"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell












PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | August 2005  






"Bande Mataram": In Historical Perspective





Dr. Satish K. Kapoor




     The 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.


     Bande 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 Chatterjees (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).


     The 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 Prophets 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).


     In 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 ones birth is also regarded as ones 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 act.


     During 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.


     When 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.


     Aurobindo 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!


     Bande 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.


     The 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 Bankims composition is not officially sung it continues to be sung at patriotic gatherings with the same enthusiasm.


     Bande Mataram, being part of Indias national heritage, should not be a point of controversy as that may lead to unsavoury developments.






     1. Proverbs, 6.20.

     2. Quran, 46.15.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015






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