Eighteenth century Bengal was like a famished beauty of a doomed regime. The conquering sword of the British was everywhere. On barren landscapes and withering fields the Imperial boots trod relentlessly. Like the grim reaper it harvested misery, destruction and tears all over the countryside. Everywhere there was desolation, everywhere there was need and everywhere there was the tragic smell of death.
Yet, the tax man came repeatedly. And when the downtrodden, miserable, people had nothing more to give, they were beaten and driven out like dumb cattle from their devastated land. Bent with sorrow, helpless with wrenching pain, they mournfully left their dear land.
In the village of Padachihna, the last to leave was a Zamindar’s family. Mahendra, his wife Kalyani and their little child reluctantly joined the moving sea of humanity. For a long time they traveled and eventually found a place to rest. “You stay here while I go get something to eat,” said Mahendra and left to scour the area for some food, but he could find nothing in the famine stricken countryside. He was anxiously looking when suddenly he found himself surrounded by soldiers and forced to become their prisoner.
Meanwhile, Kalyani was all alone. While she waited, shadows materialized seemingly out of nowhere and pounced on her. “Let’s sell her to the soldiers. They’ll give us good money,” they cried as they seized her. She started to defend herself and soon realized that she was fighting an unequal battle with dacoits. With great difficulty, she managed to slip away from them and started running. Faster and faster she ran, as if the very devil was after her. She held the baby close as the fierce dacoits pursued her. She did not give up and prayed hard as she ran. After some time, the running took a toll on her and finally not being able to hold out any longer, she fell down exhausted, hoping that someone will come to her rescue. Suddenly, she heard heavenly chants of “Hari Murari,” and a tall sanyasin, his face suffused with the luster of truth approached her. He barely had time to talk to her when rough hands seized him. Whirling around, he knocked the first one off balance and fought the others fiercely as Kalyani, clutching her baby, watched with bated breath and astonished awe. She had never met a swami who could fight like that. He seemed to be everywhere as he kicked, beat, punched, pummeled, and jumped on the dacoits with his bare fists and sinewy hands, smiling all the time and confidently dispatching all six of them down a deep ravine. “Do not be afraid,” he said to her kindly, as he rubbed his hands, and gently persuaded her to accept his shelter.
In the meantime, he sent his disciples, Bhavananda and Jeevananda, to search for her husband. When they found him, he was looking dejected and forlorn, surrounded by soldiers. The disciples found a strategic position, planned an ambush, launched a ferocious attack, and took the guards completely off guard. In the general melee of fighting, Mahendra was rescued and they escaped through the familiar terrain.
“Your wife is safe with us, don’t worry, I’ll take you to our leader,” said Bhavananda. After walking a few yards they came across an unassuming man whose eyes shone with a fierce determination. “Here he is,” said Bhavananda as he introduced the luminous and militant Satyanand who had earlier rescued Kalyani. The sanyasins took Mahendra through a network of tunnels to a large shrine of Mother Kali. Here, instead of hearing the drab, “God save the Queen”, he heard a national mantra of moving vitality and watched mesmerized as charismatic sanyasins were dauntlessly chanting the slogan, expressing passion, idealism and defiance. Vowing to free their motherland from oppression, tyranny and the white man’s cannons, they sang loud and clear. The song reverberated in the deep, cavernous forests and resonated in their sacred, secret abode, “Anandamath.” It was sung in the spirit of “give me liberty or give me death.” Preferring trishul to japmala and shakti to bhakti, their blazing patriotism radiated waves of power and potentiality. They called themselves the “children” or “santaans” of Mother India and chose the tall, saintly Satyananda as their leader. Thousands of warrior sanyasins joined the secret group every day. Nourished with deep, unshakeable beliefs, their burning eyes defied the bludgeons of the British, laughed at the storms they met, and willingly played chess with death.
And what were their weapons? – Nothing more than a rallying war-cry that emerged from the burning decks of oppression, “Bande Mataram.” With this emotional ammunition from the tortured soul of Bharat, the santaans rose like a phoenix to organize, make guns and cannons, and give battle to the British to the last man. Heroic, battle scarred and mystical, the santaans marched in to the jaws of death and came out singing the soul stirring “Bande Mataram.” Eventually, Mahendra joined the santaans. Vagaries of fortune pursued him through many twists and turns. Finally, after winning the battle against the British along with the santaans, he joined his wife and went back to his beloved Padachihno.
Thus the world was introduced to the immortal “Bande Mataram” from the novel “Anandmath.” Written in 1876 by the nation building seer, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, “Anandmath” is a fictional account of militant saint warriors who free Mother India from the oppressive clutches of the British.
Conceived in a moment of a mystical union with the immortal beauty of Mother India’s fresh lands and rivers while traveling in rural Bengal, the author scripted and tuned the rousing ode “Bande Mataram” that rang and still rings through the centuries. A true life sanyasin revolt against the oppressive Moslem ruler in late 1700’s, inspired the seer to pen “Anandmath”, a novel that broke oppressive shackles and raised a thousand swords.
Like a fierce cyclone, the slogan “Bande Mataram” stormed the nation. In 1906, several revolutionaries led by Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh, and Surendranath Bannerjee with nothing but defiant shouts of “Bande Mataram”, undid the partition of Bengal. Many secret organizations of freedom fighters with a code strongly reminiscent of Anandamath sprung up in different parts of Bengal and proliferated rapidly to other parts of the country until revolutionaries in every part of India used it as their signature song. Veer Savarkar, Madan Lal Dhingra, Pulin Bihari Das, Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Chandrashekar Azad, Rash Behari Bose, Jatindranath Mukherjee, Dr. Hedgewar, Babarao Savarkar, M. N. Roy, V.V.S Iyer, Lokamanya Tilak, Subramanium Bharati were but a few of the countless stars who drew inspiration from its resonating energy. Finally, Azad Hind Fauj, led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, adopted the “Bande Mataram” as the National song and shook the Colonial will with mutinous navy and army singing the glorious song.
Intimidated by the rising popularity, the British with a captor’s instinct for sniffing danger promptly banned the patriotic song. But they could not ban the blazing tentacles of injustice that spawned daring souls who sang it with defiance. From locked dungeons and corroding chains to the swaying gallows, “Bande Mataram” was on the lips of every martyr. And from its resonating radiance, the Light reached every nook and corner illuminating dark minds and spurring them to action not stopping until the land was free.
Today, “Bande Mataram” is known to every Indian all across the length and width of this wondrous land. Its martial spirit resembles a supreme ethic of an ancient age when the spiritual keepers were also excellent warriors such as Drona, Bhishma, Parasurama, or Arjuna. It’s indeed a sad and precipitous decline from the age of the brilliant rishis to the current crop of escapist swamis. As long as the backlash against “Bande Mataram,” is not battled, the soul of Bharat, will be in chains mortgaged to the spineless, appeasement policies of the ruling mice.
Today, the sacred secret abode Anandmath is no more, the santaans are no more, but the fiery spark, “Bande Mataram”, an explosive expression of the unheard and the voiceless, - remain with us forever.
Bande Mataram and Jai Hind.