Bande Mataram

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"BANDE MATARAM" Written between 1872 and 1875 by the Bengali author Bankim Chandra Chatterji (1838–1894), "Bande Mataram" (Hail to thee, mother) was a poem consisting of twelve lines in two stanzas. It was expanded when it appeared in his Bengali-language novel Anandamath (Abbey of bliss) in 1882. The novel was first serialized in the literary journal Bangadarshan, which Chatterji founded in 1872, between 1880 and 1882. Chatterji was from an orthodox Brahman family and was educated at Hooghli College, Presidency College, and the University of Calcutta, where he studied law and was one of the first graduating class. From 1858 until his retirement in 1891, he was a member of the Indian Civil Service, retiring as a deputy magistrate.

Chatterji, the author of over a dozen novels, wrote first in English, then in his native Bengali. Anandamath was a patriotic tale of Hindu rebellion against the British by the Sannyasis (Shudras who usually worshiped Shiva) in Bengal and Bihar between 1762 and 1774. Their slogan was "Om Vande Mataram." Anandamath was made into a play in 1883 and translated into Hindi in 1905, and then into English in 1906 by Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950) before being translated into other Indian languages. Music was composed for the poem by Jadu Bhatta, who was the music teacher of future Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941). Tagore himself is usually credited with composing the music in 1882. He sang it on a phonograph record that was first produced in 1905.

For Chatterji, Hinduism and nationalism were synonymous, and his novels and essays became an inspiration to nationalists at the turn of the century, especially at the time of the partition of Bengal in 1905. The song was banned in Bengal by Sir Bampfylde Fuller (1854–1935), the lieutenant-governor of East Bengal and Assam (1905–1906), on 7 November 1905, as it was considered an incitement to violence. The ban was imposed until 1911 and it was reimposed between 1930 and 1937. It was first sung by the Indian National Congress at their twenty-first annual meeting held in 1905 at Benares (Varanasi). It became exceedingly popular among Hindus and was described in 1907 by Sri Aurobindo in the journal Vande Mataram as a "mantra": "The mantra had been given and in a single day a whole people had been converted to the religion of patriotism." It was sung outside the courthouse by supporters at the sedition trial of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856–1920) in 1909 and became the national anthem of the Indian National Congress during the nationalist struggle for independence and was sung at its meetings. As its author, Chatterji is considered one of India's nationalist heroes.

The controversial nature of the song lay in the fact that the identification of the "mother" with India, which was redolent of Hinduism, was found objectionable by Muslims. The criticism was taken to heart by the Indian National Congress at a time when there was a great deal of discussion about what should be the national anthem. At Calcutta on 28 October 1937, the Congress Working Committee recommended that only the first two stanzas of "Bande Mataram" should be sung at national gatherings and that the organizers of the conference could substitute or add any other song that was "of an unobjectionable character." Nonetheless, "Bande Mataram" continued to offend Muslims and constituted one more piece of evidence that Congress rule would mean "Hindu rule" in an independent India. It therefore played a role in the Pakistan movement.

When it came time for India to decide on a national anthem, "Bande Mataram," in spite of its popularity and its role in the freedom movement, was not chosen. Instead, "Janaganamana Adhinayaka" (The morning song of India), written by Tagore in 1911 and sung at the second day's sitting of the Indian National Congress Annual Session at Calcutta the same year and published in 1912, became India's national anthem in 1950. It had been adopted by Subhash Chandra Bose's (1897–1945) Indian National Army, founded in 1943. It was, ironically, claimed that "Janaganamana" was composed to commemorate the visit of King George V to India in 1911 and was sung at his durbār. This claim was denied by Tagore, and the song is not mentioned in the durbār program. "Bande Mataram" was, however, according to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) in a speech in 1950, honored equally and accorded equal status. This decision met with considerable opposition at the time by people who favored "Bande Mataram" as the national anthem. In the 1990s the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party called for its adoption as India's national anthem.

Roger D. Long

See alsoBose, Netaji Subhash Chandra ; Chatterji, Bankim Chandra ; Tagore, Rabindranath


Bhattacharya, Sabyasachi. Vande Mataram: The Biography of aSong. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2003.

Gadgil, Amarendra Laxman. Vande Mataram (The SongPerennial). Pune: Gokul Masik Prakashan, 1977.

Sen, Prabodhchandra. India's National Anthem. 1949. Reprint, Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1972.