A twist in the myth: Rukmini’s vague Arunachal connection

[ Taba Ajum & Karyir Riba ]
ITANAGAR, Mar 27: The ongoing ‘Madhavpur Fair’ being celebrated in Gujarat to commemorate Rukmini’s journey from Arunachal to Gujarat with Lord Krishna has caught the people of state,particularly the Idu Mishmi society, off guard.
The fair, organized by the union ministry of cultural affairs, celebrates the marriage of Rukmini, believed to be an Idu woman, with Krishna. Chief Minister Pema Khandu and MoS for Home Kiren Rijiju along with several top BJP leaders are attending the fair.
The celebration has set tongues wagging, with a section of the people seeing it as an attempt to saffronize Arunachal Pradesh with the blessings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the rightwing Hindu nationalist organization.
This move of the BJP government has divided the opinion of the masses. It has also forced people to wonder whether Rukmini indeed belonged to the Idu-Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, or if it is propaganda unleashed by the right wing group to counter the so-called spread of Christianity in the state.
This daily attempted to speak to several elders of the Idu community and prominent citizens of state to get their opinions. Unfortunately, many were reluctant to speak out, fearing reprisal from the ruling establishment.
Did Rukmini belong to the Idu-Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh? Well, there is no definite answer to the question of the hour, as some believe it to be true, while others simply deny the theory.
The story that links Rukmini to the Idu-Mishmis is believed to have stemmed only some three to four decades back, informs Dr Rasto Mena, public relations secretary of the Idu Mishmi Cultural and Literary Society (IMCLS). Tracing back in time, some remember it to have started from the government higher secondary school (GHSS), Roing, in the 60s or 70s.
Dr Mena says, “Some like to celebrate the association of Rukmini to the tribe, while some question this very association. There are others that completely deny the whole association. However, such initiatives of the government, if for strengthening cultural ties and promoting cultural integration, should be welcomed with open arms.”
However there are citizens who differ with the view.
“Around the 70s, Christian missionaries started making inroads into Arunachal. To counter it, the Hindu rightwing groups, with the patronage of the then central government, started this theory of Rukmini being Idu. The presence of Parsuram Kund and Bismaknagar,which has a connection with Hindu mythology, near the Idu belt gave further fillip to this story. But there is no historical or scientific evidence to support it. The union government is distorting tribal history by promoting this kind of imaginary story,” said a worried citizen.
Reportedly, there is no trace of the story of Rukmini -or for that matter of the name Rukmini – in any of the Idu-Mishmi stories, folklores, legends or mythology. While the Igu (Idu priest or shaman) is considered very highly in the Idu-Mishmi culture, custom and tradition, no story of the Igu has any mention of Rukmini or her story.
However, although non-believers of the Rukmini theory, some have shared memories of having seen dances and plays on ‘Rukmini Haran’ organised and performed by the students of the GHSS, Roing, which they said were famous during the late 70s -almost the time when the story is believed to have come into existence.
In short, people are of the belief that the whole Rukmini story is a recent lore that some like to believe while others completely deny. Some are of the opinion that the whole Rukmini story and the hype behind it is basically for a better connection of the state with mainland India.
“If this connection works for the benefit of the area, why not?” says former IMCLS GS Dr Mite Linggi. “But why should tribal history be allowed to be distorted for short-term benefit? We have to fight back against such false propaganda. Already, due to the influence of Christian missionaries, our rich traditional practices have been affected. Now we are making the same mistake and allowing Hindu groups to distort our history,” retorts a citizen.
Many deny it, some call it religious propaganda, and others like to call it political propaganda. However, there are sections that do believe that Rukmini indeed belonged to the Idu-Mishmi tribe.