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By: Indrajit Barua

The words of our National Anthem, ‘Janaganamana Adhinayaka Jaya He’ have
for long intrigued me, for I have never come across a nation being
addressed or adulated as an ‘adhinayaka’ or captain. The country of one’s
birth is affectionately called, by almost all human beings, as the
‘Motherland’, the only exception that I know of being the Germans, who
prefer to call it their ‘Fatherland’. At the time of our independence, I
remember that my father was not quite happy with the choice of our national
anthem, though he never did come out openly with the reason why. 

The song, as everyone knows, was written by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911,
coincidentally perhaps, with the arrival of King George V in India for the
Great Durbar where he declared New Delhi to be the capital of British
India; till that time, Calcutta was the national capital. Tagore was
awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 and was also conferred a
knighthood by the British government the same year. Rabindranath of course
renounced his knighthood in 1919 after the massacre at Jalianwala Bagh in
Amritsar, and it was he who bestowed the title ‘Mahatma’ on Mohandas
Karamchand Gandhi. Rabindranath died in 1941 as a subject of British India.
The poet himself translated the song into English. While the Bengali
version of the song as published in ‘Sanchayita’ (7th ed., Vishva Bharati
Press, Calcutta – 1969) was titled ‘Bharatabhagyabidhata’, its English
translation ( Poems: Visva Bharati – 1946) was named ‘Janagamana’. The
English version of the song reads as follows:

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Thou Dispenser of Indi’a destiny,
Thy name rouses the hearts
Of the Punjab, Sind, Gujrat and Maratha,
Of Dravid, Orissa and Bengal.
     It echoes in the hills of the Vindyas and Himalayas,
     Mingles in the music of Jumna and Ganges,
     And is chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.
     They pray for thy blessing and sing thy praise,
     Thou dispenser of India’s destiny,
     Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

     Day & night, thy voice goes out from land to land,
     Calling Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains round thy throne
and Parsees, Mussalmans and Christians.
Offerings are brought to thy shrine by the East and the West
to be woven in a garden of love.
Thou bringest the hearts of all peoples
Into the harmony of one life,
Thou dispenser of India’s destiny,
Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

Eternal Charioteer, thou drivest man’s history
Along the road rugged with rises and falls of Nations.
Amidst all tribulations and terror
Thy trumpet sounds to hearten those that despair & droop,
And guide all people in their paths of peril and pilgrimage. 
Thou dispenser of India’s destiny,
Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

When the long dreary night was dense with gloom
And the country lay still in a stupor,
Thy Mother’s arms held her,
Thy wakeful eyes bent upon her face,
Till she was rescued from the dark evil dreams
That oppressed her spirit,
Thou dispenser of India’s destiny,
Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

The night dawns, the sun rises in the East,
The birds sing, the morning breeze a stir of new life.
Touched by the golden rays of your love
India wakes up and bends her head at thy feet.
Thou King of all Kings,
Thou dispenser of India’s destiny,
Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

Almost all songs written by Tagore were devotional hymns. As a callow youth
I thought that his songs were addressed to an earthly paramour, but with
advancing age and wisdom, it became clear to me that the songs were
addressed to God and were but hymns to His glory. However, there are indeed
many oddities in the poet’s choice of words of the song which we adopted as
our National Anthem. Consider the words ‘thy throne’ in the second line of
the second verse: is the poet referring to the Creator with the reverence
and awe due to Him from a creature of His creation? Or, is he describing
some material throne of a material king? Read the third line of the fourth
verse: whose mother is the poet talking about? It is indeed difficult for
me to accept the idea that the poet is talking about the mother of Creator
of all creatures, and it is easier, perhaps convenient, to think that the
words ‘thy Mother’ was an allusion to some mortal Empress. Again, regard
the words ‘India wakes up and!
 bends her head at thy feet, Thou King of all Kings’ (‘Jai Rajeshwar
Bharatabagyabidhata’ in the original Bengali song): who really is the poet
referring to? And then, one usually sings to the glory and infiniteness of
God, and not to his victory (over what or who?), perhaps. The words of the
song have thus left some disturbing doubts in my mind, also because the
whole universe, not only India, wakes up and bows their heads at the feet
of the Almighty. Why then, single out India and her people for the purpose?

I thought I would find the answers to my doubts and questions in the
debates of the Constituent Assembly, thinking that our Founding Fathers had
debated wisely and well about the words of the song before adopting it as
our National Anthem. My hopes have been belied: the first reference to any
national song was in the debate on the 14th August, 1947, just before the
striking of the midnight hour that set us free. Here is the excerpt from
that debate:


Mr. President: The first item on the Agenda is the singing of the first
verse of VANDE MATARAM. We will listen to it all standing. 
Shrimati Sucheta Kripalani (U. P.: General) sang the first verse of the

Shrimati Sucheta Kripalani sang the first few lines of Sare Jahan Se Achcha
Hindustan Hamara and the first  verse of Janaganamana Adhinayaka Jaya He. 

The proceedings of the Constituent Assembly that night, after the midnight
hour on 14-15 August, 1947, ended thus:


Mr. President: The next item is the singing of the first few lines of Sare
Jahan se Acaha Hindustan Hamara and the first verse of Janaganamana
Adhinayaka Jaya He. 

Mr. President: The House will now ad adjourn for a few hours, till Ten of
the Clock. 

The Assembly then adjourned till Ten of the Clock on Friday, the 15th
August 1947. 
(The Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. V – 14th August, 1947.)

Now, to come to the manner in which ‘Janaganamana Adhinayaka Jaya He’ came
to be adopted as our national Anthem: for this purpose, we have to go back
to the Constituent Assembly debates of 24th January, 1950 (The Constituent
Assembly Debates – Vol. 12.)

Tuesday, the 24th January 1950 

The Constituent Assembly met in the Constitution Hall, New Delhi, at Eleven
of the Clock, Mr. President (The Honourable Dr. Rajendra Prasad), in the


The following Members took the Pledge and signed the Register :- 

Shri Ratnappa Bharmappa Kurnbhar (Bombay States). 
Dr. Y. S. Parmar (Himachal Pradesh). 



Mr. President: There is one matter which has been pending for discussion,
namely the question of the National Anthem. At one time it was thought that
the matter might be brought up before the House and a decision taken by the
House by way of a resolution. But it has been felt that, instead of taking
a formal decision by means of a resolution, it is better if I make a
statement with regard to the National Anthem. Accordingly I make this
statement. The composition consisting of the words and music known as Jana
Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations in
the words 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 honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal
status with it. (Applause). I hope this will satisfy the Members. 

The House then went on to the business of election of new members.

It is therefore clear that there was no debate and no discussion whatsoever
on the choice of our National Anthem, though the Constituent Assembly sat
and debated over possibly everything else that could affect independent
India right from 1946 to 1950. We do not know whether this was by
deliberate design oror because some objections were expected from some
quarter. We shall perhaps never ever know why Dr. Rajendra Prasadthought it
proper to make a suo moto statement from the Chair on the issue without the
benefit of a debate. . But mark his words describing ‘Vande Mataram’  as
the song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle
for Indian freedom, and contrast these words with the bland and unqualified
statement “The composition consisting of the words and music known as Jana
Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India”. Also mark the alterations made
by Government of India in the National Anthem as sung by us today: the
second verse containing a reference t!
o ‘thy throne, the third verse containing the words ‘thy mother’,  and the
last verse containing the words ‘India wakes up and bends her head at thy
feet’ have all been exorcised, and the song thereby shortened to give it
more verve and energy in the nature of a marching song, as it were. No
matter what interpretation ones puts upon it, it is difficult to regard our
National Anthem as a paean to India: it was written either as a devotional
song to the glory of God or to the victory of a mortal king. Note the
contrast with ‘Vande Mataram’ by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and ‘Sara Jahan
Se Achcha’ by Iqbal, both of which are simple and heartfelt tributes to
India and her people without any allegorical overtones and inuendoes. 

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