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November 26, 1998


'It's hard to believe that Tagore wrote words like "eternal charioteer" or "mother" with the emperor in mind'

How Readers responded to Varsha Bhosle's earlier column

Date sent: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 12:38:11 -0500 (EST)
From: Arnab Gupta <>
Subject: "Pulp Friction" by Varsha Bhosle

The purpose of this mail is not to discuss the larger issues (Vande Mataram, the 90 per cent "pinkos" in the Indian media, "Mosies" etc) but to concentrate on an important point she made about our national anthem, the Jana Gana Mana.

This is not the hate mail she expects, but one that I hope is based on careful analysis. I hope she and readers of Rediff with an unbiased and analytical mind will judge for themselves what the truth is.

The charge that Tagore composed Jana Gana Mana eulogising King George V has been repeated a number of times, mainly by the Indian right wing media. Someone called Shivaramu wrote a book, originally called Ondu Kathe, Ondu Kathe and which was translated into English as Story of a song: ecstacy and agony (with ecstasy spelt wrong). It was translated from Kannada by C H Prahlada Rao, published by the Bangalore Sahitya Sindhu, and distributed by Rashtrotthana Sahitya.

All the "proof" so far given in support of the "eulogising" theory I have seen, including the ones by Ms Bhosle, are based on quotes from this book.

Unfortunately, the book is not very well researched. The author did not do a complete survey of facts or, presumably, due to his ideological inclinations, deliberately chose to ignore some others.

It was during the birth centenary celebrations of Tagore, if I remember correctly, that Vishwa Bharati published a book challenging the claim that the Jana Gana Mana was an eulogy to George V. This was written by Prabodhchandra Sen, a well-known researcher and academician from Shanti Niketan. Unfortunately, the book is out of print now.

The issue has also been discussed at length on the usenet groups (soc.culture.indian, soc.culture.bengali etc).

For a complete reading, I request readers to go to dejanews: AN=273304586&CONTEXT=911491229. 967508140&hitnum=79 and ?AN=273346611&CONTEXT=911491229. 967508140&hitnum=83.

Ms Bhosle talked about deciphering the lyrics. I hope she will shortly provide us with one. All great works of art are interpretable in a number of ways and Jana Gana Manais no exception. However, it's hard to believe that Tagore wrote words like "eternal charioteer" or "mother" in the poem with the emperor in mind.

Tagore was indeed requested to write a song eulogising the emperor. This is supported both by a letter written by Yeats and personal accounts:

"The National Congress people asked Tagore for a poem of welcome. He tried to write it, but could not. He got up very early in the morning and wrote a very beautiful poem, not one of his best, but still beautiful. When he came down, he said to one of us, "Here is a poem which I have written. It is addressed to God, but give it to (the) Congress people. It will please them. They will think it is addressed to the King. All Tagore's own followers knew it meant God, but others did not."
-- Indian Express, June 3, 1968

From Myriad Minded Man

Dated: 20.11.1937:
"A friend, influential in government circles, had importuned me to compose a song in the praise of the King. His request amazed me, and the amazement was mingled with anger. It was under the stress of this violent reaction that I proclaimed in Jana gana mana adhinayaka song, the victory of that Dispenser of India's destiny who chariots eternally the travellers through the ages along the paths rugged with the rise and fall of nations -- of Him who dwells within the heart of man and leads the multitudes. That the Great Charioteer of Man's destiny in age after age could not by any means be George the Fifth or George the Sixth or any other George, even my 'loyal' friend realised; because, however powerful his loyalty to the King, he was not wanting in intelligence."

Dated: 29.3.1939:
"I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbound 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 timeless history of mankind."
-- From personal letters quoted in Our National Anthem by Prabodh Ch Sen.

What did Tagore himself have to say about his song ? Here's another quote:

"In the course of our history, India had once deeply realised her geographical entity; she established in her mind an image of her own physical self by meditating on her rivers and hills... In my song of the victory of Bharat-vidhaata composed a few years ago, I have put together a number of Indian provinces; Vindhya-Himachala and Yamuna-Ganga have also been mentioned.

"I feel, however, that a song should be written in which all the provinces, rivers and hills of India are strung together in order to impress upon the minds of our people an idea of geography of our country. We are nowadays profuse in the use of the term National Consciousness, but what kind of national consciousness can there be, devoid of actual geographical and ethnological realisations?"

Now consider the following:

  • Around 1912, Rabindranath and his school were under government suspicion for being anti-government.
  • A few years before this, Rabindranath participated enthusiastically in the swadeshi movement and the Shivaji Utsav. He was a fearless champion of Aurobindo Ghose who had incurred the wrath of the British government.

  • The idea of a "God of India Herself" and an eternal charioteer who is the dispenser of India's destiny was not unique to this particular poem. The idea is also seen in Gora (go ahead and call it a novel in praise of the Emperor), in Bharat Tirtha, a beautiful poem which reads, Hey mor chitto punyo tirthey jago re dheere/ Ei bharoter mohamanober shagoro tirey) and in other songs (like Deshe deshe Nandito hobey).

In view of such evidence, it is hard to assume that Tagore would end up composing a song eulogising the emperor.

Lastly about the media quotes (the only "proof" cited by Shivaramu and Ms Bhosle), it should be noted that Shivaramu quotes only the English language press of the time. Here are quotes from other newspapers and sources:

The official report of the 28th session of the Congress:
"The Proceedings commenced with a patriotic song composed by Babu Rabindranath Tagore... After that a song of welcome to Their Imperial Majesties composed for the occasion was sung by the choir."

The patriotic song being discussed is Jana Gana Mana.

This is what Sri Prabodhchandra Sen adds in his book:

"The first day's proceedings of the Indian National Congress held in Calcutta in 1911 opened with the singing of Vande Mataram. That day's sitting concluded with the speeches of the Chairman of the Reception Committee and the President of the session. The second day's sitting began with the song Janaganamana Adhinayaka after which messages of goodwill from well-wishers were read out. A resolution was then passed welcoming the royal couple and expressing loyalty to them. Following this was sung "a Hindi song in praise of the king, composed specially for the occasion".

This was the song that had consoled the moderate leaders like the 'loyal' friend mentioned above after Rabindranath had disappointed them. Thereafter, 10 other resolutions were passed, and the sitting then concluded. The third day's sitting commenced with the singing of Atita-Gaurava-vahini mama vani gaha aji Hindustan. Later, with the passing of 22 more resolutions, the session came to an end.

Report from Amrita Bazar Patrika, 28th December, 1911:

"The proceedings began with the singing of a Bengali song of benediction. This ( the loyalty resolution) was followed by another song in honour of Their Imperial Majesties visit to India."

Report from The Bengali, 28th December, 1911:

"The proceedings commenced with a patriotic song composed by Babu Rabindranath Tagore, the leading poet of Bengal (Janaganamana Adhinayaka), of which we give the English translation:

King of the heart of nations,
Lord of our country's fate...

Then ( after passing the loyalty resolution) a Hindi song paying heartfelt homage to Their Imperial Majesties was sung by the Bengali boys and girls in chorus."

The Englishman, 28th December, 1911:

"The proceedings opened with a song of welcome to the King Emperor, specially composed for the occasion by Babu Rabindranath Tagore... This (the loyalty resolution that followed) was followed by another song in Hindi welcoming Their Imperial Majesties."

Note, how cleverly Shivaramu crops the second part of the report.

The Statesman, 28th December, 1911

"The proceedings commenced shortly before 12 o'clock with a Bengali song... The choir of girls led by Sarala Devi then (after the loyalty resolution) sang a hymn of welcome to the king, specially composed for the occasion by Babu Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet."

Sri Prabodhchandra Sen adds:

"No mention has been made in this report of the composer of the opening song in Bengali. It admitted indirectly, however, that the song was not a eulogy for the king. Had it been so considered, there could have been no reason for not mentioning it. From the report that the second song was composed by 'Babu Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet', it is clear that The Statesman was under the impression that this was also a Bengali song.

"This report partly contradicts the Indian reports like the Congress Report and partly also that of the Englishman. Apparently The Statesman reporter did not know that it was the opening song of the day that was composed by Rabindranath. Hence the confusion."

Six years after this, Calcutta again hosted the Congress session, in 1917. Here are the reports of newspapers on Jana Gana Mana, which was sung on the second day.

The Bengalee, 30th December, 1917:

"The Congress chorus then chanted the magnificent song of Sir Rabindranath Tagore, Jana-gana-mana. (The) Maharaja Bahadur of Nattore himself joining in aid of the instrumental music."

Amrita Bazar Patrika, 31st December, 1917:

"The Indian National Congress sat at 11 am, the proceedings commencing with an inspiring patriotic song of Rabindranath as usual in chorus, the Maharaja of Natore joining in instrumental music."

The Statesman, 30th December, 1917:

"A national song composed by Sir Rabindranath Tagore having been sung the following resolution was moved..."

So there you have The Statesman contradicting its own description of the song made six years ago.

In that same day's sitting Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das paid high tributes from the platform of this song. The official report of the Congress reproduced Deshabandhu's speech:

"Brother delegates, at the very outset I desire to refer to the song to which you have just listened. It is a song of the glory and victory of India. We stand today on this platform for the glory and victory of India."

The Bengalee, 30th December, 1917:

"Mr C R Das... desired to refer to the song to which they had just listened to. It was the song of the victory of India. They stood there that day on the platform for the glory and victory of India."

I again request readers to read the dejanews article for further details, for example on the issue of the selection of Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem.

I hope I have presented enough material above for the readers to find out the truth for themselves.



Date sent: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 11:36:22 +0900
From: Rahul Deo <>
Subject: Pulp fiction

"Meanwhile, the TN Congress, for Jayalalitha, demands the dismissal of the DMK government should the situation not improve... I tell you, I honestly wish I were a sports writer..."

You would have found worse than politics in the sports field.


Date sent: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 21:57:13 EST
Subject: Varsha Bhosle

Well, I guess Rediff is finally beginning to become Indianised and IS moving away from the idiotic notion of secular journalism.

Varsha had to be praised for her courage to raise questions about why Hindu leaders/kings/rulers are not called great. I am sure that the more writers we have of her kind, the sooner we would become a strong Indianised people, above all stupid notions of secularism that leaders of corrupt political parties have been trying to push upon us.

Keep up the good work, Varsha.

Date sent: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 13:21:27 +1000
From: wang jiang <>
Subject: Tagore versus Bankim Chatterji, Varsha's column

Bankim's song, Vande Mataram, is really soul-stirring, while Tagore's Jana Gana Mana looks like he was pioneer in Geographical Information Systems.


Date sent: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 13:52:20 -0700
From: Indraneel Sarkar <>
Subject: Pulp friction

When I was at school (1975-1985), we studied Indian history and it included Shivaji and Rana Pratap as heroes.

In fact, primary school history was only Maratha history, which is understandable since I attended school in Nagpur, and the school syllabus was set by the Maharashtra State Board of Education.

India was proudly secular at that time, ruled by the pseudo-secular Congress, which was in power most of the time in the state too. I am proud of Shivaji and the Maratha chieftains, but lately I have also learnt how the eastern states view the Marathas.

Regional history is best left to state education boards. Political parties and apolitical RSS should stay out of education. They have done enough harm already.

Date sent: Thu, 19 Nov 1998 12:07:24 -0800
From: mahesh <>
Subject: Varsha Bhosle

I really enjoy her columns. Please publish more of them.

Prof M K Upadhyaya

Date sent: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 12:32:43 PST
From: "Mazheruddin Aliahmed" <>
Subject: My comments on Pulp Friction by Varsha Bhosle

The stupidity of Varsha Bhosle comes out clearly in her every column and it is no different with this piece.

I've been thinking of writing my comments for a very long time, but somehow it never happened. This time I was really compelled to write, commenting on Varsha's distortion of facts to poison the minds of the Indian masses. As if the RSS parivar wasn't enough.

I know this letter will not affect her, but I write this hoping it will influence the thinking of common readers.

She talks about Muslims performing ziyarat at Ajmer and prostrating before the tomb of a mortal man. The point is those are ignorant Muslims, who still need to learn the basics of the Shariat. It is strictly prohibited in Islam to prostrate before anyone except Allah, not even Prophet Mohammed, as many ignorant non-Muslims think.

The reverence a Muslim has for India cannot be doubted. Who has given the RSS the authority to question a common Muslim's loyalty to India? Every Muslim loves India as much a Hindu does. It is only people like you and, of course, the Sangh Parivar that have a problem with it.

If the RSS and its allies are for the Hindu culture then why don't they revert back to ancient traditions like Sati and treating a widow badly? Why does the RSS still want to follow laws set by the English?

Not reciting Vande Mataram does not mean that a Muslim doesn't love India. If we ask Hindus to recite Allah-O-Akbar every morning right before the school begins, how would a common Hindu react?

Islam is not bounded by nations; it is a universal message that knows no geographical boundaries. The problem with the RSS and people like you is that you never treated Muslims properly. The community that has given everything to their homeland and was equally involved in the nation-building process is being betrayed.

There have been so many riots, and the demolition of the Babri mosque, to name a few examples of how unfair was the treatment meted out by Hindutva fanatics.

I'm not concerned whether Indian history calls Akbar great or not. It just doesn't concern the Muslim cause. Varsha, better analyse material before you put it up on Rediff.

Date sent: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 13:49:34 +0000
From: Yasir Abdul Quadir <>
Subject: Varsha's Column

I just don't have words to criticise you. You have laboured the points about Akbar not being great and Muslims singing the Jana Gana Mana, even if it praises King George V, but you didn't say more than one line about missionaries being attacked in Kerala.

Let me remind you, Muslims don't pray to the Khwaja. They go to his dargah and ask him to pray for them, because we think that religious and great people are closer to god than common people.

I also hope you come to your senses before it is too late. And please, don't take up sports; you will make that communal too.


Date sent: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 14:24:06 EST
Subject: Pulp friction

Congrats, Varsha.

Keep it up.


Varsha Bhosle