Jana gana mana, India’s national anthem was written by Rabindranath Tagore around 1911 and was sung by Sarala Devi Chowdhurani for the first time at the annual session of Indian National Congress on 27 December, 1911. This post attempts to explore the history behind the musical tune of the anthem in which it is sung today.
During his South India tour in 1919, Tagore stayed briefly in the Besant Theosophical College. During his stay there, between 25th February 1919 to 2nd March 1919, Tagore participated in ‘sing song fun session’, an informal college gathering held every Wednesday night, and sang his Bengali song Jana gana mana which he later translated to English known as ‘Morning Song of India’.
Margaret Grecca Cousins, an activist, theosophist, freedom fighter and a suffragette, taught music at the Besant Theosophical College. She was extremely impressed with Tagore’s song and decided to provide suitable musical tune. She carefully studied the song, understanding the meaning and essence of every word. After consulting Tagore who indicated a broad ‘swara’, with the help of college students, Margaret Cousins composed the musical tune for Jana gana mana .Tagore appreciated Ms. Cousins’ performance and melody of the tune.
Margaret Cousins’ composition became an accepted rendition of the song and was henceforth sung in her musical notations. On the eve of India’s independence the song was performed by the Constituent Assembly members in the midnight session. Jana gana mana, in Tagore’s words and Cousins’ tune was later adopted as India’s National Anthem by the Constituent Assembly of India on 24th January 1950.