Vande Mataram is a poem from the famed novel Anandamath which was written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1882. It was written in Bengali and Sanskrit. In 1950 (after India’s independence), the song’s first two verses were given the official status of the “national song” of the Republic of India, distinct from the national anthem of India Jana Gana Mana. The designation as “national song” predates independence, dating to 1937. At this date, the Indian National Congress discussed at length the status of the song. It was pointed out then that though the first two stanzas began with an unexceptionable evocation of the beauty of the motherland, in later stanzas there are references where the motherland is likened to the Hindu goddess Durga. Therefore, INC decided to adopt only the first two stanzas as the national song.
The controversy becomes more complex in the light of Rabindranath Tagore’s rejection of the song as one that would unite all communities in India. In his letter to Subhash Chandra Bose (1937), Tagore wrote:
“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram—proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”
In a postscript to this same letter, Tagore says:
“Bengali Hindus have become agitated over this matter, but it does not concern only Hindus. Since there are strong feelings on both sides, a balanced judgment is essential. In pursuit of our political aims we want peace, unity and good will—we do not want the endless tug of war that comes from supporting the demands of one faction over the other.”
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who was presiding the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950, made the following statement which was also adopted as the final decision on the issue:
“…The composition consisting of words and music known as Jana Gana Mana is the National Anthem of India, subject to such alterations as the Government may authorise as occasion arises, and the song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honored equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it. (Applause) I hope this will satisfy members.”