The Story of National Anthem – The controversy

While our national anthem embibes most of us with great excitement; several critic leave no stone unturned to critisize our national pride. This article takes a look of the controversy and its baselessness.

The Controversy

Jan 24, 1950 – Jana Gana Mana selected as the National Anthem; Vandemataram the national song

The Constituent Assembly, after a long debate finally choose Jana gana mana adhinayak … as the national Anthem of India. For generations to come the song will continue to infuse new spirit in the veins of every Indian.

Same day yet another song Vandemataram was given at par status and adopted as National Song of India. In fact generations of freedom fighters who died dreaming for Independent India were almost sure that one day it will be our national anthem.

Both songs had patrons, both had polarization and both team battled hard to see their get the grand position. And when the resolution was adopted, it was thought that it is a perfect win-win situation and will settle the issue once and for all. It just didn’t happen.

Unfortunately the two team are still batting; still throwing the mud balls, not realizing that they are insulting The Indian Nation.

December 1911

Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore, wrote the song Jana gana mana adhinayak. The song was sung by Gurudev himself on December 27th, 1911, on the second day of Indian National Congress Convention, Calcutta. Same day Indian National congress also extended their welcome to then Visiting King George V.  Few other poets actually composed song in praise of the Monarch and they too were recited the same day.

The event were highlighted in the leading dailies in the following manner:

December 28th,1911 – The Statesman

The Bengali poet Babu Rabindranath Tagore sang a song composed by him specially to welcome the Emperor.”

December 28th, 1911 – Englishman

“The proceedings began with the singing by Babu Rabindranath Tagore of a song specially composed by him in honour of the Emperor.”

December 29th, 1911 – Indian

“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.”

They suggested the song was in honour of the the Monarch. That the word Adhinayak (the leader) and Bharat Bhagya Vidatha (the master of India’s destiny) referred to the Monarch. Incidentally the same press also attributed authorship of Vandemataram to Rabindra Nath Tagore and reported Jana-gana-mana as a Hindi song.

It was also later confirmed that some members of Indian National congress had approached Gurudev and requested him to write something in honour of the Monarch.

Gurudev apparently didn’t contradict the news paper reports and no body seem to relent either the press reports nor its non-contradiction; at least for some time. Well to be exact almost for a three decades.

All these decades, it continued to grow in its popularity.

1937 – 1940 and onwards

The controversy, started when Jana-gana-mana became a  candidate for National anthem. There were  unfortunate controversies surrounding the most popular Indian song Vandemataram that forced the search for an alternatives song. It must emphasised that the controversy related to vandemataram were both unfortunate and unjustifiable. It had sentiments and endorsement of millions of Indians both living and dead of all religions, sects and sections. It appears quite natural that the patrons of the vandemataram vented the anger against the other alternative that was being considered. However, it was carried out in as dirty a manner as the other one carried against Vandemataram.

Jana-gana-mana was condemned as being a praise for monarch and thus unsuitable for being the national anthem for India. So the news papers were dug out in an attempt to justify their stand and disgrace Jana-gana-mana. Worst the controversy is still being populated in year 2009 and on.

It seem only appropriate that the facts about the national anthem be kept straight and in its right perspective, lest new generations may easily be misguided to disgrace their own heritage:


December 1911

A High official in Indian National Congress approaches Gurudev and requests him to write something in the praise of Visiting Monarch. Gurudev felt quite disturbed at the very idea. In his own words:

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 [ed. 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

It seem quite natural. You are asked to do a job against your conscience. And what do you do? You revolt and do something magnificent and exactly opposite way. This is what Gurudev did. He wrote a poem in praise of God – The real monarch. And the song was sung. But it still gives rise to several questions:

But How can we be so sure that it was not in praise of King?

There are several points which clearly highlights that it was not in the praise of the British King:

  • Why was the controversy a non-starter in 1911? Because Gurudev was well known for his attitude towards the British Government. He was the first Indian to be honoured with Knighthood. Rabindra Nath Tagore returned that great honour in protest to Jalian wala Bagh massacre. Need we say more? A literary work can’t really be separated from the character of the author. Can it be?
  • Anybody who has read the other works of Gurudev and most notably Gitanjali (that won him yet another highest award – Nobel prize) will constantly find the mention of divine monarch – The God and not the king of Britain. Once again Jana-gana-mana need to seen as one of the many works of Gurudev and not an isolated incident.
  • Jana-gana-mana has 5 stanjas. In the third stanja he writes:

युगयुग धावित यात्री,
हे चिर-सारथी,
तव रथ चक्रेमुखरित पथ दिन-रात्रि

which refer to the same personality (as in rest of the poetry) to have held the reins of India’s chariot through ages (for the most ancient times), day and night, on the straight and the curve paths. Now, even King George, at this point, though may feel flattered,  won’t agree. Still there seem to be a section of people who took Gurudev as some stupid poet using his verse without intellect or intelligence. Gurudev lacked neither. If he really had to praise the King, he was sure to have chosen his words carefully.

How is it that all the leading news paper reported it as being sung in the praise of Monarch?

As already mentioned the same section news papers also attributed the authorship of Vandemataram to Rabindra Nath Tagore. They also reported Jana-Gana-Mana to be a Hindi song. What do  we learn from these mistakes? The basic idea that they didn’t had clear idea about Indian literary works and they often failed to distinguish one author from other and one language from other. Either they cared not or couldn’t understand the real essence of Indian culture and practices.

It has been years old Indian tradition to start any occasion and celebration, related to anything, with a prayer to God. The same thing happened on Dec 27th, 1911. Gurudev graced the occasion by a prayer to the almighty. Rest of the day was of course devoted in welcoming the King. Most likely the press missed out this subtle aspect.

If the newspapers presented Rabindra Nath Tagore in wrong light, how is it that he never contradicted it?

I will quote Gurudev, himself, on this issue:

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 Fifth as the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind

Was it not that people had really accepted it as a praise to the Monarch?

Most of the contemporary leaders and visionaries and those whose love and alliance to the nation can not be disputed endorsed the real and essence of the song.

To quote Mahatma Gandhi :

the song has found a place in our national life (1946)

It may not be out of place to mention that Bapu, himself wanted Vandemataram to be the national anthem. He always considered Jana-Gana-Mana more as devotional hymn than praise to nation.  He also stressed that Jana-gana-mana is in true sense a Universal song rather than tied up just with India. Thus he always believed in the its true and inner meaning.

Netaji Shubhash Chandra Bose adopted Jana-gana-mana as the anthem for his Indian National Army. Yet another leader of the time who realized the true essense of Jana-gana-mana.

What If it were really a praise to the Monarch and was later justified other wise?

After understanding the personality of Rabindra Nath Tagore, His other literatures and the endorsements by other great undisputed leaders there isn’t really any room for this question. But the fact is that this question continues to cloud the minds of newer generations who know nothing of Gurudev or his works. So assuming (and its really foolish to do so) that it was in praise of king then? Does it make a difference? Is it really relevant as to what was the context?

The only thing that matters is the context and belief with which hundred million Indians sing the song and take the pride in doing so. If a hundred million can correlate the song woth India and its divine monarch (God), it truly becomes irrelevant as what one person (even the author) had in his mind while writing the song. Thus no matter what Jana-gana-mana remains the pride of India and any attempt to de-glorify the song is a direct attempt de-glorify India and its national heritage.




Coming Soon:

  • Story of National Anthem Part II – The Pride
  • Meaning and Full Text of Jana Gana Mana

12 Replies to “The Story of National Anthem – The controversy”

  1. Good work. Nevertheless, when it is a need to arrive at a conclusion about a creation whose seed is in the past old days, the solution will almost always be to take a moment and see as what has the seed grown into? Has it grown into controversy? or Has it grown into a real divine spirit as it probably was meant to be. And if it is the former, it should be dealt with accordingly and if it is the latter, it should be praised and staged almost unquestionably. I agree with Gurudev considering the need for an answer to media reports as an insult since the creation was pretty much specific to the convention rather than anything. But the whole matter would have been different if he had been commisioned to write a poem that which is a National Anthem. Probably he would have answered if the questions were right. So I think, even Gurudev himself didnt consider this as a National Anthem.

  2. Dear Sudaman,
    Thanks for the valueable insight you shared. and I agree with you completely. Most of the time I hear the song it fills me with the high spirit and there are many whom I know and who share my feeling. Infact, controversy apart, I know no one who doesn’t share my feeling. Can you suggest.
    Meanwhile, It is beyond doubt correct that neither Vandemataram nor jana gana mana was written with the hope to become the national anthem. It is equally true that national anthems cant be scripted thought commission. You cant give a contract for it. Its a master piece that comes into existance and acceptance. Lastly as I have already discussed, years ago controversy was just about a candidate song. To continue it today is to condemn The National Anthem and not just any other song.
    I would like to hear more from you.

  3. In referring to the ‘greatness’ of Ravindra Nath Thakure (Why did he adopt the TAGORE if he was so staunch the supporter of India?) The chronology seems to have been lost:
    01. He wrote the song in praise of the monarch in 1911 and sung himself at the INC
    02. He was awarded Nobel prize in 1913 for his ‘Gitanjali’
    03. He was awarded knighthood in 1915
    04. Massacre of Jalianwala bagh happened in 1919 (4years after the award of knighthood) hence the returning of the knighthood happened after EIGHT YEARS of his ‘praise for the Monarch’!!!
    Let us be very clear:
    He was in opposition of nationalism the way Gandhi was promulgating.
    He was functioning in the ‘Utopian’ manner as all Bengalis are influenced since Aurobindo.
    He was an idealistic poet rather than a freedom fighter.

  4. Further:
    He had loads of monies being the land owner (therefore Thakure & not Tagore)
    He righteously opposed M K Gandhi when Gandhi said that the people of North died due to a natural calamity that was termed as ‘divine anger’ against the atrocities done towards the lower caste.

    In fact, being one of the greatest influence on all Bengali Minds (Even to-date), In am sure it was his Utopian philosophy that must have lead the bengali to be proud about their last name changes such as Chattopadhaya to Chatterji and Bandopadhyay to Bannerji and so on…

  5. And lastly,
    If Jana Gana Mana is a song in praise of God then the controversy is within the character of Ravindra Nath Tagore; for one side he opposes intellectually the’god’s anger’ as sought by the divine meanignattached by Gandhi and yet on the other hand he praises the good lord God in a hymn.
    Pitted against Vande Mataram, which was written as a song towards inciting people of India to fight imperialism and therefore a true patriotic song rather than Jana Gana Mana that is self-proclaimed praise of the ‘ultimate lord God’.
    The real issue is not about ‘hurting’ the feelings of nation by raising the controversy towards the already ADOPTED hymn but is about a debating the sense and sensibility whether we did the right thing at that time and if the consensus arrive that we did wrong then to have the ABILITY and STRENGTH to CORRECT the wrong done.
    (A latest controversy is similar: A learned person tries to refine Tulsi Ramayan by coming out with a GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT version of the same but the ‘PANDITS’ make a big hue and cry about it and claim that what ever was written by Tulsi was correct and the ‘learned person’ had no right to write to correct the language of such a ‘great’ person as Tulsi)
    The fact is that throughout the world history at individual as well as mass societal level we WANT CHANGE but WE ARE NOT PREPARED TO!

  6. dear Vivek
    its a brilliant work you have done i hope national anthem has to be one which is about our country our culture not a song which is to praise god……….

  7. @Milind Chalate, Thakur doesn’t means money then Chalate would be Chalte Chalte…do you agree?? so.. why you comment on something without proper knowledge…

  8. @ Milind Chalate…. again.. sorry but can’t resist to say that I feel you are an aethist else you are a super human being….else you would not comment this way,… Don’t you pray God… and again same time if your desires remain unfulfilled don’t you show anger on him…. why so?? then how should be different for the noble laureate… has He became God to overlook it right??

  9. Hi Vivek I appreciate your time and patience and versatile angle of thoughts.
    @ Milind Chitale I would say, that it is really good to reform ourselves with new thoughts and education. So, why do not you create something of your own that would represent the motherhood with more divinity and more patriotism, rather than commenting on the work of people who were laureates in their field. I think won’t it give you an opportunity to show your love for your nation in a better way. It is easy to contradict on something on which you do not have any clear evidence, but constructing a new and novel for the countrymen is not easy task. So first get that done and mass out. Later pen down your contradictions….

    @ manu thomas. I appreciate your thought as well. But my question to you is did you read Sudamans information properly or not, I doubt…… this was a poem asked to be written by his friend to Tagore just for greetings not for any purpose of national anthem . So to keep his friend happy, and to convnce his patriotism for his motherland (if you read the whole anthem , especially the 5th stanza) he had devoted it to the eternal power and hailed God for his country. don’t you think that would be appropriate. Just before commenting I would suggest place yourself in his shoe for sometimes and think before pointing out. The nationalism was given by Gandhiji, not Rabindranath Tagore, so it is out of question that devotion of God why peers through National anthem.

    @ both..If I have hurt your sentiments by any means I am sorry.. yet.. what I felt from your comments I could not pacify myself and wanted to keep my expression too. Hope you would understand.

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