The Story of Vande Mataram

The Song and the slogan Vandematram (Hail to thee O motherland), played a very prominent role in India’s struggle for freedom through out the twentieth century. The chanting of Vandematarm was the national cry form freedom. It continued to inspire generations of freedom fighters, thinkers and revolutionaries who lived and died chanting the mystical word.

Mahatma Gandhi adored it. Bhagat Singh and millions of other youth identified it with their cause, Chandrashekhar Azad died with the word on his lips.  Lala Lajpat Rai published journals with the name Vandemataram. Matangini Hazra’s last words as she was shot to death by the Crown police were Vande Mataram.clip_image002

The first prototype of our national flag, designed by Sri Bhikaiji Cama,  in 1907 contained the word Vandemataram on the central band.

The chanting of Vandemataram terrified the then British government so much that they decided to suppress it with all their might. The banned the very utterance of it. Those dare to defy would be jailed; the song and its spirit continued to soar higher.

History of Vandemataram

Vandemataram song was composed by sri Bankimchandra Chatterjee in a mixture of Sanskrit and Bengali. It first appeared in his book title Anandmath in 1882. The book was about the love of mother land and revolution and fight against the foreign rulers. However, it was written much earlier in 1875. The creation was spontaneous and heart felt –

Sri Bankimchandra Chatterjee took a holiday to escape from the hectic life of Calcutta. He boarded a train bound for his native town Kantalapada. As the city left behind, there was greenery all around and his heart filled with joy. The contemplation of the motherland with her rich rivers, flowers, fruits and forests took him spellbound. He could feel the motherland – in all her richness, beauty and diversity. He could hear the voice from the earth and the air and the sky. It was spontaneous. And he penned it down; the depiction of motherland – India. Something that will continue to excite generations to come.

1896, Session of Indian National Congress, Calcutta – Gurudev Ravindra Nath Tagore sung Vandemataram. It was probably the first political occasion when the song was sung. It was just the beginning.

1901, Session of Indian National Congress, Calcutta – The song was sung again, this time by Dakhina Charan Sen.

1905, Session of Indian National Congress, Benaras –  Poet Sarala Devi Chaudurani sang the song  and it almost became a protocol to sing the song.

Since then Vandemataram continued to inspire millions of Indians, uniting them for the single cause – The Independence of India. Revolutionaries, thinkers, moderates, extremists all took pride in chanting Vandemataram. From Mahatma Gandhi to Chandrashekhar Azad, Shubhash Chandra Bose to Ram Prasad Bismil and Bhagat Singh to Rabindra Nath Tagore all were engrossed with the charismatic mantra – Vande Mataram – Salutation to Motherland.

Rabindra Nath Tagore talks with passion about vandemataram –

Vande Mataram! These are the magic words which will open the door of his iron safe, break through the walls of his strong room, and confound the hearts of those who are disloyal to its call to say Vande Mataram


Vandemataram with its rich legacy seemed to be all set to become the national anthem of India. The father of the nation – Mahatma Gandhi himself adored the song and wished it be the national anthem. Even post independence Gandhi ji suggested:

Vande Matram should be set to music so that millions can sing it together, and feel the thrill. They should all sing in the same raga, with the same bhava. Shantiniketan or some other competent institution should design an acceptable raga.

Yet that was not to be. Vande Mataram was denied its rightful privilege because of certain unfortunate reason. There were two major controversies:

Controversy 1: Vandemataram is a Hindu Hymn

In its original version, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee compared the motherland with Hindu Goddess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

त्वं हि दुर्गा दशप्रहरणधारिणी
कमला कमलदल विहारिणी

A section of leadership felt that in a country with Muslims, Shikhs, Parsis, Christens and a plethora of different religions and faiths, the mention of Hindu deities will not be acceptable. It seemed to go against the secular spirit. And over a period of time such resentments had grown more and more vocal; sometime violent.

It must be mentioned very clearly that the mention of Goddess Durga and Kali was comparison of the India with the powers of Goddess Durga and Saraswati. It was not prayer to Hindu deities. In the words of Sri Aurobindo –

Durga to whom it paid homage was none other than Bharata Mata symbolising Knowledge, Power, Greatness and Glory.

However, this subtle meaning was either missed or ignored. And the mantra which had motivated millions irrespective of the caste, colour and creed was thrown amid of controversies. However, the controversies were real.

Even Rabindra Nath Tagore observed in his letter to Shubhash Chandra Bose.

The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram – proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”

In a postscript to this same letter, Rabindranath says:

“Bengali Hindus have become agitated over this matter, but it does not concern only Hindus. Since there are strong feelings on both sides, a balanced judgment is essential. In pursuit of our political aims we want peace, unity and good will – we do not want the endless tug of war that comes from supporting the demands of one faction over the other

in 1937, The CWC appointed a sub-committee with Maulana Azad, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Acharya Narendra Dev as members to review the eligibility of Vande Mataram to the status of national anthem. The committee was to take the guidance of Rabindranath Tagore. And this sub-committee endorsed the CWC’s resolution to adopt Vande Mataram in its truncated form as the national anthem. The committee observed:

the first two stanzas began with an unexceptionable evocation of the beauty of the motherland, in later stanzas there are references where the motherland is likened to the Hindu goddess Durga.

As such CWC adopted the first two stanzas suitable to become the national anthem. The selected stanza is:

वन्दे मातरम्
सुजलां सुफलां मलयजशीतलाम्
शस्यश्यामलां मातरम् |
शुभ्र ज्योत्स्ना पुलकित यामिनीम्
फुल्ल कुसुमित द्रुमदलशोभिनीम्,
सुहासिनीं सुमधुर भाषिणीम्
सुखदां वरदां मातरम् ||

Controversy 2: Vandemataram is anti-Muslim

Even with the controversial stanzas removed, the critics of Vandemataram continued to agitate. The other argument was the context in which Vandemataram had appeared. As already discussed Vandemataram was first published in a book titled Anandmath. This book was a book on freedom struggle against foreign rule. And that foreign rule happened to be Muslims. Muslims felt. They felt that the novel had a anti-Muslim messages. Again the the clear point that the song had nothing anti-Muslim was conveniently ignored.

Controversy 3: Vandemataram doesn’t have rhythm and movement

The then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru observed:

In regard to the national anthem tune, it was felt that the tune was more important than the words, and this tune should be such as to represent the Indian musical genius as well as to some extent the Western, so that it might easily be adapted to orchestra and band music, and to playing abroad. The real significance of the national anthem is perhaps more abroad than in the home country. Past experience has shown that Janagana tune has been greatly appreciated and admired abroad…VM with all its very great attraction and historical background, was not easily suitable for orchastras in foreign countries.. It seemed therefore that while VM should continue to be the national song par excellence in India, the national anthem tune should be that of Janaganamana, and the wording of Janagana be altered suitably to fit in with existing circumstances.

  • Vandematram lack rhythmic movement?
    • When we have one of the highest numbers of magnificent music created on it?
  • It doesn’t have International  appeal?
    • BBC voted it as the second all time popular song, internationally.

It can easily be understood, that the song was denied its rightful place in order to keep the situation under control and keep the unity of the country. If it is achieved, it seem to be a small price to pay for. I dare say If Vandemataram turns live; she would be ready for the sacrifice herself.

Final words…

The situation took an ugly turn when people in favour and against the song messed the national stage with ugly exchange of word degrading the two greatest songs of India. At this point Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President to be, intervened and presented the most amicable solution:

The composition consisting of words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations 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 members. (Constituent Assembly of India, Vol. XII, 24-1-1950)

This became the final decision on the issue and was adopted. Thus Vandemataram, attained the status of the National Song of India at par with the national anthem.


Vandemataram is song that touches the inner cord of every Indian and irrespective of the status it continues to be favourite of every body Indian at heart.

In 2003, BBC conducted a poll to find out the all time most favourite song, internationally. Over 7000 songs were nominated and more than 155 countries and island participated. Vandemataram stood second in the list of top 10 all-time favourite songs. This is one of the greatest tribute to the song.

Further Reading…

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