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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

The origin and meaning of India's national anthem

Indian philosopher, poet and painter Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941, wrote the poem, with accompanying music, from which India took its national anthem in 1950. Estate of Emil Bieber / Klaus Niermann / Getty Images
Indian philosopher, poet and painter Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941, wrote the poem, with accompanying music, from which India took its national anthem in 1950. Estate of Emil Bieber / Klaus Niermann / Getty Images

Rendered in the prescribed metre, it takes exactly 52 seconds to sing the Indian anthem, Jana Gana Mana. The lyrics derive from the first stanza of Rabindranath Tagore’s five-stanza poem Bharot Bhagyo Bidhata, or “Dispenser of India’s destiny”. Tagore set the poem to music himself.

The anthem opens with an exaltation of the Almighty, who guides the country’s destiny:

Jana-gana-mana-adhinayaka jaya he

Bharata-bhagya-vidhata

Or, in English:

You, the ruler of our minds, our nation

To you our humble salutations!

The poem then begins a virtual tour of pre-independence India, beginning in the north and circling west, mentioning the regions of Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, the southern states speaking Dravidian languages, and Odisha and Bengal:

Punjaba-Sindh-Gujarat-Maratha

Dravida-Utkala-Banga

Tagore refers to features of physical geography as well: the Vindhya and Himalaya mountain ranges and the Yamuna and Ganges rivers. The Almighty’s name, the anthem says, swells and animates this land. In the final part, Tagore provides a refrain:

Taba Subha name jage, taba subha ashisha maange,

gahe taba jaya-gatha.

Jana-gana-mangala-dayaka jaya he Bharata-bhagya-vidhata.

Jaya he, Jaya he, Jaya he, jaya jaya jaya jaya he.

Or, in English:

Your blessings we seek, your praises replicate you

As the Protector of India's fate!

Victory! Victory! Victory!

Victory forever to you!