A popular portrayal of Mother India

After making the National Anthem mandatory in movie halls, the Supreme Court has moved on to the question of whether or not to make Vande Mataram, the national song of India, mandatory in schools.

Taking up a petition on the matter, the Supreme Court today issued notice to the central government asking it for its opinion on the matter.

The move has come in the wake of demands to this effect by right-wing organisations such as Hindu Yuva Vahini of Yogi Adityanath and a move by the new BJP government of Uttarakhand to make the unfurling of the national flag and the singing of the national anthem mandatory in universities and colleges. The Uttarakhand government is also reported to be readying to make singing of Vande Mataram mandatory in schools as well.

Many people find it difficult to sing Vande Mataram — literally ‘I bow to thee, mother’ — as they believe that it is against their religion to bow before anyone other than god himself.

Some others have opposed Vande Mataram on the ground that it is tantamount to idolatry, as the nation is portrayed in the form of a goddess, which is not acceptable according to their religious texts.

Many Semitic religions such as Judaism and Islam forbid their followers from praying before idols and pictures of gods.

Vande Mataram, which was the lead candidate to be made the national anthem at the time of India’s independence, was dropped in favor of ‘Jana Gana Mana’, which was apparently composed by Rabindranath Tagore in 1911 to honor the visiting British emperor King George V.

Unlike Jana Gana Mana, which was never used to unify the people during the struggle for independence, the Vande Mataram — composed by another Bengali poet Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay — was widely used to inspire freedom fighters starting from 1870s.

The song was taken from Chattopadhyay’s novel Anandmath, in which it was used to praise goddess Durga. Many critics also felt the novel itself was not ‘secular’ enough.

In honor of the role played by the song — which was banned by the British at one time — in the independence struggle, the constituent assembly of India adopted it as the National Song, while keeping Jana Gana Mana as the official Anthem.

“The song Vande Mataram, which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Jana Gana Mana and shall have equal status with it,” said Rajendra Prasad, the president of the Constituent Assembly on 24 January 1950 on the controversy..

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