Music Video entitled, “Vande Mataram”.
Mother, I bow to thee!
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
bright with orchard gleams,
Cool with thy winds of delight,
Green fields waving Mother of might,
Glory of moonlight dreams,
Over thy branches and lordly streams,
Clad in thy blossoming trees,
Mother, giver of ease
Laughing low and sweet!
Mother I kiss thy feet,
Speaker sweet and low!
Mother, to thee I bow.
(Translation of Vande Mataram, by Sri Aurobindo)
The directive sparked off protests from a quarter of Muslim politicians and intellectuals, who felt the song’s lyrics went against the tenets of Islam. How so? Because it hails the motherland, as opposed to Islam’s advocating the worship of none other than Allah. They demanded the government make the singing of the song optional, not mandatory. The government agreed. Which in turn invited the anger of Hindu nationalist politicians, who declared those averse to singing the national song should leave the country.
It’s the contextual relevance of the song, which is sadly getting overlooked in this political slugfest. Vande Mataram was a war cry for Indian freedom fighters during the British reign. Every nationalist, irrespective of his or her religious affiliation, had these two words on their lips. The chant became such a potent symbol of nationalism that the British banned its utterance in public and arrested anyone who violated this diktat. To this day, if seen in films and music videos, the song stimulates a degree of patriotic fervor in Indians, including for those of the post-independence generation like me.
Is the letter too hard to overlook to appreciate the spirit of the song? This is a song which united Indians to rally against the biggest imperialist power. Politicians in independent India are using it as an instrument to incite divisive sentiments. What could be more ironic?
Perhaps the fact that our elected representatives chose to create a ruckus over this, on the 22nd of this month, the very next day after Ustad Bismillah Khan passed away. The legendary shehnai maestro, while belonging to the Muslim faith, had realized the oneness of all humans and believed music was the cord that kept us strung together. In his last interview with the editor of a national daily, this 91-year-old icon of India‘s pluralistic culture said:
Q: Khan saheb, you have never differentiated between religions, you believe all are one.
Ustad Bismillah Khan: They are one, absolutely one. It’s impossible for there to be any division. This voice you hear, it’s that which we call sur*.
*Sur: Musical note.