The Story Behind the Origin of Vande Mataram

Was it a brawl on the cricket field that led Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay to compose Vande Mataram?
(Rare painting of National Song Vande Mataram published in 1923. Image source: Internet)

Here is an interesting background story of the origins of Vande Mataram.

About 145 years ago a tiff erupted at the Barrack Square (now Square Field) in Berhampore playground that led Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay to compose this patriotic song, in retaliation, which is part of his epic novel Anandamath. Bankim Babu might not have penned ‘Vande Matram’, had he not been assaulted by the British Colonel on the cricket field!

Way back in 1873, under the leadership of Colonel Duffin, who was the Commanding Officer at Berhampore Cantonment, a cricket match was being played among the British soldiers at the Square Field. It was an evening of December 15, when Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the Deputy Collector of Murshidabad District, posted at Berhampore, was going back home on a palanquin. He was unaware of the fact that the palanquin bearers would go across the Square Field instead of taking the road. This obstructed their game that became the cause of confrontation.

Col. Duffin, in a fit of rage, stopped the palanquin, pulled Bankim Babu down from it and volleyed four-five punches at him. The on-field brawl left Bankim Babu extremely insulted. Since the unpleasant incident happened in front of some reputed spectators of that time, which included Principal Robert Hand, Reverend Barlow, Judge Benbridge, Raja Jogindra Narayan Roy of Lalgola, Durgacharan Bhattacharya, some British officers and a few other natives, who were all witnessing the match of cricket.

The humiliation staked Bankim Babu’s reputation as he was the serving Deputy Collector. The next day, on December 16, 1873, he filed a lawsuit against Col. Duffin at Mr Winter’s court, who was the District Magistrate of Murshidabad. The Magistrate soon called upon all eyewitnesses for testimony.

Most of the eyewitnesses denied the clash while Principal Robert Hand admitted the confrontation. Raja Jogindra Narayan Roy and Durgacharan Bhattacharya favoured Bankim Babu, however, Judge Benbridge contradicted his testimonial, stating that his poor eyesight barred the view. Moreover, all the legal representatives of Murshidabad supported Bankim, while Col. Duffin had to hire a lawyer from Krishnanagore, Nadia to defend him. Meanwhile, the court passed the next hearing date on January 12, 1874.

The scene at the District Magistrate court on January 12th morning was stupefying. In an open court, about a thousand curious impatient onlookers, including the natives and the Europeans, had gathered to observe the verdict. They noticed that Judge Benbridge appeared first in the court and requested the Magistrate – “Mr Winter! Will you mind coming to the chamber?”

A few minutes later, Col Duffin and Bankim Chandra were summoned to Judge Benbridge’s chamber, where Bankim Babu was solicited to withdraw the case. He refused. The request was once again placed. On this occasion, Bankim Babu agreed, but with a condition. He sought an apology from Col. Duffin in front of the open court, to which Col. Duffin agreed.

According to the new research (reference – Murshidabad Anusandan, International Series of Book Number – 978-81-936491-1-4) compiled by Suman Kumar Mitra of Lalgola Bankim Smriti Charcha Samiti, revealed that a noted Bengali writer Hemandranath Dasgupta interviewed some of the eyewitness present at the court, who narrated that whenever Col. Duffin folded his hands for an apology, all the native youths present in the courtroom began clapping, laughing and shouting ‘‘Ho-Ho”. Dasgupta even mentioned that it would have been an even bigger mess had ‘Vande Mataram’ been composed already.

A report was also published in the Amrita Bazar Patrika, on January 15, 1874, which read, “It appeared that Colonel and Babu Bankim were perfect strangers to each other and he did not know who he was when he affronted him. On being informed afterwards of the position of the Babu, Col Duffin expressed this contrition and desire to apologise. The apology was made in due form in open court where about 1000 spectators, native and Europeans, had assembled.”

The courtroom’s incident further infuriated Col Duffin along with other Europeans. They plotted to eliminate Bankim Chandra clandestinely. Meanwhile, Raja Jogindra Narayan Roy got the tip-off and in a bid to save him, he invited Bankim Babu to Lalgola.

Since the on-field brawl had deeply impacted his psyche, and it was followed by the nuisance at court proceedings and finally led to a threat to his life, he accepted the king’s invitation and left for Lalgola somewhere in January 1874, the study said. Although his service record stated that he was on leave for three months between February 3 and May 2, 1874, he had left Berhampore much before his holiday was approved.

At Lalgola, he stayed in a Guest House surrounded by several Hindu temples. After having a glimpse of Jagadhatri, Durga and Kali – the three forms of Goddess, he was inclined towards spirituality, but his frustrations refused to die. He kept on pondering over how to connect Bengal with the rest of India against the British atrocities, with one ‘mantra’.

Finally, the day arrived. It was the night of ‘Maghi Purnima’ (full moon) on January 31, 1874, at Lalgola, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay coined the 13-letter phrase – ‘Vande Mataram’ – and since then the mantra has had enough fuel to boil the blood of the natives, as well as the British. Till his vacation was over Bankim da stayed at Lalgola and never returned to Berhampore. Instead, he went to Malda and later he took a transfer to the Howrah district.

Meanwhile, a fraction of Anandmath was first published in the Bangadarshan Patrika (Vol 7) in 1881, but his epic novel Anandamath was published in April 1882.

Immediately after the publication, the British started putting him under acute mental stress, to pressure him to change a substantial part of his novel. Eventually, Bankim Babu could not stand the nuisance and he was compelled to take voluntary retirement in 1885-86.

145 years later, the national song, continues to stir our souls, for the love of our motherland.

Vande Mataram!

(This article was first published on Bharat Voice to whom it belongs. Republished with permission)

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