The role of patriotic music in the Indian independence movement
Every revolution that ever took place started with resisting the indoctrination and the propaganda being spread by the oppressor. Whether it was the French revolution of the eighteenth century or the Russian revolution of the twentieth century, all of them had a very strong counterpropaganda in forms of music, art and stories which played a very important role in helping to resist the attempts of further indoctrination and helped to unify the struggles and boost the morale of those revolting in addition to attracting more and more people to the movement. The same was true for India’s struggle against the British colonial government and our fight in revolting and organizing movements against the oppressors. A case could be made that their blatant discrimination against Indians eased the work of the freedom fighters in convincing people but other than the speeches that were given by the freedom fighters, art forms such as folklore, stories of oppression, popular symbols, history, fiction and songs played an extremely important role in creating a collective sense of belonging amongst the people of India which helped in creating a collective fight against the British colonial government. In this paper, we will be exploring a few examples of one such important tool of counterpropaganda, patriotic songs which played a major role in creating a sense of collective belonging pre independence and now they continue to instil a feeling of nationalism in the citizens of our country whenever heard.
The perfect example of a patriotic song that motivated millions in the fight against the British would be Vande Mataram, the national song of India. Vande Mataram was written in the book, Ananda Math by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. He was a civil servant working under the British government and was interested in the revolt of 1857. When this song was written, the colonial government was trying to propagate the use of "God Save the Queen" as the anthem for Indian subjects which was obviously unacceptable to Indian Nationalist and everyone revolting against the government (Lipner, 2005). As the lyrics and the essence of Vande Mataram could easily be inferred as a direct rebuttal to "God Save the Queen", it quickly became one of the most popular songs of India’s Independence Movement. In response, the British government banned the song, and the recitation of this song became a criminal offence. A lot of people during the protests were arrested for reciting Vande Mataram but it gave everyone a way to defy the British government. Even while singing it in home or even in their head, everyone felt that they were disobeying the unjust laws of the British Government and this helped in gathering support for independence. This song became a symbol when Rabindranath Tagore sang it in 1896 at the Calcutta Congress Session and it became an integral part of the Swaraj movement when it was written on the first flag of India which was designed by Bhikaiji Cama in 1907. Rabindranath Tagore along with several other leader advocated the adoption of the song as the national song of India but since the song catered only those who belonged to the Hindu religion, it was opposed by leaders like Mohd. Ali Jinnah and later only the first two verses which talked about the beauty of the motherland were adopted and the latter part talking about Goddess Durga was left out.
Another good example of a patriotic song which was popular during the movement and still remains one would be Jana Gan Man, a song written by Rabindranath Tagore which ended up becoming the national anthem of India. Even though there have been several baseless claims (that have been proven to be incorrect) which say that Jan Gana Man was written by Tagore to welcome an emperor, it was a song which was sung at several Congress sessions and was propagated by Subash Chandra Bose during his time spent in Germany to garner the support of the axis powers against the British rule in India (Mitra, 2020). Jan Gana Man song did not hold much significance during the revolts which took place pre-independence but since the lyrics of this song talked about how great the nation of India is and when it was made the national anthem of India, it became a symbol of the Independence struggle post 1947 and will continue to remain one in perpetuity (Chatterjee, 2003). This song whenever played reminds the people of the states, the rivers, and the mountains of India and when coupled with a video consisting of imagery of India’s armed forces and freedom fighters which reminds people that India is a sovereign nation, it helps in bolstering a sense of collective belonging. Whenever official state business like the proceedings of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha or even entertainment events like cricket football matches are started, they start with the recitation of the national anthem and at the same time, the constitutional duty that the citizens fulfil by standing during the 55 second recitation of the anthem plays a major role in maintaining a feeling of nationalism in the general public.
Another song which played a major role during the independence movement was Saare Jahaan Se Accha. The song was written as Urdu Political Poetry for children by Mohammed Iqbal and was recited at a function at Government College, Lahore and this song as well quickly rose to fame to oppose the British Raj in India (India Today, 2016). The song was sung more than a hundred times by Gandhi during his imprisonment in Pune and in 1984, the first line of the song “Saare Jahaan Se Accha” was used by Rakesh Sharma, the first astronaut of India to describe how India looked from outer space (Jain, 2020). The song is very popular especially in elementary schools and is also played during the retreat of the republic day parade. However, it is important to note the irony that Iqbal, the poet who wrote “Saare Jahaan Se Accha” played an important role in pioneering the idea of Pakistan. Nevertheless, it is still used to stoke the feelings of “India First” in the minds of Indians (Gupta, 2014). Most people remember singing this song with swelling pride and a quavering treble in school assemblies and parades and it has been embedded in the minds of whoever completed their primary education in India. This song much like the other two has played a very important role in creating a sense of pride in being a citizen of India. This song also has been used at several memorable events in the past and is associated with M.K. Gandhi and most importantly, this song is associated with the childhood of most Indians and this song was what made them understand the country they live in and when they hear it, it creates a certain nostalgia reminding them of the country they live in.
Hence, using the national song, the national anthem and a popular poetry and the history of how they came to be, it can be easily understood that patriotic music has a very power powerful effect on people, and it motivates them to join and support a struggle. These patriotic songs also played an important role in garnering support in India’s struggle against the rule of the colonial government. This all happens because all patriotic songs not only contain lyrics that sympathise with the struggle and motivate the people who are revolting, they also have a very important story of how that song rose to fame and became of significance. This backstory thata song has plays an important role in creating a feeling of nationalism in the people supporting a certain cause and these patriotic songs play an important the role in reminding those who are singing and hearing the song of the struggle that the people were going through during the revolution. Whenever there are protests against a powerful body like the recent Shaheen Bagh or the Farmer’s Protest, we can see that either the original or different version of these patriotic songs make a comeback which validates the struggle and the risk the protestors undertake while revolting against the government and again it instils a feeling of nationalism (Sherwani, 2020).
Jain, S. (2020, April 2). "How Does India Look From Space?": What First Indian Astronaut Told Indira Gandhi. Retrieved December 5, 2020, from NDTV: https://www.ndtv.com/offbeat/what-first-indian-astronaut-rakesh-sharma-told-indira-gandhi-about-india-from-space-2204839
India Today. (2016, April 21). Saare Jahan Se Accha: Some facts about the most loved Indian patriotic song and its creator. Retrieved December 5, 2020, from India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/saare-jahan-se-accha-facts-319075-2016-04-21
Lipner, J. (2005). The sacred brotherhood. New York: Oxford University Press.
Chatterjee, M. (2003). Tagore and Jana Gana Mana. Counter Currents , 31.
Mitra, A. (2020, August 15). How – and Why – 'Jana Gana Mana' Became India's National Anthem . Retrieved from The Wire : https://thewire.in/history/independence-day-national-anthem-jana-gana-mana-subhash-chandra-bose-netaji
Gupta, B. (2014). Reviving Indian Heritage In Education. World Affairs: The Journal of International Issues, 18(4), 112-125.
Sherwani, Z. (2020, January 21). Protest Songs In India: Meet Musicians Singing The Songs of Change. Retrieved from the quint: https://www.thequint.com/videos/anti-caa-nrc-shaheen-bagh-jnu-jamia-protest-songs-rap#read-more