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The tragedy of our national song “Vande Mataram”

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Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote the poem Vande Mataram in 1875. He was 37 years old at the time and worked as a deputy collector in the British Government. His poem was probably an Indian answer to the British national anthem, God Save The Queen (or King, depending on who was ruling).

In the poem, Chatterjee described the nation as the mother. Chatterjee said, “I have written this spontaneously. I may not live to see how it is received, but this poem will be sung by every Indian like a mantra in the Vedas.”

He included the poem in his novel Anandmath, published in 1882. In 1896, two years after Chatterjee died, Rabindranath Tagore recited the poem at the Indian National Congress’s annual convention in Kolkata. The tradition of singing Vande Mataram (as it was pronounced in Sanskrit) at Congress conventions continued, and even today it is sung at the beginning of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha sessions.

In 1907, Hemendra Mohan Bose, the first Indian to manufacture gramophones, the earliest devices that recorded sound and played it back, recorded Tagore singing the poem on a phonograph cylinder, the first commercial media for gramaphone recordings.

During protests against the partition of Bengal, which the British effected in 1905 for both administrative and political reasons, Vande Mataram became an inspiring song for many Indian revolutionaries. Soon, it became a protest song in India’s long struggle for independence.

But some Muslims found the song objectionable because they felt worshipping a mother was a polytheistic practice and more generally because they found the poem’s other cultural impulses to be Hindu.

 

For several years until 1925, Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, the great Hindustani classical singer, used to sing it in Raga Kafi at the Congress’s annual convention. He would sing all the stanzas with instrumental accompaniment and all the members of Congress would stand at attention for several minutes. Thus, it became the Congress party’s anthem.

In the year 1937, during the meeting of the Congress Working Committee in Kolkata, its members decided to cut short Vande Mataram to the first stanza with the sole aim of not offending some of the Muslims present. But those Muslims were not satisfied with this because they wanted to eliminate the song completely from the conventions. The Muslim League chairman, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, raised an official objection on March 17, 1938, to even the first stanza being sung. Thus, the song became politicised.

In 1937, in many regions of British India, the Congress came to power during a brief colonial experiment in granting a measure of autonomy to the provinces. At this time, in deference to Muslim sensitivities, the Congress government banned Vande Mataram from being aired on the radio.

 

The musician and singer Krishnarao Phulambrikar protested against this ban for several years, declining to sing for the radio. “If there is no Vande Mataram on the radio, then no song of mine will air on it either,” he said. After Independence, the ban became irrelevant, and in 1947 on Gudi Padva, the Maharashtrian New Year that falls on the first day of the Hindu month of Chaitra, Master Krishnarao, as he was called, gave a radio concert that concluded with Vande Mataram.

On August 15, 1947, at the stroke of midnight, while the world slept and before India woke to its so-called freedom, before Nehru announced his tryst with destiny, Omkarnath Thakur sang Vande Mataram in Parliament House. He literally heralded Independence. He followed this up with a khayal in Raag Malkauns. There were transmissions on the radio.  

Now, it is notable here that, the congress working committee cut short the Vande Mataram to just only the first stanza, because other stanzas says that how Hindus of Bengal (as the song was composed for Bengal) defended their motherland from Muslim and British invaders.

As, this was not liked by Muslims, so as to appease them, this patriotic song was cut short. So, according to this logic, since there are 20% Muslims in our country, we should not even write about Islamic invasions in the history books too. Muslims will become more happy.

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