The history and politics of Vande Mataram
replete with glorification of incidents of “cleansing” of Muslims like
the following one: "The rural people ran out to kill the
Muslims...they torched their houses and looted their everything.
By Shamsul Islam
Milli Gazette Online
Vande Mataram is in news once again, though for wrong reasons. The current
controversy started with a meeting organized by the minority cell of the
BJP in the city of Taj Mahal, Agra on February 25. This meeting, organized
in order to mobilize Muslims for the forthcoming parliamentary elections,
ended up with about 50 of Muslim invitees singing Vande Mataram.
Interestingly, singing of Vande Mataram in this meeting was an exception
as the BJP meetings in general do not have singing of this song on agenda.
The controversy started when a local Muslim cleric (see MG, 1-15 April
2004) came out with a “fatwa” decreeing that all the Muslim singers of
the Vande Mataram by singing it indulged in polytheism and as a
consequence ceased to be Muslims. The mufti also decreed that their
marriages stood annulled and they should re-solemnise their marriages.
Mother, I bow to thee!
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
Bright with thy orchard gleams,
Cool with thy winds of delight, Dark fields waving, Mother of
Glory of moonlight dreams,
Over thy branches and lordly streams,
Clad in thy blossoming trees,
Mother, giver of ease,
Laughing low and sweet!
Mother I kiss thy feet,
Speaker sweet and low!
Mother to thee I bow.
Who hath said thou art weak in thy lands,
When the swords flash out in twice seventy million hands,
And seventy million voices roar,
Thy dreadful name from shore to shore?
With many strengths who are mighty and stored,
To thee I call, Mother and Lord!
Though who savest, arise and save!
To her I cry who ever her foemen drive,
Back from plain and sea,
And shook herself free.
Thou art wisdom, thou art law,
Thou our heart, our soul, our breath,
Thou the love divine, thou the awe,
In our hearts that conquer death.
Thine the strength that nerves the arm,
Thine the beauty, thine the charm,
Every image made divine,
In our temples is but thine.
Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen,
With her hands that strike and her swords of sheen,
Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned,
And the Muse a hundred-toned,
Pure and perfect without peer,
Mother, lend thine ear.
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
Bright with thy orchard gleams,
Dark of hue, O candid-fair,
In thy soul, with jeweled hair,
And thy glorious smile divine,
Loveliest of all earthly lands,
Showering wealth from well-stored hands!
Mother, mother mine!
Mother sweet, I bow to thee,
Mother great and free!
'Vande Mataram' translated by Sri Aurobindo. This note of his
about this translation is very significant: "It is difficult
to translate the National Anthem of Bengal into verse in another
language owing to its unique union of sweetness, simple directness
and high poetic force."
Bhabatosh Chatterjee (ed.), Bankim Chandra Chatterjee: Essays in
Perspective, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, 1994, p. 601.]
Interestingly, the Hindutva gang has been raking up this issue
periodically as part of Muslim-bashing since Independence, especially on
the eve of elections. As part of anti-Muslim propaganda they coined the
slogan "Iss desh maen rehna hae to Vande Mataram kehna hoga" (If
you want to live in this country, you will have to sing Vande Mataram).
The fundamental problem with Indian nationalist symbols like Vande Mataram
is that by simply adding Muslim/minority angle to these, one can thwart
any serious scrutiny and worthwhile debate about the pre-Independence
controversies over these symbols. The Hindutva gang, especially the RSS
which played absolutely no role in the anti-colonial freedom struggle, now
wants to cover up its betrayal by posing as the sole guardian of
nationalist symbols like Vande Mataram.
A thorough scanning (undertaken by this author) of the pre-Independence
literature/documents published by the RSS shows that there is absolutely
no reference there to Vande Mataram, what to talk of singing it.
Startlingly, Vande Mataram as a term does not appear in the writings of KB
Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar either. And after Independence the same gang
wants to use this song to beat Muslims with.
The protagonists of a democratic-secular India have failed in exposing the
Hindutva stalwarts who have been pitting Vande Matram against the National
Anthem, Jana Gana Mana and denounce Muslim and Sikh fundamentalists for
their non-allegiance to the Tricolour and the National Anthem, the two
symbols of Indian nationalism. The secular India has miserably failed to
corner the Hindutva gang which itself wants to replace the secular
National Anthem by Vande Mataram and the Tricolour by saffron flag. This
is abundantly clear from the practice of the RSS shakhas, and the RSS
vision of replacing the Indian democratic-secular state with a Hindu
A section of the so-called Muslim leadership, devoid of common sense and
ignorant of nationalist heritage, reacted to the Hindutva game plan along
expected lines. Playing into the hands of Hindutva brigade 'Muslim
leaders' like the Agra Mufti simply provided legitimacy to its strategy of
Muslim-bashing. Unfortunately, even a section of secular Muslims have
shown panic reaction by declaring that Muslims should not object to the
singing of this song. They innocently believe that Muslims by not singing
this song are inviting wrath of Hindutva. They overlook the fact that even
Dalits, Christians, Buddhists and other minorities, who have not raised
objections against Vande Mataram, have not been spared by the Hindutva
The need of the hour is that we should not run away from a serious debate
on the issue of the Vande Mataram under one pretext or the other. In order
to know the truth and understand the whole controversy over Vande Mataram
it is important to be familiar with the following facts which have been
gathered from wide pre-Independence sources.
Vande Mataram was dogged by one controversy or another from the day it was
first printed in Banga Darshan (edited by Bankimchandra Chatterjee) in
1875. It was a strange composition in the sense that it was written in two
languages. The song consisted of 4 stanzas, the first two in Sanskrit and
the rest in Bengali. Poet Navin Chandra Sen, a close friend, told Bankim
after reading the song: "You see, it is all good, but the whole thing
is spoilt by your potpourri of half Bengali and half Sanskrit. It reminds
me of Govind Adhikari's Jatra songs. People do not like it."1 In
fact, this song was not known by many despite the fact that Jadu Bhatt, a
renowned singer of those days and a contemporary of Bankim, liked the song
and set it to an attractive tune. The situation did not change even in
1882 when Bankim included this song in his controversial novel Anandmath.
Rabindranath Tagore composed a new tune for this song in 1885 but despite
its rendering by a very popular Bengali poet it did not attract much
Interestingly, Vande Mataram which came to be known as the “national
song” was composed by Bankim as a “Bengal anthem”, nothing more. The
imagery of the countryside and references to Durga were certainly confined
to Bengal. In this song he is seen concerned about Bengal only aloof from
any emotional attachment to India. Even Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ghose),
propounder of Hindu nationalism in India, translated it as the
"National Anthem of Bengal".2
Bankim, as we will see in the translation done by Aurobindo, referred to
“seven crores” [70 million] of people worshipping motherland. This was
the population of the then Bengal Province (which, besides what is now
Bangladesh, included Bihar and Orissa too). So the crucial fact should not
be missed that Vande Mataram touted as symbolizing “Mother India” was
in fact meant to glorify Bengal only, a rather narrow and regional
Many are not aware that this song was scantly known during the lifetime of
Bankim himself. In his lifetime it did not capture popular imagination
though it was sung at all Congress sessions by people who identified
Indian nationalism with Hindu ethos. It remained confined to a fringe
In 1905 came Curzon's announcement of the partition of Bengal, and
suddenly Vande Mataram turned into a national mantra, renting the skies
with the protest against the partition of Bengal. Reacting quickly, the
British government banned the song or even raising it as a slogan. People
of Barisal in Bengal bore the brunt of police brutality for singing this
song. Peasant leader Abdul Rasul, was presiding over the Bengal Congress
provincial conference session of 1906 when hundreds were struck down and
grievously injured for singing Vande Mataram. This brutality at Barisal
popularized the song overnight. According to Bengalee of May 23, 1906,
"an unprecedented procession of Hindus and Muslims singing national
songs and crying Vande Mataram and Allah-o-Akbar passed through all the
principal streets of the town. Both Hindus and Mussalmans carried Vande
Mataram flags."3 It is interesting to know that while Vande Mataram
was banned in Bengal, the British government allowed the Bengali Regiment
to attack German trenches during the first world war with Vande Mataram on
Soon Vande Mataram became the opening note of all the Congress gatherings.
And the two, Congress and Vande Mataram, became inseparable, until the
early 1930s, when a new controversy about the song broke out within the
ranks of the party. Sections of Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs,
Christians, South Indians, secular groups and even Arya Samajis, objected
when the Congress decided to finalize it as the “national song”. Vande
Mataram glorified idol worship, they argued, as it referred to only Hindu
deities (it must be shocking for the present-day Hindutva brigade that the
song does not even once refer to Ram), and that it expressed only a
regional aspiration (it is partly in Bengali and allegorically talks of
“Bengal” as India).
Another objection raised by Muslims and secular Indians said that Vande
Mataram was part of the novel Anandmath, which glorified the annihilation
of Muslims and not the British rule in India. This objection was very
relevant, as even a cursory glance of the novel will prove. The novel was
replete with glorification of incidents of “cleansing” of Muslims like
the following one: "The rural people ran out to kill the Muslims
while coming across them. In the night, some ones were organized in groups
and going to the Muslim locality, they torched their houses and looted
their everything. Many Muslims were killed; many of them shaved their
beards, smeared their bodies with soil and started singing the name of
Hari. When asked, they said, we were Hindus. The frightened Muslims rushed
towards the town in group after group. The Muslims said, Allah, Allah! Is
the Kortn Sareef (sic) (holy Koran) proved entirely wrong after so many
days? We pray namaz five times but couldn't finish the sandal-pasted
Hindus. All the universe is false."4
Bankim's novel simultaneously glorified the colonial British rule. It
portrayed the British masters as saviours of Hindus. This love for the
British masters and exploiters was clearly visible in the last few lines
of Anandmath. When the Hindu army (Santan rebels) was able to defeat
Muslim rulers and move on to fight the British too, a mystic leader (Satyananda)
appeared and told them: "Your mission has been successful. You have
performed the well-being of the Mother. The English reign has been
established. You give up the war and enmity-mood. There is no more enemy.
The Englishman is our ally King. Moreover, none possesses such power who
can win the war with the Englishmen ultimately."5 Thus the great
leader of Hindu rebellion was finally able to convince Santans about the
historic utility of the British Raj for the resurrection of the Hindu
kingdom and many of them went to Himalayas renouncing this world.
Anandmath, which heralded the Hindu nationalist movement, is full of such
The Congress, which under Jawaharlal Nehru's leadership wanted an
all-inclusive nationalism with special stress on Hindu-Muslim unity,
responded positively to these objections. The Congress Working Committee (CWC)
after long deliberations at Wardha and Bombay appointed a committee
consisting of Jawaharlal Nehru (president of the Congress), MK Gandhi,
Abul Kalam Azad and Subhashchander Bose in its Calcutta meeting (Oct
26-November 1, 1937).
This high profile committee on Vande Mataram issued a historic statement
on October 28, 1937 with the aim to resolve the controversy. The statement
made it clear at the outset that the first two stanzas of the song had no
religious allusions and only these were commonly sung even in Bengal. It
went on to observe that "the use of the first two stanzas of the song
[which] spread to other provinces and a certain national significance
began to attach to them. The rest of the song was very seldom used and is
even now known by few persons. These two stanzas described in tender
language the beauty of the motherland and the abundance of her gifts.
There was absolutely nothing in them to which objection could be taken
from the religious or any other point of view."6
The CWC went on to emphasize that "the other stanzas of the song are
little known and hardly ever sung. They contain certain allusions and a
religious ideology which may not be in keeping with the ideology of other
religious groups in India. The Committee while recognizing the validity of
objections raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song...
recommend that “wherever the Bande Matraram is sung at national
gatherings only the first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom
to the organizers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character,
in addition to, or in the place of, the Bande Matraram song."7
With this judgment the controversy should have been over. But it didn't.
It seems ironical that the present-day champions of Vande Mataram did not
figure anywhere in the struggle against the British. They cannot name a
single martyr for freedom, and their slogans for Hindu Rashtra only helped
the British masters’ divide-and-rule policy and supplemented the
services of persons like Jinnah. The propping up of an old controversy
thus seems to be only for playing the same old game of dividing the Indian
people. The truth of the matter is that Vande Mataram is just another move
in the dangerous game the fundamentalists are involved in: confusing and
above article was published in the 1-15 May 2004 print edition of MG; send
me the print edition
1. Cited in P. Thankappan Nair, Indian National Songs and Symbols,
Firma, Calcutta, 1987, p. 32.
2.Cited in Bhabatosh Chatterjee (ed.), Bankimchandra Chatterjee: Essays in
Perspective, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, 1994, p. 601.
3. Cited in P. Thankappan Nair, p. 38.
4. Arabinda Das, Abbey of Delight (English translation of Bankimchander
Chatterjee's Anandmath in Bengali), Bandna Das, Kolkata, 2000, pp.
5. Ibid, pp. 191-194.
6. AICC Papers on microfilms, Accession No. 8612 [Roll No. 51], Nehru
Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, pp. 0852-0854.