It is the centenary year of the national anthem. Here's a brief history of how the song came about.
Music and songs played an important role in India's anti-colonial struggle. Many songs were composed in different Indian languages by different writers to mobilise people to challenge the British regime. These songs reflected the country's glorious past, pointed out to the oppressive conditions prevailing then, and urged people to free the country and shape its future. Among them, one stood out to become the national anthem of independent India. This year marks the centenary year of this song.
Before Independence, the English anthems “God Save the Queen “or “God Save the King”, depending on whether the queen or king was the ruler of England, was the official anthem.
Indians had to sing it along with the British. When the country became independent, the newly formed country needed its own official anthem. In 1950, the Constituent Assembly of free India decided to adopt the Hindi version of the song “Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka” (the leader of people's minds) , written by Rabindranath Tagore, as its national anthem.
Rabindranath Tagore was a well known Bengali poet, writer and an artist. The English translation of his selected poems titled Gitanjali won him the Nobel Prize in 1913. Tagore was also a known critic of the British and he was unhappy that the country suffered “under the dead weight of British Administration”.
He composed “Jana gana mana” in Bengali in praise of the country before the annual conference of the Indian National Congress held in Calcutta. The song was first sung in the conference on December 27, 1911. It was printed in a journal titled Tottvobodhini Patrika in 1912. Tagore after a few years set the song to music with the help of Margaret, wife of Irish poet James Cousins, and also translated the lyrics into English.
At that time, Vande Matram, another Bengali song written by Bankimchandra Chatterjee was popular among the freedom fighters. However, in due course of time, “Jana gana mana” found wider acceptance across various groups as a national song.
Choosing the national anthem became “as important as that of having a national flag” in 1947. When Nehru wrote to all the provincial governors about adopting “Jana gana mana”, barring two, the rest of them favoured it. Finally, in 1950, it was formally adopted.
Tagore has the unique distinction of being the author of not one, but two national anthems.
His well known Bengali song “Amar Sonar Bangla” became the national anthem of Bangladesh in 1972 after it became a separate country.
There are now guidelines to the singing and playing of the national anthem. The full version of the anthem played during occasions such as civil and military investitures and national salute takes about 52 seconds. While the shorter version, with only the first and last lines and played during events such as `drinking toasts in messes,' extends for 20 seconds.