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Why do we not sing Vande Mataram in the original tune?

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It is a matter of national shame that the original tune of Vande Mataram, a song that Indians sing along with our National Anthem got lost in the annals of history. The song was penned a little more than a century ago by Bengal’s Sahitya Samrat Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and set to tune by erstwhile music composer, Yadubhatta. It was even performed before its creator, Bankim. However, we as a race seem to be so apathic to preserving our rich culture and heritage, that we keep creating missing links and losing history. Just like we did in the case of Bankim Chandra’s original Vande Mataram. On his birth anniversary today, is this the way we show our respect to one of the earliest literary luminaries of Bengal and India?

The story goes that after finalising the tune of the song, Bankim Chandra was somewhat reluctant to part with it and for several years turned down repeated requests from Banga-Darshan editor and other newspaper editors to publish it. Finally, Vande Mataram saw the light of day when it was included in the novel, Anandamath, that was published serially in Banga-Darshan. Anandamath’s serialised publication began in 1287 and continued till 1289. In 1882, it was compiled and published in the form of a book. In Anandamath, a special note mentions the song Vande Mataramis based on Raga Malhar and set in qawalitaal. The melodic structure of the raga has been specified as well.

Many have asked over ages, if Bankim accepted the tune set by Yadubhatta in the instruction note or did he re-interpret the musical notes in the composition? Yadubhatta was primarily a Dhrupad singer and qawalitaal is not part of Dhrupad music form. Thus, it might be that Bankim Chandra changed the tune as per his wishes. However, there is a positive side to losing the original Vande Mataram tune, as in the absence of an original tune, the song was opened upto several musical interpretations including many recent ones.

Such experimentation with the tunes, opened up a plethora of notes and enriched the song to a large extent. The fate of Vande Mataram was entirely different from Jana Gana Mana, that was written and set to tune by Rabindranath Tagore himself, who had meticulously recorded details of the tunes in the form of swaralipi (notation, that is the written form of song/music represented through signs or symbols denoting tune, rhythm and beat) and teachers followed this swaralipi down the ages. But for Vande Mataram, the composer and conceptualizer were two different persons and there was no system of preserving the tune or writing down the swaralipi. As a result, Vande Mataram spread wings and reached the masses in all parts of the country. The song was interpreted in myriad ways by musicians/ singers in various parts of the country according to their individual inspiration, training and requirement of the time.

Rabindranath had himself set to tune the first seven lines (Sukhadan, Varadan Maataram...) of Vande Mataram and had performed it as well. In later years however, he had a change of heart about the composition as mentioned in Ghare Baire and Chaar Adhyay. However, on the composer’s birthday, we are all ready to sing the song praising our motherland.

(Adapted from Vande Mataram-er Soor, Utso O Boichitro by Ananta Kumar Chakraborty and Nirbachito Dhrubopad, edited by Sudhir Chakraborty)