Jana Gana Mana

30 Sep

Yesterday, at Toastmasters, the Table Topics questions section, (at which the Table Topics Mistress can ask a question of anybody and it is that person’s responsibility  to figure out a two minute answer), the beautiful Monica, who looked lovelier than usual in an elegant salwar kameez, asked questions on the theme of India. As part of her presentation, she played India’s  national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. This anthem was first sung in 1911, was made India’s national anthem in 1950, and has now celebrated its hundredth birthday.

Something was tickling at the back of my mind as I heard the anthem. And then I remembered why. It’s because it was written by one of India’s greatest figures, Nobel Prize for Literature winner Rabindranath Tagore in the early part of the century. Tagore had one of those brains which try everything. He was an Indian nationalist (especially Bengali) when most of India was under British rule. He was interested in art and music (writing more than 2,230 songs), science, read widely of the Western classics, traveled and met with famous people all over the world, started a famous school, and did many other things.

But there is one small, ironic story I want to tell today about Jana Gana Mana. The words, in English (Thank you, Wikipidia (http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jana_Gana_Mana_) are

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,

Dispenser of India’s destiny.

Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab,

Sindh, Gujarat, and Maratha,

Of the  Dravida and  Orissa and Bengal;

It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,

mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is

chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.

They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.

The saving of all people waits in thy hand,

Thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
 victory forever.

The story is that some people assumed that the “You” that Tagore was talking about was King George V of Great Britain. But Tagore was disgusted by that idea. According to the Wikipidia article, he wrote in a letter to a friend, “A certain high official in His Majesty’s service. . .  had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata [ed. God of Destiny] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.”

It would indeed be strange for a man whose entire life was devoted to Indian independence to call the British emperor “Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
 Dispenser of India’s destiny.” Certainly King George V WAS the dispenser of India’s destiny—but not forever! And he most certainly was not the ruler of India’s minds!

Here is a longish recording of all five verses. But notice how beautiful it is. How so many national anthems seem indistinguishable, but the music of this one is deeply and truly Indian in nature.

And Jaya jaya jaya he, to my Indian friends, Victory—and peace—to your amazing land.


Prompt: Have you ever had anyone COMPLETELY misunderstand what you were trying to say?

India’s National Anthem in 39 individual voices.

4 Responses to “Jana Gana Mana”

  1. ritadiddles October 1, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    So sorry I missed this meeting! Thank you for a glimpse of the flavor of the questions Monika may have posed to the club, Alexandra!

  2. 99884 May 18, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Hey there, I found your site wordpress.com while browsing http:
    //135journals.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/jana-gana-mana/. Just wondering, have you ever thought of
    incorporating additional content to your blog posts? Don’t get me wrong, your writing is excellent. But just imagine if you were to add some awesome images or videos to give your posts some more “pizzazz””. Your content is superior, yet if you apply more different media, your page could undoubtedly be popular in its category compared to other sites on .

    • Alexandra Hanson-Harding July 6, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

      Thank you for the suggestion–I’ve been trying to add more images and that’s a great idea!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: