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The sense of solidarity it embodies cuts through all geographical boundaries across the globe and cross all ages and socio-economic peripheries – the national anthem of India exudes an intrinsic essence of unity through diversity binding all Indians the world over. This is a tribute to the historical proceedings that went into making it an important aspect of the largest democracy of the world.

The journey of the song unfolds an interesting history. Written by Nobel Laureate, poet, litterateur and artist Rabindranath Tagore the song is a Brahmo hymn composed in highly sankritised Bengali. It was first sung at the session of the Indian National Congress on December 27, 1911 and eventually adopted as the Indian National Anthem by the Indian Constitution when it came into force in 1950. Originally of five stanzas, the formal rendition however, was finally decided to be ideally of 52 seconds by the constitution of India, and so includes only the first stanza. Praising the God almighty, the song also beautifully represents message of ‘unity in diversity’- a concept that portrays the very essence of the socio-cultural ethos of the nation of India. Sung proudly by Indians all across the globe, the song has also been translated into various local dialects for better understanding over the ages and is available in libraries across the nation. A handwritten translation in English named The Morning Song of India is available for free over the Internet. The version is not only popular for its lyrical splendour, but reminds one of the original ethoses of the beauty of manuscripts and the cursive appeal or the pen. Down the course of history, the song has stood against several tests of time, including the much debatable question regarding the essence of the song, which many claimed was originally written in salutation to King George V on the occasion of the Delhi Durbar on December 15, 1911. However, another song in Hindi was sung at the same occasion titled- Badshah Humara written by Rambhuj Chaudhary. Many historians debate that the British Indian press misrepresented the song which was sung at the December conference of the Indian National Congress, when both songs were sung at the same event and the matter came into limelight only when it was finally adopted as the National Anthem of the nation in 1950. An article titled Coronation Durbar, dated December 15, 1911 which appeared in the Indian English daily ‘The Statesman’, specifically  mentions the event that took place a century back in Delhi. Referring to the visit of the king to the Royal Pavilion on the Polo grounds for conferring of medals to men in uniform, the event was preceded by the song, which is mentioned as- “On the arrival of the King-Emperor inside the entrance of the parade ground, the military guard-of-honour presented arms and the band played  the National Anthem.”

In support of his arguments against this debate, Rabindranath Tagore wrote a few letters, which were later published (the original letter in Bengali is present in Tagore’s biography Ravindrajivani, volume II page 339 by Prabhatkumar Mukherjee). On November 10, 1937, Tagore in a letter to Pulin Bihari Sen mentioned about the controversy, “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 [God of Destiny] 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.” In another letter dated March 19, 1939, Tagore also mentioned, “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.” (quote from Bengali book by Rabindranath Tagore Purvasa, Phalgun, 1354, p738- the book was published in the Bengali year 1354 also known as bangabda). Recognised as a patriot himself, who renounced knighthood in protest against the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre and whose poem and song Ekla chalo re inspired Gandhiji in his work and determination, the statements of Tagore in support of his creation has a special place of mention.

The debate however continues amidst historians with divided opinions regarding the actual reason for the creation of the song. Several years later, the song was once again brought under critical limelight in 2005 with reference to a demand for a change in its verse which was mentioned in a petition at the Supreme Court. The petition demanded an inclusion of the word Kashmir in the song and an exclusion of the word Sindh as the latter is placed geographically in the present country of Pakistan after the independence of India. However, the song maintained its sanctity, as the Supreme Court ruled against the petition mentioning the National Anthem as expressing patriotic sentiments or feelings and not defining the geographical territory of a nation. Today, yet again is a demand for inclusion of other states from the North-East and the controversies continue…A hundred years later, in the land of the birthplace of the song, the occasion was marked by a special event at the same location where it was sung a hundred years ago- the Town Hall in Kolkata. Through an initiative of the state government and in the presence of the Governor of West Bengal, Mr MK Naryanan and chief minister Ms Mamata Banerjee, the song was sung at the Kolkata Town Hall, accompanied by a programme on special cinematography, stage performance and narration, orchestrated by filmmaker and actor Rituparno Ghosh. Thus, travelling far and wide through the passage of time, the National Anthem of India witnesses history being made at several occasions as men and women of all ages across the globe stand, often moist-eyed and with heavy hearts, singing the song and gazing upon the fluttering of the tricolour flag- whose hoisting emboldens the national sentiment of the song and the sacrosanct feeling associated with it. The song binds one and all, irrespective of geographical, socio cultural, political and religious diversities.

Author: Lopamudra Maitra
Source: Heritage India Magazine Vol 5, issue 2 (2012)

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