I belong to a Yahoo Group for East African Indians and recently there was a fascinating communication alleging that the Indian national anthem – “Jana Gana Mana…” (JGM) was written by Rabindranath Tagore in honor of George V and Queen Mary during their visit to India in 1919. I was surprised by this suggestion since I had never heard it before.

So I decided to resort to Google but it did not help matters since the very communication that was passed through the Yahoo Group was quoted verbatim on several websites and this sort of consistency usually suggests some sort of chain letter/email that gets circulated. Essentially the allegation goes something like this:

Tagore composed JGM in honor of George V and Queen Mary on the eve of their visit to India in 1919.

Motilal Nehru had the first five stanzas sung at the Indian National Congress that the King attended during his visit and that these stanza basically honor and thank the King.

Vande Mataram was considered and rejected by Jawaharlal Nehru for reasons ranging from it being too difficult for the band to play to it being a glorification of Hinduism which would be viewed as provocative by non-Hindus in India.

Those who allege the above argue that the national anthem of India should be replaced with Vande Mataram because it is demeaning for India to have a national anthem that was written to glorify the monarch of a colonial power.

According to the detractors of JGM:

the first stanza asks the people to wake up remembering the King’s good name, ask for his blessings and sing his glories

the second stanza tells tells of people of all religions gather around the King’s throne and give their love and anxiously wait to hear his kind words

the third stanza praises the King for being the charioteer and for leading ancient travelers beyond misery.

the fourth and fifth stanzas are on the same lines praising and deifying the King and Queen.

Those who argue against this interpretation of JGM essentially say that the national anthem praises and glorifies the motherland and not the monarch. All of the references to the King are, in fact, a reference to India, the country. They also say that much of the reason for the misguided interpretation is because the anthem was sung on the second day of the Indian National Congress which the King attended and was therefore viewed as being a reference to the monarch.

If one looks at it objectively it is difficult to imagine that Tagore who was fiercely independent and a nationalist would compose JGM to honor the monarch especially in such deferential and reverential terms. It does seem a bit of a stretch to think that the same man would in one breath compose these stanzas in honor of George V and just four years earlier reject the knighthood that was accorded him by the very same monarch. The very fact that these detractors also argue for its replacement with Vande Mataram which is certainly more reverential to Hinduism seems to suggest an ulterior motive.

Tagore apparently wrote the following regarding JGM – though I am not sure as to its authenticity:

“A certain high official in His Majesty’s service, who was also my friend, had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata [ed. God of Destiny] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.”

In his letter to Subhas Chandra Bose (1937) Tagore wrote,

“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankim does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram – proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”

In any event here is a beautiful rendition of Jana Gana Mana arranged by AR Rehman of recent “Slumdog Millionaire” fame though the recognition of Rehman as an artist precedes the movie even if it was SM that made him known to the Western world.

2 Responses to “Was “Jana Gana Mana” written for King or Country?”

  1. Emmy says:

    I have a question/comment for you Rana P. You said that those who are trying to keep the anthem said, “All of the references to the King are, in fact, a reference to India, the country.” I looked up a translation of the anthem, and it translates out to this:

    “Thou are the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of India’s destiny.
    Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maratha, of the Dravid and Orissa and Bengal;
    It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
    Mingles in the music of the Yamuna and Ganga and is chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.

    They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.
    The salvation of all people is in thy hand, thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
    Victory, victory, victory to thee.”

    When I read it, it seems like the “thou” is referring to God. Either God or a ruler of some kind (possibly George V), not India the country. Maybe the meaning gets lost with the translation though.

  2. TJ says:

    Good points, Emmy! One can see why there is the suggestion that it was in honor of an individual or deity. I am not sure I know the answer to your question.

    One of the more sensible responses that I saw regarding this controversy was someone who said that irrespective of why it was written, when one sings it, interpret it as one sees fit. I do feel that some of the push to discredit the national anthem has a Hindutva motivation since the alternative suggested is “Vande Mataram” which has a Hindu connotation to it.

    This link from Wikipedia might interest you:


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