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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vande Matram: A needless controversy

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‘Vande Matram’ or Hail the Mother land

Vande Matram’, the national song of India has distinct historic importance. It was one of the more prominent slogans of the Indian Freedom Movement. It was the national cry for freedom against the British Raj and played an important role in generating nationalistic feeling. The song was written by Bankim Chandra in 1876. It was sung by Rabridranath Tagore in 1896 at a Indian National Congress Session making it the first political occasion when the song was sung. Later the song was regularly sung at Congress sessions and today it is sung in the Parliament as well before the start and end of every session. A one point of time, the song was banned by British.

However, this song has been controversial from the very beginning. Recently Jamait-e-Ulema Hind issued a fatwa against the singing of the song. Earlier in 2006, Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee also instructed the Sikhs not to sing the song.

Why is this song controversial?
The main reason why this song is opposed by some of the religious groups is that - the original song written by Bankim Chandra represented India as the Hindu deity of Durga and called to bow/salute the Nation, i.e. Hail the Motherland. Many religions like Islam are opposed to idol worship and this is precisely the reason why there was so much of opposition.

In 1937, the Indian National Congress had a detailed discussion on the song. Finally it decided to adopt only the first two stanzas as the National Song which did not have any religious connotations. Furthermore, Jana Gana Mana became our national anthem even though Vande Matram was the more popular song at that time. This meant that it wasn’t mandatory to sing this song.

Present Controversy
Other than politics, it is difficult to understand the present controversy behind this song simply because it is not mandatory to sing this song. Ironically, it was A.R. Rehman (born Hindu but practicing Islam) who released his version of Vande Matram in 1997 on 50 years of India’s independence.

It is highly unfortunate that a song that played a major role during our freedom is being dragged into such controversy. In 2003, the song was selected as the second most famous song from a BBC poll conducted all around the world.

Indian Muslims took active part during the freedom struggle and have also laid down their lives for the country in the various wars. It would be foolish to associate their patriotism to just the singing this song. Likewise, I don’t understand “What’s the need to issue fatwas as long as the song is not mandatory”. There are many other issues, much more important concerning the Muslim community and India that need attention. Moreover, I doubt how many Indians actually understand the meaning of the song, something that is rarely taught.


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