What an irony that the only man who wrote national anthems of two nations is blamed of being unfair towards some region, in this case northeast, of his own country. Gurdev Rabindranath Tagore was not only the first Indian but also the first Asian to win Nobel prize for his beautiful poetry collection Geetanjali. He composed India’s national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in 1911 and Bangladesh’s national anthem ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’ in 1905.
The proud Indian nation is celebrating 100 years of the national anthem today. It was in December 1911, at the time of the Coronation Durbar of George V, that the ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was composed. On December 27, 1911 it was sung for the first time.
While many said it to be a song in praise of King George V, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi considered the song to have “found a place in our national life”, reported the BBC. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru noted that Jana Gana Mana was “a great national song… also because it is a constant reminder to all of our people of Rabindranath Tagore”.
Tagore scholar Prabodhchandra Sen pointed out in his 1949 book that Jana Gana Mana is a song with a broader national vision that glorifies the motherland. He said that it is a “hymn in praise of the lord of the universe, the dispenser of human destiny” – a status not mortally possible for any human being to achieve, including the British king.
Barun De, historian and Tagore National Fellow at Victoria Memorial Hall, says Jana Gana Mana envisages an India where disparate cultures, languages, races and religions have coalesced into one country. De says that, “There is nothing chauvinistic about it.”
However, sixty four years after India’s independence, India’s national anthem itself has remained mired in unfortunate controversies. Most recently the Supreme Court of India rejected a petition that asked for deleting the word ‘Sindh’ from the national anthem since it was no more a part of India. It has been questioned time and again by many, especially those belonging to the northeast and India.
As we have written in these columns before, “We need to understand his (Tagore’s) consciousness of inclusiveness.”
Relating the national anthem saga with the ongoing fast of anti-corruption brigade activists led by Anna Hazare, TOI wondered in its article Celebrating 100 years of national anthem that 100 years after the song was used to provoke people against Britishers and fight for their freedom, it is being used by Anna to provoke people yet again. This time to fight against a democratically elected government refusing to act tough against corruption.
But even as the controversies and coincidences go together, the controversy regarding northeast not being in the national anthem is partly unfair. It is the consciousness that wrote the poem that is important. Words do matter but there is no reason why the northeast should take it as their unfair treatment. The song was and will continue to represent India for generations to come.
About National Anthem
“Jana Gana Mana” was officially adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the Indian national anthem on January 24, 1950. Interestingly, the entire song is of five stanzas. However, the anthem which we sing ideally takes 52 seconds, is only the first paragraph. A handwritten translation in English which Gurudev called ‘The Morning Song of India’ is available. It is believed to be the most inspiring for its cursive beauty as well as lyrical thought.
Written in highly Sanskritized Bengali the anthem praises God Almighty and at the same time conveys the message of India being a land of ‘unity in diversity’.
Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’ edged out Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s ‘Vande Mataram’ in the face of opposition from various religious communities, thereby becoming the national anthem of India.