Bharatiya Janata Party President (BJP) Amit Shah raised a storm in real life as well as on social media platforms when he wished the people of Kerala "Happy Vamana Jayanthi" instead of Onam, which ushers in the weeklong harvest festival to the state today.
Shah's tweet and Facebook post follow a cover story in Kesari, the Malayalam mouthpiece for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which claimed that Onam marks the birth of Lord Vishnu's fifth avatar, Vamana, and not the homecoming of the mythological lower-caste King Mahabali, as the legend has it.
Shah's tweet seemed to signal a similar belief.
आप सभी को "वामन जयंती" की हार्दिक शुभकामनाएं | pic.twitter.com/y4A5412mvM
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) September 13, 2016
If Shah's message had a picture of Vamana trying to push King Mahabali into the netherworlds with his foot, the writer of the feature in Kesari claimed there was no record in the epics or elsewhere to support the legend or the claim that Onam signified the king's annual homecoming in the Malayalam month of Chingam, The Hindu reported.
The News Minute quoted journalist BRP Bhaskar on this piece, who wrote, "Quoting from the Srimad Bhagavatam, one of the 18 Hindu Puranas, the Kesari article asserts that Mahabali was not sent to hell, as stated in the Kerala legends, but was honourably rehabilitated to a place which is the envy of even inmates of heaven." He went on to say, "Virtually throwing out the Puranic description of Mahabali as one who conquered all the worlds and posed a threat to the gods, the writer says his empire was in North India."
From Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to the leader of the opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, a range of people from across the political divide was upset with Shah's appropriation of the weeklong festival. The opposition called it a Brahminical interpretation, which went "against the secular understanding of Onam," DNA reported.
"By wishing Vamana Jayanti on the day before Thiruvonam, BJP leader Amit Shah has ridiculed Kerala, Keralites and the culture of Kerala. Onam is the national festival of Malayalees. What is being reflected in this celebration is the unity of humanity, beyond the boundaries of caste and religion," Vijayan said. He demanded an apology from Shah to Malayalis all over the world.
Social media reacted variously to the fiasco.
Congress politician Shashi Tharoor described the episode as "North Indian arrogance & ignorance encounters Southern sensibilities".
When Northern ignorance & arrogance encounter Southern sensitivities: AmitShah's "VamanaJayanti" fiasco:https://t.co/VpsXYkJq09
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 14, 2016
In no time, memes were being circulated.
— Anamika (@NameFieldmt) September 13, 2016
Keralities started using the hastag #PoMoneShahji, asking Shah not to meddle with their festival, while some seized the opportunity for frivolity.
— BRP Bhaskar (@brpbhaskar) September 13, 2016
Social activist Civic Chandran told The Hindu that "Onam was once an upper caste festival, but later on the subaltern classes too began celebrating it, giving significance to a black Maveli." He added that the Sangh Parivar was trying to counter this revival, even as the BJP tried to underplay the incident.
BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said that people of Kerala also worship Vamana. "Thousands of people have been worshipping Thrikkakara Temple, one of the temples dedicated to Lord Vamana. Vamana jayanti is complementary and supplementary to Onam celebrations and not contradictory," he was quoted by The Hindu.
This morning, perhaps in a bid to do some damage control, Shah's Twitter handle sent out a different message.
Greetings to Malayali friends on Onam.May this auspicious festival shower happiness,peace and prosperity all around. pic.twitter.com/xVaMPvosEA
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) September 14, 2016
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