The Vande Mataram controversy – III

My last post on the subject, though I am yet to finish reading Ananda Math.

That book is a description of a Hindu revolt against the British and Muslim ‘invasions’. It can be argued that it tends to suggest that submitting to the British was only option available to ‘counter’ Muslims of the Nawab era.

So, the present day Indian Muslims *could* rightfully argue that Vande Mataram has anti-Muslim baggage.

But tell me one thing. How many Indians today know this bit about Vande Mataram? Most dont even know the song came from this book!

Heck, forget details of Ananda Math, most folks wont even know this. Jawaharlal Nehru, apparently after seeking opinion of Rabindranath Tagore in 1937, made the Congress party sign a mandate that “only the first two stanzas should be sung”. Sure, for rest of the song had direct references to goddess Durga and Kali. Essentially, when a similar controversy about the song raged 70 years ago, the ‘baggage’ was chopped out of this song.

The point is, most of us today don’t at all know or care about the baggage Vande Mataram had. We only see it as a passion arousing patriotic song.

Most of us think of our nation and not the book Ananda Math when ever Vande Mataram is sung. Period!

But it seems to me that some folks, the hardliners from both communities, seem to have only Ananda Math on their minds. You could argue it both ways:

  • By announcing hard-line support for the song, Hindu right-wingers (BJP etc) remind Muslims of the baggage.
  • Type of reaction Mr Bukhari and the likes come out with – they make the rest of us pause for a moment to listen to what the Hindu right-wingers have to say.

Sad state of affairs indeed. Especially when the same thing has been talked about and apparently been settled 50, 70 and 90 years earlier.

Some reading:


12 Responses

  1. Believe it or not, many Muslims are aware of the historical baggage you talk about. The text and context in which the song originally appeared makes them apprehensive of the real intentions behind the whole move of forcing them to recite the song.

    When you have a person like me and Ahmed Bukhari talking on the same lines, then you have really screwed up the issue.

  2. And I am telling you Mohib that most non-Muslims don’t have this ‘baggage’ in mind when this song is sung. Most have even forgotten that a book named Anand Math exists.

    Help me understand this. Assuming you represent the common Indian Muslim – Why is it that you haven’t let go of the ‘baggage’ (even after the song was ‘edited’ to cut Kali/Durga part out)?

    Is it purely because the likes of BJP/RSS dont let you move on?

    Honest yet sane discussion please, without any incitation/provocations.

  3. If you want to know the opinion of an atheist, who cares exactly as much about hinduism as he does about Islam, I think its one hell of a beautiful song.

    Really enjoyed the debate here man. Its encouraging that people can still have a civil discussion about it. I’d like to see the day when people can laugh about it too.

  4. From an agnostic and an aesthete I find this debate so irrational. The song by itself is simply a song- born in the description of the Thuggee rebellion,fired it might have the imagination of the Freedom movement but it remains a song- a silly song , over the top descriptions of ‘the motherland’- nothing about famine, hunger and selfishness- dont they exist even in our sasya shyamala and shuba jyothsna mother. I am not being a katherine mayo here but the song is def over the top and I would be very embarrased singing it esp with a lot of little school children who would have missed their mid-day meal days on end- I was born a Hindu BTW

  5. I have written a longish post on the issue. We can carry forward the discussion from there, if you prefer.


  6. Read your post Mohib. Your criticism of those hawkish posts is fine, thanks for bashing them and letting readers know the way real Indian Muslims see and feel things, I mean it.

    But I was looking for an answer to my question. Honest.

    Essentially, you are saying that chopping off the “direct reference” parts of the song doesn’t cut it for Indian Muslims. The fact that most Hindus think of nothing but the Independence movement when Vande Mataram is sung – doesn’t matter at all. And I think that is because you dont “trust” that statement. Fair enough, that tells me that the “mistrust” is a bit too deep these days.

    I do respect your rights to practice your religion the way you like. But, (not trying to sound provocative here) since yours is a seemingly more ‘bound’ or ‘closed’ (hawkish term is hard-line) religion than Hinduism (we dont mind chanting Allah, Ali, Waahe-guru or going to Ajmer, Amritsar for mannat/goodwill etc), the only way forward is for the majority to respect a minority’s rights here.

    I predict that is what will happen, let us see.

  7. Hi Silkboard,

    Thanks for reading the post.

    I am glad I found your blog, I would be a regular reader. I hope we would be able to get to know each other well, soon through our writings.


  8. Vande Mataram and the Muslims
    By A. Faizur Rahman

    It becomes imperative to analyse the objections raised by the Muslim community against the recital of the Vande Mataram in India .

    The controversy over the singing of Vande Mataram has once again threatened to divide the country on communal lines. The refusal of the Muslims to sing this song seems to have angered the Hindutva ideologues, who, without giving them an opportunity to explain their position, have accused them of being anti-national. Hence, it becomes imperative to analyse the objections raised by the Muslim community against the recital of the Vande Mataram. Islam, being a monotheist religion, forbids the apotheosis of any deity, animate or inanimate, except God, the Supreme Creator. In fact, ascribing divinity or any attribute of divinity to even Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) is considered an act of blasphemy negating the very purpose of Islam, that is, to promote the concept of unity of mankind through the worship of a common Creator.

    In this context, those opposed to the Muslim point of view should know that, Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Vande Mataram contains verses which are in direct conflict with the beliefs of Islam. For instance, the fourth stanza of the song addresses motherland India as, “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen, Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned……..” When a Muslim sings these words he is forced to equate his country with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Lakshmi, thereby deifying the physical land of India and beseeching it to “arise and save.” This militates against the concept of Tawheed (oneness of God) according to which a Muslim cannot supplicate to anyone except God. Therefore, just as one cannot force non-Muslims to recite the Quran in their gatherings, it would be most unfair to force the Muslims to violate their Scriptural injunctions by questioning their patriotism.

    The religious predicament of the Muslims was understood in the right spirit decades ago by Jawaharlal Nehru. In October 1937, when the Congress Working Committee met in Calcutta under the Presidentship of Nehru, it adopted a resolution which said, “The Committee recognizes the validity of the objection raised by Muslim friends to certain parts of the song. While the Committee has taken note of such objection insofar as it has intrinsic value, the Committee wishes to point out that the modern evolution of the use of the song as part of National life is of infinitely greater importance than its setting in a historical novel before the national movement had taken shape. Taking all things into consideration, therefore, the Committee recommend that, wherever Bande Mataram is sung at national gatherings, only the first two stanzas should be sung, with perfect freedom to the organisers to sing any other song of an unobjectionable character, in addition to, or in the place of, the Bande Mataram song.” (Quoted by A.G. Noorani in the Frontline, Jan 2-15, 1999).

    Based on the above resolution, the Hindutva brigade wants the Muslims to sing the first two stanzas arguing that there is nothing wrong in bowing to the motherland. This is a deliberate attempt to mislead the minority community, because, many Hindus elevate “Bharat Mata” or Mother India, to the status of a goddess as clearly seen in the traditional depiction of India as a lady dressed in a saree holding a red flag. In fact, in 1936, a Bharat Mata temple was built in Benaras by Shiv Prashad Gupt and was inaugurated by none less than Mahatma Gandhi. Then in May 1983, Swami Satyamitranand Giri founded a Bharat Mata temple in Haridwar which has a statue of Bharat Mata holding a milk urn in one hand and sheaves of grains in the other. According to the temple guide book, “the temple serves to promote the devotional attitude towards Bharat Mata, something that historians and mythological story-teller may have missed.” (Mc Kean, Lise. “Bharat Mata: Mother India and Her Militant Matriots”, in Devi : Goddesses of India, edited by John S.Hawley and Donna M.Wulff, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, Delhi, 1998).

    Moreover, not many know that Bharat Mata poojas are regularly performed all over India. The Hindu, on Jan 3, 2005 reported one such pooja by the BJP activists in a temple in Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, during which there was a clash between the BJP and CPI (M) workers. The Chandigarh Tribune reported on April 13, 2002 that the employees of the Govt. Medical College and Hospital in Chandigarh performed the pooja of Bharat Mata “as per the Indian culture.” Also, the largest Hindu website dedicated to the freedom movement,, has posted an ancient Sanskrit Hindu verse glorifying Mother India as a goddess. It reads, “Ratnakaradhautapadam Himalyakirtitinim (I) Brahmara-jarsiratnamdhyam vande Bharatamataram (II)”. When translated it means, “I pay my obeisance to mother Bharata, whose feet are being washed by the ocean, who wears the mighty Himalaya as her crown, and who is exuberantly adorned with the gems of traditions set by Brahmarsis and Rajarsis.”

    The aforementioned facts prove deification of India by the Hindus, which means that the Muslims, by singing the first two stanzas of the Vande Mataram, would be violating the basic tenet of Islam, that is Tawheed. It cannot be argued that saluting the motherland is harmless because the fourth stanza clearly identifies the land of India mentioned in the first stanza with goddess Durga and Lakshmi, and therefore, any salutation to motherland tantamounts to bowing before Hindu goddesses – an act unthinkable for a Muslim. The Muslims respect the right of the Hindus to worship any deity, but they cannot be forced to commit un-Islamic acts.

    Another reason for the Muslims’ reluctance to sing the Vande Mataram is the fact that the novel Anandamath by Bankimchandra Chatterjee, in which it was first published, glorified the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims. As an example the following passage may be quoted. “The rural people ran out to kill the Muslims while coming across them. In the night, some were organised in groups and going to the Muslim locality, they torched their houses and looted their everything. Many Muslims were killed; many of them shaved their beards, smeared their bodies with soil and started singing the name of Hari. When asked, they said, we were Hindus. The frightened Muslims rushed towards the town in group after group. ( pages 161-162 of Abbey of Delight, the English translation of Anandamath , by Arabinda Das).

    In any case, the Vande Mataram is a national song and not the national anthem of India, hence refusal to sing it cannot be construed as showing disrespect to the country. Given the fact that the Muslims have been singing the Jana Gana Mana ever since India attained independence, and the fact that they have laid down their lives for the country during and after the freedom struggle, their nationalist spirit cannot be doubted even for a minute. It must be understood that India being a secular democracy, every community has the right to profess and practice its faith so long as it does not challenge the unity and integrity of the nation, and therefore, the coercive imposition of the beliefs of one religion over another would only result in communal disharmony.

    (The writer is a Peace Activist & Executive Committee Member, Harmony India )

  9. Ok, I have talked about Ananda Math, third and fourth stanzas (that were trimmed out) and all. I understand the objection Muslims have, and respect their right to practice their religion the way they like.

    But, I do have a few things to say.

    Bharat Mata is a “concept”, it is not a goddess prescribed for worship in any Hindu text. This “concept” was created and is accepted (no one questions it) because it is a “nationalistic” thing. The only “festival” when some Hindus (those who do) “worship” this concept is Independence day.

    And even otherwise – Vande does not strictly mean worship. Pooje Matharam would have. Stutiye Mataram would have.

    And most important of all, I and 95% of my friends and folks associate this song with freedom struggle and nothing else, definitely not Hinduism.

    Even then, I and many Hindus understand and observe that Islam is a more “strict” and “bound” religion, and it is too much to expect them to 1) not take “Vande” literally and 2) forget the baggage this song may have. Otherwise, there wouldn’t even have been a debate on the subject.

    As elder brother, you got to “respect” your junior’s beliefs and sentiments. I and many realize and do that. But if the junior does not show its softer side at times, there is a chance of love getting lost. While we are far far far away from that day, controversies like these provide chances that should be taken to push that day as far out as possible.

  10. Rabindranath Tagore, The writer of our current National Anthem was rejected the Vande Mataram Song as our national song.

    In his letter to Subhas Chandra Bose (1937) Rabindranath 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 ‘Vanda 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 can not 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 a postscript to this same letter Rabindranath says: “Bengali Hindus have become agitated over this matter, but it does not concern only Hindus. Since there are strong feelings on both sides, a balanced judgement is essential. In pursuit of our political aims we want peace, unity and good will – we do not want the endless tug of war that comes from supporting the demands of one faction over the other.” (Letter #314, Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, edited by K. Datta and A. Robinson, Cambridge University Press ).

    Apart from the above, In 1937 the Indian National congress discussed at length the status of the song. It was pointed out then that though the first two stanzas began with an unexceptionable evocation of the beauty of the motherland, in later stanzas there are references where the motherland is likened to godess Durga. Therefore, the Congress decided to adopt only the first two stanzas as the national song.

    Dr. Rajendra Prasad (The first president of India) was declared “Jana Gana Mana” as our National Anthem on 24-1-1950.
    “The composition consisting of words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations as the Government may authorise as occasion arises” (Constituent Assembly of India, Vol. XII, 24-1-1950)

    So tell me why it is compulsory to all Indian to sing the song “Vande mataram” on 7 Sep, 2006. Up to what extent it is acceptable to impose a hymn of one religious Goddess on communities of united India. Is this the measure of patriotism?

    I kindly request you all to oppose the politicians who wants to play with the sentiments of religions.

  11. So many long replies and arguments, but no answer or counter to a simple point I raised. When Hindus don’t think of any Hindu goddesses (I never knew the Durga bit till I read around a few weeks ago), why do the Muslims have to?

    Why the HELL do we have to think of religion in an “out of context” way like that in each and everything we do?

    With that logic, we will have no national symbols left to treasure. Almost everything before 1900/1950 is either distinctively Hindu or Muslim. Why should our national flag have saffron color in there, it is a Hindu color, ditto for Green/Muslim. Why should Tajmahal be a national monument, it is after all a Muslim tomb built by an emperor who butchered all Hindu laborers who constructed it. Why should our country be called Hindustan, it isn’t a place just for Hindus. Why should we be referred to as India either, that name was given by a bunch of foreign mercenaries. No Bharat as well, that was the name of a Hindu king. Why should Ashok-Chakra be a national symbol, it is after all a Buddhist sign?

    Tell me, how far back do we have to go and dig out all the history?

    Whatever the history behind Vande Mataram, it stops at 1920/1930s since when the song was on the lips of all nationalistic chaps in a secular enough way.

    Secularism means respecting each other’s sentiments, not for just one section to consistently respect another.

    And once again, I am not for Dande Mataram (forcing anyone to sing it). No. I hope you guys figured by now that I am not a right-winger.

  12. I guess we get into the realm of identities (national, religious, spiritual, gender etc.) and which one takes precedence over the other.

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