In Kolkata’s ancient festivals, I saw a very modern mix of myth and politics | Amit Chaudhuri

A brightly lit Kali Puja marquee was made to look like an identity card for the goddess – complete with a heavenly address

This photo of a pandal or marquee was taken on my phone from the car window as we passed through Dover Terrace in south Kolkata, India. Dover Terrace is a middle- and upper-middle-class area, but just over here there’s a slum. So the Kali Puja festivities, which this marquee was at the centre of, were primarily participated in by working-class people who anyway treat parts of the road as their drawing room, so that cars need to negotiate this brief, congested stretch regardless of whether it’s hosting festivities.

The main festival in West Bengal is not Kali Puja but Durga Puja, which takes place in late September or early October. It celebrates the mother goddess Durga’s advent with her children into the world for a week, after which she returns to Kailash (the peak in the Himalayas where she lives with her husband, Shiva). She’s visiting her father’s house, and then, like all married women, must return to the house she shares with her husband. The festival’s other mythic narrative has to do with Durga vanquishing a demon, Mahishasura, who threatens to destroy the world; Durga, 10-armed, and bearing weapons, rides a lion and tramples the demon underfoot. The festival is a mix of triumphal adoration (Durga’s victorious slaying of the demon) and, increasingly, as it draws to a close, a sense of valediction (the daughter must, again, leave the house she grew up in).

Amit Chaudhuri is the author of eight novels, including Sojourn; his nonfiction works include Finding the Raga

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Thousands of mosques targeted as Hindu nationalists try to rewrite India’s history

Shamsi Jama Masjid, an 800-year-old mosque in Uttar Pradesh, is the latest flashpoint in a dispute that could eventually turn violent

In a small, darkened office in Budaun, where dusty legal books line the walls, two lawyers have fallen into a squabble. VP Singh and his taller associate BP Singh – no relation – are discussing Shamsi Jama Masjid, the mosque that has stood in this small town in Uttar Pradesh for 800 years.

According to the lawyers, this grand white-domed mosque, one of the largest and oldest in India, is not a mosque at all. “No no, this is a Hindu temple,” asserted BP Singh. “It’s a very holy place for Hindus.”

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Britain’s first Hindu prime minister is destroying Tories’ pitiful vision of diversity | Pankaj Mishra

We should quickly abandon wishful thinking in order to be truly ready for Rishi Sunak

The world has watched in appalled fascination as the UK’s ruling party scrapes the bottom of its human resources barrel: it found there its first Black chancellor of the exchequer and then, to clear up his mess, its first Hindu prime minister. Yet exultant noises from India as well as Britain would make us believe that some historic milestone has been reached.

Hindu supremacists have pounced on the possibility that Rishi Sunak, a self-proclaimed devout Hindu, is a desi bro, even an undercover agent of the “Global Indian Takeover” – the title of a once regular feature in the Times of India. Evidently, he observes upper-caste taboos against beef and alcohol and always keeps his statuette of Ganesha, the guarantor of worldly success, close to him. “Indian son rises over the empire” was one typical headline in India this week.

Pankaj Mishra’s most recent book is Run and Hide: A Novel.

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Sunak’s rise is thanks to the Tory Hindu revolution. Labour, look and learn | Mihir Bose

There is a complex story behind his arrival at No 10. The Conservatives worked hard to erase a hatred that went back to the era of Churchill

Rishi Sunak’s arrival in No 10 is a more complex story than that of the first brown man to hold the highest office in the land advertising the diversity of our country. It is the result of a remarkable revolution in the Tory party’s attitude to the Hindus, which illustrates the complex nature of postwar Asian migration to this country. It should also ring loud alarm bells for Labour. The Tory Hindu revolution has seen it convert from a party that, historically, hated Hindus – and that is not too strong a word – to one that has pivoted enough towards the Hindus for the community to lose its old fear of the Tories.

The Tories may not like being reminded of their hatred for Hindus, but inside No 10 Sunak will be unable to miss the portrait of the man who articulated it: Winston Churchill. As recorded in the diaries of Churchill’s Downing Street secretary, John Colville, on returning from Yalta in February 1945, “the PM said the Hindus were a foul race, ‘protected by their mere pullulation from the doom that is their due’. And he wished Bert Harris [head of the RAF Bomber Command] could send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them”.

Mihir Bose is an author whose books include The Spirit of the Game, How Sport Made the Modern World, and From Midnight to Glorious Morning? India Since Independence

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‘A moment of pride’: Hindus in India hail Rishi Sunak’s victory

Indians react to news UK will have its first Hindu PM and consider how it will affect bilateral ties

As Rishi Sunak prepares to become the UK’s next prime minister at the start of the festival of Diwali – when Hindus pray to the goddess Lakshmi for prosperity and success – in India some Hindus celebrated the fact that someone sharing their religion had reached such high office in the UK.

“To have a Hindu inside 10 Downing Street is something astonishing and of great joy, and that too on Diwali,” said Satish Verma, a supermarket owner in Delhi. “Although he is British, it will make us Hindus proud that one of us made it so big.”

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Diwali: Hindu festival of lights celebrations around the world – in pictures

Diwali, one of the most popular Hindu festivals, is celebrated by devotees all over the world. Also known as the festival of lights, it symbolises the victory of good over evil and commemorates Lord Ram’s return to the Ayodhya kingdom after a 14-year exile

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In Britain and India, we must resist the tragic thinking that pits Hindus against Muslims | Chetan Bhatt

The recent disorder in Leicester echoes the ‘communalist’ politics that now dominates India thanks to the ruling BJP

  • Chetan Bhatt is professor of sociology at the London School of Economics

The terrible events in Leicester last month saw several hundred young people marching to Green Lane Road on 17 September chanting, “Jai Shri Ram” (“Glory to Lord Rama”). Other youths, in response, gathered to chant “Allahu Akbar”. Both expressed heady allegiance to their god – not as a simple demonstration of faith, but as a combative slogan against others. Several British politicians have intervened, as have the governments of India and Pakistan. Social media “influencers” descended on Leicester to video themselves and their “patrols” and further provoke young people. With a few important exceptions, most of those intervening chose to enlarge, rather than contest, a dangerous logic of communalism. It is in their political interests to keep communities pitted against each other.

“Communalism” is a term that will be familiar to those who follow the politics of south Asia. Perhaps less so to others: it refers to a negative, discriminatory, or hate-driven orientation to people of other faiths, and a superiority regarding one’s faith. Once upon a time, in post-independence India, it was a filthy word. To be accused of communalism was to be considered to be something like a racist or fascist, someone who harboured hatred and wanted to generate antagonism towards other religious or caste groups.

Chetan Bhatt is professor of sociology at the London School of Economics

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Narendra Modi’s BJP bans Indian Islamic group for ‘terrorist’ links

Popular Front of India, which says it fights for rights of minorities, victim of ‘political vendetta’ by Hindu nationalist government

An Islamic organisation that says it fights discrimination against minorities in India has disbanded after the government declared it and its affiliates unlawful, accusing them of involvement in terrorism.

The government of Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) accused the Popular Front of India (PFI) group of having been involved in “terrorism” and “anti-national activities”.

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What is Hindu nationalism and who are the RSS?

Hindutva is the predominant form in India and has been associated with rightwing extremism

Hindu nationalism is a political ideology that dates back to the 19th century. It encompassed a broad range of groups but at its core is a belief that Indian national identity and culture are inseparable from the Hindu religion.

It began to gain prominence in the early 20th century as part of the independence movement in India, which sought to separate itself from the identity of British colonial rule and the Islamic Mughal dynasty, which had previously governed India from the 16th century.

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The cycle of life and death: the Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi

After a couple of years of subdued celebrations, the Mumbai crowds are back out in force bringing more and bigger idols – but with a greater awareness of their environmental impact

  • Text and photographs by Catherine Davison

The orange shirts of hundreds of lifeguards dot Juhu beach, lit up by the glare of floodlights as they wade in and out of the sea. An estimated 30,000 people flocked to Mumbai’s beaches and riverbanks this week to immerse idols of the elephant-headed god Ganesha as part of the 10-day Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi

The crowds were back in force after a subdued couple of years of the pandemic. But despite the lifting of restrictions on public gatherings, many devotees still opted for ceremonies at home or in artificial ponds. The change also suggests a growing awareness of the environmental impact of the festival.

Eco-friendly clay idols made by My Green Ganesha

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India ruling party legislator arrested over prophet remarks amid protests

T Raja Singh suspended earlier this week for hate speech after allegedly abusive comments

Police in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad have arrested a suspended leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) for making allegedly abusive remarks about the prophet Muhammad.

Police arrested T Raja Singh, 45, on Thursday after thousands of Muslims took to the streets in the city protesting against his speech.

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On the anniversary of partition, let’s consign the pitiless logic of Hindu v Muslim to the past | Pankaj Mishra and Ali Sethi

Since 1947, India and Pakistan have shared profound affinities across ferociously policed borders

  • Pankaj Mishra is a novelist and essayist from India; Ali Sethi is a writer and musician from Pakistan

In a remarkable document from the 13th century, a Sufi writer records his epiphany about the prophet Muhammad granting permission to music in India. Quoting an enigmatic utterance of the prophet (“I sense the breath of the Merciful coming from Yemen”), he speculates that the “Yemen” in question is not just the region in the Arabian peninsula, but possibly also the popular Indian raga of the same name. These days, such an innocuous interpretation, linking the founder of Islam to northern Indian music, is certain to incite charges of blasphemy, and perhaps even calls for assassination, across many Muslim populations.

But it would have been uncontroversial, even unremarkable, during much of the last millennium, the centuries during which India was the world’s busiest crossroads, receiving and transmitting cultural influences between east and west, north and south. Artists and thinkers in this time, when India played easy-going host to a polyphony of identities, were oblivious to today’s hotly invoked distinctions of religion and gender. For instance, the 14th-century Sufi poet Amir Khusrau wrote qawwali, a poetic form derived from Arabic chants, using a female persona and with imagery derived from the cult of the Hindu god Krishna. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, India’s most influential yogi in the 19th century, not only practised both Islam and Christianity; he spent many years dressed as, and imagining himself to be, a woman.

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Indian director receives threats over film poster of goddess with Pride flag

Police open cases against Leena Manimekalai for ‘hurting religious sentiments’ with short film Kaali

An Indian film director is facing police investigation over the poster for her new film, which depicts the Hindu goddess Kaali smoking a cigarette and clutching an LGBTQ+ flag.

Leena Manimekalai, an Indian film-maker based in Canada, has received thousands of threats of violence after the poster for her short film Kaali, which was aired in the Canadian city of Toronto at the weekend, went viral on social media.

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‘We’re fed up with scary dreams’: thieves return temple treasures in India

Gang who stole statues from Hindu temple in India return most items, with note saying they had suffered nightmares

A gang of thieves have returned more than a dozen idols they stole from an ancient Hindu temple in India, saying they had been haunted by nightmares since the crime, according to police.

Last week, the group stole 16 statues from a 300-year-old temple to Lord Balaji – an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu – in Uttar Pradesh, police inspector Rajiv Singh told Agence France-Presse.

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