If you answered ‘Jana gana mana’, you got it wrong. Jana gana mana is our national anthem. The national song is Vande Mataram written by Bankim Chandra Chatterji. In fact, earlier, it was more popular than Jana Gana Mana written by Rabindranath Tagore, and was almost chosen as the national anthem.
The song, in Sanskrit, was part of a Bengali book named Anandamath that Chatterji wrote. The words Vande Mataram mean ‘I bow to thee, mother’. That became a slogan of those trying to free India, our motherland, from British rule.
Swami Aurobindo Ghosh, a spiritual leader, translated the Sanskrit verses into English, and people all over India were able understand it.
It inspired the freedom fighters to undertake brave acts, defying British rules, and they shouted ‘vande mataram’ while breaking unfair laws.
The song, which praises the beauties of India, was so powerful that the Indian National Congress made it a rule that the first two verses must be sung at every session of the Congress.
It was the obvious choice for the national anthem, but there was a problem. The song shows India as a Goddess, and praises her. That was not suitable for a secular country like India, where all religions are respected. And so it was decided that Jana Gana Mana would be the national anthem, and the first two stanzas of Vande Mataram would be our national song, equal in importance to the national anthem.
Over the years, the beautiful words have been set to different tunes. Rabindranath Tagore, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and more recently, A R Rahman, have composed their own music for it.
In fact, in 2002, the BBC World Services took a survey on the most popular songs in the world, and Vande Mataram was ranked Number 2! Great, isn’t it?