(Last Updated on : 19/10/2012)
Vande Mataram, the song, or poetry, or whatever one wished to interpret during pre-independent society, assumed momentous effects, by the time India was well into the 20th century. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
, the man behind those magical lines, was in the first place, inhibited to publish the lines at all. However, it did see the light of day. Since then, there had been no turning back. Nationalists assumed it as their war-cry against English oppression, it was sung in the 1896 session of Indian National Congress. Illustrious men from every walk of life began to praise it as the most instigating and eliciting description of motherland, inciting on to a free India. Such were the song's effects that pre-independent society started issuing pamphlets, later to be banned by British law. However, into the darker side, anti-Bankim Chandra messages also did come into being, owing to mysterious and sad circumstances. People had objected to the poem's supposed criticism about Muslim league in India, leading to later disputes amongst brotherhoods. To sum up, criticism can safely be left out from Bankim Chandra's verse creation, as effects of Vande Mataram in pre-independent society made the commoner unite under a common cause.
The message of the song metamorphosed into a slogan in course of political agitation. Aurobindo Ghosh
put it that the idea was actually a mantra. As such, practices of the militant nationalist societies adopted it as a vow and a battle cry and used those two words in processions as a slogan to rally the populace. The effect of Vande Mataram in politics of pre-independent society has often been commented upon in general terms. A number of incidents took place as an immediate effect of Vande Mataram.
This incident, or series of incidents, took place in Rajahmundry
in what was then known as the Madras Presidency
. The Hindu reported in February 1907 that a Bala Bharati Samiti was organised and in Rajahmundry, 'students, all wearing Vande Mataram badges, and carrying aloft beautiful banners glittering with bold letters of Vande Mataram and Allah-o-Akbar' marched around the town and 'here and there the procession halted to sing the immortal song of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee'. Again in April 1907, the Hindu correspondent from the neighbouring Krishna district reported that Bipin Chandra Pal's visit to Masulipatam 'occasioned political enthusiasm never seen before. His lectures on the Mathra Murthi...(and) the origin and meaning of Vande Mataram' evoked 'a wonderful response'. On 19 April 1907, Pal went to Rajahmundry and according to police records, the 'shouting of Vande Mataram' became a common occurrence with 'seditious meetings' being held in many villages. A perfect example can be seen here of the effect of Vande Mataram during pre-independent India. A European missionary complained that 'a native of Rajahmundry got a few street boys and paid them some rupees under the condition that they shout at every European, Vande Mataram'. Students were at the forefront of such demonstrations and led the slogan shouters.
The British principal of the Rajahmundry
Arts College reported extensively on the developments to the director of public instruction, regarding the behaviour of students mounted on bicycles. Students were also in the habit of 'wearing within the college certain Vande Mataram medals' or badges. The principal warned the students to desist from such practice and expelled a ringleader who wore the badge. This entire incident happened before Pal arrived on 19 April and began to give speeches of 'openly treasonable and seditious character'.
Thereafter, more than half the college students began wearing the badge and the principal tried to compel them to remove the badges on the day of the college examinations. While this was going on, someone in the verandah raised the cry of Vande Mataram which was immediately taken up from all parts of the college and in a body students rushed out. The principal seems to have lost his temper and seized one of the offenders 'perhaps somewhat roughly by the arm in order to hasten his departure'. The incident provoked 190 out of 215 students to 'secede', i.e. to go on strike. Such can be termedas the effects of Vande Mataram in pre-independent society.
In course of the next month, Principal Hunter suspended 138 students and the Government of Madras, by and large, endorsed his decision and rusticated a number of students for two years. Logan, the director of public instruction, thought that 'things would have quieted down had not the malign influence of the Bengalee (Bengali) agitator Bipin Chandra Pal been brought to bear upon the excitable minds of students'. It was quite an affair by the standards of the placid life of educational institutions during those days. Principal Hunter's account illustrates how the slogan Vande Mataram had become a symbol of defiance of the authorities and the British in everyday life. The meaning of the slogan in everyday conflict situations is displayed clearly in the principal's long-standing battle against the slogan. British were quite naturally the most affected in course of Vande Mataram turning into a national cry for freedom. Their efforts to thwart those national moves went completely unheard, with nationalists highly disregarding their warning. The intelligent effects of Vande Mataram during pre-independent society cheerfully showed up in such college incidents.
The strike at Rajahmundry College was part of a series of incidents in which the slogan Vande Mataram was used over and again. The collector of Godavari district reports that in Rajahmundry 'a Vande Mataram Protection League was started with the object of enforcing their (students') right to shout Vande Mataram as they pleased'. In the same town, Europeans were often offended by the slogan shouted at them as they passed by.
Early in June 1907, the European Club in Coconada was attacked by a crowd 'with roaring cries of Vande Mataram'. The Hindu reported that this was a reaction to another instance of slogan shouting: one Captain Kemp, a champion boxer, felt annoyed with a schoolboy of sixteen who shouted the slogan after him on the street. Kemp beat the boy senseless, a crowd gathered and later attacked the European Club where Kemp had, in the meanwhile, gone to seek the company of his compatriots. There was a general atmosphere of unrest and only 'the posse of troops in the Circars' (the northern district of Madras Presidency
) brought back normalcy, said the magistrates of Godavari, Krishna, and Guntur districts. The wave of slogan shouting gradually fizzled out, but it left memories of defiance of white men in public places and a proneness on the part of officials to detect defiance in the cry, Vande Mataram. This precise 'defiance' was the core effect of Vande Mataram in pre-independent society, with 'whites' being crushed by 'blacks'.
An interesting sidelight in this series of incidents is provided by the Indian principal of Coconada College. 'Vande Mataram was a sacred expression, and it ought not to be used so as to provoke,' he said. While a section of the middle class possibly shared this opinion, to the crowd it meant a cry of defiance to be used as a provocation. Bengal provides many instances. For example, the students of City College, in the town of Mymensingh in north Bengal (now Bangladesh), would shout 'Vande Mataram with great vigour and for a considerable time, particularly when the additional district magistrate passed'. Lower-level government officials, like one Babu Uma Charan Roy Chowdhury in Tripura
, complained about similar slogan shouting to provoke them; Babu Uma Charan, a loyal British subject, had three students arrested for 'singing obscene and National songs' in front of his residence. Summing up reports of various officials, the home department observed that 'by far the most serious consequence with the agitation at present (1907) is the harassment to which the police and loyal government officers are being subject to'.
Vande Mataram, with the passing years, although acquired a different status, when one studies the effect of the song in pre-independent society. Shouting the slogan Vande Mataram was, of course, a routine occurrence at 'foreign goods boycott' demonstrations in bazaars, in order to rally support and to pressure the shopkeepers. But the presence of the police and officials usually heightened the enthusiasm of the slogan shouters. The official view was that till this time 'the fear inspired by the lal-pagri-wallak...played no small a part in keeping the ignorant masses under control', but that fear became now, in 1905-07, a thing of the past. (The red turban or lal pagri was part of the Bengal policeman's uniform.) The agitation had reversed public attitude to the police who were now treated with 'marked contempt'. Even the presence of troops was not always effective, at least not in stopping slogan shouters.
While it may be true that in the majority of instances the slogan was raised by students and middle-class youth, there also exist police reports of its use by the working classes. An early example was the strike by mill-workers in the British-owned Fort Gloster Mill near Calcutta in October 1905. This sums up an excellent example of effects of Vande Mataram during the era of pre-independence. The superintendent of police reports that mill-workers were given to shouting Vande Mataram at the European assistants. To put a stop to this, the manager, an Englishman, caught hold of two such offenders, whereupon these events followed. The manager's action was met with tremendous disapproval and an agreement was arrived at amongst them. It explained that at 7.55 pm, the whole 9000 workmen, who were nearly all-local Bengalis, were to shout Vande Mataram. This was accordingly done and 'on the (European) Assistants in the different department attempting to stop the disturbances, they were surrounded and several of them were pushed about'. The next day the head of the district police descended on the factory with armed police and affected some arrests. This led to a total strike in defence of those arrested. According to the superintendent of police of the district, when he tried to reason with the workers they told him that 'they were all brothers in the mill'.
In part, the contagion of Vande Mataram spread by the government's own actions, particularly the publicity occasioned by court trials. The proceedings of the trial of nationalist agitators or militant activists were publicised through the newspapers. The trial of Aurobindo Ghosh
on the charge of making bombs elevated him to the status of a hero, along with the defence attorney and future Congress leader Chittaranjan Das. Many of the accused at their trial defiantly shouted Vande Mataram in the court of law. Khudiram Bose, hanged in 1908 for the attempted assassination of a magistrate, typically began his statement with 'Vande Mataram'. Such luminous instances make one swelled up with pride about the blood and pain fighters had to go through, shouting just a mere Vande Mataram in pre-independent society. Pradyot Bhattacharya, hanged in 1932 for the assassination of the magistrate in Medinipur, wrote in his last message: 'Let India awake by our sacrifice. Bande Mataram.' These facts came to light in trial proceedings. Popular imagination was touched by the fact that martyrs made this slogan their mantra.
Disaffection was defined as 'political alienation or discontent...which tends to a disposition not to obey' the government. This trend of interpretation as well as the Indian Penal Code made almost any use of the song Vande Mataram open to the charge of sedition. Moreover, in a precedent-making case in Bengal in 1909 the judge ruled that the fact that a printer or a publisher 'did not compose the song is also no mitigation'. In cases where the charge was on the basis of seditious songs other than Vande Mataram, the authors were usually more severely punished than publishers. The most well-known case of this kind was two years of rigorous imprisonment of a Bengali folk poet Mukunda Lai Das in 1909. A supreme and firm paw had been established by crusaders, with a single chant of Vande Mataram in the times of pre-independence.
Besides regular affairs of British versus Indian combats, Vande Mataram also had impacted upon hugely in the scholarly society of art and culture during pre-independent society. Visual representations of the mother country as portrayed in Vande Mataram were very popular. Among them were oleographs, somewhat like the 'calendar pictures' sold in bazaars, then and now. There are descriptions of some of these in the police reports, e.g. 'photo entitled Aryamata: contains portraits of Shyamji Krishnavarma and other extremists arranged around an allegorical representation'. Or 'photograph entitled Vande Mataram: photographs of well-known extremists and nationalists, with a leavening of allegorical pictures .... inserted into the word Vande Mataram'. Or 'photograph entitled National Hero: the National Hero holds in his left hand a miniature form of the map of India, Vande Mataram is written on his wristlet'. Around this figure were pictures of Shivaji
, Ram Das, Swami Vivekananda
, Nana Saheb, Lakshmi Bai, Aurobindo Ghosh
and others. The most famous allegorical picture of this kind was in the domain of high art and did not find mention among 'proscribed literature'. It was a painting (1906) by Abanindranath Tagore
, a founder of the Bengal School of Painting and for a while the principal of the Arts College in Calcutta. This painting of 'Bharat Mata' appeared in a Bengali magazine and was later reproduced in many forms, including as a banner in swadeshi demonstrations. Sister Nivedita
applauded this painting of 'the spirit of the Motherland-the giver of Faith and Learning, of Clothing and Food' (these are symbolised in the painting through objects held in the four hands of Bharat Mata).
Thus, in a variety of media, visual and verbal, Vande Mataram was fore-grounded as the core idea inspiring the nationalist struggle from 1905 onwards. This very reflective statement perhaps sums up the essence or effect of Vande Mataram in pre-independent society, few being able to surpass such a war cry. While the song enjoyed enormous popularity in Bengal-and in translation, elsewhere in India-the slogan as a rallying cry was the more widely disseminated seedling of the nationalist spirit.