–Maha Upanishad 6.71–75
वसुधैवकुटुम्बकम्, a Sanskrit phrase found in Hindu texts such as Maha Upanishad means that ‘the whole world is one single family’. The phrase reminds us of entire humanity’s kinship.
Hinduism is arguably the oldest religion in the world, dating back to over 4000 years. It is followed by 15-16% of the global population, numbering over 1.1 billion people. India is the birthplace of Hinduism and along with Nepal & Mauritius, India is the 3rd Hindu majority country in the world, and Hinduism is the religion with the largest number of adherents in several other countries, e.g., Fiji Islands. Hinduism and its reach are noticeable in the immediate neighbourhood, with a deep influence on Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan & even Burma. However, in South East Asian countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Mauritius, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam; the influence of Hinduism is even more obvious. Hinduism has also spread to other corners of the world and is followed in many more countries globally.
Ramayana and Mahabharata are two of Hinduism’s greatest epics, and Upanishad, the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita propound its tenets. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Durga, Parvati, Saraswati, Ganesha etc. are some of the Hindu deities worshipped by its followers. The avatars of these deities include Rama, Krishna, Matsya etc. too are revered by Hindus across the world. Over the centuries, Hinduism has inspired intellectuals and common people alike and formed tight bonds with the native cultures of the countries in which it took roots.
Across the world, Stamps are used to honour a nation’s heroes, momentous events, symbols and culture. Stuck on envelopes, they travel the far reaches of the country as well as across the world and propagate their message.
The Hindu deities have similarly managed to assimilate themselves in the popular culture of many countries and have found a place on the face of many stamps. Country after country expressed pride in their association with the principles, symbols and stories of Hinduism.
Let us begin with Laos, which is a tiny South East Asian country with a predominantly Buddhist population has less than 1% of its population as Hindus. However, it has released several stamps on Hindu deities. In 1955, Laos released a set of 6 stamps on Ramayana depicting Lord Rama, Sita, Raavan & Hanumaan.
In 1969, Laos again issued a set of 8 stamps which featured scenes from the Ramayana.
In 1971, it issued another stamp which depicted Matsya fighting with Lord Hanumaan.
In 1974, Laos issued a set of 3 stamps depicting Saraswati, Indra and Brahma.
In 2004, Laos issued a set of 4 stamps featuring scenes from Ramayana.
Another small country in South East Asia; Cambodia, too has brought out several stamps on Hindu deities. The strife-torn country has Buddhism as its main religion (nearly 97% population is Buddhist). Hindus account for less than 0.2% of the overall population. However, Cambodia has clung to its Hindu past and issued several stamps on the same. In 1964, Cambodia issued a set of 5 stamps on Hanumaan.
In 2006, Cambodia issued a set of 5 stamps depicting Luv Kush, Lord Rama, Sita, Raavan and Hanumaan. It also issued a miniature sheet featuring Matasya with Hanumaan.
Indonesia, the island nation in South East Asia is a Muslim majority nation with 87% of the population following Islam. Hindus form less than 2% of the overall population. However, this has not stopped Indonesia from honouring Hindu deities and issuing stamps after them. In 1962, Indonesia issued a set of 6 stamps on Ramayana depicting Jatayu, Hanumaan, Raavan, Maricha, Sita and Rama.
In 1971 it issued a set of 2 stamps which depicted Rama hunting Maricha.
In 1974, Indonesia issued a set of 3 stamps on Mahabharat which depicted Baldeva, Krishna and Bhima.
In 1994, it issued a set of 3 stamps on Hindu deities which included Ganesha.
In 2010, it issued a set of stamps which depicted characters from Ramayana and Mahabharat.
In 2012, Indonesia issued a miniature sheet to celebrate the World Stamp Championship in Jakarta. The sheet depicted the 5 Pandava’s; Bhima, Arjuna, Yudhistra, Nakula, Sehdeva and the Pandava Lima.
In 2016, Indonesia celebrated the Chinese year of monkey by releasing a set of 3 stamps featuring Sugriva, Angad and Hanuman.
Thailand, another country in South East Asia has nearly 95% of its population practicing Buddhism. Hindus constitute around 0.03% of the total population. However, the effect of the Hindu culture is heavily reflected in its philately. In 1973, Indonesia issued a set of 8 stamps depicting various scenes from Ramayana which included Ashoka Vatika, Ravana’s Parasol, Vanara Sena crossing the sea etc.
In 2005 it issued a set of 4 stamps which depicted Rama meeting Sita, Ravana, Hanumaan and Ram fighting Ravana.
In 2014, it issued a set of 2 miniature sheets depicting Ganesha. (Pic 17). In 2016, it issued a set of 2 stamps as part of a joint issue with Indonesia, depicting scenes from Ramayana.
The depiction of Hindu deities in stamps is not restricted to Asian countries only. Even several European nations have issued stamps of Hindu deities.
The Czech Republic in 2007 issued a stamp which depicted Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha.
In 2009, it issued another stamp which depicted Rama, Sita and Hanuman. (Pic 20).
The erstwhile East German issued a set of 4 stamps in 1979 which depicted Durga, Mahavira, Todi Ragini, Asavari Ragini.
Some of the Caribbean nations too haven’t been far behind.
Guyana which has nearly 25% of its population as Hindus, issued a stamp on Shiva in 2011.
Antigua and Barbuda, a Christian dominated country (over 75% of its population is of Christians), issued a miniature sheet on Garuda in 2013. It also issued another miniature sheet which depicted Rakshasa, Indra and Vaayu.
India has the largest number of Hindus in its fold with over 1 billion people comprising nearly 80% of its total population practising Hinduism. However, struck by the secular zeal since independence, India rarely, if ever, honoured its deities on its stamps.
23 years after independence, in 1970 India issued a 20 paise stamp on Maharsi Valmiki depicting a scene from Ramayan.
It took another 5 years for India to wake up from slumber and issue a 25 paise stamp on Ram Charit Manas in 1975.
3 years later, in 1978, India issued a 25 paise stamp on Bhagawadgeeta.
Post this, there was a resurgence of Indira Gandhi in national politics and the Indian National Congress enjoyed a brute majority in the Parliament and over most things in India. The era was marked by a rise of minority appeasement and trampling over the rights of Hindus and relegating them to secondary citizens in India.
This phase continued for nearly 3 decades. And for nearly 3 decades, no stamp on Hindu epics or deities was issued in Hindu majority India.
However, stamps were merrily issued honouring the Nehru – Gandhi family. 15 stamps were issued on Jawaharlal Nehru, 5 on Indira Gandhi, 3 on Rajiv Gandhi. Even Kamla Nehru and Sanjay Gandhi were honoured with a stamp in their memory!
Things changed when Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.
In 2017, India Post brought out a set of 3 sheets depicting scenes from the Hindu epic Mahabharat. (Pic 28, 29, 30).
It also brought out 2 sheets depicting scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana.
To commemorate the ASEAN India summit in 2018, India Post again issued a sheet having 11 stamps depicting various scenes from Ramayana.
The efforts by India Post to correct a historical wrong though commendable are not enough.
It is rightly said that “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
A civilization widely considered to be the world’s oldest and epics which have been the fountain of knowledge for philosophers across the world needs to be reflected and projected in all its glory to people across the world.
Stamps present just such an opportunity.
India must use its philatelic might to project its rich culture. Storytelling using stamps, to quote teachings from its epics, depict major events, deities and their teachings will help even the students to relate and understand their culture and heritage better, engendering a pride so necessary to bolster their purpose and dreams, and progress of the nation.
This will also be the propagation of India’s glorious past and its recounting.
India Post has a glorious opportunity to take forward India’s legacy of being the spiritual guru of the world, which has inspired people and civilizations globally. All the stakeholders must come together to realize this historic opportunity and resurrect India’s glorious past.