Another time, another song
Another time, another song
Should the Jana Mana have been anointed the national anthem, especially since the dispute about Tagore dictating it in praise of the king Emperor has never been settled? Would the Vande Mattram, with its vivid images, not have been a more sensible choice?
The controversy continues
Pandit V D Ambhaikar, who popularised Bankim Chandra Chatterji’s song during the struggle for liberation, casts fresh light on how Vande Mataram was sideline by the founding fathers…
As the pace of events accelerated towards independence, there was a scramble among the top musicians of the day for each one to get his musical version of Vande Mataram approved—there was little doubt about the choice of the piece itself. Musicians of the caliber of Omkarnath Thakur and Master Krishnarao competed, but it was Ambhaikar’s version that most of the Congress stalwarts approved of.
Ambhaikar was among the earliest Marathi composers to have used the talents of contemporary greats like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Kishori Amonkar. He recalls also getting Mogubai Kurdikar, the doyenne of the Atrauli-Jaipur gharana, to record Vande Mataram. At present he is engaged in writing his Autobiography. Which given the variety and scope of his experiences, should make interesting reading.
MOHAN NADKARNI, Illustrated weekly of India, October 25, 1988
If anyone thinks choosing a national anthem is a trivial business, they should speak to Pandit V. D. Ambhaikar, the man intimately associated with this major issue way back in 1949, when the newly independent state was trying to resolve rivals claims of two musical compositions.
The final choice of Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana was preceded by some controversy, for there were many who felt that Bankim Chandra Chatterji’s Vande Mataram had a better claim to be considered the nation’s musical mascot. Among them was Pandit Ambhairkar, whose mellifluous voice had done much to popularise Vande Mataram all over country.
Ambhaikar, now 76, recalls those heady days of the independence struggle—in which he played his Part—with nostalgia. As with so many others who fought for independence, a landmark in his life was his first meeting with Gandhiji. It was 1926, in Nagpur, when Ambhaikar was then only 14 and intensely interested in music, which he had shown a talent for from the age of five. His soft, sensitive voice was much appreciated in the music circles of the day and no music programme of any worth was complete without a rendition of Vande Mataram. It was this composition which the young Ambhaikar sang before Gandhiji by the rendering of it that he praised the singer profusely. Nor was he to forget him, as subsequent events proved.
The following year, Ambhaikar’s nationalistic activities took a more concrete form. The infamous Simon commission visited Nagpur and, inspired by Gandhiji’s call to boycott the commission. Ambhaikar played truant from school in order to join the crowds that shouted “Simon Go Home!” when Sir John Simon arrived in the city. In its efforts to disperse the croed, the police mounted a lathi-charge and Ambhaikar received his fair share of lathi-blows in the melee that followed.
Having won his spurs, as it were, in the nationalist cause. Ambhaikar continued to spread the message through music. In 1935 came his second meeting with Gandhiji when he was invited to the ashram in Wardha and sang a few devotional songs which met with the vociferous approval of the Mahatma and the other stalwarts of the freedom struggle assembled there – the formidable Valabhbhai Patel, Jamnalal Bajaj, Mira Behn and Mahadeo Desai. Gandhiji, Ambhaikar recalls, even presented him with a letter of appreciation and advised the budding maestro to make the propagation of music his mission.
From 1938, Ambhaikar’s renditions of Vande Mataram became a permanent feature of the open sessions of the Indian National Congress that were held all over the country. Much heartened at this response, Ambhaikar organised a small choral group and devoted himself to popularizing the song.
Ambhaikar recounts an amusing incident that took place in 1941 where the response was not quite so complimentary. At Nagpur, that year, Ambhaikar had the chance to sing Vande Mataram before Jawaharlal Nehru. Unfortunately, the choral group contained a harmonium; Nehru, it seems, had a positive aversion for the harmonium which he considered a “bastard instrument”. No sooner did the strains of this hated instrument reached the august ears of Panditji, than he rushed to the stage and, thumping the offending instrument, commanded the musicians to perform without it! Ambhaikar insists that it was not the song but the instrument that Nehru disliked, even though it was finally Nehru who decided in favour of Tagore’s composition, when the choice of a national anthem was made.
Till 1949, Bankim Chandra’s nationalist song was the most likely to be chosen as the national anthem. After Gandhiji’s release in 1944, as the pace of events accelerated towards independence, there was a scramble among the top musicians of the day for each one to get his musical version of Vande Mataram approved – there was little doubt about the choice of the piece itself. Musicians of the caliber of Omkarnath Thakur and Master Krishnarao competed, but it was Ambhaikar’s version based on the Raga Mishra Khambavati, that most of the Congress stalwarts approved of.
Ambhaikar was asked to present his Vande Mataram at a crucial meeting of the constituent assembly which was finally to decide the weighty question of the anthem. Though, according to Pandit Ambhaikar there was near unanimity on the choice of Vande Mataram, Nehru, at the last moment, opted for Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana.
While his involvement in nationalist activities was strong, Ambhaikar’s musical talent won him accolades in the cultural field too. Trained by Rajabhayya Poochhwale, the veteran of the Gwalior gharana, Ambhaikar earned a first class in the final music examination and bagged a gold medal. But he learnt the rudiments of music, he says, as a young boy listening to gramophone records of the old masters in his home in Mekhar in the Vidarbha district of Maharashtra.
He was among the earliest Marathi composers to have used the talents of contemporary greats like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Kishori Amonkar and Suman Kalyanpur. He recalls also getting Mogubai Kurdikar, the octogenarian doyenne of the Atrauli-Jaipur gharant to record Vande Mataram. The master copy of the record, which was never released is, he says, at India House, in London.
Pandit Ambhaikar was associated with His Master’s Voice from 1939 to 1953, and with All India Radio from 1953 to 1959. In the late fifties he travelled to Denmark to attend the Spring Music Festival and around this time made a documentary showing how music is produced and presented by AIR.
He has shared a platform with many luminaries of the music world. In 1933, aged just 21, he shared the stage with stalwarts like Omkarnath Thakur and Hirabai Badodekar at a sangeet sammelan at Blavatsky Lodge in Bombay. In 1941, at the prestigious sangeet sabha organized by Annamalai University, In Tamil Nadu, he met the Carnatic maestro “Tiger” Varadacharya. His recital so moved Varadacharya that he hugged and kissed him after the performance.
Panditji’s literary inclinations led to his involvement with the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh for two decades. He helped with the annual sahitya sammelans. He has also written articles on music for leading Marathi journals.
At present he is engaged in writing his autobiography, which, given the variety and scope of his experiences, should make interesting reading. He is simultaneously engaged in setting Vedic hymns to classical music. For some people, life clearly begins at 76!
Out of Tune I have read with great interest Mohan Nadkarni’s article ‘Another Time, Another Song’ (Weekly, December 25), regarding the controversy over Vande Mataram not being made the national anthem although it was the battle cry of our freedom fighters. Many arguments have favoured making Jana Mana Gana the national anthem of free India but most of them are unconvincing. The reference to the incident in 1941, when Nehru stopped a rendering of Vande Mataram was not because he was allergic to the harmonium but because he was allergic to Vande Mataram.
–V. Sagar, New Delhi