I bow to thee Mother,
richly-watered, richly fruited
cool with the winds of the south,
dark with the crops of the harvests
Mahendra heard Bhabananda sing these lines, he was struck, but, did not understand, what it meant! He asked, “Who is this Mother?” Without replying, Bhabananda continued to sing,-
Phullakusumita drumadala shobinim
Suhasinim sumadhura bhashinim
Her nights rejoicing in the glory of the moonlight
her lands clothed beautifully
with her trees in flowering bloom
sweet of laughter, sweet of speech
giver of boons, giver of bliss,
On hearing this, Mahendra exclaimed, “This is about our Motherland! Not your own Mother! “
Bhabananda responded, “This is the only Mother we know, Our Motherland!….
Janani Janmabhumisha Swargyadapi Gariashi- (The Mother, Birth giver of this Land, Higher than the heavens!) Bhabananda continued, “Our Motherland is our Mother, we do not have our own Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Wifes, Sons, or our own homes, We only have,” Sujala, Suphala, Malayaja shitala, Shasyashyamala”—( The motherlands-rich waters, rich earth, cool winds of the south, rich crops from our harvests)—-Now Mahendra could comprehend, what Bhabananda meant!………(The actual song in full, has four additional stanzas, which are not commonly sung, but is in Anandamath in its entirety)
The above is from Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s (anglicized to Chatterjee) Anandamath, a work of fiction, based on a historical setting of a struggle for freedom against tyranny, called the Sanyasi (Monk’s) Rebellion, which took place in Bengal in 1773. Bhabananda is the leader of the Sanyasi’s and Mahendra is a man from a landowning family who along with his wife and daughter are fleeing their village, in the midst of a famine ravaging the countryside.
To comprehend the context, it is best to understand, the historical setting and the times in Bengal, during this period that is reflected in Anandamath and the characters in the novel!
During this period, Bengal was summarily under the rule of Mubaraq Ali Khan, a descendent of Mir Jafar ( Who betrayed Nawab Siraj-ud-daula and sided with the British at the battle of Palasshi(anglicized as Plassey) in 1757 and helped the British to gain their first major foothold in India. “Mir Jafar”, since then, forever, has become, synonymous with the word “Betrayer” in the Bengali language. The British put Mir Jafar on the throne of Bengal and extorted huge annual bounties from him and his descendents. The later Muslim Nawabs of Bengal imposed large punitive taxes on the people of Bengal, especially, on the Hindu population! This resulted in great resentment, food shortages and famine, which led to, armed protests, by the Hindu population, like the Sanyasi Rebellion!
The British, namely, the East India Company, remained in the background, and used the Muslim population and the Nawabs, to impose punitive laws and taxes, on the Hindu’s. This was an example of the Divide & Rule strategy the British used, over and over in India.
The Hindu population, therefore, did not see the British as the oppressors, and naively believed, that British rule would be better for them, than the corrupt and incompetent Muslim Nawabs!
This was the state of Bengal, during these times. Throughout Anandamath, there are incitements for attacking and killing the oppressive Muslim rulers and their cohorts, and other derogatory comments about the Muslim population.
These references, in later years, created strong opposition from the Muslim leadership in the country, towards Bande Mataram, becoming the National Anthem of India.
Bande Mataram, the song, was first published in Banga Darshan, a monthly magazine, founded by Bankim Chandra in 1872. Anandamath, as a work of fiction, containing Bande Mataram, came out in this magazine, in serial form between 1880 and 1882. As it started appearing in installments, the daring political theme and the symbolism it conveyed about fighting for Independence of the Motherland, created a sense of national fervor among all Bengali’s!
The populace was also fascinated by Bankim’s daring, who, as one of the first graduates of Calcutta University (founded in 1857) and a Deputy Magistrate in the service of the British, was defiant enough- to write a novel like Anandamath and a song like Bande Mataram!
Ramakrishna Paramhansha, the great Saint of Dakhineswar and Bankim were contemporaries and good friends. Once Ramakrishna asked Bankim jokingly, how he got the name “Bankim” (Which in Bengali, means, ‘one who is bent’), Bankim replied, ‘that the kick of the Englishman’s shoe on his behind, had bent him!’
During the period of 1885 to 1905, the first seeds for Indian Independence were starting to be planted.
The first session of the Indian National Congress was held in Bombay in 1885. Bande Mataram burst into the political scene, at the Calcutta session of Congress in 1896, when Babu Rabindranath Tagore, a budding poet and writer of Bengali prose, 35 years old, sang Bande Mataram set to his own tune at this session. This rendering of the song, caught the imagination of the entire country and became the patriotic mantra of India and its fight for independence.
During this period, Bande Mataram, was translated into English (the above English version) by Aurobindo Ghose (Became, Sri Aurobindo, in later life, the great yogi, philosopher and sage of Pondicherry) who returned to India, after spending, his entire childhood and youth in England. Aurobindo, brought up as an Englishman, learned Bengali, Sanskrit and Hindustani on returning to India and became a firebrand revolutionary and leader for Indian Independence. He was one of the founders of the Anushilan Samiti, along with Pramatha Mitra and Chittaranjan Das, and the Jugantar group in1902. Both these groups called to arms, Young Bengal and promoted the idea of armed struggle to overthrow British rule. Bande Mataram became the rallying cry of the revolutionaries and on their lips, when they attacked British officials or when they gave up their lives, fighting for the Independence of the Motherland!
In 1905, The British decided to divide Bengal into two provinces. This was again, part of the ‘Divide & Rule’ tactics the British wanted to use, to pit the Hindu and Muslim population against each other! However, this time it did not work! The Hindu’s and Muslim’s largely remained united against this injustice of Banga-Bhanga (Breaking up Bengal) and agitated against the British authorities, with Bande Mataram on their lips! In the same year, Lala Lajpat Rai, in Punjab, started a journal called Vande Mataram, and Matangini Hazra’s ( a woman revolutionary in Bengal) last words as she was shot to death by the police, was, Bande Mataram!
As we can see, Bande Mataram, was not just the chant for Independence in Bengal but became Vande Mataram, the rallying cry to overthrow, British rule, across India.
Starting with the Varanasi Congress in 1905, all Congress sessions, were started with the singing of Vande Mataram.
In 1906, the words Vande Mataram, were first put on the national flag of Freedom for India. This flag, which was known as the ‘Calcutta Flag’, created for a protest rally against the partition of Bengal, had the words, Vande Mataram emblazoned in Devnagri (Hindustani) script in the middle. It is said, that this flag was designed by Sister Nivedita (an Irish woman and one of the leading disciples of Swami Vivekananda). In the same year, at the Barisal (a town in East Bengal, now, Bangladesh) Parisad, a conclave organized by Aurobindo Ghose, to rally support, against the partition of Bengal, defying orders by the authorities, a procession of thousands of delegates, chanting Vande Mataram, was brutally attacked by the police, leaving many seriously injured! Henceforth, the British authorities passed a law, to ban the use of Vande Mataram.
In 1907, Madam Bhikaji Cama, an Indian Parsee woman, a patriot, living in Paris and founder of the Paris India Society, one of the first Indian Freedom organizations in Europe, modified the Calcutta Flag, and created the first Indian Tricolor flag leaving the words Vande Mataram in the middle band. This flag was raised first at the International Socialist Conference, held in Stuttgart, Germany, attended by Madam Cama, S.K.Varma, Damodar ‘Veer’ Savarkar and other Indian patriots, living in Europe.
Over the next 40 years, defying the ban of the British, Vande Mataram, the song, continued to enjoy the status of the National Song of Freedom and the first two words became the rallying chant for the non-violent civil disobedience movement which swept the country. However, the Muslim leadership of Congress did not think, Vande Mataram was secular enough, and agitated against it, from becoming the National Anthem.
In 1947, Jana-Gana-Mana by Rabindranath Tagore, was adopted as the National Anthem of India, but, Vande Mataram continued to enjoy the status of the National Chant and song.
In 1997, to commemorate the 50 years of Indian Independence, the noted music composer, A.R. Rahman, released a version of Vande Mataram in a music-video. It became immensely popular with Indian’s across the world!
Even 125 years, after it was first published, Vande Mataram, continues to enjoy immense popularity among the people of India. In a BBC World Service survey, conducted in 2002, it was selected as the second most requested song by listeners.
Enjoy the Sanskrit version –