Linearly arranged swara’s, or sur‘s in Hindi, form a swaramalika, a chain of swara’s. Mixing yours and my swara’s, for instance, produces our sur(YT) (text). Once again,(YT) on a Continuum Fingerboard. The seven swara’s together are also called a ‘sargam‘, a Devnaagri acronym formed by taking the first letter of each note. Sargam mix with each other and form raaga‘s, melodic modes that depict the colours, hues and moods in Indian classical music. Assembling known maestros from every corner of the nation, and asking them to play their sargam’s, you get desh raag(YT): the Sound of a Nation.
Now, performing the desh raaga in its purest form is not easy; not only are is the conflux of swara’s and modalities and all that delightfully complex, in the North Indian tradition, it is also meant to evoke a certain gentle midnight romance. Like in this song(YT).
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Anand Math was neither a romantic nor a gentle novel, so it may seem surprising that its most famous excerpt, the Vande Mataram was originally set to this raga. It strikes a sprightly optimistic(YT) tone, uplifting enough for All India Radio stations to play it every day at the start of their day’s broadcasts. A far cry, if you will, from Hemant Kumar Mukhopadyaya’s stirring, passionate 1952 interpretation(YT), or Lata Mangeshkar’s flag-wavy, but more inclusive 1998 re-interpretation(YT) of her own ’52 rendering. Or even, as it happens, from AR Rahman’s contemporary cover(YT), or his rock-isque 1997 tribute(YT), featuring Sivamani’s drums and Rahman’s trademark boatman call. Or the cover of the tribute in 256 languages(YT), elements we saw four years back in the blue.
What we didn’t see, though, is the main song, India’s national anthem. Now, the Jana Gana Mana(YT) (wiki) seemingly presents us with a much more straightforward musical recipe, a 52 second, single stanza piece, originally set to the morning Bilaval raaga, but now generally performed without necessarily conforming to it. You don’t even need spoken words to sing it; it has been touchingly sung in Indian Sign language(YT) as well.
The lyrical, musical and cultural complexity here is not in this verse, but in the poem from which it has been excerpted from. Because it evokes morning calls, it is in the genre of a south Indian suprabhata kaavya, but written in a north Indian raaga. Because Rabindranath Tagore wrote it in Bengali and immediately translated it himself to English, it is at least bi-lingual. Set to Bilaval raaga and to Western musical score, it easily conforms to two musical traditions. Presented here for your perusal, the Morning Song of India and the politico-musical heritage it represents.