Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vande Mataram And The Man Who Composed It

VANDE MATARAM : Its Historical Perspective.

The love of Motherland as a personification of one’s own mother and considering the land itself as an embodiment of the Divine Mother and adoration of Mother in general--- these are typically Indian in concept. However, the glorification of motherhood and the highest respect with which motherhood is held appear to be common to so many religions in the world, including Islam and Christianity. “ Forsake not the law of thy mother” says the Bible. The Quran enjoins upon believers to be kind to their mothers as they bear children
‘with suffering’ and bring them up ‘with suffering’. When Hazrat Jahma solicited the Prophet’s guidance in the matter of joining him in jihad, the latter asked him whether his mother was alive, On getting a positive reply, the Prophet admonished “ Return to her and devote yourself to her service, for Paradise lies under her feet”. This reminds us of the well-known shloka in the Valmiki Ramayana where Rama tells Lakshmana “Janani Janmabhumischa Swargadapi Gariyasi” [Both mother and motherland are much greater than the heavens]. It is with this background that our patriotic national song ‘Vande Mataram’ was born..

‘Vande Mataram’, literally, ‘Mother, I bow to Thee’ was the soul-stirring slogan of the Indian revolutionaries during the struggle for freedom against the British Raj. It forms a part of a song, which appears in Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s [1838-94] famous novel ‘Anandamath’ [Abbey of Bliss] published in 1880. It uses the idea of Mother [in her forms as goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati] as a veritable metaphor for our motherland [India]. In the Hindu tradition, the mother represents the primordial energy that lies at the root of existence. The Devi Mahatmyam says: “Yaa devi sarva bhuteshu matru roopena samsthita” which means ‘God reveals himself in the form of mothers’ and the scripture further says that all women are his forms. The land of one’s birth- Matrubhoomi- is also regarded as one’s mother and so deserves to be respected and revered as one’s own mother in corporeal form. Bowing before the ‘mother’ is thus an ideal and not an idolatrous act.

During the struggle for freedom from the Britishers, it was the song ‘Vande Mataram’that fostered national unity. It is a well-documented fact of history that Bankim Chandra inspired many revolutionaries of India to brave the blows of police lathis and make supreme sacrifices voluntarily. Many embraced the gallows with “Vande Mataram’ on their lips. Patriots like Bipin Chandra Pal [1858-1932] and Lala Lajpat Rai [1865-1928] named their nationalist papers ‘Vande Mataram’ to turn them into powerful organs of mass protest against the British Raj. Bankim Chandra’s thesis on nationalism was this: in order to be a nation, the Indians needed a religion of love for the country translating into fellow feeling for one another and feel that the wholly country is one and that all Indians are one without barriers of language, creed, caste or custom. In fact, the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’ achieved this purpose of bringing people closer to a considerable extent.

In keeping with their policy of ‘divide and rule’, the British Government divided Bengal in 1905 when Lord Curzon was the Viceroy. At that time, the whole of Bengal rose in rebellion and the streets of Calcutta resounded with cries of ‘Vande Mataram’ and thousands marched towards the Town hall of Calcutta to undertake the vows of Swadeshi and boycott of foreign goods. The British Government considered the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’ as a sign of revolt against them. When Bampfyld Fulller, Lt. Governor of the newly created province of East Bengal and Assam, banned the shouting of the slogan ‘Vande Mataram’, many patriotic ladies of Bengal publicly pledged not to wear gold till the government withdrew the ban order and stood their pledge. A European club in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, was attacked by a mob after a white man thrashed a boy for shouting ‘Vande Mataram’. In organized gatherings, the entire poem of ‘Vande Mataram’ used to be sung with folded hands before a symbolic portrait of Mother India.

‘Vande Mataram’ was sung for the first time in the Session of the Indian National Congress during its meeting held in Calcutta in the year 1896. The singer was no other than Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore who set the tune to the song and sang it before a distinguished assembly. There was thunderous applause. Reacting to the popular response to the song, Tagore observed sometime later “When I set the tune to the song and sang it before a vast assemblage of people in a Congress Session, I felt myself electrified from top to toe. It was not a song. It was molten fire and every word and every line of the song engulfed the audience with the fire of patriotism”. In many meetings he addressed in Calcutta during the Bengal Partition days, Aurobindo used to hail Bankim Chandra as the Rishi of nationalism.
As the song was partly in Bengali and partly in Sanskrit, Aurobindo translated the whole poem in English so that a vast section of the countrymen could understand and appreciate the inherent greatness of the song in infusing a spirit of patriotism. Thereafter many translations were made, including one by Subramanya Bharati in 1905. In course of time, ‘Vande Mataram’ became sanctified as intrinsic part of the memories of the fight for freedom.

The tradition of singing ‘Vande Mataram’ by the Congress continued till about 1930 when some Muslims objected against the song on two grounds: 1. Its association with ‘Anandamath’, which depicted the Muslims of Nawabi era of the 1770s in Bengal in poor light; second, the religious imagery and idolatry implicit in the stanzas that follow the first two stanzas. When the Congress Party came into power in six of the eleven provinces of British India in 1937, the song acquired the status of a national anthem to which the Muslim League, headed by M.A.Jinnah, protested vehemently. Jinnah described the song as ‘positively anti-Islamic’ and ‘idolatry in its inspirations and ideas’. In 1937 the Congress was willing to restrict the recitation to the first two stanzas, as they did not contain any reference that would be offensive to anyone. However, the Muslim League was adamant in its stand and wanted to give a complete burial to the song. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru told M.A. Jinnah emphatically that the Congress could not compel a large number of people to abandon what they had come to treasure for so long.

After India got political independence on 15th August 1947, ‘Vande Mataram’ was sung at the end of the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly on 24th June 1950. It was never debated in the Constituent Assembly. However, it was resolved that while ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was identified as the national anthem, it was also decided to accord equal status to‘Vande Mataram’ as a national song.

Maharshi Aurobindo in one of his novels pays glowing tributes to the patriotism of Bankim Chandra, who laid the first systematic foundation of nationalism in India, in the following memorable words : “ And when posterity comes to crown the Makers of Modern India with her praises, she will place her splendid laurel not on the sweating temples of a place-hunting politician nor on the narrow forehead of a noisy social reformer but on the serene brow of that gracious Bengali who never clamored for place or for power, but did his work quietly to create a language , a literature and a nation”.



BANKIM CHANDRA CHATERJI --The Man Behind " Vande Mataram ".

Doyen of modern Bengali literature, Bankim Chandra Chaterji was born in Bengal in 1836 A.D. Even when he was a student in the high school in a village near Calcutta, his teachers were awed at his intelligence and grasping power. Creating records at every step in his academic career, Bankim coveted all top honours in the Presidency College, Calcutta, spending most of his time in the college library. Along with his compatriot Jadunath Bose, Bankim became the first graduate of the Calcutta University. Transition to occupation came as smoothly as in academics. At the age of just 20 years in the year 1858, he became a Deputy Magistrate--the highest adminstrative position a contemporary Indian could have reached in his lifetime.
Inspite of this coveted adminsrative post occupied by him, Bankim's real genius lay in his ability to write in Bengali. In the past mid-nineteenth century in Bengal, the then elite of Calcutta like Raja Ramamohan Roy, Ishwara Chandra Vidyasagar etc had started writing in Bengali with a view to bringing it at par with a language like Sanskrit which was admired for its majesty, richness and grandeaur. Bankim seized this opputunity and jumped into the band-wagon of writers. He started with the famous Bengali novel, DURGESH NANDINI, a memorable novel often referred to as the first born child of the New Prose in Bengali. Thereafter there was no looking back either for Bankim or for the Bengali literature. The two novels, KAPALA KUNDALA and MRINALINI followed. By the time his next novel, VISHA KANYA
was published, Bankim had already made his name as an outstanding writer in Bengali. It was his novel
ANANDAMATH , which was earlier published in serials in the literary Bengali magazine " Banga Darshan " [ edited by Bankim himself ], that made him popular all over the country. What made the novel popular was the introduction of the song " VANDE MATARAM " in this novel. This songhad been composed by Bankim 7 years earlie under very interesting circumstances.
Sometime in September 1875, Bankim was returning home in the evening by train from Calcutta where he was working as the Editor of " Banga Darshan ". He was totally absorbed in enjoying the sylvan
beauties of nature. Even when he reached home late in the evening, the thoughts persisted and the inherent poetic genius in him manifested at once in the form of a few lines of a poem. Immediately he jotted them down on a piece of paper. Some lines were in his mother tongue Bengali and some were in Sanskrit. These were the very lines which now form our National Poem " VANDE MATARAM ".
Sometime later, in one particular week, the latest issue of "Banga Darshan " was on the machine. Copies had to roll to meet the deadline. The proof-reader noticed a blank space, a couple of inches long.
He rushed to the Editor and asked for a filler. The editor asked him to collect it half an hour later. When the proof-reader returned, the editor handed him over a piece of paper on which he had scribed a few lines. The copy fitted the blank space and "Banga Darshan" hit the news-stands as scheduled the next morning.
Lo and behold ! The filler was the poem " VANDE MATARAM ", the title that Bankim had given for his poem. At that time, however, the poem practically went un-noticed
20 years later, sometime in 1896, when the Indian National Congress held its session in Calcutta, the session began with an invocation of " VANDE MATARAM ", composed by Bankim. The singer was no other than our beloved Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, who set the tune to the song and sang it before a distinguished assembly. There was thunderous applause. Reacting to the popular response to the song,
Tagore observed sometime later
" When I set the tune to the song and sang it before a vast assemblage of people in a Congress Session in Calcutta, I felt myself electrified from top to toe. It was not a song. It was molten fire and every word and every line engulfed the audience with the fire of patriotism "
The song " VANDE MATARAM " echoed the patriotic feelings of millions of people during the Non-Coopration Movement and the freedom struggle. Many braved the lathis of the British police singing "Vande Mataram " and many embraced death with this patriotic song on their lips.

JUNE 2002.

Created: Thursday, August 14, 2008 8:58 PM


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