Indian anthem Jana Gana Mana turns 100

Rabindranath Tagore

Tagore was the first Asian to win the Nobel prize for literature

Exactly 100 years since it was first sung in Calcutta, the song that later became India’s national anthem has braved numerous controversies. Shamik Bag explores Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana and its vision of Indian universality.

The song has been as feted as it has been vilified. Jana Gana Mana, India’s national anthem, has seen millions on their feet, standing to reverential attention, every time it is played.

Among its critics are those that consider the song to be deferential to the British monarchy; others find it fails to fully reflect races and regions.

But 100 years after Tagore – the first Asian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 – wrote and performed the song on 27 December 1911 at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress, Jana Gana Mana has maintained its grip on the Indian public and political imagination.

Co-ownership claims

Celebrity endorsers like Academy Award-winning composer AR Rahman, who released an album based on Tagore’s tune, gave the century-old song a chic generational twist.

Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, starring superstar Shah Rukh Khan, also used the national anthem to tear-jerking effect.

On the other hand, political controversies, clamour for changes in lyrics by regional politicians, and even claims of co-ownership of the composition have kept Jana Gana Mana in the news.

Even as cultural organisations like the Mumbai-based Pancham Nishad plan to commemorate the centenary of the song, one MP from Assam last month demanded the inclusion of the state and the north-eastern region in the song.Shop with RabindranathTagore pictures

Kumar Deepak Das said that Tagore incorporated British-ruled regions of India in Jana Gana Mana when much of the north-eastern region was outside British authority.

“There are insurgency and secessionist movements in the north-east. People there often feel neglected. If the Indian government agrees to modify the national anthem, such measures can resolve the feeling of alienation,” he said.

Jana Gana Mana was selected as the national anthem of India in 1950 after considerable debate overruled Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s popular Bengali song Vande Mataram in the face of Muslim opposition.

In 2005, a petition filed in the Supreme Court demanded the inclusion of the word Kashmir in the national anthem and the deletion of Sindh, which became part of Pakistan following Partition.

That the national anthem, written in Sanskritised Bengali by Tagore, continues to galvanise a spirit of regional and racial identity became apparent after India’s Sindhi community jointly opposed the deletion, claiming the word Sindh to be representative of the community.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the community and against the petition – it said that a national anthem was “a hymn or song expressing patriotic sentiments or feelings” and “not a chronicle which defines the territory of the nation”.

Source: BBC