By: Dr.Dipak Basu
September 12, 2006
expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer
is at the bottom.
(The author is a Professor in International Economics in Nagasaki
Vande Mataram was was first printed in Banga Darshan (edited by Bankim
Chandra Chatterjee) in 1875. It was written in two languages. The song
consisted of 4 stanzas, the first two in Sanskrit and the rest in Bengali.
In 1882 when Bankim Chandra included this song in his controversial novel
Anand Math. Rabindranath Tagore composed the tune for this song in 1885.
In 1905 with Vice-Roy Curzon's announcement of the partition of Bengal on
the basis of religion Vande Mataram turned into a national protest song,
by no other than Rabindranath Tagore who was marching on the streets of
Calcutta singing that song, against the partition of Bengal. Reacting
quickly, the British government banned the song or even raising it as a
slogan. People of Barisal in East 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 by the police for singing
This brutality at Barisal popularized the song overnight. According to
Bengalee, edited by Surendranath Banerjee, 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." Muslims of the British India had no objection to the Vande Mataram
song until The Muslim League spoiled their minds.
The objection to that song was raised by the Muslim League, created by the
instigation of Vice-Roy Curzon, to destroy the unity of the Indian people
against the British rule. Objections of the Muslim League to that song
rests on two arguments: (a) Vande Mataram glorified idol worship and
against Islam; (b) Vande Mataram was part of the novel Ananda Math, which
glorified the annihilation of Muslims and not the British rule in India.
Both of these arguments can be refuted.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) appointed a committee consisting of
Jawaharlal Nehru (president of the Congress), Mahatma Gandhi, Abul Kalam
Azad and Subhash Chandra Bose in its Calcutta meeting (Oct 26-November 1,
1937) to determine the fate of this song as ‘the national song’ of India.
That committee issued a statement on October 28, 1937, which indicates
that the first two stanzas of the song had no religious allusions and only
these were commonly sung even in Bengal.
"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. 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
These can be ascertained if we look at the song itself. It is difficult to
translate a song from one language to another. I write below my own
translation and the one done by Sri Aurobindo.
Translations of the Song:
My Own translation of the first two stanzas, written in Sanskrit, is as
"Salute to motherland. The land of perfumed and cool air, fertile lands
with sweet water, overflowing with ripe harvests.
The land with nights full of moonlight, where the grass is decorated with
cheerful flowers. The land is smiling, with sweet words, giving
The above translation is ‘word by word’ translation, without trying to
infuse poetic spirit, which was done by Sri Aurobindo in his translation
of the complete song, which deviates a lot from the original. The
translation of the first two stanzas by Sri Aurobindo is as follows:
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 might,
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.
The Muslim League and Muslims in India today raise objections Vande
Mataram by pointing out the above translation of Sri Aurobindo, which is
There are three other stanzas written in Bengali in the complete song
where Hindu deities Durga and Laksmi were mentioned. Muslims can certainly
object to those parts. However, no one has asked them to accept the
complete song, as only the first two stanzas written in Sanskrit are the
components of Vande Mataram as the national song.
Ananda Math, is it anti-Muslim?
The song was taken from a Bengali novel "Ananda Math" by Bankim Chandra
Chatterjee describing the famine of 1770’s, the dire situation of Bengal
after it was occupied by the East India Company in 1757, how the
motherland was in chains, and the revolt of the Sanyasis (Hindu religious
men) against the East India Company. That revolt of the Sanyasis in Bengal
was a historical fact. The song, Vande Mataram, is also not originally
written by Bankim Chandra but was revised from a popular folk song of the
North Bengal, where that revolt took place in around 1770-80. It is
believed that the revolutionary Sanyasis actually used to sing a folk
version of that song.
The famine in Bengal in 1770 lasted for a few years and as a result about
10 million people, one third of the population of the richest province of
the Mughal India, Bengal, which means today’s Bihar, Jharkand, Orissa,
West Bengal, Bangladesh and south Assam, were wiped out. The cause was the
excessive tax collection by the East India Company, which had increased
the tax on agricultural holdings by five folds, made the tax independent
of actual production of crops and abolished all tax exemptions offered
during the Mughal period for the land attached to the educational
establishments or religious places. The person in charge of tax collection
of Bengal on behalf of the British East India Company was Reza Khan, a
Muslim. Thus, sometimes the characters of the Ananda Math could not
control their anger against him as a Muslim sucking the blood of the
people of Bengal, both Hindus and Muslims. That does not make the book
Ananda Math anti-Muslim.
The author was accused, by some Muslims, who have never read the complete
book, as anti-Muslim. There is indeed a dialogue in that book between a
secularist landowner Mahendra and Satyananda, the leader of the Sanyasis.
Satyananda in the beginning was against both the British and Muslim but at
the end of the dialogue has accepted the fact that although the British
were the real enemy but the people got to wait to gather strength to fight
the British in proper time. Some Muslims have quoted this dialogue without
giving the proper context and tried to prove than Bankim Chandra
Chatterjee was anti-Muslim. This argument is not justified if we would
look at other novels he wrote.
His first novel in Bengali "Durgesh Nandini" was about the resistance of
the Afghans in Bengal in collaboration of the Hindu Rajahs against the
Hindu Rajput commanders of the Mughal Army of Akhbar. The heroine of that
novel was an Afghan princes Ayesha. In other novels Bankim Chandra
Chatterjee has mentioned the administrative efficiency of the Muslim Kings
in India. Even in the novels ‘Raj Singha’, describing the valor of the
Rajputs against the army of Aurangjeb, or in ‘Sitaram’, describing the
resistance of a Hindu Raja in Bengal against the Muslim invasion, there is
nothing, which can be remotely called ‘anti-Muslim’.
A.G.Noorani, an apologist for Jinnah, the Muslim League and Pakistan, have
quoted a dialogue from Ananda Math in his article “ How Secular is Bande
Mataram” in The Frontline (Vol. 16, Jan. 02 - 15, 1999) to prove the
supposedly communal character of Bankim Chandra and supported the
rejection of Vande Mataram by the Muslims. That dialogue in Ananda Math,
in the last chapter, describes a divine force persuading the leader of the
Sanyasis, Satyananda, to stop fighting. The dialogue is as follows (HE
implies the divine force and S implies Satyananda):
"He: Your task is accomplished. The Muslim power is destroyed. There is
nothing else for you to do. No good can come of needless slaughter.
"S: The Muslim power has indeed been destroyed, but the dominion of the
Hindu has not yet been established. The British still hold Calcutta.
"He: Hindu dominion will not be established now. If you remain at your
work, men will be killed to no purpose. Therefore come.
"S: (greatly pained) My lord, if Hindu dominion is not going to be
established, who will rule? Will the Muslim kings return?
"He: No. The English will rule."
Satyananda protests, but is persuaded to lay down the sword.
"He: Your vow is fulfilled. You have brought fortune to your Mother. You
have set up a British government. Give up your fighting. Let the people
take to their ploughs. Let the earth be rich with harvest and the people
rich with wealth.
"S: (weeping hot tears) I will make my Mother rich with harvest in the
blood of her foes.
"He: Who is the foe? There are no foes now. The English are friends as
well as rulers. And no one can defeat them in battle.
"S: If that is so, I will kill myself before the image of my Mother. “
There is nothing in this
dialogue, which is anti-Muslim but certainly it is against the Muslim
Imperialism? Rabindranath Tagore or Mahatma Gandhi had many important
British as their close friends but at the same time they were against the
British Imperialism. Similarly Bankim Chandra as a civil servant for the
British in India had many Muslim friends but was against the Muslim
Imperialism, which had subjugated India from 7th to 18th century.
Objections to the Muslim Imperialism are not anti-Muslim or communal, as
all imperialists whether Muslim or non-Muslim are evil.
It is not possible for a
novelist in India with social consciousness to ignore the communal riots
between Hindus and Muslims. Ananda Math has described one such incident.
Similarly in Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Ghare Bahire (Home and Abroad)
has implicitly described a communal riots as well. Does it mean even
Rabindranath Tagore was a Hindu communal, particularly when he used to
recite poems in the Hindu Mela organized by Bankim Chandra as a
front-runner of the Swadesi Movement? Surprisingly one professor of
History in the Jawaharlal Nehru University thinks so (in private
communication with the author).
Bankim Chandra and Karl Marx, both Communal Anti-Muslim:
Certainly Bankim Chandra has described the Muslim rule as a foreign rule,
but for that reason it is not justified to call him anti-Muslim Hindu
communal, unless one would call Karl Marx as anti-Muslim communal at the
same time. In his book ‘Notes on Indian History’, Karl Marx wrote:
“ 664AD: Arabs reached Kabul; in the same year, Muhallab, an Arab general,
raided India, advanced as far as Multan”
“711AD: Sind conquered by Muhammad Kasim (nephew to Hajaj). He sailed from
“ 714AD: Mohammedanism made more rapid progress among the Persians than
among the Hindus because there priest class was lowest and most degraded
class, whereas in India it was the most powerful political agent in the
“1024AD: Mahmud’s last great expedition; he marched from Ghazni to Multan,
then across the Sind desert to Gujarat, took the capital, Anhalwar, on his
way devastated the territories of the Raja of Ajmer, then captured the
temple of Somnath, gallantly defended by Rajput garrison.”
“”1293AD: Ala-Uddin marched through Ellichpur to Deogiri (Daulatabad),
took the Hindu Raja living there in profound peace by surprise, plundered
his city and treasures and imposed indemnity on the surrounding country.”
“ 1762AD: In Bengal, Mir Kasim imprisoned Ram Narayan, had his collectors
torture the ryots.”
“ July 19, 1763AD: Bengal, Mir Kasim finished off all prisoners, including
the Setts, the great Murshidabad bankers and also murdered Ram Narayan.”
Mir Kasim was the son-in-law of Mir Jafar, who had betrayed Siraj-Ud-Daula,
the Nawab of Bengal who fought against Robert Clive of East India Company
and was defeated in 1757. Ram Narayan was the Governor of Patna, appointed
by the East India Company. Setts means the House of Jagat Seth, whose
banking networks and assets was much more important than the Bank of
England in 18th century and provided finance for both the British and the
Dutch East India Company to expand their empires.
In another place (New York Daily Tribune, August 1853) Karl Marx wrote:
“Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moguls, who had successively overrun India, soon
became Hindooized, the barbarian conquerors being, by an eternal law of
history, conquered themselves by the superior civilization of their
Here Karl Marx is definitely indicating Muslim conquests, invasion,
imperialism and exploitations. Also he is praising Hindu priests and Hindu
civilization in a way. Does it mean Karl Marx was a Hindu communal?
However, Bankim Chandra was charged as a communal because he has mentioned
the Muslim conquests and their consequences on Indian people. The victims
of the Muslim and British conquests in India of course would look at both
the Muslims and the British imperialists as their enemy and the occupier
of their motherland; Bankim Chandra described that sentiment exactly in
his novel Ananda Math. That does not imply that Bankim Chandra was a
communal anti-Muslim as the ordinary Muslims were also the victims of the
If we have to accept the objections of the Muslim League and its related
Muslim organizations in India today on Vande Mataram and the history of
India since 7th century, then we have to accept the version of the history
as suggested by Alighar Muslim University or Jawaharlal Nehru University,
where the Muslim rule in India would only be described as an introduction
of progressive ideas from the Middle East ignoring the sufferings of the
Indian people under the alien empires of the Arabs, Turks and Mongols.
Similarly we cannot mention the freedom movement against the British but
only the negotiations between Gandhi, Jinnah and the British, as they do
in the textbooks in Britain and Pakistan. In that world of course, even
the national anthem can be described as communal and anti-Muslim, because
beyond the third stanza in that song, Rabindranath Tagore describes the
eternal chariot rider passing through infinite time determining days and
night, or Sri Krishna (“I am the all-powerful Time”, Verse 32, Chapter 11,
Bhagwat Gita), as the architect of the destiny of India.
The best proof that Vande Mataram is secular comes from the fact that on
August, 1942, at the height of the Quit India movement, the communist
leader Nani Gopal Dey was beaten to death by the police for singing Vande
Mataram and hoisting national flag in the city center of Chinsurah-Hooghly
in West Bengal. Another communist Barendranath Mukherjee turned into a
cripple by the police, as he had refused to stop singing Vande Mataram.
When the Muslims in India object to that song, they should remember that
because of the sacrifice of countless martyrs, who fought against
imperialism and sacrificed their lives singing Vande Mataram, the people
of India, Muslims included, enjoy the freedom after nearly 1300 years of
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