Vande Mataram - the national song of India, was adopted on January 24, 1950. This essay takes a look at its history, lyrics and significance.


National Song

Title: Vande Mataram

Written by: Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay

Featured in: Anadamath

Written on: November 7, 1875

Published on: 1882

Music by: Jadunath Bhattacharya

Raga: Desh

Language: Sanskrit

Translated to English by: Sri Aurobindo Ghosh

First publication of translated version on: November 20, 1909

First Performed on: 1896

First Performed by: Rabindranath Tagore

Adopted on: January 24, 1950

The first two verses of Vande Mataram penned by legendary Bengali writer and novelist, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was selected as the National Song of India on January 24, 1950. The song shares the same status as the National Anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ barring certain official dictates. At the time when India achieved independence it certainly was the more popular tune compared to ‘Jana Gana Mana’ which was adopted as the National Anthem by the Constituent Assembly later on. The phrase ‘Vande Mataram’ itself was the mantra of Indian revolutionaries and nationalist leaders during the country’s struggle for freedom. It enthused numerous young men and women who fell into the patriotic sentiments of the time, dedicating their spirits in service of their Motherland. Revolutionary turned spiritualist Aurobindo Ghosh termed it the ‘Anthem of Bengal’ and rendered the English translation titled ‘I bow to thee, Mother’.

Lyrics and Translation

The poem features in Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s patriotic novel ‘Anandamath’ which was published as a series in the Bengali periodical ‘Banga Darshan’ between 1880 and 1882. The language of the novel is formal Bengali, a dialect known as ‘Sadhu Bhasha’ or ‘Tatsama’, but the verses of Vande Mataram are written in Sanskrit. Only the first two of the six verses were adopted as the national song in 1950. The lyrics of the song in Sanskrit are as follows – 

Vande mataram

Sujala? suphala? malayaja??talam

Sasyashyamala? mataram

Vande mataram

Shubhra jyotsna 

pulakita yaminim

Phulla kusumita 

Drumadalasobhinim

Suhasini?, 

Sumadhura bha?i?im

Sukhada? varada?

mataram

Vande mataram

The power packed verses had profound effect on the psyche of contemporary nationalists who assimilated the patriotic vibes. One of these young revolutionaries, Aurobindo Ghosh, took upon himself the task of translating the poem in English with the aim to popularize it among international audience. The translation was titled ‘Mother, I bow to thee’ and appeared in the weekly periodical Karmayogin on November 20, 1909. Translation of the first two verses is as follows - 

“Mother, I bow to thee!

Rich with thy hurrying streams,

bright with orchard gleams,

Cool with thy winds of delight,

Dark fields waving Mother of might,

Mother free.

Glory of moonlight dreams,

Over thy branches and lordly streams,

Clad in thy blossoming trees,

Mother, giver of ease

Laughing low and sweet!

Mother I kiss thy feet,

Speaker sweet and low!

Mother, to thee I bow.”

Literary Value

Bankim Chandra wrote Vande Mataram before he wrote Anandamath. He was inspired by the rich natural beauty of rural Bengal and the song became an ode to Mother Bengal whom he visualized as the embodiment of supreme Goddess, Durga. Bankim Chandra later included the song in the novel Anandamath which was as a work of fiction but based on historical incident of Sanyasi Rebellion during 1763-1800. He described a group of monks who took on arms against the atrocious rule of the existing Muslim rulers and emerging British East India Company regime. The song features as sort of the manifesto of the Sanyansi group and eulogizes the land laden with rich, ripe crops and covered in lush green foliage, sundry of multicolor flowers and sparkling rivers adorning the terrain. The words of his verses are rich in adjectives that praise every aspect of the country and emphasizes on idolizing her as Goddess reincarnate. The verses impart a deep sense of patriotic love for the motherland in the hearts of readers despite the complexity of language and expression.

Role in Indian Nationalist Movement

The popularization of the song was heralded by poet eminent Rabindranath Tagore when he sang a self-composed tune of the song in 1896 during the session of Indian National Congress in Calcutta. Association with the Indian Nationalist movement started in 1906, in the wake of Partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon. The Bengal provincial conference of the Indian National Congress at Barisal on April 14, 1906 burned an effigy of Lorg Curzon in protest and the crowd repeatedly chanted Vande Mataram. It became the war-cry for Indian nationalists waging war against the British Raj to attain freedom for the Motherland when the authorities forcibly tried to suppress the utterance of the phrase in Barisal. The patriotic fervor the mantra generated was carried higher by Aurobindo Ghosh’s translation and the song “now leaped out of its comparative obscurity within the covers of a Bengali novel and in one sweep found itself on the lips of every Indian man, woman or child”, as observed by Sister Nivedita. Young revolutionaries, charged up with patriotic enthusiasm, carried out daring acts of terrorism and faced the gallows with cries of Vande Mataram on their lips. Such was the power of the phrase, the Indian National Congress made it mandatory to sing Vande Mataram in every session across the country after 1915.

Vande Mataram - Adoption as National Song

Vande Mataram soon became a song that made a permanent place in the hearts of every patriotic Indian further sanctified by the countless martyrs who were dedicated their life and soul at the altar of the Motherland in a quest to attain freedom. However, the rendition of the song faced strong objection from the Muslim faction leaders on the grounds of their religious tenets. The song clearly depicts the Motherland as a nurturing yet all-powerful Goddess which was deemed unsuitable by the secular congress leaders for universal application. They adopted the first two stanzas as the official version for their meetings and sessions. The musical tune of the song was based on Indian classical ragas and was found to be unfavorable by the orchestra to be composed into a marching song. 

Although an alternate tune was produced by patriot musicians, the song was not accepted by the Constituent Assembly to be designated as the national anthem. Finally, the Constituent Assembly came to a decision and on January 24, 1940 Vande Mataram was officially declared as the National song while Jana Gana Mana was designated as the National Anthem. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Constituent Assembly said, “The composition consisting of words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India. 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.”

Controversies

The tenets of Islam prohibit ‘Shirk’ or Polytheism. On this ground, the Muslim factions of the political parties opposed singing of Vande Mataram as the song depicts the Motherland as a Goddess and preaches worshipping her. The opposition had started as early as 1908 but got deluged in the ongoing wave of nationalism at the time. In 1923, the first public protest against performing the song was upheld by Maulana Muhammed Ali, who was presiding the Kakinada session of the Congress. To appease the Muslims within the party, Congress mandated singing of ‘Sare Jahan se Achha’ composed by Muhammad Iqbal. The Muslims demanded complete cessation of performance of Vande Mataram. In the wake of such religious controversies, the Congress leadership decided against endorsing the song as the National Anthem and proposed Jana Gana Mana for the same. This outlook has continued till present day with a number of Islamic organizations declaring fatwas against singing Vande Mataram. A similar opinion was expressed by Sikh communities in Punjab advising against playing the song in Khalsa Schools. The Christian religious leaders however opined in favor of the song recognizing the patriotic sentiments and deemed that they did not clash with their religious views.

Significance of the National Song

The significance of the song has succinctly put forward by Aurobindo Ghosh in his ‘Mahayogi’ by saying, “Vande Mataram was an expression of nationalism. It quickly spread throughout India and was on the lips of millions”. Cambridge scholars recognize the song as “the greatest and most enduring gift of the Swadeshi movement”.

In Popular Culture

The poem Vande Mataram has been set into more than one tune. Through the years there have been numerous versions recorded with the oldest one dating back to 1907. From Rabindranath Tagore to Ravi Shankar to A.R. Rahman, prominent musicians through the ages have belted out their version of the song. It has been used in a number of patriotic movies like Amar Asha and Ananda Math. Vande Mataram ranked as the second most popular song in the world through a poll conducted by BBC World Services n 2002.