes the image more Marilyn. The dark blue complexion, the necklace of skulls, mouth open with tongue and teeth are the only remote association with Goddess Kali. It could be Tibetan goddesses also.
Ukraine’s MOD tweet that was later removed
One cannot control and censor imagination and creativity. Everything has a right to exist. But did he think what his apparently imaginative eclectic kitsch will trigger? No, he didn’t. Nor did the twitter handler, who posted this on the official page of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, under the title “work of art”. The underlying message was that the targeted successful attacks were a virtuoso work of the Ukrainian military on the oil depot in Sebastopol in Crimea, was blessed by Goddess Kali. Nothing extraordinary! But this was a terrible faux pas! Men and women are fighting hard, giving their lives. Honorable Armed Forces of Ukraine have great achievements to show, without using this not so intelligent cartoon.
In some 10 hours that the tweet stayed on the page of the Ministry of Defense before it was taken down, the damage was done: 5500 retweets and an army of trolls and individuals raising such big noise, posting screenshots, that their intensity almost equaled the blast in Sebastopol! Their point was that Mother Kali’s image was distorted and thus humiliated the feelings of Hindus. This army was joined by Kanchan Gupta, an advisor of the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting who mentioned Kali to be an “Indian Goddess”, which is constitutionally wrong as India remains a secular state and Kali is a Hindu goddess. Also, Kali belongs to the world, not only to India. In fact, gods and goddesses do not belong to countries, they belong to particular religions. Everybody forgot that Mother Kali is revered in the Nepal. By the way, sandwiched between two giants – China and India – Nepal understands Ukraine’s problems and casts its vote at the UN in favor of Ukraine. Smaller states are so often forgotten! Mr. Gupta did not stop there and reminded Ukraine of all its “sins” of not supporting India at the UN, of supplying tanks to Pakistan etc. etc. Such disproportionate waves of “Ukraine bashing” are typical in the Indian segment of social media as well as mainstream media, every now and then, picking up one or the other pretexts.
Ukrainians apologized, Emine Dzapparova, First Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine made a touching tweet with deep regret, but comments below her tweet as well as long articles in various Indian media kept pedaling the wheel and fanning the fire. Sane and sensible voices are being drowned.
Qui bono? No wonder, Russian sources and their huge support base in India are energized to make propaganda against Ukraine using this incident. Russians did not say a word when an image of Kali was circulating holding the chopped head of President Putin in social media, may be because it was not posted on any official social media. A similar image with the chopped head of President Zelenskiy is being sent out now. Swayed by their passion to protect the honor of Mother Kali, Indian trolls seem to resemble intolerant fanatics, not responsible citizens and their movements are not resembling the Indian way.
Kali temple in Dakshineswar
I also have great doubt whether the Indians posting ugly comments about Ukraine are the real devotees of Mother Kali. Referring to the works of Swami Vivekananda, who was a devotee of Mother Kali and who is highly revered by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, the Mother is supreme, she should be revered but not feared. Vivekananda’s road to Kali was one of reason, logic and tested knowledge, devotion and social service to all. Kali stands for truth and justice, not falsity and oppression. Vivekananda’s Raja-yoga, Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga are important scholarly books on Vedanta philosophy. Kali stands beside the suffering people, the oppressed and uplifts their lot. One of the hospices of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity is located next to the famous Kali temple in Kalighat, Kolkata, a place of pilgrimage for Kali devotees. This is very close to my ancestral home.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the Kali temple in Dakshineswar
In the mythology, gods prayed to the Supreme Mother power and she appeared in the form of Kali to destroy the evil demon Raktabija, to bring order and light. She holds the chopped head of the demon in her hands, who repeatedly was reborn from each drop of blood and could not be killed. Then she had to drink all the blood of the demon Raktabija. Her fiery anger at that point could destroy the world, so her consort Shiva lay down at her feet praying, asking her to calm down when she accidentally stamped on him. She immediately bit her tongue, as a sign of regret that she stamped on her husband. This form of Kali is also known as Chamundika or Chandika. Hundreds of such stories are there in the sacred texts of Devi Maahaatmyaa, which means glory of the Goddess (don’t mix with Mahatma). This is just one story. The great tradition of Tantra as spiritual practice is related to Goddess Kali.
Kali drawing by Raja Ravi Varma
It is also said that the mix of tribal religions and their assimilation into Hinduism created a number of rich mythological as well as spiritual traditions. Shaakta are the people who worship Goddess Shakti, her other names being Durga, Kali and Chandika. Vaishnava are the people who worship Vishnu, Krishna. Shaiva are those who worship Shiva. And so on.
Let us come back to our story. The source of this misunderstanding between Ukraine and India is ignorance and lack of knowledge about each other. Ukrainians have little knowledge of Kali, there are more devotees of Krishna. They see Kali’s image and think of her as an idol embodying horror. They never know the various 108 forms of the great power “Mahashakti” or “Mahadevi”, essentially expressed in female forms. The forms Kali and Durga with her ten hands stand above good or evil, life or death, darkness and light, they bring victory destroying evils. Victory that not only destroys evil but overcomes it fully, so that the victorious side should never resemble the vanquished evil and its ways. Similarly, the forms of Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati are goddesses of prosperity and knowledge respectively. It is difficult for people who do not know, to understand that the same Goddess can have hundreds of forms.
However, many Ukrainians know God Shiva and his symbol “Trishul”. This is something close to Ukraine’s national coat of arms, the trizub. Many Indians are not aware of this. Indians also do not know about the rich Ukrainian folklore, pre-Christian rituals and traditions that resemble a lot of Indian traditions. None of the tweeting individuals can stand a test on general knowledge about Ukraine. I doubt if most of the editors and stars of the mainstream media will also pass such a test. Therefore, instead of parroting Russian narratives about Ukraine, they should study Ukraine and know about its history of colonization and exploitation by Russia. Then they will better understand Ukraine and the reasons behind the current genocidal war directly, without the help of a third hand.
Darkness is overcome by light. Ignorance is overcome by spreading knowledge, not by fighting and demonstrating egoism. We should not be fools to rush to conclusions without understanding. On us both – Indians and Ukrainians, lie the task of overcoming this vacuum, building bridges, not burning them. And we must be cautious of any third force encouraging the widening of this gap.
A statue of Lord Shiva holding a Trishul