For whom was Jana Gana Mana composed?
Jana Gana Mana - an explanation by Mr P L Deshpande
In the issue of 3 May 1980 of Maharashtra Times of Mumbai I read a letter by Mr Bal Jere. He states that Ravindranath Tagore definitely composed the famous song Jana Gana Mana to welcome King George V. In support of his argument he refers to the issues of contemporary Anglo-Indian papers like the Statesman and the Englishman.
[ Note - The term Anglo Indian does NOT mean people of mixed race. It means British people in India. The papers run by them were called the Anglo-Indian Press, whereas papers run by Indians were called the Native opinion] Reuter, the famous English news-agency had also reported in a similar fashion.
However, the report of the annual session of the Indian National Congress of December 1911 does not say that Jana Gana Mana, which Mr Jere supposes to have been composed for welcoming King George V, was sung at its session for that purpose. The news item is like this -
On the first day of 28th annual session of the Congress, proceedings started after singing Vande Mataram. On the second day the work began after singing a patriotic song by Babu Ravindranath Tagore. Messages from well wishers were then read and a resolution was passed expressing loyalty to King George V. Afterwards the song composed for welcoming King George V and Queen Mary was sung. Thus there is clear distinction between the song composed by Tagore and the one composed by some one else for welcoming King George V and Queen Mary.
Now let us turn to the issue of Amritbazar Patrika dated 28 December 1911. It reported, "The proceedings of the Congress party session started with a prayer in Bengali to praise God (song of benediction). This was followed by a resolution expressing loyalty to King George V. Then another song was sung welcoming King George V.
On 28 December The Bengalee (paper of Surendranath Banerjee) reported, "The annual session of Congress began by singing a song composed by the great Bengali poet Babu Ravindranath Tagore. Then a resolution expressing loyalty to King George V was passed. A song paying a heartfelt homage to King George V was then sung by a group of boys and girls."
Thus it is quite clear that in the official record of the Congress Party as well as in the newspapers run by Indians, that the song composed by Ravindranath Tagore was a patriotic song, and that the song that was sung afterwards welcoming King George V was NOT Jana Gana Mana. The Anglo-Indian papers did not know the difference between the two songs and therefore created a wrong impression.
Just one month after the annual session of Congress, i.e. in January 1912 Jana Gana Mana was published in the Tatvabodhini Patrika of Adi-brahmosamaj under the title Bharata Bhagya Vidhata, alternative title of the song is Brahmasangeet. The central theme, expressed by the phrase 'Bharat Bhagya-Vidhata' refers to the Avatar - descent of God - appearing in every age to destroy the evil and to protect the righteous. This is made clear in the third verse of the song.-
Patan abhyudaya bandhure pantha, yugayuga dhavit yatri
Tum chirasarathi tava rathachakray mukharita path dinaratri
Daruna viplava majay tava shankhadhwani bajay Sankata dhukha trata
Jana gana partha parichayaka jaya hay
Bharata bhagya vidhata
The phrase Chirasarathi (charioteer) clearly refers to the god Krishna in the Bhagvat-Gita, who is the 'Eternal Charioteer guiding the pilgrims who experience highs and lows as they travel along life's path. The poet says, "In my dire difficulty the sound of your conch reassures me." The blowing of a conch at the start of any religious ceremony and before a 'just war' (dharma-yuddha) is an ancient Indian / Hindu tradition. It gives us inspiration. In Bengal, even today, a conch is sounded at the beginning of an auspicious ritual (mangal karya). Those who are familiar with Hindu philosophy would know that the song celebrates the victory of the 'Eternal Charioteer' the god Krishna. The pro-British Anglo-Indian press, through ignorance, assumed the song to be a welcoming song for the King Emperor. In those days, during its annual sessions, the Congress invariably passed a resolution expressing loyalty to the British Crown. Moreover, in December 1911 King George V and his Queen were already in India (Delhi Darbar was held on 12 December 1911). So the reporters of the Anglo-Indian papers got mixed up, put two and two together and assumed that the song 'Jana Gana mana' was composed by Tagore to welcome the Emperor. But the British administrators in India were fully aware that Tagore did not support British Imperialism.
Just one month after Jana Gana Mana was sung at the Congress session, Director of Public Instructions (as it was called in those days. We would now call him Director of Education) for East Bengal issued a secret circular. Somehow it was discovered by the paper Bengalee and they published it in their issue of 26 January 1919. The circular had banned Government servants from sending their children to Shantiniketan. It also warned that if children remained in Shantiniketan, it will affect the service of those parents. After this threat many government servants withdrew their children from Shantiniketan, which was seriously affected by this Government circular.
Mr Prabodhachandra Sen says, "If Ravindranath had sunk so low that he would praise the British King Emperor, there was no need for such a government directive." Any one who has studied the life of Ravindranath knows that right from the start the British Authorities in India viewed his school Shantiniketan with suspicion.
We find the concept of Bharata Bhagya Vidhata in Tagore's novel Gora, one year before the song was composed. Towards the end of this novel, Gora the hero of the novel says to Pareshbabau, '…… only you possess the liberation mantra, that is why you have not gained any position of authority in any sect. Consider me your child and give me the mantra honouring a deity, respected by all sects (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Brahmo and all others). The door to that deity's shrine will never be closed to people of any community, or person at any time. That deity is not just of Hindus but of all the people in this land, Bharatavarsha.
The glorification of the deity of all India is central to the idea of 'Bharata-bhagya-vidhata' in the song 'Jana-Gana-Mana.' Tagore has repeated that idea many times in his prose and poetry. One of his poems begins with the lines :-
Desha desha nanadita kari mandrita tava bheri
Ashilo jo to veera vrinda asana tava gheri.
[Your war drums and trumpets respond in all parts of India, blessing the brave who surround your throne.]
That poem, honouring the Supreme Deity, also used to be sung at the Congress Sessions.
The Poet says further
Jana gana patha tava
Jayaratha chakramukhara aaji
Spandita kari dig
Diganta uthilo shankha aaji
Meaning "The path followed by countless humans, today, reverberates by the sound of your chariot's wheels. Make all directions vibrate by the sound of your conch."
Thus, even before composing the song Jana Gana Mana, Tagore had been invoking the great God for arousing the masses and making them aware of their heritage and raising our self-respect. Ravindra Nath's mind had been nurtured through the study of the Upanishadas, and because of it, he was obviously attracted by the idea of God's Avatar on earth for the destruction of the evil.
Mr Jere refers to the paper Statesman which in December 1911 describes the song - Jana Gana Mana as a welcoming song for the King Emperor and in 1917 the same paper described it as 'a national (patriotic) song' while referring to the annual session of Congress in that year. How can the song serve two widely different purposes? Moreover in 1917 the Congress passed from being controlled by Moderates into the hands of Militants. At the annual session of Congress in 1917 Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Daas drew attention to this song and said, " It is a song for glory and victory of India." How can a great patriot from Bengal, like Daas who was an erudite scholar say that the song sung to welcome King George V was also a song for glory and victory of India? That is absurd.
Now let us see what Ravindranath himself has said about the reason behind composing Jana Gana Mana. For a number of years, a rumour was spreading that Tagore composed Jana Gana Mana to welcome King George V at the request of a high ranking government officer. On 10 November 1937 Tagore wrote a letter to Mr Pulin Bihari Sen about the controversy. That letter in Bengali can be found in Tagore's biography Ravindrajivani, volume II page 339 by Prabhatkumar Mukherjee. Ravindranath says, " I was stunned to hear of the request by a high ranking government officer. I was furious. In the song Jana Gana Mana I have praised the God Bharat Bhagya Vidhata who is the constant charioteer of travellers through the ages, he who guides through all the difficult circumstances, he who is born in many ages. He can never be King George V or VI or any other George. That truth dawned on my 'Loyal friend', because however strong his loyalty to the foreign rulers was, he was not devoid of intelligence. I also did not compose this song especially for the Congress."
Again in his letter of 19 March 1939 he writes, " I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbounded stupidity as to sing in praise 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.
(Purvasa, Phalgun, 1354, p738.)
Mr Jere is not therefore correct in saying that Ravindranath never gave any explanation. I accept Tagore's explanation as the spirit behind this song. During our freedom struggle, outstanding patriots from Bengal like Chittaranjan Daas and Subhashchandra Bose, had praised this song