Jana Gana Mana is the national anthem of India. It was originally composed as Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata in Bengali by polymath Rabindranath Tagore.The first stanza of the song Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India as the National Anthem on 24 January 1950. A formal rendition of the national anthem takes approximately 52 seconds. A shortened version consisting of the first and last lines (and taking about 20 seconds to play) is also staged occasionally. It was first publicly sung on 27 December 1911 at the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress.
The poem was first publicly recited on the second day of the annual session of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on 27 December 1911. Then, it was followed in January 1912 at the annual event of the Adi Brahmo Samaj, however, it was largely unknown except to the readers of the Adi Brahmo Samaj journal, Tattwabodhini Patrika. The poem was published in January 1912, under the title Bharat Bhagya Bidhata in the Tatwabodhini Patrika, which was the official publication of the Brahmo Samaj with Tagore then the Editor. In 1912, the song was performed by Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, Tagore’s niece, along with the group of school students, in front of prominent Congress members like Bishan Narayan Dhar, Indian National Congress President, and Ambika Charan Majumdar . Outside of Calcutta, the song was first sung by the bard himself at a session in Besant Theosophical College in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh on 28 February 1919 when Tagore visited the college and sung the song. The song enthralled the college students while Margaret Cousins, then vice-principal of the college (also an expert in European music and wife of Irish poet James Cousins), both requested Tagore to create an English translation of the song and set down the musical notation to the national anthem, which is followed only when the song is sung in the original slow rendition style. Tagore translated the work into English while at the college on 28 February 1919, titled The Morning Song of India – via Wikisource. The college adopted Tagore’s translation of the song as their prayer song which is sung till today.
How – and Why – ‘Jana Gana Mana’ Became India’s National Anthem
In Berlin, during the autumn of 1941, just a few months after his dramatic escape, Subhas Chandra Bose had recruited a team of enthusiastic Indians to launch a fresh fight against the British Empire.It included young men like Abid Hasan, N.G. Swamy and M.R. Vyas, along with veterans like A.C.N. Nambiar, Girija Mookerjee, and N.G. Ganpuley.Detailed discussions and analysis were carried out. Years later, Ganpuley recalled how Bose was ‘very vigilant and was a master of details,’ and Hasan added, ‘He used to throw ideas around and provoked thinking and discussion’.Soon, supported by diplomatic recognition from the German foreign ministry, the Free India Center was established. And, at the inaugural session of the Center on November 2, 1941 the ‘Azad Hind’ team formally decided that Tagore’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’ will be the national anthem and ‘Jai Hind’ will be the national greeting.The historic significance of these decisions is evident to all of us today. In his memoirs, Ganpuley wrote, ‘It was cogently and very enthusiastically argued at that meeting in Berlin that ‘Jana Gana Mana’ which defined India as the union of all provinces, languages and religions was most suited for being a national anthem’.Hasan remembered that he had opposed the ‘Bande Mataram’ because, ‘How many ordinary people can understand?….A man like myself with no familiarity with music and with a husky voice, should also be able to sing it.’ Bose himself was certainly interested in the ‘Jana Gana Mana’ . Capt. Lakshmi Swaminathan would recall him saying, ‘This is a truly representative national song’. Also, Bose would have recalled how he and other members of the Congress Working Committee had sought the advice of Rabindranath Tagore to resolve the ‘Bande Mataram controversy’ in 1937.And so, he summoned B.L. Mukherjee, who worked at the Institute for Fashion Textile Researches in Berlin and was also a regular vocalist at the Berlin Official Radio, and Ambik Mazumdar, who was a doctorate in Music from the Quinsbeck University to prepare the notation and other musical details.Several months later, on September 11, 1942, Bose inaugurated the German-Indian Society at Hamburg. It was a grand occasion and the existing video shows several German officials and foreign diplomats (including Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) were present.
It was here that Netaji officially introduced the 55-second song that was destined to become India’s national anthem. ‘The function concluded with the playing of the Indian and German national anthems, the Band was the Chamber Orchestra of Radio Hamburg.’
Ganpuley, a lifelong activist, managed to preserve what was perhaps the only surviving tape-record of the orchestra that evening. In the late 1970s, after a thorough research, Chitra Narain of the All India Radio received access to it.
But that was not all for the anthem.
Among the other resolutions passed at Free India Center was that Hindustani – the mingling of Hindi and Urdu that was the lingua franca of the masses of north India – would be the national language. While clearly supporting ‘cultural autonomy for the different linguistic areas’, Bose – certainly influenced by Kemal Ataturk’s reforms in Turkey – also wanted a common language and script. He had spoken about it even at his presidential address at the 1938-Haripura session.
But the ‘Jana Gana Mana’ is in literary Bengali. So, next year, when Netaji travelled to South East Asia, Hasan (who had been his co-passenger in the U-boat) and Mumtaz Hussain of the Azad Hind Radio were instructed to prepare a simple Hindustani translation of the anthem.
The result was the ‘Sabh Sukh Chain ki Barkha‘. Formally known as the Quami Tarana, it was set to music by Captain Ram Singh Thakur.
As Hasan summed it up, ‘We had our different private faiths and we had our different languages, but in our purpose and in our political belief we were a well-knit, determined and indivisible whole.’