Song of India. It was written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whose 172nd birthday falls this month. Janaganamana is our National Anthem, and Rabindranath Tagore was its author.
Stamps on Vande Mataram and Bankim Chandra
The Department of Posts and Telegraphs (as it was known then) issued a 25 paise commemorative stamp on 30th December 1976 to honour Vande Mataram. The multi coloured stamp has perf. 13, was printed on un-watermarked adhesive stamp paper by photogravure process at India Security Press, Nasik. The horizontal stamp carries the first stanza of the song in Devanagari script (see image ).
Nine years earlier, on 1st January 1969, the department had issued a 20 paise stamp on Bankim Chandra. The blue colour stamp has perf. 13-1/2 x 14. It was also printed on un-watermarked adhesive paper by photogravure process at India Security Press. The vertical stamp depicts a portrait of Bankim Chandra. (See First Day Cover on top).
The First Day Cover for the Vande Mataram stamp has a picture on it of Bankim Chandra. Cancellations on the first day covers bear the name of the respective subject of the stamp
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (also known as Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay) was born on 26/27 June 1838 in the village of Katalpara near Naihati, Bengal. He had his education in Mohsin College, Hoogly, and Presidency Collage, Calcutta. He was among the first products of the newly founded Calcutta University. He later obtained a degree in Law. Soon after graduation he was appointed Deputy Collector.
He took voluntary retirement in 1891 in order to devote his time to writing. Unfortunately, that did not materialise as his health started declining and he passed away three years later, on 8th April 1894. He was only 56.
Bankim Chandra was a littérateur. His first novel, Raj Mohan’s Wife appeared in 1864. It was in English. All his subsequent writings were in Bengali. The appearance of his first Bengali novel Durgesh Nandini in 1865 heralded the birth of a new literary era, not only in Bengal but in the whole of India as well.
Rabindranath Tagore compared it to the appearance of dawn after the night. Many of his later novels were first published serially in Bangadarsan, a magazine which he founded in 1872. His novels have been translated into almost all the major languages of India. Besides novels (totalling 15), his oeuvre included several volumes of essays, sketches and dissertations. He continued writing till his last days.
He was a superb story-teller and a master of romance. No Bengali writer before or after him enjoyed such spontaneous and universal popularity as Bankim.
A feature of his writings, unique for his time, is the spirit of patriotism that breaths through many of them. He therefore earned an honoured place in the history of India’s struggle for freedom as well. In the process, he incurred the wrath of his superior officers, who were all Englishmen, and this was the main reason for his opting for premature retirement from service.
History of Vande Mataram
The immortal song Vande Mataram appeared in Bankim Chandra’s novel Anand Math in 1881, though he had composed it independently much earlier. Once he was travelling to his native place by train. It is said that the bewitching beauty of the countryside through which he was passing gave him a vision of the Motherland and that spurred him to burst into the exquisite poem Vande Mataram. On reaching home he wrote it down. This was in November 1875. The full song consists of four stanzas. Seven years later when he wrote the historic novel Anand Math he included Vande Mataram in it. (In that novel the leading characters were all sanyasins who had dedicated their lives to the cause of their motherland, and hence Bankim’s choice of that song).
Rabindranath Tagore set Vande Mataram to music and sang it at the 1896 session of Indian National Congress; he sang it again at the 1906 session. Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar used to sing it in Congress conventions. After his death in 1931, Pt. Omkarnath Thakur would often sing Vande Mataram. They sang it in their own tunes.
When Bipin Chandra Pal decided to start a patriotic journal in 1906, he named it Bande Mataram. Lala Lajpat Rai too named his journal Bande Mataram after the song.
Mahakavi Subramania Bharati has written a large number of patriotic songs. Among them two start with ‘Vande Mataram’ (Vande Mataram Enbom, and Vande Mataram Jaya Vande Mataram).
As time passed, the first two words of the song, namely, “Vande Mataram”, became the slogan of the national movement throughout the country. It inspired thousands of freedom fighters to make some of the greatest sacrifices known in human history.
The National Song and the National Anthem
In a statement made in Parliament on 25th August 1948, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru observed: “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 is bound to retain and no other song can displace it. It represents the passion and poignancy of that struggle….”
On 24th January 1950 the Constituent Assembly adopted Janaganamana as the National Anthem. Its President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, issuing a statement to this effect, observed, inter alia: “… Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Janaganamana and shall have equal status with it.”
The only difficulty in adopting Vande Mataram as the national anthem seemed to have been that it did not lend itself to harmonisation. Experts were of the opinion that its melody was “somewhat shapeless and too diffuse to stand harmonisation.”
The original version of Vande Mataram is in raga Desh. The official version is also in the same raga but is trimmed and simplified for singing in chorus. This is what we hear on AIR, immediately after the signature tune, as the first item when its stations open in the morning.
No stamp has been issued on Janaganamana. Though we have five stamps on its author, Rabindranath Tagore, none relates to this song.
Tagore wrote this song in 1911. It is in Sanskritised Bengali. It has five stanzas, and Tagore himself set it to music and notated it in Visva-Bharati swara-lipi.
The song was first sung at a political meet on 27th December 1911, on the second day of the Congress session. (On the first day Vande Mataram was sung, as usual.)
The song was later published in January 1912 in the Arya Samaj journal, Tatva Bodhak Prakasika, of which Tagore was the editor. It appeared under the title ‘Bharata Vidhata`.
Mahatma Gandhi described Janaganamana as a ‘devotional hymn’. Years later, when Subhas Chandra Bose formed the ‘Azad Hind Government’, the song was rendered in Hindustani and adopted as its national anthem.
Adoption as National Anthe
In 1947, The Indian delegation to the United Nations was asked for its national anthem which was to be played on a particular occasion. But none existed at the time. The delegation referred the matter to the Government of India which, as a provisional measure, decided in favour of Janaganamana. The delegation possessed a record of Janaganamana and it gave the same to the UN orchestra to practise. When they played it before a large gathering, it was greatly appreciated. This orchestral rendering of Janaganamana was recorded and sent to India. The Defence Services bands began to play this tune, and foreign embassies and delegations used it whenever required.
Later, as stated earlier, the Constituent Assembly adopted Janaganamana as the national anthem on 24th January 1950.
The orchestral music for the officially approved version was composed by a wellknown musician and composer, Herbert Murrill, a Briton. He was one of three foreign composers who undertook to prepare harmonised versions of the first stanza of Janaganamana on the basis of the Visva-Bharati tune’s recordings supplied by All India Radio. According to AIR, the approved version was musically the best; it also faithfully reflected the Indian tune of Janaganamana.
‘Santiniketan of the South’
In 1918-19 Tagore visited south India and gave a series of lectures at several places. At the invitation of his friend and noted Irish poet James Cousins, Tagore spent some days in February 1919 at Theosophical College established by Dr. Annie Besant at Madanapalle. Cousins was its principal. During his stay, Tagore addressed a gathering of students and, at the request of Cousins, sang Janaganamana. The students joined him in singing the refrain ‘Jaya Hey’ in chorus. Tagore was overjoyed.
During the remainder of his stay at the college he translated the song into English. With the help of Cousin’s wife Margaret, who was an expert in Western music, Tagore set it to music and notated it. He named it ‘The Morning Song of India’, signed it on 28th February 1919 and presented it to Dr. James Cousins. It starts with the words: “Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of India’s destiny”. (A facsimile of the poet’s translation appeared in the Madanapalle College magazine in 1936.)
It is reported that, before leaving, Tagore called the Madanapalle College the ‘Santiniketan of the South’.
Excerpts of Vande Mataram and Janaganamana, with notations, are reproduced here. They have been taken from the booklet Our National Songs, published by the Publication Division of Government of India.