Controversy Surrounding The Indian National Anthem

Posted by Sanyam Jain 4 comments

The seeds of this controversy were sown long back- in the year 1911. It was the year when King George V and Queen Mary visited India. Congress, which at that time was controlled by moderates, decided to felicitate the King in its annual conference, since he had announced the abrogation of the partition of Bengal.

For this purpose Rabindra Nath Tagore was approached and was requested to write a song to honor the King.

Rabindra Nath Tagore composed Jan Gan Man, which was sung for the first time on the second day of the conference- a day reserved to give a loyal welcome to King George V.

The English newspapers carried the following report about the event:

  • “The Bengali poet Babu Rabindranath Tagore sang a song composed by him specially to welcome the Emperor.” (Statesman, Dec. 28, 1911)
  • “The proceedings began with the singing by Babu Rabindranath Tagore of a song specially composed by him in honour of the Emperor.” (Englishman, Dec. 28, 1911) 
  • “When the proceedings of the Indian National Congress began on Wednesday 27th December 1911, a Bengali song in welcome of the Emperor was sung. A resolution welcoming the Emperor and Empress was also adopted unanimously.” (Indian, Dec. 29, 1911).

News Report About the Event as reported in the Indian newspapers

“The proceedings of the Congress party session started with a prayer in Bengali to praise God (song of benediction). This was followed by a resolution expressing loyalty to King George V. Then another song was sung welcoming King George V.” (Amrita Bazar Patrika , Dec.28,1911)

“The annual session of Congress began by singing a song composed by the great Bengali poet Babu Ravindranath Tagore. Then a resolution expressing loyalty to King George V was passed. A song paying a heartfelt homage to King George V was then sung by a group of boys and girls.” (The Bengalee, Dec. 28, 1911).

Report of the annual session of the Indian National Congress

“On the first day of 28th annual session of the Congress, proceedings started after singing Vande Mataram. On the second day the work began after singing a patriotic song by Babu Ravindranath Tagore. Messages from well wishers were then read and a resolution was passed expressing loyalty to King George V. Afterwards the song composed for welcoming King George V and Queen Mary was sung.”
Other Small but Substantial proofs

1) A month after Jana Gana Mana was sung at the Congress session, a circular was issued by the Director of Public Instructions for East Bengal that banned Government servants from sending their children to Shantiniketan- a school run by Rabindra Nath Tagore. Doesn’t that prove that Rabindra Nath Tagore and the British were not best of friends?

2) In 1917, when Congress was controlled by the Extremists, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Daas, a great patriot, said about the song, “It is a song for glory and victory of India.” Had it been sung to welcome the King, would he have ever said that?

Rabindra Nath Tagore’s Reaction on the Controversy

On 10 November 1937, Tagore wrote a letter to Mr Pulin Bihari Sen [The letter written in Bengali can be found in Ravindrajivani (Tagore's biography) by Prabhatkumar Mukherjee, volume II page 339.]:

“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.”

Again in his letter dated 19 March 1939 Tagore wrote,

“I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbounded stupidity as to sing in praise of George the Fourth or George the Fifth as the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind.”

Few Question which should be answered

If it was not Jan-Gan-Man, which was the song sung in honor of the King?

Two songs were sung that day. The Jana Gana Mana was followed by a Hindi song composed by Pt. Rambhuj Chaudhary for King George V. This song can be found in the book ‘Our National Anthem’ by Rabindra Kumar Dasgupta published in 1993 by Manjula Bose, Tagore Research Institute, Kolkata.

The original song has 5 stanzas of which only the first stanza is recognized as National Anthem.

Whom does “Bharath Bhagya Vidhata” refer to?

The mail claims that Bharat Bhagya Vidhata is the King George V. They got this notion from the English translation of the National Anthem. But if you look at Tagore’s work you’ll find that the metaphor “King” represents God. This can be seen in his book “Gitanjali” (an offering of songs to the God):-

Poem #50: “I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this King of all Kings!”

Poem #51: “The King has come- but where are lights, where are wreaths? Where is the throne to seat him?….. Open the doors, let the conch-shells be sounded!”

The word “mother” in the 4th stanza of the song refers to Queen Mary

It is argued that “Ma” (in stanza 4 of the song- not a part of national anthem) refers to the Queen. This is incorrect. The word “Ma” has been used as a metaphor for the Motherland and not the Queen. Even in Amar Sonar Bangla, the national anthem of Bangladesh, Tagore has used the word “ma” and “mata” many times to refer to the motherland.

Fifth stanza of the song asks “the sleeping Bharat” to wake up and bow down to Queen’s feet

The original phrase “Nidrito Bharato Jaagey” (Sleeping India awakens) has been used by many nationalist poets to awaken the masses for revolution against British Imperialism.

Only provinces under British rule were added in the song

The mail claims that only the provinces which were under the British rule are mentioned in the song. None of the princely states – Kashmir, Rajasthan, Mysore etc-are present. Neither the Indian Ocean nor the Arabian Sea was included, as they were directly under Portuguese rule at that time.

The fact is that only the borders states of India were included to represent complete India. ‘Dravida’ represents the south, ‘Utkal’(Orissa) and ‘Banga’ marks the eastern border, ‘Sindh’, ‘Gujarat’ and ‘Maratha’ the western border and ‘Punjab’ represented the North. Even North-East, which was under British is not mentioned. Nor are rivers apart from Ganga and Yamuna, to keep the flow of the song.

Source: Knowledge hub

  • Manbir Suri

    The media it seems has some very old habits of creating controversies in order to get more eyes & ears

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  • Sharmistha

    One important point that most people seem to be missing is that the song actually covers the whole of India. Himanchal does not refer to Himachal Pradesh…rather the Himalayan Region. Himanchal covers all the states that are in the Indian Himalayan Region, viz, J&K, Sikkim, HP, Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and northern parts of Bengal. Secondly, Vindhya mountain ranges cover the entire central india from Bihar, through MP to UP and even Gujarat. Also, the Southern Indian belt is collectively known as Dravidian belt. It is important that we understand the true meaning of our anthem before speculating.

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