Two days after superstar Rajinikanth announced his political entry, his fans have already begun feverishly speculating over the name of his party and its symbol. While some media reports speculate that Rajini may unveil the name of his party on Pongal, the buzz over his symbol is focussed on the Baba insignia that is used in all of the star’s communication with the press.
The symbol which shows the thumb holding down the ring and middle fingers is increasingly touted to be the official logo of his soon-to-be-announced party.
We first saw the symbol in the 2002 film Baba where he plays a good Samaritan atheist who develops faith after a meeting with Mahavatar Babaji, a sage who was reportedly spotted in the Himalayas between 1861 and 1935.
A-decade-and-a half later when the actor announced his political entry in December 2017, the stage was adorned by the same symbol seated on a lotus. In subsequent communications with the media, however, the lotus disappeared but the symbol remained.
So, what is the baba symbol and what does it represent? The internet has some theories.
The symbol from the film is supposed to be the apana mudra. The five fingers of the hand represent the five yogic elements: thumb is fire, index finger is air, middle finger is space, ring finger is earth and the little finger is water. In this mudra, the middle finger and the ring finger are held down by the thumb symbolically representing the calming down of the ether and the earth. According to Kriya Yoga, the repeated holding of that posture helps in digestion and improves stomach-related ailments. However, it is rather curious as a political symbol.
One theory is also that in Bharatanatyam, this symbol is used to show the face of the lion which would be more apt for an actor with a roaring popularity in India.
Similarities to Ramakrishna Mission’s logo
The serpent at the head of the symbol has caught the attention of everyone for encircling the hand. It is perhaps representative of the circle of life and death, much like the way a snake would shed its skin.
Rajinikanth told reporters that the snake represents divinity and depicts 'Kundalini', or static energy that supports all life. Often, this energy is depicted as a serpent.
In Hindu mythology, man’s ultimate goal is to be rid of the cycle of birth and death. Another reading could be the sheshnag which when uncoiled has the capacity to move time and make creation possible; the universe ends when the snake coils back.
Significantly, the logo of Ramakrishna Mission bears a similar symbol – with the serpent encircling a swan that is seated on a lotus, as the sun rises over the waters.
Rajinikanth is said to have been influenced by the teaching of the Ramakrishna Mission in his early days. Ramakrishna Mission was founded by Swami Vivekananda to spread the word of his guru Paramahansa Ramakrishna. Parahansa Yogananda who was fond of Parahansa Ramakrishna is said to have met Rajinikanth's spiritual guru Mahadev Babaji as per the former's account in his book the Autobiography of a Yogi.
Followers of Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Yoga also wear a serpent-shaped ring.
Shabir have u seen the symbol of Isha yoga center- its a serpent. Max isha followers wear it like a ring which has serpent— Agizo (@Agizo_Jay) January 2, 2018
Working class symbol
Speaking to TNM, Kollywood art director Shanoo Muralidharan, however, points out that the body of the snake doubles up as a sickle. “There’s a sickle around the baba symbol which perhaps represents the average workers. The sickle is usually used by farmers to cut crops. This is generally used by communist parties to represent the working class,” she argues.
But interestingly enough, while the lotus was prominent on stage, the flower was dropped in Rajinikanth’s official video unveiling the rajinimandram website and app.
In Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist traditions, the lotus is supposed to represent divinity and purity of the body, mind and soul. In Hinduism in particular, it is said to represent non-attachment much the same way that water does not wet the leaf of the flower.
But as a political symbol, the lotus is associated with the BJP. While Rajini’s political ideologies are widely speculated to be in line with the BJP, could the removal of the lotus from the logo be an attempt to distance himself from the ruling party?