Controversy Surrounding The Indian National Anthem


independence day Happy Independence Day to all !!

Every year I start 15th August by standing proudly in attention to our National Anthem. This year is no exception. But today, apart from feeling proud, I am experiencing another feeling also- a feeling of sadness. I’m feeling sad because of the disrespect shown to our National Anthem by some of our fellow Indians, by forwarding hate mails against it. Though I hate to publish it on this blog, I consider it my duty to tell everyone what some people think of our National Anthem, and prove them wrong.

Since it is a long mail, you can read it here.

The mail claims that our National Anthem was composed not to show reverence to our motherland but to honor a British king!! I would have deleted the mail laughing at the ignorance of the sender, but unfortunately I couldn’t. Because me and my friends have received tens of such mails in past few days. Because all these mails were from the educated youth of the country. Because this leaves me thinking if our foundation is getting weak.

I, for one, firmly believe that our National Anthem stands for the pride and victory of India. But I won’t ask you to believe me. I’ll ask you to believe facts. Facts that you can verify after a few hours of research. Facts which should have been verified before sending this mail.

What Started This Controversy?

KingGeorgeV_QueenMary 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).

Doesn’t that prove that the song was sung in praise of King George V?

Before you form any conclusion, let me tell you that this is just one side of the story. Let us now see the other side of it.

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.”

Rabindra Nath Tagore

There must be some obvious questions lurking in your mind now:

Why did the English Newspapers give incorrect information about the event?

A possible reason for this could be that it was a result of the ineptness of the pro-British press, since they did not had the linguistic abilities to be accurate.

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.
Check the original song here:
The Complete Jan Gan Man

Having proved beyond doubt that our National Anthem is indeed a song in praise of our motherland, let’s answer a few questions raised in the mail.

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.

There is another hoax mail doing rounds, which claims that our national anthem has been chosen as the best anthem by UNESCO. Read the facts here.

It is now up to you to decide what you want to do– believe the mail and forward it to your friends, or believe the facts and share it with everyone.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
-Rabindra Nath Tagore

Do you know why Pakistan celebrates its Independence Day on 14th and India on 15th August? Check this interesting article that throws light on this and other interesting facts related to Independence Day & Republic Day.

Special Thanks:
This article could not have been written without the help of:

1) Sudhanshu Shekhawat, who first drew my attention towards this mail and motivated me to do a research on this topic.

2) The team at Bhel Puri magazine, who gave me an opportunity to write an article on this topic. Do read this month’s issue of the BhelPuri magazine to get more information on this topic.

3)http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/pkDatta092004.html

4) http://satyashodh.com/janaganaman/index.htm

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19 Responses to “Controversy Surrounding The Indian National Anthem”

  1. alankar sharma
    December 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    interesting write up, smashing the myth once and for all, however may i point out that the first picture on this page, of soldiers with the indian flag isn’t an indian army picture, its photoshopped from a picture of american soldiers during battle of iwo jima in world war-2

    here’s the original pic:
    http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQWNtQzNoXGeVQcC0PrhoG_iwLeIIK86qqWbWXwA12aNt-o8zI67tZkmXQQ

    and those men are actually from the united states marine corps, their names are- Doc Bradley, Mike Strank, Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block, Ira Hayes, and Franklin Sousley

    so, please take that picture off…… no offence intended but just a request from a patriotic indian just like you..

    • Bhuj
      January 8, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      Why was the song sung at darbar, if it were for patriotism then they should have condemned this darbar, then why did the sing it there vande matram wasn’t sung there, then why. Vande matram was also the song closely related to our freedom struggle. Before being hung, patriots used to proudly say, vande matram, not jan gan man

  2. K Nagarajan
    December 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Please try to find answers to the following questions, just like you’ve tried to answer the other questions:

    1. Why did Babu Rabindranath change his title from the Indian “Thakur” to the anglicised “Tagore”? If it was not for pleasing his English masters, why else was that change?

    2. Writing something 26 years or more later, just to justify what he penned earlier: does it really prove anything at all, except that what is written so later is a lame-duck excuse?

    The so called “myth” is not smashed! Rather, it becomes more established that it was penned as a tribute to the King George who was then visiting India!

    Read this article http://www.hindujagruti.org/news/13248.html for a dose of reality.

    • Anshul
      December 28, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

      Hi Nagarajan,

      Being a Brahman. Rabindranath Tagore’s forefathers were called Thakurmashai, or ‘holy sir’. It got modified to ‘Thakur’ and became their family name. This was later anglicized to ‘Tagore’. But this does not mean that Rabindranath himself adopted a new name to please the Britishers. If he wanted to do so, it would have made sense to change his first name, which is too long for someone from the West, to something British friendly- say Rabi!

      It could be that Mr Sen reached out to Tagore in 1937 with these questions which prompted him to write a letter then.

      Also, I wouldn’t worry too much about an article written by a person who goes on branding people as patriotic and non-patriotic based on their state, and who thinks that his words are the words of God!

      No one can know for sure what had happened in the past. But rather than believing whatever is told to us, let us use our own critical and analytical thinking before forming a conclusion.

  3. K Nagarajan
    December 29, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    “Thakurmashai” doesn’t mean “Holy Sir”, in the first place. “Thakur” was their title, like sharma, mazumder, etc. “Mashai” is the colloquial version of “Mahashay” (महाशय) – have you seen “Anand” where Rajesh Khanna refers to Amitabh as “Babumashai”? Would you try and give some other meaning to how Amitabh was being called in that movie?

    “Thakur” is the title adopted by the “Zamindars” (Land-owners) of this region since long – check it in Eastern UP, Bihar and in Bengal too!

    English have the culture of calling people by their last name prefixing “Mr.”, unless the person is so close personally – then it is claimed that “I know so-and-so on a first name basis”. It is our bad habit to call every body by their last name, that too without prefixing the respectful salutation required. So, there was no need to change (anglicize) the first name, the necessity was only to change (anglicize) the last name!

    Regarding branding of people based on their state, though I would love to be against it, history says otherwise – Why did the British go all the way around the sub-continent and land in Bengal first? I don’t say everyone belonging to the state are in the same category – what I mean is that the leadership class of the said state, particularly the zamindars, including your “Thakurmashai” a.k.a. “Tagore” was of that type.

    Can you, at any point, say without any inkling of doubt, that “Vande Mataram” would not have been a better candidate? That too was written by some one from the same state – Shri Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. But, he was neither a zamindar nor belonged to the then leadership class.

    More over, if you go through Thakurmashai’s history, you’ll find that they have been loyal to the British Crown from the time of his paternal grand-father!

    Well! Opinions are our own and we need not force them on each other!

    I do revere our National Anthem, just because it has been taken up as our National Anthem. Had it been a more apt poem, it would’ve been revered with more enthusiasm and from the heart, not just with the head. Nothing more, nothing less.

  4. Arindam
    March 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    Hello

    This is for K Nagarajan.

    I hail from Bengal myself and can vouch for the fact that Thakur was NOT changed to Tagore by Rabindranath. In fact he never CHANGED his surname – in all Bengali works Thakur is retained. So far as the spelling Tagore in English is concerned, this was used to refer to his grandfather “Prince” Dwarkanath, a close associate of Raja Ram Mohun Roy and a pioneering Indian industrialist. This spelling continued for the subsequent generations. So the worst that Rabindranath or any other descendant of Dwarkanath can be accused of is of not changing the spelling to Thakur in English. Hardly an easy task to take care of the entire officialese.

    Is continuation of a dubious spelling adopted by the Brits only this family’s fault? There are numerous “Dutts” who never cared to change to Datta, any number of Chatterjees, Mukherjees, Bannerjees, Gangulis etc., “Boses” (including Netaji!) who never reverted to Bosu (the nearest to the Bengali pronunciation), “Pauls”, “Shaws” and so on.

    About loyalty to the crown: Rabindranath or the rest of his family were no more “loyal” than the number of patriots who first stirred nationalism in this country. You are ignorant of the role played by the family – Rabindranath unexcepted – in instilling nationalism in Indians’ hearts, strting with the “Swadeshi Mela” etc. Scores of his poems, songs, stories etc. testify to that. Can you explain why the sessions of the Congress, barring the 1905 Calcutta Session, always had a resolution professing loyalty to the crown? Surely these weren’t writted by Rabindranath – but rather by “leaders” such as Gokhale, Surendranath, Mehta, Woomeshchandra, Tyabji, Ranade etc.?

    I think you need to study the history of early Indian nationalism more carefully than you have so far done – in fact, the contribution of Rabindranath and his family is recognised by one and all including Gandhiji, Netaji etc. In any case, he was a poet first and foremost and politics was not his primary field; why must one force one’s prejudices upon him to conform to them?

    Re: Brits setting up shop in Bengal first. The major reasons were most likely the availability of fine cloth, spices and other merchandising goods, as well as the extensive river network Bengal offered, aiding their business. Also, Bengal was practically only nominally under Delhi’s control and far removed from the rest of the country; hence no interference from the Mughals – who still were a force to reckon with – or the strong kingdoms of Maharashtra, Mysore etc. would need to be encountered.

    “Opinions” are fine; untruths are not. Peace.

    • Anshul
      April 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      That was very enlightening Arindam! Thanks a lot for this clarification.

    • Ramendra
      August 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

      I never found that bengai has the surname ” Thakur”.

  5. Sabya
    May 11, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    I suddenly stumbled upon this post and could not resist remarking upon it. In the first place the article posted by Nagarajan is written by a Hindu fanatic so it’s not only bereft of any sense and use but also highly derogatory to a particular state of our country, the state which spilled much blood for this country and in return suffered the plight of partition. It’s this Hindu fanatic who Mahatma Gandhi and now set out to defame Rabindranath. There was a mention of Vir Saravarkar in the article.

    I would like to inform that it’s this Savarakar who colluded with the British and betrayed the freedom movement. As for Tagore, I think he has been always mistaken in this country as was Gandhi. Though supported the nationalist sentiment, Tagore was highly critical of obsessive and dogmatic patriotism, nationalism, traditionalism and any kind of of jingoism – which the RSS and other hindu fanatic groups are so fond of !! Tagore preceded reason, freedom of mind and speech and scientific knowledge over any other things. He was critical of Gandhi’s Charka movement because he never believed that India could progress without adopting western technologies and scientific methods.

    He opposed vehemently the British Administration and his speech was suppressed by the British on several occasions .Of course, unlike our political leaders, he need not have to clarify every controversy surrounding him on time- for he never aspire to fight elections!! But I wish he could. At least then this country which claims to be educated and yet need explicit clarification for every petty thing, little faith on the facts and reason and like to fantasize with silly things like ‘why it was not Thakur rather tagore’ would not have been misled by fanatics !!!

    But his words of wisdom can not be perceived by any fanatics!!

    Please read the following article by Amartya Sen on Tagore: http://www.countercurrents.org/culture-sen281003.htm

    Please don’t let fundamentalist tear apart this country again in the name of religion. We have seen enough bloodbath.

  6. Nivedita Mitra
    August 23, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    By going through this entire discussion, I sense a feeling of pride in me. I was very much intriguded by the article. But more than what must have happened in the History, I am awestruck by the knowledge we Indians possess. All of you here who have put forth their points are in real sense “THINKERS OF TODAY”…Not a match to “GURUDEV” but just a few miles behind him. I am proud of you all and proud to be a citizen of a country which has brains like yours…

  7. Nivedita Mitra
    August 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    and as said by the Man himself

    “Facts are many, but the truth is one.”
    Rabindranath Tagore

  8. VIKRAM
    August 24, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    Wrong or Right whatever the history is let us now think positive and sing it from heart and when you are singing you must realize who u are praising India or some english man, keep your heart clean ,….

  9. Nilesh
    September 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    1) The fact remains … that Jan Gan Man was actually written to welcome british king … and that too by Ravindranath Tagore …
    2) This person says in section “Other Small but Substantial proofs” … that a circular was issued by the Director of Public Instructions for East Bengal that banned Government Servants from sending their children to Shantiniketan … well does that mean the song was not written for king that too by Ravindranath? … if today you are in good terms with someone and that person does something for you … if tomorrow you have fight with that person … does that write off anything done by that person for you? Come on … don’t be childish!
    3) Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Daas had said that the song (AS HE CONSIDERED IT) is for glory and victory of India …. well … was the song originally written for India or the king? … this should clarify the doubts … if today I say that Vande Mataram represents my bathroom door noise … does that change the actual meaning and the purpose it was written for?
    4) WHY DIDN’T TAGORE mention whom the song refers at the time of SINGING it in front of King … and why did he explain it after the controversy started??? … if you and I have a fight … I raise my arm to slap you … later if I am asked about my action and I say that “I had raised my arm not to slap you but to kill the mosquito” … do you really think it is worth believing? … this can be considered as managing situation …

  10. anand
    November 15, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    what does “Adhinayaka” mean in bengali… is it a man or woman… why was it used.

    and i always supposed India was referred to as our mother..

    patriotic songs are in praise of nation .. not any God.

    please clarify..

  11. Ahsas Manikant
    January 26, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    We dont know what exactly the truth is, let us believe in our learned and intellect Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and suppose our national anthem is dedicated to God. But my question is when India was becoming a democracy why a national anthem was chosen dedicating it to God when our constitution itself says India is secular country it respects all religion and God but has no religion and God of its own. Indian national anthem is really an anthem or its just a prayer with no patriotic feeling inspite of all the blood shed and revolution that the country and its people faced to gain independence?

  12. Santosh Naik
    February 20, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    It is true that we are singing the English ballad in stead of Kavita.The original article do not mean to defy Gurudev whose work is beyond glory, rather to put light on the fact and truth,what we call the so called myth. India has suffered much, it is associated with pain in such a way that even if we remove pain, suffering and negligence from it, it will feel awkward and different. My poor Maa i cant help you.

    But, Ansul sir, kya baat kya baat kya baat…

  13. sam
    April 29, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    in section “Other Small but Substantial proofs” … that a circular was issued by the Director of Public Instructions for East Bengal that banned Government Servants from sending their children to Shantiniketan … well does that mean the song was not written for king that too by Ravindranath?………
    Abe saalo ( specialy admin Anshul) be a pakka Indian sale…… Koi kuchh bhi bolega tu man lega…. Tu wo time pe tha kya waha…. Jo tujhe lagta hai ki ye sab sahi hai……. Mind it

    • Anshul
      May 9, 2013 at 3:31 am #

      Wish you had read that paragraph completely before commenting over here. I did not base my conclusion on that one paragraph. In that paragraph, I only said that “Rabindra Nath Tagore and the British were not best of friends”.

      Yes, I wasn’t there. And neither were you, or any other person reading this article. And no, I don’t believe what ever other says. Instead, I do my research, spent time reading books on the subject, and only then come up with my view. Since you feel so strongly that whatever I wrote is wrong, I am sure you must have done your research to come to that conclusion. So, why don’t you post it here on this blog, or on your blog, if you have one, so that we all can get enlightened? Or, did you post this comment because “kisi ne kuch bhi bola aur tumne maan lia”?

      I am a pakka Indian, and as per my understanding of patriotism, slandering someone (Rabindra Nath Tagore in this case) is not a measure of one’s patriotism. So, I don’t need you to teach me the meaning of being patriotic. But you definitely need to learn the meaning of being polite. Let me know if you want me to teach that to you.

      • Vrushali Gupte
        July 21, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

        Dear Anshul,

        Thanks for providing the facts by doing such extensive research on the subject. I think now a days it has become a fashion to provide something controversial or negative thought about our leaders to create some kind of sensation on the networking sites and consider it as freedom of expression being in a democratic country. But they are not aware of the fact that this shows a great amount of ignorance on their part and shows how less knowledge we have of our own history.

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