The ‘Bonalu’ song is dedicated to Maisamma, a village deity who doesn’t come under the Brahmininical fold.

By Balakrishna Ganeshan

Singer Mangli, who has sung popular numbers like ‘Saranga Dariya’ from Love Story and ‘Ramuloo Ramulaa’ from Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, has been accused of offending Hindu religious sentiments through her newly released Bonalu song. The BJP had recently approached the Rachakonda police in Telangana to file a complaint against her. The BJP claims that the lyrics are derogatory, allegedly insulting goddess Maisamma. Maisamma is a village deity who does not come under the Brahminical fold.

The lyrics of the ‘Bonalu song 2021’ which go ‘Chettu chuttu memu thiruguthunte.. Chethuletthi mokkuthunte… Mokkina varam iyyakunda Mothavaari laaga koosunavamma’ (While we make rounds around your deity, and pray with our hands raised, you have been sitting [idle] like a village elder without answering to our prayers). Raising objection to the word ‘Mothavaari’ (which loosely translates to ‘village elder’), a social media campaign was led by Kiranmai alias RJ Kiran, a self-proclaimed Hindutva activist. Subsequently, the BJP corporators sought legal action against the singer. While devotional songs referring to gods on friendly terms and making witty remarks about them are not new, the outrage campaign against Mangli stems from casteism, say Dalit and Bahujan intellectuals, who have come out in support of her.  Mangli belongs to the Lambada community, categorised as Scheduled Tribes.

The faux outrage campaign has forced the singer to change the lyrics and upload a new song. She was further compelled to disclose her marginalised caste location and provide credentials for her ‘Hinduness’ in a Facebook post.

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“I do not come from a family of scholars [pandit implying Brahmins]. I am a woman from a Girijana community who worship trees and mounds. Like the Batukamma and Bonalu festivals, we worship nature in our Banjara during the Teej and Sheetala (Sati Bhavani) festivals. Whether we are in trouble or happy, we share our feelings with our village deities whom we worship. We see them as members of our household. The offerings we make to our gods are what we eat and what we drink,” she wrote.

Attaching photos of the Anjaneya temple she had helped construct to prove her Hindu credentials, Mangli said that she regularly worships in the temple.

Condemning the campaign against Mangli, Sangishetty Srinivas, a Bahujan intellectual, says, “The campaign reflects Manuvaadi mindset. Those with Manuvaadi ideology keep stifling any growing voice from the Bahujan community. For them, any good or bad should only come from their upper caste community. That’s their unwritten rule. These Hinduvadis with their Brahminical thinking are unable to digest how Dalits and Bahujans are taking over the space which was previously restricted only to certain communities.”

Pointing out the hypocrisy of the faux outrage, Srinivas argues, “In Annamayya, a devotional film, there are erotic songs. In Manjunatha, there is a song calling Lord Shiva a thief. Lyricist Thanikela Bharani had written a song called ‘Ra Ra Shiva.’ All these songs are accusatory but made in the context of love, seeing a god as their friend. However, these songs never became controversial.”

Besides these arguments, who are these self-proclaimed religious activists to infringe upon freedom of expression, he questions. “Who is Kiranmai to say how a song should be sung or how Mangli should dance? Who is she to dictate terms?” he asks.

The lyrics of the song sung by Mangli have been taken from a folk song written by Ramaswamy, a Dalit man, nearly 30 years ago. Srinivas says that there seems to be an Islamophobic agenda behind this deliberate controversy as Azhar Shaik, a Muslim man, has produced the song.

Pasunoori Ravinder, poet and author, says, “If these so-called offended people have problems with these kinds of songs, first they should go after Bhakta Ramadasu (a singer from the 17th century who sang songs on Hindu god Rama). ‘Evadi abba sommu ani thini kulukevu Rama’, he sang. (The lines of the song translate to ‘Your iconic royalty is a sight to witness. Are you always this unconcerned and apathetic? From whose father do you think, you inherited all those valuables?’ In this context, Bhakta Ramadasu sings in deep frustration, venting his anger against Rama for not coming to his aid while he languishes in prison). Meera Bai has written songs calling Lord Krishna ‘Ra Ra’ or ‘Pora’ (‘Ra’ is considered a derogatory way of addressing someone). For this, they should either boycott Meera Bai or file a case against her. Lyricist Thanikela Bharani is still alive, why don’t they file a case against him for addressing Lord Shiva as ‘Ra Ra’?”

Responding to the Hindutva campaign, several Bahujans and Dalits have come out to express their solidarity with Mangli with #ISupportMangli hashtags. Srinivas says that it is ironic how Hindutva activists who harbour Brahminical thinking seem to be outraged by how a Bahujan person addresses a village deity. “Maisamma is a village deity. She is not a Brahminical goddess. We will address her in our language, the language our goddess understands. For our goddess we don’t have a Brahmin priest working as a middleman between us and the god. So who are these people telling us how to worship or give diktats on how to address her?”

Courtesy : TNM