Vande Mataram as a Hindu Hymn

There is no reason why Vande Mataram, the Indian national song, should be in controversy any longer. This song should be now scrapped and deleted from its current status.

Ever since India’s ‘independence’, this song has created controversies, and for obvious reasons. However, just as the ‘secular’ leadership of India had tried to suppress the skeletons in its cupboard, the opportunistic media had also vociferously supported the need for the song to go on in its truncated form.

And India, mostly kept ignorant about the damaging consequences of having such a song was lulled into believing that everything was well so long as we could come to a consensus. For the consensus, however the four power estates of Indian democracy utilized a) the voices of Hindu seculars approving the song’s first two paragraphs, b) the voices of Muslim seculars approving the same paragraphs, c) the voices of Hindu fanatics demanding the whole song to be made compulsory, and d) the confusion of the vast majority of Indians who had no clue whatsoever of any possibility of controversy over a ‘patriotic’ song. But the structure deliberately left out a segment of public which had from the beginning staged protest against the song.

Since the mainstream premise of such a song begins with unquestioned patriotism, anyone who opposes an element within that realm is at once accused of being anti-national. Hence, the remaining group of people, the fifth group which fervently opposed the song everytime, unfortunately most of the time comprised radical Muslims, were denounced to the extent of being silenced by the media.

Bankim Chandra as a Patriot: The lies my teacher told me

In matters of social concerns, half-truths are synonymous with blatant lies. This is so, because half-truths promote biases, prejudices and stereotypes. The text books that most of us studied during our school days were full of the half-truths. This is nothing surprising or exceptional, though. Every government under a popular democracy has to resort to lies in order to sustain its power base. Hence the dominant Congress with its pseudo-Gandhian philosophy also worked towards integrating its lies by to projecting a reconciled difference and reaching a “consensus”.

There is nothing wrong in reaching a consensus, but in this attempt, the critical voices should not be silenced systematically either. And in this case, Vande Mataram should not have been allowed to triumph in a land that should have had it banned subsequent to pursuance of its ideals of secularism. Rajendra Prasad whose fanaticism with Hindutva is well known, of course wanted the song to be given equal status with national anthem. This was unfortunate, although not entirely unexpected of him, considering that the rabid religious elements still wanted to declare India as a Hindu Rashtra. But the condescending statesmen of the time also acquiesced to the demand, albeit in the truncated form.

The future generations of India were not to be told of the lies and deception that went behind projecting Vande Mataram as a national song. As a result, today most people do not even think twice before patronizing the song. Even the ardent Hindu fanatics forgave a Muslim composer making tunes and money off the obsession.

The colonial crisis?

The demands by the rightist brigade to make the song compulsory in educational institution has raised eyebrows. In this case, again, the criticism has mostly come from religious minorities, even at the expense of being categorized as anti-national. We all know it too well how the Hindu fanatics are running to any extent to blame the Muslims of India as instigators of terrorism instead of looking within for managing a society based on complete anarchy and making living off the institutional ignorance. And now, the Hindu supremacists, whose ideological forefathers were infamously hands in gloves with the imperialists (and which is why they were banned from contesting polls in secular India) have picked up sensitive threads of patriotism.

In the classic case of ignorance, the mainstream media propaganda, clearly overlooks certain facts that people of India have right to know and act upon. Here they are in a nutshell:

1. Anti-Muslim: Bankim Chattarjee, the man who wrote this song Vande Mataram was a rabid Hindu fundamentalist whose goal was not emancipation of India from the clutches of the colonialists, rather to establish a Hindu Rashtra by any means. His stress on Islam corruption of India is not only devoid of the highly secular past of India during the Moghul rule, but also smacks of religious chauvinism targeted against Muslim freedom fighters of the colonial period.

Historian R.C. Majumdar writes, “Bankimchandra converted patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism”. In fact Anand Math, the work from which Vande Mataram is derived, is a text of Hindu nationalism, and not Indian nationalism. The work is selectively targeted against Muslims all over the texts. Anand Math is a Hindu temple where there are scenes of Jivananda calling Muslims names: “We have often thought to break up this bird’s nest of Muslim rule, to pull down the city of the renegades and throw it into the river – to turn this pig-sty to ashes and make Mother earth free from evil again. Friends, that day has come.”

A G Noorani (Frontline, January 2-15, 1999) quotes M.R.A. Baig’s analysis of the novel in which the song finds exclusive place:

“Written as a story set in the period of the dissolution of the Moghul Empire, the hero of the novel, Bhavananda, is planning an armed rising against the Muslims of Bengal. While busy recruiting, he meets Mahendra and sings the song ‘Bande Mataram’ or ‘Hail Mother’. The latter asks him the meaning of the words and Bhavananda, making a spirited answer, concludes with: ‘Our religion is gone, our caste is gone, our honour is gone. Can the Hindus preserve their Hinduism unless these drunken Nereys (a term of contempt for Muslims) are driven away?’… Mahendra, however, not convinced, expresses reluctance to join the rebellion. He is, therefore, taken to the temple of Ananda Math and shown a huge image of four-armed Vishnu, with two decapitated and bloody heads in front, “Do you know who she is?” asks the priest in charge, pointing to an image on the lap of Vishnu, “She is the Mother. We are her children Say ‘Bande Mataram'” He is taken to the image of Kali and then to that of Durga. On each occasion he is asked to recite ‘Bande Mataram’. In another scene in the novel some people shouted ‘kill, kill the Nereys’. Others shouted ‘Bande Mataram’ ‘Will the day come when we shall break mosques and build temples on their sites?””

2. Pro-British: If there ever was a piece of Indian literature that was most pronouncedly pro-colonialists, then it was Anand Math. Interestingly, and naturally enough, the right wing political parties have picked up their ideal role model in Chatterjee since their ideologues were themselves allies of the British rulers in India. Anand Math is replete with anti-Muslim slogans, no doubt. But it also celebrates the British rule in India. It in fact goes to the extent of saying that British were friends of India, and it was only the Muslim people against whom the Hindus should fight against.

In the last chapter of the work, the author speaks through the supreme character: “Your task is accomplished. The Muslim power is destroyed. There is nothing else for you to do.
Your vow is fulfilled. You have brought fortune to your Mother. You have set up a British government. Give up your fighting. Let the people take to their ploughs. Let the earth be rich with harvest and the people rich with wealth.
There are no foes now. The English are our friends as well as rulers.”

This is the context of the song that goes on to celebrate Hindu religious deities entirely and exclusively.

Baahute tumi maa shakti
hR^idaye tumi maa bhakti
tomaara i pratimaa gaDi
mandire mandire
TvaM hi Durgaa dashapraharaNadhaariNii
kamalaa kamaladala vihaariNii
vaaNii vidyaadaayinii namaami tvaaM

Its target is the Muslim people of India and their tradition which has been blatantly misrepresented in the work. And its ally in the vicious hatred campaign is the British rule in India. The mothers in Bande Mataram are the Hindu goddesses and there is no reason why people of other religions should be forced to sing their praises. Just because certain Bengal revolutionaries used this slogan and popularized it, and some more Bengali intellectuals upheld Bankim Chatterjee as an iconic litterateur, it does not mean the great peoples of India will forget the rich multi-cultural tradition that has been in existence in the country since centuries now and in the name of Hindu chauvinism, people should not be misled any further to denounce Moghul rule and celebrate British Raj.

Knowingly or unknowingly, people have believed in the mainstream history of India from almost a harmless angle. They believe that Gandhi was the ‘father of the nation’, that Congress was the party that gave freedom to India, they believe that Hindus contribute the most to the country’s cultural landscape, and they celebrate Saraswati and Sivaji. People are apparently content with the reservation policies working against the Dalits, with nominal celebrations of Islam culture, with not paying reparation to the tribal peoples for having snatched their dear lands.

Even as these acceptances come as mediocre consensus of some form to carry on with a liberal democracy, these have been still in a Gandhian tradition of positive compromises. Our objections should not be towards the social fiber of Indian constitution which is secular, democratic and socialist in its spirit. But if anyone tries to enforce their religious ideals down the future generations of the country, one and all of us must stand in solidarity to oppose the vicious steps. Once and for all, it must be declared that India is not a Hindu country and no Hindu glorifications can take place at an official level, not even if some right wing fanatics come to power once in a while.

We have had many a dramatic stands of consensus in the past. Indeed, this has been the policy of Indian ‘nation’ since its very birth. Although the country is composed of different nation-states, we declared a consensus that we were almost one nation. Although India had distinctly different language groups we declared Hindi as the adopted core. Despite numerous tribal and distinctly exclusive peoples historically inhabiting the country, we agreed that it was a country of the Aryas.

Need to oppose the reactionaries:

But what’s missing from the discourse is not the sense of agreement, but the sense of disagreement. We never studied anything where the genuine disagreements were brought forth for healthy dialogues. We agreed India was the most ancient civilization, that Paravati and Laxmi were goddesses, that Hindus needed more festivities than any other religious groups, that New Delhi needed to be the capital city and Vande Mataram was the national song.

The problem is not in the ultimate acceptance of something as official policy. This is needed for sound governance. The issue at stake is the manner in which the officiating agencies of India never propose the need for the measures that would seriously dwell upon critical issues at stake. Everywhere, regional and national chauvinistic forces are at work in India. The conservatives are creating vandalisms all over with their openly racist and primitively backward views, starting from setting up Saraswati Vidya Mandirs which goes unchallenged even though separation of education from religion should be the spirit of secularism, to install statues in parochial terms. They go on to disrupt Valentines Days, link Muslim cricketers and filmstars with underworld, even as they have formed the most pernicious underworld themselves, only operating wide open in the corridors of political power. They go on to revise history to celebrate Shivaji and claim a Gujarat civilization named after a Hindu goddess. And as their wont, they go on to celebrate their fellow hindu fanatic, one Nathuram Gadse, the killer of Gandhi by revising text books to omit the assassination incident.

We have been taking all these lying down even as the rightist brigade, safely harbored by the domestic business houses of India continues to celebrate the absurd. And now they want the rest of the country to celebrate these sectarian crimes as well, and hence there is a need for the rest of us to resist and desist the temptation to fall into the opium trap. The trap works variously. At times, the enlightened people just assume that its alright if things are this way or that way. Thats the Hindu privilege some people enjoy since their feelings do not get hurt, as long as the hymn remains as the national song.

And if the secular Hindus and religious Muslims of India have not denounced the song in such a serious manner to seek its withdrawal as India’s national song, it speaks of their great tradition of tolerance to Hindu bigotry. This should not be misconstrued as an organic weakness and allowed to be taken advantage of any further.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

3 thoughts on “Vande Mataram as a Hindu Hymn

  1. wonderful writing. its so true that our society has institutionalized servility on every level…family, society, academic. to have a critical, individualistic and anti-establishment POV is enough to brand one as anti-India, anti-Hindu and anti-development in these high – growth and suicide years. more power to you.

  2. It appears as though bashing Hinduism has become a fad in spite of being truly tolerant and secular at its base. ‘Vande’ literally means ‘I praise’ and not really ‘I bow’. Get your facts straight Mr. Pattanaik and think twice before you level allegations against a man of that stature. It should be kept in mind that bowing to motherland is not really worshiping. One can do so to show respect too just the way Muslims make parikramans around the Kaba to show respect and not in order to worship it.

  3. Baahute tumi maa shakti
    hRidaye tumi maa bhakti
    tomaara i pratimaa gaDi
    mandire mandire
    TvaM hi Durgaa dashapraharaNadhaariNii
    kamalaa kamaladala vihaariNii
    vaaNii vidyaadaayinii namaami tvaaM

    Where is the problem when the fact is that a majority of the patriots in the pre-independence days were Hindus & Sikhs? And as far as I know there were no Christian (you sound like a convert) patriot and Muslim Patriots were a minority (only a handful) too. I hope there something called “Right to freedom of religion”. BTW it talks not of various religious deities but the Supreme Mother.

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