Much has already been written on the Jana Gana Mana controversy, and while I have in the past penned in my thoughts on controversies regarding national songs and anthem, I did not wish to add to the clutter.

And that was the primary reason I did not place on record my thoughts, when I received a forwarded email (on at least three different occasions) propagating that the Indian National Anthem was in fact written in praise of the King Emperor George V, and thus was ‘not worthy’ of being the national anthem. That this mail has been doing the rounds for quite some time now is clear by visiting many a blogs, including that of Srijith Krishnan and many forums like Sulekha.com and at DialogNow.org.

But yesterday’s forwarded mail (received through yet another friend, with a request for my views), changed the (lazy?) attitude, and I felt it was high time to express some thoughts on this issue.

For starters, Tagore and Jana Gana Mana, by Monish R. Chatterjee written as way back as November 14, 2000, is clearly an honest attempt at responding to the frequently perpetuated myth that Rabindranath Tagore wrote the song Jana Gana Mana for the British monarch.

In providing extensive arguments against this school of thought which propagates that the Jana Gana Mana was written in praise of the British monarch, Dr Chaterjee says, “not only as an inveterate admirer of Tagore, but also as someone who believes strongly that allegations against extraordinary human beings deserve extraordinary care and a scrupulous contextual examination, I can only urge those who choose to join the Jana Gana Mana controversy to study Tagore more extensively before jumping on the bandwagon or making unsubstantiated pronouncements”.

In expressing that “An objective reading of the song should make it eminently clear as to whom the poet decided to offer his worship,” Dr Chaterjee quotes Rabindranath Tagore’s very words (from one of Tagore’s letters to Pulin Behari Sen) on this unfortunate controversy, hoping that the words of the man himself may contibute to put the issue to rest:

[…] “A certain high official in His Majesty’s service, who was also my friend, had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.” […]

And if this sincere attempt by Dr Chatterjee seems to have gone IN VAIN, we have Pradip Kumar Datta, who in [India’s National Anthem] Are we still singing for the Empire? writes:

[…] The jingoism of the anti-Jana Gana Mana campaign is based on an appropriate irony. The charge actually rests on false evidence given by the pro-British press. The song was first sung in a session of the Congress in 1911. This session had decided to felicitate George V since he had announced the abrogation of the partition of Bengal, thereby conceding the success of the Swadeshi agitation, the first modern anti-colonial movement that had started in 1905. The day after the session the nationalist Indian papers normally — and accurately — reported that a Tagore composition had been sung. The Bengalee — along with other Indian newspapers as well as the report of the Indian National Congress – reported that it was a “patriotic song”. The following year the song was published as “Bharat — Vidatha”. A contemporary commentator in the vernacular Bharati described the song as one in “Praise of the Dispenser of human Destiny, who appears in every age.” He probably came closest to capturing its spirit. This song was to later become known as Jana Gana Mana.

The confusion about the song was stirred up by the ineptness of the pro-British Anglo-Indian press. Their inefficiency was not surprising (The Sunday Times once ascribed the authorship of Bande Mataram to Tagore and described Jana Gana Mana as a Hindi song!) On this occasion the Anglo-Indian press — led by The Englishman – almost uniformly reported that a Tagore song had been sung to commemorate George V’s visit to India. The reports were based on understandable ignorance since the Anglo-Indian press had neither the linguistic abilities nor the interest to be accurate. Actually, two songs that had been sung that day. The Jana Gana Mana had been followed by a Hindi song composed specially for George V by Rambhuj Chaudhary. There was no real connection between the composition of the Jana Gana Mana and George V, except that the song was sung — not written – at an event which also felicitated the king. The Anglo-Indian press [luckily for Hindutva enthusiasts and unfortunately for secularists!] heard Indian songs much in the way they looked at foreign faces: they were all the same! […]

No song is beyond controversy. There is enough muck raised on each and all. Even the ever popular Vande Maataram – the national song of India, being the ever popular choice of the RSS and like ideologies for being made the National Anthem, is not spared. A G Noorani’s How secular is Vande Mataram? where he argues that the “Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempt to make ‘Vande Mataram’, originally a song expressing Hindu nationalism, into an obligatory national song is unconstitutional”, is a testimony to this fact.

Not that I share this sentiment. I don’t. All this goes on to say that all you need is a clash of ideologies, different schools of thought, and the controversy is there… ready for the taking. But should we let this take away anything from the essence of these songs?

I would like to draw your attention to these words of P K Datta:

[…] Jana Gana Mana was chosen as anthem in 1950 over Bande Mataram as well as Iqbal’s Sare Jahan Se Accha – although Bande Mataram was given “equal status”. An important reason was that Bande Mataram could not be played by bands. Additionally Jana Gana Mana enjoyed an international reputation. It had been greatly appreciated in the United Nations at New York where it was first played as an orchestral arrangement in 1947. Many said that it was superior to most national anthems in the world. Within the country the overwhelming majority of the provinces supported its nomination.

But there is also an underlying reason that is really responsible for the controversy popping up at regular intervals. The words of Bande Mataram feature India as a homogeneous Hindu nation. Jana Gana Mana evokes the country as composed of a multiplicity of regions and communities united in a prayer to a universal lord. After all, Bande Mataram was composed by a colonial administrator who could only visualize the nation in Hindu terms: religious identity was the only available idiom for conceptualizing the nation then. In contrast, Tagore had seen the riots that broke up the Swadeshi movement and had divined the obvious: religious nationalism easily divided anti-colonial struggles. Jana Gana Mana can be seen as one of the fruits of Tagore’s search to find an alternate inclusivist definition for the nation. Incidentally, it was one of the harbingers of a decade that was to see Hindu and Muslim politicians draw together. In short, the two songs embody different ideas, histories and aspirations of the country. […]

Indeed. I do hope the above serves as food for thought and contributes to minimise further controversies regarding the National Anthem, and the National Song.

The idea behind both these WAS, IS, and WILL REMAIN instilling patriotism, and encouraging pride in the Nation. Let us NOT belittle these contributions, without having any knowledge or sense of the feeling it instilled in our forefathers who so gallantly fought for our independence. Let us learn to respect what they stand for, and STOP efforts at demeaning them.

Before we get caught up in any one of such myriad controversies and issues, let us ask ourself: How many of us can really say that we anything about the National Anthem, and for that matter the National Song? For instance, how many of us know that the complete song Jana Gana Mana penned by Tagore consists of FIVE stanzas, and the National Anthem is just the first of these FIVE Stanzas?

How many of us are aware of the fact that the full version of the national anthem lasts 52 seconds, while the shorter version (consisting of first and last lines of the stanza) lasts approximately 20 seconds? How many of us are aware that according to the contitution the full national anthem (to last 52 seconds) is typically sung only in the presence of the President of India, or the Governor?

Further, how many of us know anything about The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971?

All I say is: Let us first learn to respect the country, the nation, the national flag, national anthem, and the nation song.

Let us first try to make the Motherland proud of us.

Then IF time permits, and IF we have nothing better to do, let us bicker over these meaningless issues and controversies.

After all, all we can gain by this (if you can indeed call it a ‘gain’) is unnerve the unity and destabilize the integrity of the nation.

Vande Maataram!

Nakul

PS: The next time you hear the National Anthem (be it that you are watching the Indian Independence Day celebrations on the TV), STAND UP!

5 Comments

  1. This was very informative – thanks!

    1. You are most welcome, Bala.

      Glad you liked it.

      Nakul

  2. National Anthem….

    Informative. Thanks!

    1. Re: National Anthem….

      Hi Elan,

      Now that I know where KK got the idea of forwarding the spam mail to me… Thank you 😉

      Nakul

      1. Re: National Anthem….

        HI Nakul,

        Today I recieved the mail generating enough of speculation for national Anthem…even I did a mistake of forwarding it..Then just as I was trying to find the truth I came across ur entry…its mind blowing I must say..higly impressive…keep the good work up..but till now am not sure about the reality of the controversy…the circumstances have enough of power to convince ordinary person to have a opinion against Tagore…

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