The Wrong Stanza!

11th September 2020 marked the 78th anniversary of “Jana Gana Mana” as the national anthem of “Free India”, or Arzi Huqumat-e Azad Hind to be specific. The Provisional Government of Free India, as announced by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, had chosen this Brahmo song composed by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore as the unifier for the free nation he had envisioned. It was performed at Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg. 

In fact “Jana Gana Mana” is only the first stanza of five of the composition called “Bharata Bhagya Vidhaata” [The Dispenser of India’s Destiny].

Quite frankly, Vande Mataram, though popularly used in the freedom struggle, was correctly evaluated by Netaji as not emotionally reaching out to all faiths and peoples. Gurudev’s composition, first sung by himself at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress on 27th December 1911, truly represented the spirit that would be a free India. The heavily Sanskritised Bengali original was converted into an easier Hindustani version by Captain Abid Ali and set to military music by Captain Ram Singh Thakuri of the Indian National Army. The song was called “Subh Sukh Chayn”.

At the meeting of the Constituent Assembly of India on 14th August 1947, the full song was performed. And Captain Thakuri performed the INA version at the Red Fort on the request of Pandit Nehru the very next day.

Finally, on 24th January 1950, it was decided to choose the first stanza of the composition as our National Anthem. Since then, the 52-second composition has attempted to bind our nation into one union of challenges, desires and aspirations.

Let us study the first stanza which is our national anthem.

In Romanised Hindi and the English translation.

Aharaha taba āhbāna prachārita, śuni taba udāra bānī
 Hindu Baudha] Śikha Jaina Pārasika Musalamāna Khr̥sṭānī
 Pūraba Paśchima āsē taba siṁhāsana-pāśē prēmahāra haẏa gām̐thā
 Janagana-aikya-bidhāẏaka jaẏa hē Bhāratabhāgyabidhatā!
 Jaẏa hē, Jaẏa hē, Jaẏa hē, jaẏa jaẏa jaẏa jaẏa hē.

Day and night thy voice goes out from land to land calling the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees, Musalmaans and Christians round thy throne. 

The East and West join hands in their prayer to thee, and the garland of love is woven. 

Thou bringest the hearts of all people into the harmony of one life, thou dispenser of India’s destiny. 

⁠Victory, victory, victory to thee.

The “Dispenser” is basically a ‘preserver’ here of the geophysical form of the landmass that is India. 

What strikes me is how the Constituent Assembly of a just-divided landmass could actually choose a composition that is a celebration of the very physical form that was mutilated wantonly and callously by the powers-that-be leading to the loss of 2 million lives and displacement of 12 million. Even today close to 3 million are still ‘missing’.

Either the founders of the nation were plain naïve or totally oblivious of the bloodbath on the lines of faith. Almost as soon as it happened they seemed to forget it all and created a bubble of utopian statehood where it was more important to define the young nation by the physical manifestations and grandeurs than the need for social and religious harmony. They chose words that mentioned a land lost in partition [Sindh] but not the lands that needed to be brought in [like Tripura and Manipur]. They were very much aware of the underlying tensions between faiths, however big or small, and the innumerable instances of pogroms and flashpoints. They were aware of the fundamentalist serpents raising their heads across the country. The Mahatma fell to the bullets of one on 30th January 1948. Yet, when they had the chance to choose the National Anthem for a country born burnt and bloodied in spite of a largely non-violent struggle, they chose a stanza from a song that was the least inspiring and unifying.

A nation like ours cannot be defined by merely a geophysical map but by the inclusive diversity of colours, cultures, faiths, creeds and beliefs. This is the way this land has evolved, over centuries, with fresh infusions of people and philosophies that have added to this unique melting pot. The 565 princely states did not join the Indian Union due to the mountains and rivers but because of the core concept of socio-economic-religious unity and harmony that Sardar Patel had promised their subjects and the privy purses to their descendants.

The second stanza.

It is the second stanza that actually stands for the India of everyone’s dreams.

If just one stanza were to be chosen from the five in Tagore’s “Bharata Bhagya Vidhaata” it should have been the second. It reads thus…

सब के दिल में प्रीत बसाए, तेरी मीठी बाणी

हर सूबे के रहने वाले, हर मज़हब के प्राणी

सब भेद और फ़र्क मिटा के, सब गोद में तेरी आके,

गूँथें प्रेम की माला।

सूरज बन कर जग पर चमके, भारत नाम सुभागा,

जए हो! जए हो! जए हो! जए जए जए जए हो!॥

Sab ke dil mein preet basaaey, Teri meethi baani.

Har sube ke rahne waale, Har mazhab ke praani,

Sab bhed aur farak mita ke, Sab gaud mein teri aake,

Goondhe prem ki mala.

Suraj ban kar jag par chamke, Bharat naam subhaga,

Jai Ho! Jai Ho! Jai Ho! Jai, Jai, Jai, Jai Ho!

The “Dispenser” here is the ‘Unifier’ of all peoples, from all faiths and directions. The “harmony of one life” as Tagore so correctly states is what the purpose of the nation is to be, if one is to follow the traditional concept of nationhood in the first place.

Even the second paragraph of Azad Hind’s “Subh Sukh Chayn” echo the same spirit:

Given the still active undercurrents of faith that come to surface at the smallest spark, we need to keep reminding ourselves of the need for the harmony of one life. Given the active discourses on ‘outsiders’, ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘settlers’ all around us, there is not a better time to relook at our National Anthem regarding its role and relevance today and tomorrow. If the dividing lines of faith being carved open are ever to be healed in the times to come, the debate and discussions need to be now. 

This is not the first time the national anthem of a country is being changed.

Germany undertook a similar exercise post WW2 when they switched from the first stanza of a composition called “Deutshclandlied” [Song of Germany] that talked of physical boundaries to the third that talks of unity, justice and freedom as the national anthem of the newly created West Germany! Similarly, Russia, Canada, Niger and quite a few other nations have either constantly revised or changed their national anthems. Just last month Australia modified her national anthem to make it more inclusive of the original inhabitants of the land. The purpose it to objectively study it in the context of the state of the nation and then decide whether it is still inspiring enough to continue.  

As a citizen I do not find our National Anthem relevant anymore. 

Either we use the entire song or just the second stanza.

I believe if Tagore had been there in 1947, he would not have approved of such a decision. For one who was staunchly opposed to the very concept of nationhood, if at all an anthem were to be chosen, he would have composed an entirely new one, given the trauma of Partition. Millions cried more out of pain than in joy on 15th August 1947.

Next year will be the 75th anniversary of our freedom.

That will be the right time to elect, enact and give to ourselves a new national anthem.

The second stanza of “Bharata Bhagya Vidhaata”.

In January 1950 they chose the wrong one.

Jai Hind!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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