In Historical Perspective
Dr. Satish K. Kapoor
fatwa issued sometime back by Mufti Abdul Quddus Rumi excommunicating
fifty-four Muslims and nullifying their marriages for describing
‘Bande Mataram’ as a patriotic song (‘not un-Islamic’) is
unfortunate and betrays an insularity of outlook.
mataram, literally, ‘Mother, I bow to thee’ was the soul-stirring
slogan of Indian revolutionaries during the struggle for freedom
against the British Raj. It forms a part of a song which appears
in Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s (1838-94) famous novel Anandamath
(Abbey of Bliss), published in 1880. It uses the idea of Mother
(in her forms as goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati) as
a veritable metaphor for the motherland (India).
symbol of mother occurs in all religious traditions. Even
God has a mother, says a Serbian proverb. ‘Forsake not the
law of thy mother,’ says the Bible. (1) The Quran enjoins
upon believers to be kind to their mothers as they bear children
‘with suffering’ and bring them forth ‘with suffering’. (2)
When Hazrat Jahma solicited the Prophet’s guidance in the
matter of joining him in jihad, the latter asked whether his
mother was alive. On getting a positive reply, the Prophet
admonished: ‘Return to her and devote yourself to her service,
for Paradise lies under her feet (Ibn majah, nasai).’
the Hindu tradition, the mother represents the primordial
Energy that lies at the root of existence. The Devi Mahatmya
says that God reveals Himself in the form of mother and that
all women are but His forms (striyah samastah sakala jagatsu).
The land of one’s birth is also regarded as one’s mother (matribhumi)
and so deserves to be revered like her in corporeal form.
Bowing before the ‘mother’ is thus an ideal and not an idolatrous
the anti-imperialist struggle, ‘Bande Mataram’ fostered national
unity. It also came to be used as a form of greeting and salutation.
Uttered at a high pitch, sometimes accompanied with the cry
of Inqilab zindabad! (‘Long live the revolution!’)
it inspired millions of countrymen to bear the blows of police
lathis and make supreme sacrifices without demur. Some revolutionaries
kissed the gallows with Bande mataram! on their lips
and a copy of the Bhagavadgita in their hands. Bipin Chandra
Pal (1858-1932) and Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928) named their
nationalist papers Bande Mataram to turn them into
powerful organs of mass protest against the Raj.
Bengal was partitioned by Lord Curzon (1859-1925) in 1905,
the streets of Calcutta resounded with cries of Bande mataram!
and thousands marched to the townhall to undertake the vows
of swadeshi and boycott of foreign goods. While it became
the mantra of the nationalists it was the bugbear of the British
bureaucracy, which considered sloganeering with Bande
mataram! as a sign of revolt. In subsequent years, the
British government dubbed people agitating anywhere as Bandemataram
people. When Bampfyld Fuller, Lieutenant-Governor of the newly
created province of Eastern Bengal and Assam banned the shouting
of the slogan, Sarojini Bose (wife of Tara Prasanna Bose)
publicly pledged that she would not wear gold until the government
withdrew its circular in this respect. A European club in
Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, was attacked by a mob on 31 May
1907 after a white man thrashed a boy for shouting Bande
mataram! Badges with the slogan inscribed on them were
worn by students in schools, workers in factories, and women
at home and in public places. In organized gatherings, the
entire poem of ‘Bande Mataram’ used to be sung (often in the
tune set by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in 1882) with folded
hands before a symbolic portrait of Mother India.
Ghose (1872-1950) wrote that the song ‘Bande Mataram’ had
converted the people to the religion of patriotism. It was
the rallying cry of Ghadr nationalists. Bande mataram!
resounded in the Central Legislative Assembly on 8 April 1929
when Sardar Bhagat Singh (1907-31) and Batukeshwar Dutt threw
a bomb to protest against the passage of the Public Safety
Bill and Trade Disputes Bill. Surya Sen (1894-1934) a Bengali
revolutionary of the Chittagong group proclaimed a Provisional
Revolutionary Government while chanting Bande mataram!
Mataram’ was first sung at the annual session of the Indian
National Congress held in Calcutta in 1896. The tradition
continued till about 1930 when some Muslims objected to it.
When the party came to power in six of the eleven provinces
of British India in 1937, the song acquired the status of
national anthem to which the Muslim League protested vehemently,
describing it as ‘positively anti-Islamic’ and ‘idolatrous
in its inspiration and ideas’ in a resolution passed at Lucknow.
In October 1937, while the Congress was willing to restrict
the recitation of the song to the first two stanzas ‘as they
did not contain any phrases or references which were likely
to cause offence to anybody’, the League wanted to give it
a complete burial. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) emphatically
told Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) that the Congress could
not compel a large number of people to abandon what they had
come to treasure for so long.
Constituent Assembly preferred the totally non-controversial
song ‘Jana-gana-mana’ as the national anthem of India. However,
‘Bande Mataram’, as the national song, was to have an equal
status with it. Although Bankim’s composition is not officially
sung it continues to be sung at patriotic gatherings with
the same enthusiasm.
Mataram‘, being part of India’s national heritage, should
not be a point of controversy as that may lead to unsavoury