Sunday, July 17, 2005

Vande Mataram

Mayank asked a question on a public forum, which read as follows:
Dear folks: Whenever anybody speaks of Vande Mataram, certain members of the minority community start feeling unsecure, and oppose it. I am not familiar with the background of anand math by Bankimchandra. So somebody please enlighten me that does the book which contained this glorius ode to the nation, is it so full of hatred?

I have read Anand Math several times and here is a summary, which I hope, answers Mayank's question.
Anandmath begins at an apocalyptic moment. There is a famine in Bengal—Mahendra Singh, his beautiful wife, Kalyani, and their little daughter Sukumari, are leaving their ancestral home in Padachina to tread the broad road to Calcutta. Though Mahendra is a rich landlord, he and his family are starving. Everywhere men, women, children and cattle are dying of hunger. Famished and angry, the impoverished villagers have taken to dacoity. Yet the tax collectors of the Government are unrelenting. Clearly, the British rule has reduced India to beggary.

Mahendra is separated from his wife and daughter. Mahatma Satya, the master of Anand Math rescues Kalyani and Sukumari from a group of robbers. Anand Math is located in deep forest. Bhavan, on Mahatma's behest, brings Mahendra to the forest. Here Bhavan bursts into the famous song 'Vande Mataram'

Mahendra, astonished to hear such a song, and wondering what mother stands for remarks, "This refers to a country, and not to a mortal mother." Bhavan then says that Mother India is their Mother, and all other relationships for them are non-existant. Hearing these words, Mahendra too joins the song. He learns that the "Children" (sanyasis of Anand Math) are organising a revolt against the British to free the "Mother India". Later, Mahatma of Anandmath Satya, first shows Mahendra a gigantic, imposing, resplendent image of ancient India. Then he takes him to a second image, where map of India is in tags and tears, and says, 'This is the what our Mother India is today.' A sword hangs over this image, which the Mahatma says represnts that British rule with a sword, and hence India can be freed only by a sword. Lastly he shows him 'a golden India-bright, beautiful, full of glory and dignity.' Satya explains that "this is the Mother as she is destined to be".

Mahendra refuses to take the vow of utter devotion to Mother India, which meant renouncing his wife and child. His wife refusing to be a weakening factor in her husband's discharge of duties poisons herself. Before Mahendra could cremate his wife, he and Mahatma are arrested by the British. Jiban, Mahatma's right hand man, finds Sukumari and entrusts her to the loving care of his sister. In the process, he meets his wife Shanti, who he had vowed not to see before his duty is done and to the atonement of both sins. Bhavan saves the life of Kalyani and becomes entranced by her beauty. Mahendra thinks that is wife is dead, and eventually gets initiated into the order of sanyasis. Children rescue Mahatma and Mahendra from the jail, but are defeated by British forces in a pitched battle, where appears and swords of sanyasis lose to cannons and guns of British.

Shanti, Jiban's wife, was a woman with a difference. She dressed like boys throughout her childhood, and had travelled far and wide with a group of sanyasis. She was both mentally and physically strong and possessed charming features. She too enters the order, dressed as man to be christened Navin. But soon after Mahatma finds out her real identity. She convinces him with her physical strength and demeanour that she would not hamper her husband on his discharge of duties. Mahendra is sent to Padachina, entrusted with the task of building a fort there. Mahatma planned that the fort to act as treasury and factory for manufacturing arms. Shanti is allowed to stay in Anand Math. Her new role both surprises and pleases Jiban, and she keeps him away and alert of his duties.

The famine ends, but in absence of living population, dense forests replace the erstwhile villages. Children are able to entice many hundred followers into their order. The Children slowly start to gain strength, and defeat British forces in many minor clashes, looting their arms and treasuries. Bhavan falls in love with Kalyani, and is willing to break all his vows to make her his wife. Kalyani shoes him away and he realises that death was his only his atonement.

The British, under the command of Captain Thomas, attack the children. After a hard-pitched battle, the Children humble the British. The British were about to win, when seventeen cannons from Padachina arrive well in time at the battlefield turning the tide in favor of the Children. Bhavan dies in this battle. Kalyani, Sukumari and Mahendra, and Jiban and Shanti all happily reunite at the fort of Padachina. The British, once humbled, now relaunched a strategic offensive against the Children under the command of Major Edwards. The British are again defeated, Jiban fights like a superhero, fighting alone, when his compatriots desert him, succumbs to multiple injuries and is lost in heaps of dead in battlefield. Shanti finds him, a mysterious Mahatma heals him and disappears. Jiban role in Service of Mother ends with this sacrifice. A revived Jiban and Shanti walk away hand in hand. Singing Vande Mataram, they soon disappear out of sight.

Vande Mataram had hence become the national anthem during the struggle for freedom. The fact that Rabindranath Tagore's Jana Gana Mana replaced it after independence, as a concession to Muslim susceptibilities, highlights the nature of the freedom movement. Anadmath has inspired both the nationalists and the fundamentalists. Bankim synthesized the Western secular concept of nationalism with the tradition and needs of Hindus even if he was thinking in terms of Bengal and not India when he wrote. He enunciated a specific relationship between culture and power, that certain cultural values are more advantageous than others in the pursuance of power. Since these attributes are not congenital characteristics, but the product of cultural conditioning, they can be developed through the cultivation of appropriate national-cultural values. To this merit he aroused the cultural and idealogical identity of Indians, majority of them being Hindus. In this respect, I believe that whatever comparisons are there between the Hindu goddesses (Durga, Kali, Lakhshmi or Saraswati) with mother India, they are meant to enspirit the Indian soul with a devotion towards the diefied country.

Such a deification of the country as we know was to inspire many millions of Indians throughout the freedom struggle. Aurobindo himself considered to be a prophet of Indian nationalism, during his revolutionary phase wanted a Bharat Mata Mandir to be established in every province of India. These temples were to be the nucleus of revolutionaries who like Bankim's sanyasis would dedicate their lives to the freedom of the country. Thus the Indian revolutionaries, who were an important part of the struggle for freedom, also derived their inspiration from spirituality and religious sources.

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