‘Jana-Gana-Man’ is a unique creation that transcends contemporary pettiness; Gurudev had cleared the doubts about it in his lifetime
-Dr Shyamaprasad Chattopadhyay & Prof. Vishwabharati Vishwavidyalaya
In December 1911, the 26th session of the National Congress was held in Calcutta. A well-wisher of Rabindranath Thakur, Ashutosh Chowdhury requested Rabindranath to compose a song for this session.
Ashutosh Chowdhury was not only a friend, he was a barrister in Britain, above all the son-in-law of Thakur’s family. Rabindranath wrote ‘Janaganaman-Adhinayaka Jaya he.. Bharatbhagyavidhata’. It was written in the Calcutta Municipal Gazette ….” In December (1911) Rabindranath composes at the request of Ashutosh Chowdhury, for the twenty-sixth session of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta, his famous national song ‘Jana-gana-mana-adhinayaka’.
Rabindranath wrote many songs on different occasions at different times. In 1896, Hemchandra Mallick, accompanied by Bipinchandra Pal Mahasaya, approached Rabindranath and requested him to ‘introduce the Shardiya Puja in a new way by combining Durgamurti with the goddess form of the motherland, to compose hymns with his appropriate devotion and inspiration’ (letter by Rabindranath to Pulinbihari). The song ‘ayi vubanamohini’ was composed as a result of this request.
However, on 26-28 December 1911, Ryamje MacDonald, the first Labor leader in the British Parliament, was elected Speaker of the Calcutta National Congress, but he could not stay in India due to his wife’s demise. Bishan Narayan Dhar was nominated as the president in his place. The meeting started at 12 noon on Wednesday, the second day of the session. Sarala Devi Chowdhurani, Amla Das, Dinendranath Tagore, Amal Home and others sang the inaugural song in unison – ‘Janaganman-Adhinayak Joy o he Bharatbhagyabidhata’.
Incidentally, the agenda of the session of that day was to give a little obedient welcome to Emperor George V and coincidentally in honour of the Emperor, a song of Rambhuj Chowdhury was sung in Hindi that day.
Needless to say, Emperor VII of Britain died earlier, and on June 22, 1911, Emperor George V ascended the throne of Great Britain. Then in December, George V and his wife visited India. That year the capital of India was shifted to Delhi. At that royal ceremony in Delhi, Emperor George V announced the provision of some royal aid and facilities to the people of India. In 1905, the order for the partition of Bengal was officially revoked.
After the inaugural at the second-day session of the Congress in Calcutta on December 27, the Congress leaders gave a courtesy welcome to Emperor George V and his wife and thanked him for announcing the repeal of the Partition of Bengal. The next day, some of the newspaper, namely ‘The Englishman’, ‘The Stateman’, and ‘The Bengali’, distorted the news and created confusion. The first stanza of the song was translated purposefully with distorted news on December 28 in ‘The Bengali’ magazine – “king of the heart of nation, Lord of our country’s fate – Sindh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the Punjab, Dravida, Utkala and Bengal, the Vindyas and the Himalayas and the heaving water of the Jamuna and the Gangas-they waken at thy name, thy Crave, thy blessing ( together ) they raise the hymn of the praise.”
After reading this news, confusion started among the people. Reading the report, it seems that Rabindranath composed this song to welcome the emperor. Critics of Rabindranath used this misleading news to spread false accusations against the poet. It is said that the song ‘Janaganaman’, composed on the occasion of the arrival of Emperor George to giving compliment at the request of a high-ranking official of Shimla (probably Maharaja Pradyat Kumar Tagore).
The poet was very upset and angry to hear this allegation. In a letter to Sudharani Devi dated March 29, 1939, he said, “It is self deteriorating to answer the questions of those who assume that I am immensely dim-witted to praise George IV or V as the eternal charioteer of the epoch-making progress in human history.”
The second stanza of the song has – Man is a traveller who walks forever and ever through a path full of ups and downs/ O’ the eternal charioteer! Your chariot wheel makes that path sonorous/ amidst great revolution, your conch-shell alarm can be heard ./You are the savior who saves us from trouble and sorrow.
He did not get rid of this misfortune even later. Controversy arose again in 1937 when the song ‘Janaganaman’ was considered as the national anthem of India. He gave a detailed explanation in a letter to Pulinbihari Sen dated 20-11-37. (The entire facsimile copy of the letter is attached with the essay). There he wrote: “The arrival of the Emperor of India was being arranged that year. A high-level serviceman in the British Indian government, who is also a friend of mine, made a special request to me to compose in the place of the emperor. I was surprised and angry at the same time to hear that. To express it, I have proclaimed the victory of Bhagya Vidhata, in the Jana Gana Mana song, who is the eternal charioteer of those travellers who move on forever and ever through ups and downs in the troublesome path, who is the perpetual guide, who resides inside every people. The eternal chariot driver of humankind can never be the fifth or sixth George, it was well understood even by my royalist friend.”
Rabindranath used to hate paying homage, in the hope of gaining the king’s palace. All in all, ‘Janaganaman’ is a unique creation that transcends contemporary pettiness – triviality – satire, false accusation, propaganda and delusion. As Rabindranath’s pain and anger intensified, the song was sung as a religious song at his ‘Maghotsab’ in 1318 BS.And at the behest of the poet, the song was published as a Brahma Sangeet in the month of Magh 1318 BS by ‘Tattvabodhini magazine’ under the title ‘Bharatbhagyabidhata’. Dinendranath imposed tune on the song using Imon raga and Kaharba rhythm.
Finally, another piece of information needs to be mentioned. In 1937, at the meeting of the All India Congress Committee in Calcutta, discussions began on what would become the ‘national anthem’ of India. Bengali scholars of the time recommended that ‘Bandemataram’ be adopted as the national anthem. (The Modern Review, December 1938) Subhash Chandra, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad gave their opinion in favour of ‘Bandemataram’.But Muhammad Ali Jinnah opposed it. He said that, for Muslims, the idea of ‘Bandemataram’ being the patron of paganism, ‘Tang hi Durga Dashpraharnadharini’ cannot be accepted by any Muslim on the pretext of the national anthem. In this situation, Subhash Chandra and Jaharlal approached Rabindranath for their views. Mahatma Gandhi also came but he suddenly fainted while getting in the motor car. It is learned that Rabindranath sent a written solution to this issue to the Congress President on 26-11-37. “An unfortunate controversy is raging round the question of stability of ‘Bande Mataram’ as national song. In offering my own opinion about it I am reminded that the privilege of originally setting its first stanza to the tune was mine when the author was still alive and I was the first person to sing it before a gathering of the Calcutta Congress. To me the spirit of tenderness and devotion expressed in its first portion, the emphasis it gave to beautiful and beneficent aspects of our motherland made special appeal so much so that I found no difficulty in dissociating it from the rest of the poem…”
Adopting this solution of Rabindranath, Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about ‘Bandemataram’ in the Congress session- “the first two stanzas are such that it is impossible for anyone to take objection to, unless he is maliciously inclined. Remember, we are thinking in terms of a national song for all India”.
In 1950, the first stanza of the song ‘Janaganaman-Adhinayak Jay Hai’ was recognised as the National Anthem of India, and the first two stanzas of the song ‘Bandemataram’ were recognised as the National Song.