Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Morning Song of Rabindranath Tagore

The Morning Song
Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India's destiny,
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind, Gujarat & 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 hands,
Thou dispenser of India's destiny,
Victory, Victory, Victory to thee.

Rabindranath Tagore, during his tour of South India in 1919, spent some days at the Theosophical College, Madanapalle, (then part of Madras) at the invitation of its Principal James H Cousins. Tagore sang the song "Jana gana mana .." at the function there and also wrote the above translation. The college authorities, greatly impressed by the lofty ideals of the song, selected it as their prayer song. It spread widely from there and was sung abroad in Europe and America too.1


Tagore composed the song in 1911 for the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress, during the occasion of the visit by King George V and Queen Mary to India. At times, controversies have errupted if the morning song was in praise of King George V which has been answered by Tagore himself, that is chronicled as follows:

"Answering a friend's query about the origins of the Jana Gana Mana in 1937, Tagore said that a loyalist friend had requested him to write a song in praise of the King. He had felt anger at his friends presumption about his loyalism. It was this anger that led him to compose Jana Gana Mana. He had written a song to a superior authority, the "Dispenser of India's destiny". Tagore concluded. "That great Charioteer of man's destiny in age after age could not by any means be George V or George VI or any George. Even my 'loyal' friend realized this; because, however powerful his loyalty to the King, he was not wanting in intelligence." I may add here that we normally sing the first verse alone: the third verse of the song refers explicitly to the eternal lord."2

The 3rd, 4th and 5th stanzas of the morning song are as follows3:

The procession of pilgrims passes over the endless road
rugged with the rise and fall of nations;
and it resounds with the thunder of thy wheel.
Eternal Charioteer! Through the dire days of door
thy trumpet sound and men are led by thee across death.
Thy finger point the path to all people.
Oh dispenser of India's destiny!
Victory, victory, victory to thee.

The darkness was dense and deep was the night.
My country lay in a deathlike silence of swoon.
But thy mother arms were round her
and thine eyes gazed upon her troubled face
in sleepless love through her hours of ghastly dreams.
Thou art the companion
and the saviour of the people in thier sorrows,
thou dispenser of India's destiny!
Victory, victory, victory to thee.

The night fades;
the light breaks over the peaks of the Eastern hills,
the birds begin to sing
and the morning breeze carries the breath of new life.
The rays of the mercy
have touched the waking land with their blessings.
Victory to the King of Kings,
victory to thee, dispenser of India's destiny.
Victory, victory, victory to thee.

Without any doubt, the controversy "was unfortunate though inconsequential".4

Universality of mankind

The message of the song has been seldom missed by people in other nations.

The song, then, is addressed to the divine, understood as a universal human spirit of morality and justice. This spirit rules "all people" everywhere in the world, and it is also "dispenser of India's destiny". Tagore makes it plain that this spirit animates the emotions of people in all of India's diverse ethnic and geographical regions: all are equally animated by the love of rightness and justice, and parts of the nation are equally under this spirit's care. ... the "dispenser of India's destiny" is the moral law, and it is the victory of justice for which Indians ask when they sing it.

It is rare that a nation has a national anthem that expresses the idea that humanity is above nationality, and righteousness above aggression. But the idea of a moral law that unswervingly guides our destiny is deeply rooted in Indian traditions, more deeply perhaps than it is in Euro-American traditions, where such ideas are associated with a critical and counter-traditional Enlightenment intelligentsia rather than with traditional religion. Indians connect these ideas to many sources, but prominently to the concept of dharma, or right, in ancient Hindu texts. Tagore's take on the traditional concept is humanist and critical, but it also resonates with much that already animates India's traditional sense of its unity; no doubt this is why has been able to win wide acceptance.5

Rabindranath Tagore strongly believed in the universality of mankind connecting all people. The broad vision of Tagore is reflected in the following passage:

"All humanity's greatest is mine. The infinite personality of man (as the Upanishads say) can only come from the magnificient harmony of all human races. My prayer is that India may represent the co-operation of all the peoples of the world. For India, unity is truth, and division evil. Unity is that which embraces and understands everthing; consequently, it cannot be attained through negation. The present attempt to separate our spirit from that of the Occident is a tentative of spiritual suicide... The present age has been dominated by the Occident, because the Occident had a mission to fulfil. We of the Orient should learn from the Occident. It is regrettable, of course, that we had lost the power of appreciating our own culture, and therefore did not know how to assign Western culture to its right place... No nation can find its own salvation by breaking away from others. We must all be saved or we must all perish together."6

National Anthem

On 24th January, 1950, the Constituent Assembly of India adopted the first stanza of the morning song of Tagore settled as India's National Anthem, along with "Vande Mataram":

Tuesday, the 24th January 1950

The Constituent Assembly  met in the Constitution Hall,  New Delhi, at
Eleven  of  the Clock,  Mr.  President  (The  Honourable Dr.  Rajendra
Prasad), in the Chair...


Mr.  President:  There  is  one  matter which  has  been  pending  for
discussion, namely the question of the National Anthem. At one time it
was thought that the matter might be brought up before the House and a
decision taken  by the House by way  of a resolution. But  it has been
felt  that,  instead  of  taking  a  formal decision  by  means  of  a
resolution, it  is better  if I  make a statement  with regard  to the
National Anthem. Accordingly I make this statement.

The composition consisting  of the words and music  known as Jana Gana
Mana is the  National Anthem of India, subject  to such alterations in
the words 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  honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and
shall have equal status with  it. (Applause). I hope this will satisfy
the Members.7 
"Vande Mataram" was written by Backim-chandra Chatterji, and it was sung at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. Rabindranath Tagore composed the music for "Vande Mataram".
"Jana Gana Mana was chosen as anthem in 1950 over Bande Mataram as well as Iqbal's Sare Jahan Se Accha - although Bande Mataram was given "equal status". An important reason was that Bande Mataram could not be played by bands. Additionally Jana Gana Mana enjoyed an international reputation. It had been greatly appreciated in the United Nations at New York where it was first played as an orchestral arrangement in 1947. Many said that it was superior to most national anthems in the world. Within the country the overwhelming majority of the provinces supported its nomination." 8

History of the tune

Capt Ram Singh who hailed from Khaniara, a small village near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, was a band master in the Indian National Army created by Subash Chandra Bose. He composed a tune for the song "Sukh Chain Kee Barkha Barse, Bharat Bagiya Hai Jaga", based on the poem by Rabindranath Tagore and was translated into Hindi by Abid Ali. The present National Anthem tune was composed by Capt Ram Singh as Qaumi Tarana of the INA at Singapore in 1943.

"On February 15, 1942, Singapore was conquered by Japan as a result of which the INA got a fillip. Capt Ram Singh also joined the INA to free himself from the clutches of Japanese. Subhas Chandra Bose was instrumental in tapping the talent of Captain Ram Singh as a dedicated music director. Captain Ram Singh recalled, "Subhasji told me that the tune of Qaumi Tarana should be so powerful and inspiring that when INA soldiers render the same, it should stir the soul of not only the soldiers but millions of Indians also, as such we kept on practising the Qaumi Tarana at Deedadri camp in Singapore. I vividly recall the words uttered by Subhas Chandra Bose about the Qaumi Tarana. He had said, Capt Ram Singh, the day Indian National Army takes shape in the Cathay Building of Singapore the song Subh Sukh Chain Ki Barkha Barse would be played. The song should have such an indelible impact and force that the Cathay Building should break into two parts and the sky should become visible. The gods and goddesses will shower flowers straight on the Tricolor of India. On October 31, 1943, the INA came into power and my orchestra played the Qaumi Tarana. The Cathay Building reverberated thunderously."9

After India attained Independence, it was played at Red Fort:

India attained Independence on August 15, 1947, and the next morning Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the Tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort and addressed the nation. It was on this occasion that Capt Ram Singh was especially invited to play the tune of Qaumi Tarana of the INA along with the members of his orchestra group. Later the duration of the tune was shortened with changes in the original script. However, the musical composition was adopted in its original form.10

The Prophecy

The song is also prophetic - India leads in software development and process outsourcing, with visible impact on all people. Goodwill springs and touches a wide diversity of men and matters. In Re Kerala Education Bill, 1959 SCR 995, S.R. Das, Chief Justice of India, observed as follows in pages 1070 & 1071:

Throughout the ages endless inundations of men of diverse creeds, cultures and races - Aryans and non-Aryans, Dravidians and Chinese, Seythians, Hunds, Pathans and Mughals - have come to this ancient land from distant regions and climes. India has welcomed them all. They have met and gathered, given and taken and got mingled, merged and lost in one body. India's tradition has been epitomised in the following noble lines:
"None shall be turned away
From the shore of this vast sea of humanity
That is India" (Poems by Rabindranath Tagore)
Indeed India has sent out to the world her message of good will enshrined and proclaimed in our National Anthem:
"Day and night, thy voice goes out from
land to land,
calling Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains
round thy throne
and Parsees, Mussalmans and Christians.
Offerings are brought to thy shrine by
the East and the West
to be woven in a garland of love.
Thou bringest the hearts of all peoples
into the harmony of one life,
Thou Dispenser of India's destiny,
Victory, Victory, Victory to thee."
(Rabindranath Tagore. 136)

It is thus that the genius of India has been able to find unity in diversity by assimilating the best of all creeds and cultures.11

The Eternal Song

Singing "Jana gana mana .."12 takes just 52 seconds, but it appears eternal in span as it reminds us about our own glorious past giving fortitude to meet our future destiny.



[1] AIR 2005 SC 2841

[2][India's National Anthem] "Are we still singing for the Empire?" by Pradip Kumar Datta at

[3] "Our National Songs", Publications Division, pp.14-15

[4] Ibid, p.3


[6] "Mahatma Gandhi", Romain Rollan, pp.107-108

[7] Constituent Assembly Debates at

[8] Op. cit. Pradip Kumar Datta

[9] "A tribute to the legendary composer of National Anthem" by Rajendra Rajan at

[10] Ibid.

[11] 1959 SCR 995

[12] A vocal audio of the National Anthem is available at from A silent version of the National Anthem rendered by hearing challenged school children is available at

Copyright (C) 2005-2011 K. Ramanraj

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