Millennium Post

Vande Mataram @ 78 RPM

By Akhilesh Jha

Vande Mataram! This one slogan converted the elite and sophisticated movement of India against British Rule into a mass movement. Although the creator, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, was heavily criticised by the contemporary critics when he worded this song, mixing Bangla with Sanskrit, this song, eventually, made him a larger than life icon of India’s freedom struggle. The impact of Vande Mataram was such that Aurbindo Ghosh translated this song into English, Rabinndranath Tagore composed it for the rendition in the convention of Indian National Congress and the genius of hindustani classical music, Pundit Vishnu Digamabar Paluskar, sang this song for years in the conventions of the INC. But as the movement of Swaraj started inching towards Independence, nationalities within a ‘nation, yet to be formed’ started getting more attention.
Vande Mataram
was almost sacrificed in the name of secularism. Tagore and Gandhi both tried to disassociate the mass movement from this very identity, with due respect.

Much has been written about Vande Mataram and its role in India’s struggle of Independence. A very interesting chapter of Vande Mataram was recorded @78 RPM. When music turned flat on records and started going round in the early decade of 20th century, Vande Mataram also got into the preferred list of Gramophone companies, who took some time out from recording Jaans and Bais. Various versions of Vande Mataram in vinyl records@78rpm, give us interesting accounts of our journey to independence and how it lost its case for becoming the national anthem to
Jana Gana Mana.

The most interesting record of Vande Mataram in my collection of vinyl records is a beautiful composition by Sursagar. This was composed in 1950 when the final decision was being taken on the issue of the national anthem of India. The composer, Jaganmoy Mitra, who used his pet name Sursagar, gave a last and desperate attempt to make this song of eternity acceptable to ‘all’. What he did was, he used only Vande… in sthayi and ignored Mataram. He repeated this during the whole rendition of this song. The whole dispute in accepting this song as a national anthem was that Mataram’ was addressed to the Hindu Goddess Durga, and hence not appropriate for secular India, so Sursagar tried to build a case by not using
, but this did not work. None of us have ever asked why crusaders of secularism could not stop communal forces to create Pakistan.

When the Indian National Congress chose not to use full version of Vande Mataram in its conventions, the appeal of this song increased more and more. Omkarnath Thakur, the disciple of Paluskar, popularised this song by composing it in Bangiya Kafi. This rendition was cut in exclusive 12’ 78 RPM record under the Columbia label in 1935. He used to sing this song in full and it is said that when first president of India, Rajendra Prasad, requested him to sing Vande Mataram
in the special session of Parliament, he put his condition that he would recite the full version of Vande Mataram, which was duly accepted. A famous Marathi singer, Vishnupant Pagnis, cut a disc in 1928 in which he changed the sequence of stanzas of Vande Mataram. He did it willfully, perhaps to mark his dissent to the decision of the Indian National Congress of not using the last verses of this song. The tune was set to Rag Sarang and, interestingly, this disk was labeled as Sanskrit.

When Subhash Chandra Bose was busy forming an ‘army’ to fight colonial forces, he requested Timir Baran, a famous composer of Bengal to set ‘Vande Mataram’ into a tune that could be used as a marching song and could sound contemporary. An able disciple of Ustad Alauddin Khan, Timir Baran, set the tune of
Vande Mataram
in Rag Durga which was accepted by Bose and was labeled as  the ‘Indian National Anthem’.  This vinyl disc was issued in 1938 by Hindusthan Standard and Ananda Bazar. This record has special label of Bande Mataram, with a tricolour national flag. This remains the most modern and contemporary version of Vande Mataram composed till date. No such orchestration was done by any Indian composer before this in any composition. In this disc full version of Vande Mataram was recorded by him. On one side, a vocal chorus was used and on the other side he recorded an instrumental orchestra version of
Vande Mataram
which was to be used by the Azad Hind Fauz. This special record was also cut in 12’ size.

In another 78 RPM disc, I noticed a chorus being formed by Jaganmoy Mitra, Dwijen Choudhary, Debabrata Biswas, Niharbindu Sen, Suchitra Mukhopadhyay, Kanak das, Supreeti Ghosh and Kumari Geeta Saha. There are very rare occasions when we find such stalwarts forming as part of a chorus, but in this disc, issued in 1950, they were singing Vande Mataram to the tune of Rabindranath Tagore.

A record was cut with title Bandae Matharam sung by M S Subbulakshmi and Dilip Kumar Roy. There are hundreds of versions of Vande Mataram that were recorded at different point of time and all are part of our cultural heritage and that can be used as good sources of modern Indian history. There should be a special drive to acquire all versions of Vande Mataram in 78 RPM as archives of national importance.

Akhilesh Jha is a civil servant. The views expressed are personal.
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