The National Anthem of India

Date: 19 Aug 2007


The National Anthem of India
On 26th January, 1950, "Jana Gana Mana ..... " composed by Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore was adopted as the National Anthem of India.
It is sometimes (often?) suggested that the 'song' was composed by Ravindranath Tagore in praise o King George V when the king was to arrive in India in 1911.
The history of the song is narrated by Rabindra Kumar Dasgupta in his book 'Our National Anthem', published in 1993 by Manjula Bose, Tagore Research Institute, 97C S.P.Mukherji Road, Kalighat Park, Calcutta - 700026.
To set the record straight, I first quote an excerpt from page 35 of Dasgupta's book:
Begin Quote:
"King George V announced the annulment of the partition at the Delhi durbar on 12 December 1911. The 26th Congress was held in Calcutta on 26, 27 and 28 December. The King arrived in Calcutta on 30 December. A few days before the Congress session, Ravindranath was approached by someone for a song to be specially composed by him in honor of the King and it was to be sung on the first day of the national assembly. The request obviously annoyed the poet who just could not believe that one could ask him to write a hymn to the British monarch. He wrote, instead, a hymn to the Great Dispenser of of his country's destiny and gave it to the Congress and it was sung at the beginning of the second day's session on 27 December. On the same day was sung a Hindi song in praise of the British King and several newspapers mixed up this song with Rabidranath's Bengali song.....Amrita Bazar Patrika on 28 December 1911 said: 'The proceedings began with the singing of the Bengali song of benediction.' "
End Quote.
A facsimile of the poet's English translation of 'Jana Gana Mana..' in his own handwriting and with Rabindranath's signature at the bottom is reproduced on page 53 of Dasgupta's book.
It can hardly be doubted that the verse that is adopted as the National Anthem is in fact only the first one in the string of the five verses composed by the poet in praise of the Lord of the Universe who presides over the Destiny of Bharat; in fact translations of all the five verses in French made by H. P. Morris and included in A. Bake's 'Twenty Six Songs of Rabindranath Tagore' (Paris, 1935), in German, by Helmut Von Glasenapp and included in 'Die National hymnen dey erde' (Munich, 1958), in Italian by Rabiouddin Ahmed and included in 'Centenario Di Tagore' (Rome, 1962) have been reproduced in Dasgupta's book.
In what way do the five verses then establish that the poem was addressed to Shri Krishna, the eternal Lord who presides over the Destiny of Bharat ("Bharata Bhagya Vidhata") and not George V? To answer this question, we may merely refer to the third verse in the same composition:
            Patana-abhyudaya-bandhura pantha, yuga-yuga-dhavita-ratri,
            Hey Chira Sarathi, tava ratha-chakre mukharita patha dina ratri,
            Daruna-viplava-majhe, tava shankha-dhwani baje, sankata dukkhatrata,
            Jana-gana-patha-parichayaka, jaya-hey, Bharat-bhagya-vidhata!
            Jaya hey, jaya hey, jaye hey; jaya jaya jaya jaya hey!!
Gurudev Rabindranath is quoted to have said: "I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbounded stupidity as to sing the praises of George the fourth or George the fifth as the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind."
It should now be obvious that the "Bharat Bhagya Vidhata" in Gurudev's "Jana Gana Mana... " composition describes the eternal charioteer who blows his conch, whose sound lives through the ages, and certainly not George V.
The second verse in Rabindranath's composition is, as Dasgupta calls it, a potent call to unity. It is a tribute to the pluralism practiced in India. In this verse, Rabindranath says:
            Aharaha tava ahvahana pracharita, suni tava udaar wani,
            Puraba-Paschim aasey, tava simhasana pashe,
            Prema-haara gaatha,
            Jana-gana-aikya-vidhayak, jaya-hey, Bharat-bhagya-vidhata!
            Jaya hey, jaya hey, jaye hey; jaya jaya jaya jaya hey!!
As Dasgupta says, and I quote: "Few today have any notion of the message of Jana-Gana-Mana as a whole. The five stanzas of the poem represent a lyric movement of five related units of thought. The first stanza presents a geographical formation of India, affirming the unity of its people in the diversity of races and regions. The second stanza is an affirmation of India's essential unity in the midst of diversity of religions. And this unity is elevated by a bond of love between the East and the West. The third stanza speaks of the march of mankind through the ages and through the rise and fall of nations with God as the Charioteer. The fourth stanza is in praise of the Lord, who is awake and beneficent in the darkest hour of the nation's history. He protects it in the most dangerous times with the tender care of a mother. The last stanza is a vision of the dawn after night, of awakened India realizing her new task, and asking for the grace of the Lord that his task may be all accomplished.
Tagore was knighted in 1915 by the British crown, but he returned the knighthood in 1919 in protest of the massacre at Amritsar's Jalianwala Baag (Reference: ). Though Tagore was not much involved with politics, this incidence demonstrates his unreserved patriotism and to suggest that the "Bharat Bhagya Vidhata" in his composition is anyone other than the Eternal Charioteer seems completely uncalled for.
A pdf file, in which an English translation of the five stanzas of "Jana Gana Mana..." in Rabindranath's own handwriting, signed by him, is attached herewith. I am very grateful to my good friend Professor Shreesh C. Chaudhary of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT-Madras for educating me on this subject and for helping me get Dasgupta's book mentioned above.
-         Pranawa C. Deshmukh