Vante Mataram? Tagore had rejected this song, calling it communal

Reena Satin

“Vande Mataram! These are the magic words which will open the door of his ironsafe, break through the walls of his strong room, and confound the hearts ofthose who are disloyal to its call to say Vande Mataram.” (Rabindranath Tagorein Glorious Thoughts of Tagore, p.165)

The controversy becomes more complex in the light of Rabindranath Tagore’srejection of the song as one that would unite all communities in India. In hisletter to Subhash Chandra Bose (1937), Rabindranath wrote:

“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain thatthere can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to beinseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can beexpected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [thenation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazineshave quoted verses from Vande Mataram – proof that the editors take the song tobe 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 religiousgroups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans showsigns of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copythem and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”

In a postscript to this same letter, Rabindranath says:

“Bengali Hindus have become agitated over this matter, but it does not concernonly Hindus. Since there are strong feelings on both sides, a balanced judgmentis essential. In pursuit of our political aims we want peace, unity and goodwill – we do not want the endless tug of war that comes from supporting thedemands of one faction over the other.” [1]

1. (Letter #314, Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore, edited by K. Datta and

A. Robinson, Cambridge University Press)


bharat mata by m f hussain
‘Bharat Mata’ – painting by M F Hussain
  • Uttam Sen

    I cannot quote chapter and verse and am recalling from memory, but the historian Tanika Sarkar wrote in a reputed journal some time ago that Bankim Chandra himself changed the original patriotic, nationalistic intent of his novel under extreme official pressure (he was a government servant). The modification made it particular to a community (and religion) rather than secular as we understand it today. I wonder whether people who are so involved with the subject try to read between the lines. Many of our internal discrepancies would become intelligible if the compulsions of the moment were brought to light.

  • Sergei Serebriany

    I have got (from a colleague) the following quotation allegedly from Tagore’s article in the journal “Desh”,
    which quotation may be dated the same year 1937:

    “ ‘Vande Mataram’ is so inextricably linked to our national struggle, that it is strange to hear today, from people with an exaggerated communalist consciousness, slogans against it. There can be only one implication of these slogans – to damage the movement for national independence, to destroy the national sentiment for the sake of their petty interests … If it is needed, the Bengalis, inspired by patriotism, would defend this prayer of theirs till their last drop of blood … ‘Vande Mataram’ has already become a national anthem and will remain such forever.”

    Can anybody give me an exact reference for this quotation?