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Thursday, August 9, 2007

How 'Jana Gana Mana' became India's national anthem

For most Indians, the most enduring image associated with Independence Day is the unfurling of the tricolour flag from the ramparts of the ancient Red Fort here, followed by the strains of the national anthem.
But few Indians would know how "Jana Gana Mana", composed originally in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911, two years before he won the Nobel Prize for literature, came to be India's national anthem.
While it is clear that "Jana Gana Mana" was sung for the first time at the Kolkata session of the Indian National Congress on December 27, 1911, a controversy still rages over whether the song was actually meant to welcome King George V, as was reported in some leading newspapers of that time.
It is on this ground that many had opposed the eventual choice of this song as the national anthem of free India.
While Tagore reportedly never contradicted these rumours, many of his staunch supporters contended that a deeply patriotic man like him would have composed a song in honour of the British monarch.
As the national movement gathered steam, Jana Gana Mana's popularity increased by leaps and bounds.
Two other very popular songs during the freedom struggle were "Vande Mataram", from "Anand Math", written by Bengali novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, and "Saare Jahan Se Achcha" by Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal.
In many cases, British authorities, who were eager to crush any nationalist feelings among Indians during those years, had equated the singing of "Vande Mataram" with sedition, and people found singing it were punished severely and often jailed.
On August 14, 1947, just before the country's tryst with destiny, members of the Constituent Assembly listened in rapt attention as eminent freedom fighter Sucheta Kripalani sang the first verses of three patriotic songs - "Vande Mataram", "Sare Jahan Se Achcha" and "Jana Gana Mana".
"Jana Gana Mana" was also sung when Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the Indian tricolour and lowered the Union Jack on August 15, 1947, at Prince's Park near India Gate in New Delhi, symbolising a new dawn in the country's history.
A final decision on adoption of a national anthem was taken on January 24, 1950, at a meeting of the Constituent Assembly, presided over by Rajendra Prasad, who later became first president of independent India.
In a short announcement, Prasad said although it was initially thought that the house would take a decision on the issue by way of a resolution, he had, instead, decided to issue a statement that "Jana Gana Mana" would be the national anthem.
He added "Vande Mataram", which had played a historic part in the freedom struggle, "shall be honoured equally with 'Jana Gana Mana' and shall have equal status with it".
"Vande Mataram" is India's national song.

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