Vande Mataram (“I do homage to the mother”)
There is perhaps no other symbol that captures the imagination of a nation more than a national anthem. The two most famous songs which celebrate the Indian nation and which have vied with each other for the status of our national anthem are Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana. Vande Mataram is, of course, the older of the two and takes the form of a worshipful hymn to Mother India. It was published in Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s novel Anand Math in 1882, the concept of Vande Mataram came to Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay when he was still a government official under the British Raj, around 1876. It was translated into Marathi and Kannada in 1897, Gujarati in 1901, Tamil in 1905, Hindi in 1906, Telugu in 1907 and Malayalam in 1909. By the 1920s, it had become widely known as the national song of India.
The first political occasion on which it was sung, was at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. It was set to music by none other than Rabindranath Tagore. It gathered mass appeal during the anti-partition movement in Bengal and was sung during the Bengal Provincial Conference held at Barisal in April, 1906 under the presidentship of a Muslim leader. It was, later, sung by Tagore himself on the opening day of the Congress session. In due course, Vande Mataram” became national cry for freedom from British rule during the freedom movement. Large rallies, fermenting initially in Bengal, in the major metropolis of Calcutta, would work themselves up into a patriotic fervour by shouting the slogan “Vande Mataram”, or “Hail to the Mother(land)!”. The British, fearful of the potential danger of an incited Indian populace, at one point banned the utterance of the motto in public forums, and imprisoned many freedom fighters for disobeying the proscription. the title of the song became the slogan of our nationalist movement.
Lala Lajpat Rai started a journal called Vande Mataram from Lahore. Hiralal Sen made India’s first political film in 1905 which ended with the chant. Matangini Hazra’s last words as she was shot to death by the Crown police were Vande Mataram. In 1907, Bhikaiji Cama (1861-1936) created the first version of India’s national flag (the Tiranga) in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1907. It had Vande Mataram written on it in the middle band.
although there were occasional protests from some sections of the Muslim community who protested that the song had communal overtones. Thus, between the years 1915 and 1947, intermittent voices were raised by some sections that certain references in the song are offensive to Muslim sensibility. This inevitably led to widespread resentment and acrimony and polarised communal sentiments among several disparate groups.
Lyrics of Vande Matram
सुजलां सुफलां मलयजशीतलाम्
शस्यशामलां मातरम् ।
सुहासिनीं सुमधुर भाषिणीं
सुखदां वरदां मातरम् ।। १ ।। वन्दे मातरम् ।
अबला केन मा एत बले ।
बहुबलधारिणीं नमामि तारिणीं
रिपुदलवारिणीं मातरम् ।। २ ।। वन्दे मातरम् ।
तुमि विद्या, तुमि धर्म
तुमि हृदि, तुमि मर्म
त्वं हि प्राणा: शरीरे
बाहुते तुमि मा शक्ति,
हृदये तुमि मा भक्ति,
तोमारई प्रतिमा गडि
मन्दिरे-मन्दिरे मातरम् ।। ३ ।। वन्दे मातरम् ।
त्वं हि दुर्गा दशप्रहरणधारिणी
वाणी विद्यादायिनी, नमामि त्वाम्
नमामि कमलां अमलां अतुलां
सुजलां सुफलां मातरम् ।। ४ ।। वन्दे मातरम् ।
श्यामलां सरलां सुस्मितां भूषितां
धरणीं भरणीं मातरम् ।। ५ ।। वन्दे मातरम् ।।
Translation of Vande Matram In Hindi.
It may be seen that the first two stanzas except for the reference to the country as Mother, the hymn does not contain any symbol or imagery which might affect communal sentiments. However, the next stanza equates the motherland as a goddess to be worshipped in a temple, in fact, evoking Durga, the destroyer of enemies, holding her ten weapons of war. It is pertinent to mention at this stage that in the time of Bankimchandra, Bengal was under the rule of a Mughal Governor and the novel Ananda Math, which is the vehicle used by the author to launch this hymn, is a story based on the militant revolutionary activities of a group of Hindus in the background of the Sanyasi rebellion. In this view of the matter, the hymn attacked the Muslim rule of the day and, in the larger context, it was a battle cry for a resurgent Hindu India while challenging the British imperialist rule.
In 1937, Sir Henry Craik, then Head of the Home Department and Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, wrote to Lord Baden-Powell that the song actually originated as a “hymn of hate” against Muslims. In April, 1938 at the All India Muslim League special session at Calcutta, Jinnah in his presidential address complained that the Congress endeavoured to impose the Vande Mataram song in the Legislatures causing much bitterness and opposition. There were many other similar instances of protest and opposition to the singing of this song. During this period, a Muslim Legislator of Madras objected to its singing by calling it an insult to Islam. In 1939, a little known Muslim Congress member from Madras wrote privately to Rajendra Prasad: “Vande Mataram is a Bengali word. The reactionary groups say that the meaning for this word is, we adore to (sic) the Goddess of the Earth. Is it right? May I please know how Vande Mataram became a National slogan? Is the picture Bharata Matha with numberless hands and wings a religious symbol or political?”
With the emergence of the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha in the first two decades of the 20th century, communal sentiments became polarized. Between 1922 and 1927, there are official records of at least 112 incidents of riot and bloodshed which were precipitated by Hindu-Muslim conflicts in which Vande Mataram had some direct connection.
In 1937, the Congress Working Committee appointed a sub-committee consisting of Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Acharya Narendra Dev to examine, in consultation with Rabindranath Tagore, the suitability of the song as a national anthem. In a letter to Nehru, in response to the sub-committee’s request for advice, Tagore wrote, “To me the spirit of tenderness and devotion expressed in its first portion, the emphasis it gave to beautiful and beneficent aspects of our motherland made a special appeal, so much so that I found no difficulty in dissociating it from the rest of the poem and from those portions of the book which it is a part, with all the sentiments of which, brought up as I was in the monotheistic ideals of my father, I could have no sympathy.”
This sub-committee adopted the following resolution: “Taking all things into consideration, therefore, the committee recommends that whenever Vande Mataram is sung at national gatherings, only the first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom to the organisers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in place of, Vande Mataram”
Writing on this alleged communal aspect in the Harijan of 1st July, 1939, Gandhiji wrote, “No matter what its source was and how and when it was composed, it had become a most powerful battle cry among Hindus and Musalmans of Bengal during the partition days. It was an anti-imperialist cry. As a lad, when I knew nothing of Ananda Math or even Bankim, its immortal author, Vande Mataram had gripped me, and when I first heard it sung it had enthralled me. I associated the purest national spirit with it. It never occurred to me that it was a Hindu song or meant only for Hindus. Unfortunately now we have fallen on evil days. All that was pure gold before has become base metal today. In such times it is wisdom not to market pure gold and let it be sold as base metal. I would not risk a single quarrel over singing Vande Mataram at a mixed gathering. It will never suffer from disuse. It is enthroned in the hearts of millions. It stirs to its depth the patriotism of millions in and outside Bengal. Its chosen stanzas are Bengal’s gift among many others to the whole nation.”
In a statement made in Parliament on 25th August, 1948, Prime Minister Nehru said: ‘‘It is unfortunate that some kind of argument has arisen between Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana. Vande Mataram is obviously and indisputably the premier national song of India with a great historical tradition; it was intimately connected with our struggle for freedom. That position it is bound to retain and no other song can displace it. It represents the passion and poignancy of that struggle, but perhaps not so much the culmination of it.’’
Adoption as “national song”
Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana was chosen as the National Anthem of the 1947 Republic of India. Vande Mataram was rejected on the grounds that Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Arya Samajis and others who opposed idol worship felt offended by its depiction of the nation as “Mother Durga”, a Hindu goddess. Muslims also felt that its origin as part of Anandamatha, a novel they felt had an anti-Muslim message.
The controversy becomes more complex in the light of Rabindranath Tagore’s rejection of the song as one that would unite all communities in India. In his letter to Subhash Chandra Bose (1937), Rabindranath wrote:
“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram – proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”
In a postscript to this same letter, Rabindranath says:
“Bengali Hindus have become agitated over this matter, but it does not concern only Hindus. Since there are strong feelings on both sides, a balanced judgment is essential. In pursuit of our political aims we want peace, unity and good will – we do not want the endless tug of war that comes from supporting the demands of one faction over the other.”
Rajendra Prasad, who was presiding the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950, made the following statement which was also adopted as the final decision on the issue:
The composition consisting of words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations as the Government may authorise as occasion arises, and the song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honored equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it. (Applause) I hope this will satisfy members. (Constituent Assembly of India, Vol. XII, 24-1-1950)
Alluding to the event that led to the choice of Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem, Nehru has stated in Parliament, “The matter came to a head on the occasion of the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1947 in New York. Our delegation was asked for our national anthem to be played on a particular occasion. The delegation possessed a record of Jana Gana Mana and they gave this to the orchestra to practise. When they played it before a large gathering, it was greatly appreciated and representatives of many nations asked for the musical score of this new tune which struck them as distinctive and dignified.
View of Muslim institutions
Muslim institutions in general, see Vande Mataram in a negative light. Though a number of Muslim organizations and individuals have opposed Vande Mataram being used as a “national song” of India, citing many religious reasons, some Muslim personalities have admired and even praised Vande Mataram as the “National Song of India” . Arif Mohammed Khan, a former Union Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, wrote an Urdu translation of Vande Mataram which starts as Tasleemat, maan tasleemat.
Not all Muslim intellectuals adopted this line of thought, however. In Bengal, Rezaul Karim, wrote a critique of Vande Mataram and Ananda Math during this period titled ‘Bankimchandra O Muslim Samaj’ in which he argued that the main reason for this concerted move around 1937 was to draw the Muslims away from the freedom struggle. He goes on to say that in spite of all the reservations, the song gave language to the dumb and courage to the faint-hearted and this remains Bankim’s lasting gift to his country. Although many people have called him a communalist and anti-Muslim, he is of the view that “the part of Bankim that is portrayed as hostile to Muslims is not a self-portrait but a picture of his age and the times in which he lived. For this, a writer should be forgiven”. He even went to the extent of arguing that “even if he was anti-Muslim, is his literary worth any less? Literature should be read as literature. If writers bring literature into the confusion of the political arena, then it is killed — robbed of its delight. Bankim should be seen, read and understood in literary terms. We have no other claim on him, and even if we do, he is not obliged to fulfil them.”
All India Sunni Ulema Board on Sept 6, 2006, issued a fatwa that the Muslims can sing the first two verses of the song. The Board president Moulana Mufti Syed Shah Badruddin Qadri Aljeelani said that “If you bow at the feet of your mother with respect, it is not shirk but only respect.” Shia scholar and All India Muslim Personal Law Board vice-president Maulana Kalbe Sadiq stated on Sept 5, 2006 that scholars need to examine the term “vande.” He asked, “Does it mean salutation or worship?”
View of Sikh institutions
Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee or SGPC, the paramount representative body in the Sikh Panth, requested the Sikhs to not sing “Vande Mataram” in the schools and institutions on its centenary on Sept 7, 2006. SGPC head, Avtar Singh Makkar, expressed concern that “imposing a song that reflected just one religion was bound to hurt the sentiments of the Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other religious minorities. The DSGMC (Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee) has called singing of “Vande Mataram” against Sikh tenents as the Sikhs sought “sarbat da bhala” (universal welfare) and did not believe in “devi and devta”. DSGMC head H. S. Sarna also added that the song “Vande Mataram” had been rejected long by well known freedom fighter Sikhs like Baba Kharak Singh and Master Tara Singh.
View of Christian institutions
Fr. Cyprian Kullu from Jharkhand stated in an interview with AsiaNews: “The song is a part of our history and national festivity and religion should not be dragged into such mundane things. The Vande Mataram is simply a national song without any connotation that could violate the tenets of any religion.” However, some Christian institutions such as Our Lady of Fatima Convent School in Patiala did not sing the song on its 100th anniversary as mandated by the state. Christians make a distinction between “veneration” and “worship,” and even though the song falls into neither of these categories, some Christians may have declined to sing the national song because of their understanding of its intention and content.
Looking beyond the political and communal issues that the hymn has been dragged into, it may be appropriate to conclude in the words of Sabyasachi Bhattacharya in what may be its essence and spirit:
“Vande Mataram is basically a series of evocations (imaginative recreation)of the memory of a discourse that had been part of the world outlook of Bankim and his audience. The investment of a new meaning in an image remembered brings with it a shock of recognition. As distinct from the Derozians and other iconoclasts in the first half of the nineteenth century, Bankim’s was an effort to recover a part of something they had cut loose from, hence this piece of writing represented a recognition. But it was not merely an act of rediscovery of something that belonged to the past. It was also a revelation (enlightenment)of something that was new, an old object of worship now reinvented as the motherland.”