India, my Love|Oct 15, 2006 11:55 AM| by:

Bande Mataram – A Song Divine

As for the recent controversy surrounding the national song of India, those who object may be right in voicing their objections. For they are cent percent correct when they say that Bande Mataram is a song of worship.

Bande Mataram was a mantra used first by the people of Bengal and later by the rest of Hindustan during the freedom struggle. It chased tamas out of the national bloodstream and helped the Indian vitality to strike hard at the British armour, denting it by its very force. People irrespective of caste, religion, gender sang it with such conviction and fervour, rending the air of the country, from the north to the south, the east to the west, with an intensity of purpose – the purpose of freeing the nation from the shackles of British Empire. There were other songs in other languages but none came close to the burst of patriotic zeal as generated by Bande Mataram. It resurrected the nation, awakening a sense of beauty in what lay all around us, filling us with pride and the will to fight and survive, making us revere the very soil beneath our feet, such that we lie prostrate, touching our foreheads to the sacred soil of the Motherland, from whose womb we have all emerged. And this is what makes Bande Mataram a song Divine.

But then the politics began. Objections were raised. Concessions were made. The mindset was tuned to suit the times. Bande Mataram was suddenly felt to be too contentious even though it was sung with love and devotion until the day before. But the power of the song that almost seemed to have led us to freedom was such that it couldn’t be simply discarded overnight and so National Song is what it became although National Anthem is what it deserved to become. Even then, the objections did not cease. And barring the first two stanzas the rest were struck off as offensive.

It is a shame that we are now living in times where the symbolism of poetic language is misconstrued by a narrow-minded perception. The whole premise of poetry lies in its art of ambiguity and its grandness of vision where things abstract are able to manifest. To prescribe any poetic utterance, especially the kind that is mantric in nature or that which is inspired by the higher mind, in a literal and word for word translation is to murder the very thought that went behind it. And that is what we have succeeded in doing.

If one were to study the song carefully, one sees the progression of the poet’s thought as he moves from the purely physical aspects and descriptions of the country, to the more emotional strands in the middle stanzas and finally culminating in the spiritual (not religious) where the country is no longer just a geographical entity but a living Presence and Force. This Force is what those who sang the song recognized and worshipped, revered and respected. It took the imagery of goddesses because that was what appealed to the poet but it was never the goddess herself – it was the essence of that godhead, the significance of what she represented, that resided in this land, making one bow down and kiss the earth.

To read, understand and sing Bande Mataram without taking into consideration the play of words and thoughts, is to denigrate a work of the highest order. Likewise, to regard Bharat from only a superficial view, giving credence only to her physical attributes, is even more disrespectful.

That this is precisely what has happened is evident from the widely televised snippets of national shame. People from all walks of life were interviewed regarding the meaning of the song, the words of the song, the sentiments of the song. All to end in a big zero. Ignorance sang a high note when those who clamoured for or against the song were exposed in their meagre knowledge of the words, meanings or even the great mind that authored their subject of protest. Children rattled it off like well trained parrots, oblivious of all else except that ‘this is what we must do’. Older students being groomed to manage the country and its affairs in the future, ostensibly with ‘questioning minds’ never once thought to put up their hands and say, “what are we singing?” Interviewers themselves, hungry for a sensational soundbyte, failed to provide the answers, or insights that could have removed hazy clouds and even now continue to use it as bait for viewer entertainment.

The only thing that has emerged is that it is not so much the song that seems to have caused the problem, but the shift in attitude towards it. A hundred years ago, people were willing to die with the song on their lips. Their children today shift uneasily, mumbling the song, if at all, as if it is something to be ashamed of. If we need to examine anything, it is ourselves, we who have changed, for the song remains what it was. In an extraordinary way, perhaps this unfortunate exposure was essential and part of a bigger plan. It is possible yet, that a mind here or a mind there, may snap out of this comfortable state of slumber, and try to dive into the heart of the matter. Perhaps, embarrassed by its state of nationwide ignorance, schools and teachers will take it upon themselves to learn before they teach. Perhaps politicians and others who voice their opinions vehemently will at least do the necessary homework before making a display of their utter lack of knowledge and in turn, a grand mockery of the community or position that they represent. On a larger scale, perhaps, the nation had to indulge in this masochistic exercise in order to reinvoke a sense of dignity and pride in what it means to be an Indian, starting with at least having the most basic knowledge of the various tools that chiselled unceasingly to make the country what it is today. Bande Mataram with its lofty ideal and zealous approach to one’s Motherland was one such tool.

Irrespective of religion, caste, creed, gender and even nationality, if you choose not to understand the essence or the spirit behind the words that make up Bande Mataram, it is perhaps best, that it remains unsung. For to sing it with no heart and no soul, is perhaps a bigger disgrace than to find in it cause for discomfort on personal and religious grounds. The truth is, as most other works of high inspiration, this too is far above and far removed from a bigoted and blinkered perception, unstained and detached from attack of an ignorant mindset. Whispered into the consciousness of a nation, it served a cause many years ago, and perhaps, it is serving another cause, yet again.

(Note: We have retained the original spelling of the song although it is now written and accepted as Vande instead of Bande.)


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