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Did Rabindranath Tagore use ‘Jana Gana Mana’ as a ticket to the Nobel Prize?

Rabindranath Tagore was a poet par excellence; he got India in the world map by becoming the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. His stuti or prayer went to become our national anthem. However, that hasn’t deterred conspiracy theorists to point out that Rabindranath Tagore was a stooge of the imperial rule in India.

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Rabindranath Tagore was a poet par excellence; he got India in the world map by becoming the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.

While Tagore would be turning in his grave to hear such allegations levelled against him at present day, he was no stranger to the controversy. Controversy shadowed Jana Gana Mana from the day of its first rendition on 28 December 1911 at the 27th Session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta.

Emperor George V was scheduled to arrive in the city two days later, and a section of the English press, who never cared much about the Indian sentiments, reported in a fawning way that Tagore’s hymn was homage to the emperor.

Rajiv Dixit, the popular social activist, who passed away a few years ago, spoke at length about Rabindranath Tagore’s subservient attitude towards the British Raj.

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Rajiv Dixit, the popular social activist, who passed away a few years ago, spoke at length about Rabindranath Tagore’s subservient attitude towards the British Raj.

Dixit brings back the controversy that surrounded Jana Gana Mana when it was sung for the first time. In a word-to-word translation of the national anthem, Dixit deconstructs how Tagore had written it as a prayer for the well-being for King George.

In his sycophancy, Tagore declared King George V as the adhinayak, or the ruler of India and hailed him in “Jaya he”… Dixit believes the poet invoked the English king as the “Bharat Bhagya Vidhata,” or the decider of the fate of India.

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Gandhiji and Kasturba at a reception given by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan.

Punjab, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravid, Utkala, Banga beseeched King George V’s well-being, and Tagore wished the king prosperity. Although this is a very crude interpretation of the hymn, to term it not “nationalistic” enough, detractors say “Guruji”, as Tagore was popularly called, had mentioned only those regions that was under the British domain. The other states, such as Kashmir, the entire north east, Kerala that was under princely rule, was not mentioned by him.

But we would be very narrow to judge the character of a well-meaning hymn. Jana Gana means people, Mana means heart, Adhinayak means the god who is the lord and the master of India. Also, Tagore had declined Knighthood awarded to him by British. He received the Nobel Prize that is awarded by Sweden, not British. Also, Tagore belonged to Brahma Samaj, which believed in one supreme lord… The hymn asks the almighty for the well being of our country.

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In March 2004, the Nobel medal that had been awarded to Rabindranath Tagore was stolen from a museum in the Uttarayan complex in Shantiniketan.

The poet claims in a letter written in 1939: “I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbounded stupidity.

“In another letter to Pulin Behari Sen, Tagore later wrote, “I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata (ed. God of Destiny) of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George…”

That would put claims to rest that Tagore ever was a British stooge. He remained a nationalist till his last day.