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The Great Indian National Anthem, And How We’ve Messed Everything Up

Posted by Siddharth Shiva in Society
May 23, 2017

I’m a huge fan of the National Anthem – probably the biggest fan. I’ve heard bootlegs, remixes and rare versions, which you wouldn’t believe are real.

However, I also like movies and I’m a little bit worried that hearing this song over and over (because movie theatres are now mandated to play it before movies, by law) might make me get tired of it. I remember a time when I actually liked Eminem’s “Without Me”. Not anymore – because I listened to it, way too much.

Now, it’s true that I do listen to the National Anthem a lot. But I’ve also learned from my experience with Eminem. So, I listen to it in a measured way – in a way that will not entail forcing myself to listen to it in a little while, screaming at myself to ‘feel something’, dammit! Feel something!

This song used to mean something to me. In fact, I can watch this video in this day and age and not cringe even once, because it’s beautiful.

I guess what I mean to say here is that this song that I really like stands for something more than just its melody and words. This requires justification. So, I did some reading to see what exactly this song meant.

Here’s what it translates to:

“Thou art 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 Dravida and Orissa and Bengal,

It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,mingles in the music of the Ganges and Jamuna,

And is chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea. They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise,

The saving of all people waits in thy hands,

Thou dispenser of India’s destiny,

Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.”

Tagore wrote this song when he was requested to write something to felicitate King George V when he visited India. He says that he was inspired by the audacity of the official who placed the request, in the face of the turmoil Indians were enduring under the British.

While many seem to interpret it as a felicitation of King George V, Tagore himself confirmed that it implies something else. It’s a smirking ‘F-bomb’ dropped in a poetic fashion, literally. While it’s hard to say just whom Tagore is talking about, we can be sure that it definitely wasn’t King George.

So who is he referring to, here?

I took a look at the entire source material called Bharath Bhagyo Bidhaata. There’s some pretty stunning and inspiring stuff, here. Seriously, just give it a read! It gave me shivers.

However, he still does not blatantly inform you whom he’s talking about. We know its not King George. Many say that it refers to Brahma, owing to the fact that Tagore was Brahmin. But the later verses of the entire poem allude to all religions, and not just Hinduism:

“Day and night, thy voice goes out from land to land,

Calling the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains round thy throne and the Parsees, Mussalmans and Christians.

The East and the West join hands in their prayers to thee, and the garland of love is woven.

Thou bringest the hearts of all peoples into the harmony of one life, thou dispenser of India’s destiny,

Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.”

Furthermore, he later refers to the ‘you’ in the poem as the eternal charioteer, whom I first assumed to be Krishna or Jagannath. In the next paragraph, he refers to ‘you’ in the feminine form. In the last stanza, he refers to ‘you’ as the ‘king of kings’.

I’d like to take a second here to allow everyone to realise how weirdly spiritual all of this is turning out to be. I am way out of my comfort zone, right now. But, I truly am quite passionate about the National Anthem, and I was really being sincere at the beginning of this article. Once again, I urge you all to read the complete poem (it’s only five stanzas).

Would Tagore himself have approved of such an act? (Image Source: Farah Sultana Fs/Facebook)

So, getting back to the question of who the ‘you’ in question is, and its purpose – if we are to take his words literally, ‘you’ would be a hermaphrodite, pan-religious god/goddess. Now, to the best of my knowledge, there is no such being in any religious literature. Hence, I will tell you what I think he means.

I think that Tagore was referring to the people themselves – a twist of phrase that allows his poem to be interpreted as a smirk in one way, and pure love, when seen from another angle. In his poem, the ‘you’ he keeps talking about inspires people, leads them, suffers with them, shows love and seeks victory over hardships for them.

After all, what is ‘you’ but the human subject? It’s the people who lead, inspire, suffer and love. People come together in the face of tyranny – and ultimately, they are their own kings and the rulers of their own minds. I think that Tagore’s poem is an ode to those people who inspire others. Furthermore, this is his way of saying that anyone could achieve this by being a fundamentally-caring person who is unafraid to show love to anybody.

At least, this is the way I see it!

If I am anywhere close to the intended meaning of the text, then I think that Tagore would be supremely disappointed in what we have become as a country, today. Instead of a rallying cry for unity, we have divisive rhetoric from all sides. We try to justify and excuse our faults – choosing false pride over unity. We have a government and a group of people that tries to force us to feel things that should come to us, naturally.

The things we are supposed to feel do not come naturally because there is no one left to inspire us. No one’s setting an example – not our leaders or politicians and definitely not you and me! Yes, there have been exceptions. Indeed, this very year, we lost a man who strove to teach us the importance of unity and love. This country sorely needs more people like APJ Abdul Kalam.

This entire issue boils down mainly to an insecurity of the elders, the conservatives and the religious sects – that their perceptions of Indian culture is being lost to the new age. And I do realise this. I too am saddened by the death of certain aspects of our culture. I understand the sense of identity that culture provides. There are healthy aspects of our culture (our cuisine, for one) that I will strive to preserve.

However, I refuse to be confused about what aspects of it should be rejected:

1. When culture requires propaganda of any sort

2. When culture preaches violence and abuse of any sort

3. When culture requires religious communalism

4. When culture is sexist

5. When culture is casteist

6. When culture is cruel to animals

7. When culture preaches homophobia and transphobia

8. When culture calls for the suppression of dissenting opinions, especially by a court of law

9. When culture calls for insensitivity towards other cultures and other people in general

In essence, when culture requires me to be a fascist, racist, sexist person with insecurity issues, I will not abide by it. And I am sick of seeing people behave stupidly in the name of culture. Because, the only way for our culture to survive is for it to adapt to an ever-changing population.

We should be insisting on ‘decent behaviour’ and not ‘decent clothing’. ‘Decent behaviour’ entails minding your own business. Pray to your gods, don’t eat beef and don’t watch porn – we won’t force you to. But also, don’t come and tell us what to do. If you’re so confident about your cultural propriety and faith in gods, then you shouldn’t require laws to keep you on a pious path.

You shouldn’t be worried about so-called ‘corrupting’ influences. After all, you are the ones who have to keep culture alive. It’s not the government’s job, at all! In fact, the government should be working hard to ensure that cultures are not taken to extremes such as stoning women, casteism, or homophobia.

You want other people to respect your culture? Forcing them to do so is certainly not going to work in your favour. Exhibitions of hate, rather than love, will not do you any favours. Respect is won through dedicated hard-work and through one’s ability to inspire by performing acts of good nature. Not through force-feeding and fear mongering!

Culture isn’t dying because of some ‘millennial apathy’. Its dying because the people who claim to love it best, are too afraid to work hard at keeping it alive. Instead, they are resorting to spreading fear instead of culling it from the system.

What have we become as a species? Fanatical, self-destructive, hateful and afraid!

In essence, the Supreme Court’s proposal is opposite to everything our National Anthem stands for. It seeks to control with force that which belongs to us – our minds and spirits. I don’t mean some abstract ‘ghost concept’, but, the way we feel about things. The court shouldn’t be allowed to decide that for us. We get to decide that for ourselves. If the song wasn’t so hopeful and didn’t require you to have faith in the goodness of people, I would have already declared that we are no longer worthy of it – if we ever were!

This was a long post- possibly the longest and heaviest I’ve ever written! But, if I’ve succeeded in getting even one person to appreciate our National Anthem by now, I will have succeeded where the courts and the government have failed. I didn’t have to pass any sort of law for this. I just had to express myself.

Talk to people. Sure, it remains to be seen if I actually succeed in doing this – but I did try, at least! And if we all communicate, maybe we’ll find out that we are more than the things that we argue about. Maybe then we’d understand the need for us to be decent to each other, before anything else!


Image Source: Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images