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Mainstream, VOL L, No 6, January 28, 2012

’Jana Gana Mana’ at 100

Tuesday 31 January 2012


‘Jana Gana Mana’ is the national anthem of India. The national anthem was first sung at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress (INC) on December 27, 1911. But at that time it was sung under the title, Bharata Bidhata. ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was officially adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the Indian national anthem on January 24, 1950. Now, India’s national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ is celebrating its centenary.

This is truly a rare occasion for every Indian who can be pround of it. Does a song, whether patriotic or not, have an impact on young and old minds alike? How did this song inspire larger sections of the society at one point of time? How did Jana Gana Mana bring about patriotic feelings in the masses to such a great extent? How far had this song become one of the identities of India as a nation before indepen-dence? How should one place Jana Gana Mana in realising unity of minds during the crucial phase of India’s freedom struggle? Look at the lofty ideals of the song. The poetic quality, Indian geography, and ethos have been woven together into the song beautifully.

Jana Gana Mana Adhinaayaka Jayo Hey,
Bhaarata Bhaagya Bidhaataa
Panjaaba Sindhu Gujaraata Maraathaa,
Draabiro Utkalo Bango
Bindhya Himaachala Jamunaa Gangaa,
Uchchhalo Jalodhi Tarango
Tabo Shubho Naamey Jaagey,
Tabo Shubho Aashisha Maagey
Gaahey Tabo Jayogaathaa
Jana Gana Mangala Daayako Jayo Hey,
Bhaarato Bhaagyo Bidhaataa
Jayo Hey, Jayo Hey, Jayo Hey, Jayo Jayo Jayo, Jayo Hey.

In the panorama of the long, chequerd history of India’s freedom struggle, there is no doubt that the song has earned a special and prominent place in the Indian psyche with a strong patriotic fervour, and this shall ever remain undiminished being a forceful message for generations to come. Being tuned in the ‘Shankarabharana’ raga, written in highly Sansritised (Tatsama) Bengali, it is the first of five stanzas of a Brahmo hymn composed and scored by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The song Jana Gana Mana was published in ‘Tatva Bodha Prakasika’, and Tagore served as the editor of the publication. Consisting of a total of five stanzas the Jana Gana Mana part comprised the first stanza. A formal rendition of the national anthem takes approximately fiftytwo seconds. A shortened version consisting of the first and last lines (and taking about 20 seconds to play) is also staged occasionally.

A few thoughts on the English translation—Tagore wrote down the English translation of the song and along with Margaret Cousins (an expert in European music and wife of Irish poet James Cousins), set down the notation which is followed till this day. It is of interest that another poem by Tagore (Amar Shonar Bangla) is the national anthem of Bangladesh. This English translation by Tagore is also famous as The Morning Song of India and comprises four more stanzas. Rabindranath Tagore translated Jana Gana Mana from Bengali to English and also set it to music in Madanapalle a town located in the Chittoor district of the Andhra Pradesh State of India. Though the Bengali song had been written in 1911, it was largely unknown except to the readers of the Brahmo Samaj journal, Tatva Bodha Prakasika, of which Tagore was the editor.

English Translation

Oh! the ruler of the minds of people, Victory be to You, dispenser of the destiny of India!
Punjab, Sindhu, Gujarat, Maharashtra,Dravida(South India), Orissa, and Bengal,
The Vindhya, the Himalayas, the Yamuna, the Ganges,and the oceans with foaming waves all around
Wake up listening to Your auspicious name, Ask for Your auspicious blessings,
And sing to Your glorious victory.
Oh! You who impart well being to the people!
Victory be to You, dispenser of the destiny of India! Victory to You!
Your call is announced continuously, we heed Your gracious call
The Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees, Muslims, and Christians,
The East and the West come, to the side of Your throne
And weave the garland of love.
Oh! You who bring in the unity of the people!
Victory be to You, dispenser of the destiny of India!

During 1919, Tagore accepted an invitation from friend and controversial Irish poet James H. Cousins to spend a few days at the Besant Theosophical College, of which Cousins was the principal. On the evening of February 28, 1919 he joined a gathering of students and upon Cousins’ request, sang the Jana Gana Mana in Bengali. The college authorities, greatly impressed by the lofty ideals of the song and the praise to God, selected it as their prayer song. In the days that followed, enchanted by the dreamy hills of Madanapalle, Tagore wrote down the English translation of the song and along with Cousins’ wife, Margaret (an expert in Western music), set down the notation which is followed till this day. The song was carried beyond the borders of India by the college students and became The Morning Song of India and subsequently the national anthem.

Look at the nature of the British imperialism during the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The British officials tried to impose on Indian soil their national song titled, ‘God Save the Queen’, during this period. But all those efforts had been resisted by the freedom struggle to nurture Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem (Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Bande Mataram also shares equal honours with Jana Gana Mana).

If one looks into the background of the freedom struggle during the period and the first singing of Jana Gana Mana at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress, one point is quite noteworthy. It was the growth of militant nationalism (extremism) during 1905-1908 relating to the Indian national movement. After 1908, the national movement as a whole declined. In 1909, Aurobindo Ghose noted the change: “When I went to jail the whole country was alive with the cry of Bande Mataram, alive with the hope of a nation, the hope of millions of men who had newly risen out of degradtion. When I came out of jail I listened for the cry, but there was instead a silence—a hush had fallen on the country.” (Sri Aurobindo Karmayogin, edited from Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1972, p. 1)
The nationalist sentiments that were aroused did not disappear and people waited for the next phase. In 1914, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was released and he picked up the threads of the movement. The moderates were dissatisfied by the constitu-tional reforms of 1909. The Indian Councils Act of 1909 increased the number of elected members in the Imperial Legislative Council and the Provinicial Legislative Councils. The Indian national movement even in its early days could make a large number of people conscious of the evils of foreign domination. It had changed the temper of the people and developed a new awareness in the country. Politically conscious Indians were convinced that the purpose of the British rule was to exploit India economically, and to enrich England at the cost of India. They realised that India could make little progress in the economic field unless British imperialism was replaced by a government controlled and run by the Indian people.

The ideological aspect of the spread of education cannot be underestimated. The larger the number of educated Indians, the larger was the area of influence of Western ideas of democracy, nationalism and radicalism. The educated Indians became the best propagators and followers of militant nationalism both because they were low-paid or unemployed and because they were educated in modern thought and politics, and in European and world history.

The newspaper, Karachi Chronicle, of June 18, 1905 expressed the popular feelings as follows:

What one Asiatic has done others can do…. If Japan can drub Russia, India can drub England with equal ease… Let us drive the British into the sea and take our place side by side with Japan among the great powers of the world.
Revolutionary movements in Ireland, Russia, Egypt, Turkey and China and the Boer War in South Africa convinced the Indians that a united people willing to make sacrifices could challenge even the most powerful of despotic governments. What was needed more than anything else was a spirit of patriotism and self-sacrifice.
The moderates lost touch with the younger generation of nationalists. The British Govern-ment played the game of ‘divide and rule’. While suppressing the militant nationalists, it tried to win over moderate nationalist opinion so that the militant nationalists could be isolated and crushed. To placate the moderate nationalists, it announced constitutional concessions through the Indian Councils Act of 1909, known as the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. In 1911, the govern-ment also announced the annulment of the partition of Bengal. Western and Eastern Bengals were to be reunited while a new province consisting of Bihar and Orissa was to be created. At the same time, the seat of the Central Government was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi (in 1911).

THE most striking aspect during 1911 was the rise of nationalism and communalism. And communalism posed the biggest threat to the unity of the Indian people and the national movement.

Communalism is basically an ideology. Communal riots are only one consequence of the spread of this ideology. Communalism is the belief that because a group of people follow a particular religion they have, as a result, common social, political and economic interests. It is the belief that in India, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians form different and distinct commu-nities; that there is, and can be, no such thing as an Indian nation, but only a Hindu nation, a Muslim nation and so on; that India can, therefore, only be a mere confederation of religious communities. Inherent in communalism is the second notion that the social, cultural, economic and political interests of the followers of one religion are dissimilar and divergent from the interests of the followers of another religion. The third stage of communalism is reached when the interests of the followers of different religious ‘communities’ are seen to be mutually incompatible, antagonistic and hostile. Thus, at this stage, the communalists assert that Hindus and Muslims cannot have common interests, and that their interests are bound to be opposed to each other.

Though religion was an important part of the people’s lives and they sometimes quarreled over religion, there was hardly any communal ideology or communal politics before the 1870s. There is no doubt that communalism is a modern phenomenon. Communalism emerged as a result of the emergence of new, modern politics based on the people and on popular participation and mobilisation. It made it necessary to have wider links and loyalties among the people and to form new identities. This process was bound to be difficult, gradual and complex. This process required the birth and spread of modern ideas of nation, class and cultural-linguistic identity. These identities, being new and unfamiliar, arose and grew slowly and in a zig-zag fashion. Quite often people used the old, familiar pre-modern identity of caste, locality, sect and religion to grasp the new reality and to make wider connections and to evolve new identities. But gradually the new, modern and historically necessary identities of nation, nationality and class have prevailed. However, this process has remained incomplete for decades.

As students of history we should also know the manner in which Indian history was taught in schools and colleges in those days and is done even now. The learning of history those days contributed to the growth of communalist feelings among the educated Hindus and Muslims. The founding fathers of Indian nationalism fully realised that the welding of Indians into a single nation would be a gradual process and a hard task, requiring prolonged political education of the people. The early nationalists tried to modernise the political outlook of the people by teaching that politics should not be based on religion and community. In his presidential address to the INC of 1886, Dadabhai Naoroji had given the clear assurance that the Congress would take up only the national question.

The national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, inspires millions of Indians. We should keep in mind the spirit and ideals of the freedom movement. In this regard, it is instructive to know that Jana Gana Mana occupies an eternal place in each Indian’s mind. It is reflected in the Fundamental Duties prescribed by the Constitution of India under PART [IV-A] for every citizen: To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem; to cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom; to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India; to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women; to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture; to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures; to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. Finally, Fundamental Duties of the Constitution of India also consist of the following—To strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavor and achievement. This should be the guiding principle and spirit that every Indian should imbibe during the centenary celebrations of Jana Gana Mana.

The author holds a Ph.D from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Presently he is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bangalore. He can be reached at jayanpa@gmail.com

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