Colour of India

Colour of India

Monday, April 26, 2010




A few years ago, I presented a programme called: 'Great Voices from History' at Cosmopolitan Club in Chennai where I presented the audio voices of great leaders and statesmen like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Woodrow Wilson and many others. Soon after that programme was over and as I was coming out, an old gentleman in his early eighties presented to me a small volume of his own poems titled 'The Wayside Piper'.


That was Srinivasa Rangaswami. Ever since then I have been under the spell of his great, elevating, exalting and even exhilarating poetry. Reading some of his poems again and again and allowing the beauty and the resonance of his poems to seep into my consciousness, I have felt the same way as the great Irish poet W B Yeats felt when he read for the first time the prose translations of Rabindranath Tagore in 1912.

W.B.YEATS (1865-1939)

I would allow W B Yeats to speak for myself in this context: 'But though these prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore have stirred my blood as nothing for years, I shall not know anything of his life, and of the movements of thought that have made them possible, if some Indian traveller will not tell me... I have carried the manuscript of these translations about with me for days, reading it in railway trains, or on the top of omnibuses and in restaurants, and I have often had to close it lest some stranger would see how much it moved me. These lyrics? which are in the original, my Indians tell me, full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention? display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long.'

I am no great poet like W.B.Yeats. And yet no one can challenge the fact that I am no less human than W B Yeats. I am under the continuing spell of the charm of Srinivasa Rangaswami's poetry even as WB Yeats was under the spell of Rabindranath Tagore's poetry in 1912.

Srinivasa Rangaswami was born on 20 February, 1924. He took his Masters Degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Madras. He had the good fortune of studying English Literature under the legendary Professor K Swaminathan who was Professor of English in Presidency College. He started writing poems in English from his boyhood days. Perhaps he lisped in numbers and the numbers came. He worked as a Parliamentary Official, for over three decades, retiring as Joint Director from the Research and Information Service of the Parliament of India, New Delhi in 1982. After his retirement he joined the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi as an Officer on Special Duty and served in that capacity for three years and later became the Director of that Institute.

Steeped in Indian music and Hindu religion and the Tamil classics, Srinivasa Rangaswami is a bilingual writer having contributed seminal articles in English and Tamil to leading periodicals and journals. A poet, critic and translator, his works have been widely published. He won the South Indian Tamil Academy Medal in 1938 and The Sir Mark Hunter Prize at Presidency College in 1944. He was awarded the Michael Madhusudan Academy award for poetry for the year 2000.

                            Shri Srinivasa Rangaswami addressing

World Poetry Festival 2005 at Kaohsiung in Taiwan.

To quote Srinivasa Rangaswami's WORDS about what is poetry: 'It is a question that has been asked again and again, and answered in different ways. In one sense, it is unnecessary to ask this question. Yet, in the present day context, it has become urgently necessary to ask the question to ourselves and explore an answer. A poem, to me, is a luminous drop... a splendorous jewel... that is for ever. It is cast in a permanent die in the white heat of a poet's creativity. When minted out, it acquires its sheen and durability for all time. A poem is a lyrical output. It has music in its soul. This may be a matter of expression, or of luminosity of thought, or of lived experience, or of a fresh perception of known truth.'

Rangaswami's poetry makes us see the world afresh or some new part of it. It makes us a little more aware of the deeper unnamed feelings to which we rarely penetrate. Poetry seems to come to him as naturally as the leaves to a tree. Rangaswami says in the preface to his volume of poems: "I am a wayside piper. I sing as songs come to me. I believe in the autonomy of the creative spirit and recognise no fetters to it... I should feel more than satisfied if some of my thoughts and feelings should strike a chord, find endorsement in the experience of someone, somewhere in the world. I do not look for anything beyond this."

I was deeply moved and touched by his beautiful poem - 'With you beside me... No longer' - which was written soon after the passing away of his wife.
                                              MRS.RAMAPRIYA RANGASWAMI

With you beside me

no longer,


a waterweed

I float ---

a flotsam


of a carnival

now all over,

bobbing up and down on the sluggish river


to the unknown

With you beside me

I strode the earth

a Titan---

secure, strong, sufficient---

anchored in you;


I was strong

With you beside me.

In the clang and din
Of the noonday bazar 
Of living, 
In the immanence
of the here and now,
I forgot
the gentle word,
to one so gentle and meek;
little thoughtful acts
a wish.

Oh! when shall we meet,

now again,

as you and me,

to tell you,

be assured you knew,

I held you dear,

however I was

with you beside me.

The yawning thought

it shall never be---

that I must bear the cross

of unatoned debt

that must ever

remain unatoned


an abiding pain---

the pang

the thought---

it was


a one-time encounter.

I can say this is masterpiece of a poem. In this context I cannot help quoting T S Eliot to pay my tribute to Srinivasa Rangaswami: 'Great simplicity is only won by an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort or by both. It represents one of the most arduous conquests of the human spirit, the triumph of feeling and thought over the natural sin of language.'

Here are a few lofty lines from his poem: THE ENIGMA, written soon after his wife passed away:

Memories of togetherness

thro' years we grew up together,

each to the other

in a golden bond a deep attachment,

Memories of the autumnal calm

aglow with moments shared and lived

serene, rich, in deep fulfilment.

All memories...

Are we but projectiles in lone trajectories

intersecting on this earth

in a brief encounter,

only to hurry on...

on paths our own,

leaving behind

just a heap of memories,

dearly held, fiercely held,

for a while,

to be washed away by the tide of TIME

and tossed into oblivion?

After reading these sublime and elemental lines of poetry, I could only ask this question: 'And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up?'

On the endless and eternal drama of transitory human life, let us hear Rangaswami in his poem: RELATIONSHIPS.

("What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba!" Hamlet in Shakespeare's Hamlet)

All the world a stage and all of us
players, said the great Bard, words
of deep import!

Your lines spoken, script acted out,
role completed, as you retire
to the shadows of the side-wings...

the immediate question, and the ultimate, is:
What are you to the role
you had donned, now just shed? and
to the parts still passionately lived
in the blinding glare of the footlights?
 Curtains down, the play over,

attached identities untied.

what are you to one another?

Are we not all chance acquaintances

come together somehow, for a while, in the play,

to part and go our individual ways

in the ceaseless journey,

lone, unknown... ?

Srinivasa Rangaswami proclaims through his poem --- 'Nothing in Vain' --- that life is not an empty dream. It is real; it is earnest; and the grave is not its goal. Here are his resounding words of poetry:

There is verily a hidden purpose and a plan

in all of God's creation. Only we do not see.

Every end presages a new beginning

in a grand cycle of perpetual renewal

and evolution. So that this our earth

shall remain

forever new and young.

The mysteriously flashing METEOR of life is portrayed by Rangaswami as follows:

A speck, a spark,

A cosmic accident,

A meteorite hit...

Our life on this earth

is a glorious birth....

A carnival of blessings

A largess of happiness

of experience tingling

in every fibre of our being.

In some of Rangaswami's poems, we can see his sparkling puckishness. He seems to derive this capacity for poetic mischief from the famous observation of W.H.Auden (1907-1973): "We don't have enough writers who appreciate the basic frivolity of art. People do not understand that it is possible to believe in a thing and ridicule it at the same time!" Rangaswami's puckishness can be clearly seen in his hilarious poem The Internet.We live in an Age of Information Technology Revolution. Srinivasan Ranagaswami once referred to The Internet as the Bubonic Plague of our age. As an original poet he reacted to this raging epidemic in his poem 'THE INTERNET' as follows:

The muncipal cart moves on
around the global village, accepting
garbage bags of info-heaps---a mad medley
of wanted and unwanted things;
the unsunned artifacts of a caparisoned past,
art and architecture, linguistics and literature,
all about moons and mars and artificial sattelites,
scented incense sticks jostling with slimy sludge,
Cindrella's shoes with creamy chocolates,
broken beer bottles that can prick and hurt,
toxic wastes that can bruise and burn,
candy cartons and my lady's lingeries;
you ask for it, you have it;
a mind-boggling glut you stick around
to rag pick through a smouldering mound....

the municipal cart moves on...

We can see that the chief hallmark of Srinivasan Rangaswami's poetry is its startling ingenuity and self-divining philosophy. As a committed Wayside Piper, he seems to write for himself and his circle of friends. He is actually groping to find a way of externalizing and presenting to others and the outside world what are his ever-surging inward-seeking thoughts and seemingly tentative uncertain conclusions regarding the everlasting meaning of life and death on the one hand and fleeting transitory human exsistence on the other. What I like best about his poetry is his brave attempt to breakdown the new uppish snobbery of arid and soulless intellectualism today which always presents the deadly danger of creating a minority-poetry. He is one of the few great poets who is able to enlarge for younger writers the syntax, rhythm, and imagery of poetry.

I can clearly see when Rangaswami is deeply troubled or when he is merely exercising his donnishly witty, flashing, and attractivly--- even compellingly---raw unkempt diction. His intellectual clowning and his natural compassion, his irreverent irresponsibility and his tenderness all seem to go hand in hand in his great poems. There is nothing he cannot do with rhyme, half-rhyme,assonance, dissonance and suspension. He is so superb a technecian, so delighted with the play of a phrase, that it is almost immpossible to draw the line between a fluency that falls into garrulousness and a loquacity that rises into elequence. He has perfected, moreover, a method of offsetting shalowness of feeling and triviality of subject by reverting back to the "occassional" poem which makes a little demand in idea or form upon the reader but lures him with a celebration of the ordinary man in the street and everyday event. In his "occassional" poems there is a human touch and a human warmth laced with humility and marked by more observation and less abstraction, and above all a far deeper feeling. Reading many of his poems I am moved to inconsolable tears about the wretched human predicament today and this brings to my mind, the following evocative lines of W.H.Auden about the shabby state of distress of the modern IT World:

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye

In short, in his own way, quite definitely, Srivasa Rangaswami has endeavoured to enlarge the poetry-reading public.
I fully endorse the literary verdict of Dr Krishna Srinivas on Srinivasa Rangaswami; 'With Blakean simplicity and Pindaric excellence, Poet Srinivasa Rangaswami has carved his name in the monumental edifice of Parnassus. His poems are extensions of his experiences'.

Dr.Krishna Srinivas is right because the electrifying clarity of Rangaswami's poems remind me of the following lightning lines of William Blake:

"For Mercy has a human heart,

Pity, a human face;

And Love, the human form divine,

And Peace, the human dress."

Dr.Krishna Srinivas has appropriately likened the poems of Srinivasa Rangaswami to those of the ancient Greek poet Pindar (ca. 522–443 BC). Pindar was the first Greek poet whose works reflected extensively on the nature of poetry and on the poet's role in society.
Like other poets of the Archaic Age, Pindar revealed a deep sense of the vicissitudes of life and yet, unlike them, he also articulated a passionate faith in what men can achieve by the grace of the Gods which he most famously expressed in his conclusion to one of his Victory Odes. Many of the beautiful poems of Srinivasa Rangaswami  transport me to the poetic world of Pindar  whose immortal lines of  poetry are worth quoting:

Creatures of a day! What is a man?

What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days. (Pythian 8)

Rangaswami's poetry is a conversation with the World. It is a conversation with the words on the page in which he allows those words to speak back to you. Indeed, his poetry is a timeless conversation with himself and yourself.

When the great Irish poet W.B.Yeats died in 1939, W.H.Auden paid his tribute to him in this simple, definite, and significantly affirmative QUATRAIN:

"In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start;
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise".

I would love to use the same QUATRAIN in praising my departed poet-friend Srinivasa Rangaswami.

Friday, April 16, 2010



When our great NATION celebrated the glorious centenary of Vande Mataram song, our supine Prime Minister Dr Mammohan Singh and Super Prime Minister Sonia Gandhi gave a death blow to our cultural and political nationalism by deliberately absenting themselves from the function organized by their own degenerate party to commemorate the centenary of Vande Mataram song in their party office in New Delhi on 7 September, 2006. I view their absence as a blatant act of national betrayal by the sinister forces of pseudo secularism, pan-Islamism and global evangelism. Long after all the petty Congress leaders of today are forgotten and dumped into the dung heap of history (Dr.Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, by no means excluded!), the deathless spirit of this glorious song will continue to move the minds and hearts of our countrymen and the song of Vande Mataram will continue to reverberate throughout the length and breadth of India for centuries to come.

The moving and swaying words of Swamy Vivekananda come to my mind in this context: 'True human feelings, passions and emotions are indeed the gastric juices of the soul'. According to our listless Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh and his Fuhrer Sonia Gandhi, true feelings are the gastric juices of the Islam-embracing, Christianity coveting, and Hindu-hating Congress stomach!

The spirit of a nation is what that counts --- the radiant look in its eyes. A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers. The driving force of a nation lies in its spiritual purpose, made effective by free, tolerant but unremitting national will. Energy in a nation is like sap in a tree: it rises from people bottom up. Patriotism is a lively sense of responsibility. It just cannot begin and end with No.10, Janpath in New Delhi. Pseudo secular nationalism of Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi is a silly cock crowing on its own dung hill. Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.

Every patriotic Indian, every nationalistic Indian, every cultural Indian would like to express his boundless and passionate love for his Motherland and the immortal song of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in the moving words of another great poet:

HOW do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday's

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints, -I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! - and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

[Elizabeth Browning (1806-1861) in her very famous love poem addressed to her poet-husband Robert Browning (1812-1889)]

LORD ACTON SAID THAT PATRIOTISM IS IN POLITICAL LIFE WHAT FAITH IS IN RELIGION. Rousseau said: 'Do you wish men to be virtuous? Then let us begin by making them love their country'. Lord Tennyson in a great poem wrote 'The song that nerves a nation's heart is in itself a deed'. The things that the Vande Mataram stands for were created by the glorious sacrifices of a great people for freedom. Everything it stands for was written by their lives. The Vande Mataram song is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history.

Pandit Vishnu                  Vishnu Pant Pagnis                       Pandit Omkarnath
   Digambar                                                                                         Thakur

(1872-1931)                          (1892-1943)                                    (1897-1967)

Keshavrao Bhole                    Dilip Kumar Roy                               Vasant Desai
                                                  (1897-1980)                                 (1912-1975)  
                           Pandit Ram Marathe          Dr.Lalmani Mishra
                                   (1924-1989)                   (1924-1979)

                      Mogubai Kurdikar  M.S.Subbalakshmi    Geeta Dutt
                         (1904-2001)         (1916-2004)      (1930-1972)

Several outstanding musicians of India like Pandit Visnu Digambar Paluskar, Pt Omkarnath Thakur, Vishnupant Pagnis, Keshavrao Bhole, Desh Das, Satyabhushan Gupta, Dilipkumar Roy, Bhavanicharan Das, Hemchandra Sen, Harendranath Dutt, G M Durrani, Vasant Desai, Moghubai Kurdikar, Geeta Dutt, D Vasanta and D Vimla and M S Subbulakshmi, have given recordings of Vande Mataram.

Timir Baran                                Pankaj Mullick                         Kamal Dasgupta
 (1904-19870                             (1905-1978)                                (1912-1974)

Upon the suggestion of Subhashchandra Bose, Timir Baran set the tune to Raga Durga in the style of a marching song. This gramophone record was used for the parades of the Azad Hind Sena between 1942 and 1945. The record was frequently broadcast from Singapore radio from 1943 to 1945. Sursagar Jagmohan, Matrusevak Dal of Kamal Dasgupta Pankaj Mullick, Aanadi Dastidar, Rajan Sarkar and others made similar recordings.

Ananda Bazaar, Hindustan
Record (12") / AHR 1 (C.1938) / Chorus in Raga Durga.
Music byTimir Baran
Courtesy: Suresh Chandvankar

AS A PART OF BBC's 70TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS, THE BBC CONDUCTED AN ONLINE SURVEY OF WORLD'S 'TOP TEN' SONGS IN NOVEMBER 2002. The response it got from millions of Internet users from 155 countries was indeed tremendous and the final results were declared on 21 December, 2002.


The Irish National Anthem: ‘A Nation Once Again’ topped the list. The National Song of India Vande Mataram obtained the second position. Vande Mataram, in a version by A. R. Rahman, was second in top 10 songs. This version of Vande Mataram was released to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of India's independence. Although the popular voting was for a version of Vande Mataram in the tune set by A R Rahman, yet the fact cannot be denied that this song has been extremely popular in India for over 120 years. Several musicians and singers have recorded it on gramophone records from as early as 1905.

Suresh Chandvankar

The common patriotic people of India who love the Vande Mataram song owe a deep debt of gratitude to a remarkable individual by name SURESH CHANDVANKAR, Honorary Secretary, 'Society of Indian Record Collectors'. He is a scientist by profession and his hobby is collection of old and rare gramophone records. In a brilliant article on the internet titled Vande Mataram, A most popular and evergreen Indian song, he has traced various aspects of this evergreen, controversial and sacred song which Bengalis call Bande Mataram whereas Indians from all the other states call it Vande Mataram. Much of what I am saying in this article is based on the interesting facts narrated by him in this internet article.

Courtesy:Suresh Chandvankar

Given its growing popularity it is no surprise that early recording companies like BOSE RECORDS and the NICOLE RECORD COMPANY recorded it in the voice of Rabindranath Tagore((1861-1941) , Babu Surendranath Banerjee (1848-1925), Satyabhushan Gupta, R N Bose and others in the first decade of the 19th century.

                     Rabindranath           Surendranath   Rabindranath
                               Tagore                  Baneerjee                  Bose

Hemendra Mohan Bose released a version commercially on his label, H Bose Records, in 1907. The police destroyed the factory, and the existing stock of records. However a few copies of the disc survived in Belgium and Paris (where Pathe/H Bose records were pressed). Hence we can still listen to Bande Mataram in Rabindranath’s voice. Unfortunately, he recites the song in a rather shrill, high pitched and nasal voice, and in an extremely slow tempo. This is the oldest recording available on a gramophone record. It has now been released on CD and is available along with a book, Rabindranath Tagore: Facets of a Genius, published by All India Radio in 1999.

A National Anthem? or a National song? or a Cultural Song, call it what you will. This great song was created by 'AKSHAY NAVAMI' BANKIMCHANDRA CHATTERJEE (1838-94) on Sunday, 7th November 1875 at his residence in Kantalpada, in Naihati village, which is just a few miles away from Calcutta. The song is now 135 years old. It is probably the only Indian song that is still widely popular all over India, and musicians still want to sing it again and again, and keep composing new tunes for it.

In 2000, a book in Marathi, Vande Mataram: Ek Shodh by Mr Milind Sabnis, was published in Pune. This is a carefully researched monograph, which should be translated into all the Indian languages by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, if it is at all devoted to the cause of Indian culture and not that of Pakistan or Bangladesh or Afghanistan or Italy. A few audio/video albums featuring Bande Mataram have been released in recent years. The Society of Indian Record Collectors, a Mumbai-based organization, has traced about one hundred different versions of Vande Mataram recorded over the last hundred years. These versions vary from the voices of Rabindranath Tagore to that of A R Rahman. Based on available recordings, an attempt has been made by Suresh Chandvankar to note and record the musical aspects of this evergreen song.

Bankimchandra Chatterjee was among the first batch of graduates from Calcutta University. In his youth, he had witnessed the unsuccessful mutiny of 1857. Around 1870, the British rulers were trying hard to force their anthem, GOD SAVE THE QUEEN, on Indians. This made a deep impact on Bankimchandra's sensitive mind, and he wrote Bande Mataram in one sitting, in a mood that must be called divine, and transcendental. He wrote the song as a prayer in which the nation 'BHARAT' was described as 'THE MOTHER'. The song was later included in his novel Anandmath, which was published serially in his magazine Bangdarshan during 1880-1882. When he was bitterly criticized for composing this song by some of his contemporaries, like a prophet, he declared in 1882: 'I may not live to see its popularity, but this song will be sung by every Indian like a Ved Mantra.’ And that is what that exactly happened after the partition of Bengal in 1905. It became a very popular slogan overnight. It crossed the boundaries of Bengal and spread all over the country like a flame.

When Independence was round the corner in 1947, several composers, musicians and singers from Bengal and Maharashtra were confident that this would become the Anthem of independent India. Hence they set a number of tunes for the song. In 1947, it was Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel, India's iron man who invited Pt.Omkarnath Thakur to sing Vande Mataram on Akashwani (All India Radio), on the dawn of Independence. And thereby, on the 15th of August 1947, at 6:30 a.m. the country could hear the deep voice of Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, reciting the unabridged, full version of India's march song ---Vande Mataram-- in full form. In the studio Thakur sang it in the standing position.

Amongst the great and enthusiastic pioneers long before Independence were Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar and Mr V D Ambhaikar. Even before our independence, Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar had cut a gramophone record around 1935. His radio broadcast was interrupted soon after he began to sing the banned song at the end of one of his programme. He then boycotted all radio programmes. He popularized his tunes through gramophone records and by singing it in his music concerts. After Independence, he was invited to sing on All India Radio and he began his concert by singing Vande Mataram. In 1948, when he learnt that Pandit Nehru was against the music of the song and not the contents, he volunteered to prepare tunes for the Vande Mataram song. He prepared several alternative versions of the song recited solo, in chorus, as a marching song, with and without accompaniment. These recordings were played to members of the Constitution Committee.

On 17th January 1950, in a press conference, Master Krishnarao demonstrated his different versions of Vande Matram song. Many of the members of Parliament applauded it. However on 24th January 1950 the committee for constitution, in a totally one sided verdict declared (by Dr. Rajendra Prasad) Jana Gana Mana as the official National Anthem and Vande Mataram to enjoy the status of ('equal' to National Anthem) a 'National Song.'

At a meeting of the Constitution Committee held on 24th January 1950, President Dr Rajendra Prasad announced that Jana Gana Mana would be the NATIONAL ANTHEM of independent India and Vande Mataram would be the NATIONAL SONG with same status as the Anthem. With this decision, all efforts at providing new tunes ended and the recordings made up to that time have now become important documents and part of our cultural heritage.

                                  Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar

The spirited and heroic attempts of Master Krishnarao Phulambrikar to make Vande Mataram our national anthem after our Independence were frustrated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who had indivisible contempt for Hindu feelings and sentiments. Nehru forgot that the might of the Government of India can never succeed in confiscating the VANDE MATARAM thoughts, feelings and emotions of millions of people in India.

I am presenting below an authentic list of some of the most important gramophone records of the Vande Mataram Song drawn up by Suresh Chandvankar

Senola Records / QS 711 (C.1935) / Chorus from Film ‘Bande Mataram’ (Bengali). Tune - Sukerti Sen.Megaphone Record Company / J.N.G. 5224 (C.1935) / Bhabani Charan Dass - in two parts –

Courtesy: Suresh Chandvankar

Hindustan Record / H 570 (C.1940) / Prova Roy, Jay Dass, Vijaya Devi, Dhiren Gupta, Haripada Chatterjee. - specially trained by Dr Rabindranath Tagore. Musical Direction by Sj. Haripada Chatterjee.
Courtesy: Suresh Chandvankar

H.M.V. N 27893 (C.1950) / Jagonmoy Mitra, Beehu Dutta, Roma Devi, Supriti Ghosh. Tune and Music Direction - Timir Baran.
Courtesy: Suresh Chandvankar

H.M.V. N 14421 (C.1950) / Dilip Kumar Roy, and M.S.Subbulaxmi
Personal Collection of Shri.V.Sundaram I.A.S. and Smt.Padma Sundaram

Monday, April 5, 2010


'The meaning of song goes deep. Who is there that, in logical words, can express the effect the music has on us. A kind of inarticulate, unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the infinite, and lets us for moments gaze in to that' …Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Dilip Kumar Roy (1897-1980)

Despite the mean, mendacious and machinating manoeuvres of the Government of India to use their transient authority to curb if not crush the underlying spirit and passion of Vande Mataram , our immortal National Song, students in many Hindu schools run by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Tamilnadu are singing the Vande Mataram song with great, gusto, joy, fervour, passion and enthusiasm everyday.

I have had the good fortune of playing the resonant, vital, vibrant and vivid voices of Dilip Kumar Roy and M.S.Subbalakshmi rendering the song of Vande Mataram (originally recorded in a 78 RPM Gramophone Record in the late 1930’s) at several public functions in schools and other public places. I played this record at several public functions in Tamilnadu in the Cenetenary Celebrations of the Vande Mataram song in 2006. I have seen the tremendous emotional impact of this recorded song on the minds and hearts of the students and the members of the general public. All the students wanted to know more about Dilip Kumar Roy. They said they were generally familiar with the life and achievements of M.S. Suubbalakshmi

Descriptive slip on the 78 RPM H M V

                                  Gramophone record in 14421 (C 1950)
                   of Vande Mataram by Dilip Kumar Roy, and M S Subbalakshmi.

I first heard the resplendent voices of Dilip Kumar Roy AND M.S.Subbalakshmi singing Vande Mataram at Rajghat in Delhi in 1953. Dilip Kumar Roy (1897-1980) musician, singer, writer, was born on 22 January 1897 in Krishnanagar in Nadia district, West Bengal. He was the son of Dwijendralal Roy. He lost his mother in childhood and was brought up by his father. At the age of 16, however, he also lost his father. In 1918 he passed BA with honours in Mathematics from Presidency College and went to Cambridge University in England, earning a Tripos in Mathematics.

Dilip Kumar Roy had his first lessons in music from his father. He later learnt music at the feet of Surendra Nath Majumder, Radhika Prasad Goswami and Achchhanna Bai. During his stay in London he passed the first part of a course in western music. He went to Berlin to learn German and Italian music, returning to India in 1922. He then practiced Classical Music under the guidance of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Fayaz Khan, Pundit Bhatkhande etc.

Dilip Kumar Roy, achieved fame throughout India and abroad as a beautiful and soul-stirring singer. He came from one of the most aristocratic and artistic families of Bengal, and played an important role in creating an artistic renaissance in India. Dilip Kumar Roy was a distinguished composer and singer, whose varied musical experiences and sensibilities transcended the boundaries of his native land. He was equally adept in composition, notation and singing.

During 1922 and 1927 he travelled extensively all over India coming in close contact with its entire musical world. During this period the freedom movement under the inspiring leadership of Mahatma Gandhi was in full swing. Dilip Kumar Roy's soulful rendering of Vande Mataram song of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee captivated the souls and hearts of our countrymen in all parts of India. Mahatma Gandhi paid this tribute to Dilip Kumar Roy : 'I may make bold to claim that very few persons in India - or rather in the world - have a voice like that of Dilip Kumar Roy, so rich and sweet and intense.'

In 1927 Dilip Kumar Roy travelled to Europe to deliver lectures on Indian classical music. He had discussions on musical theories with the two chief music experts of his time. Rabindranath Tagore and Romain Rolland. Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawharlal Nehru were his close personal friends. He had also the good fortune of coming in to close contact with great men like Mahatma Gandhi and Bertrand Russell. Dilip Kumar Roy's rendering of songs composed by Dwijendralal Roy, Atulprasad Sen, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Himangshu Kumar Dutta and Nishikanta was largely responsible for making them popular. He was also close to Kazi Nazrul Islam. Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899 - 1976) was a Bengali poet, writer, musician, journalist and philosopher who is best known for pioneering works in Bengali expressing fierce rebellion against society, tradition, politics, injustice, intolerance and oppression. Popularly known as the BIDROHI KOBI - Rebel Poet - he is widely popular and revered in Bangladesh and India and is honoured as the 'National Poet' of Bangladesh. Dilip Kumar Roy played a leading role in publicising and popularising the ghazals of Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Dilip Kumar Roy was one of the leading exponents of critical appreciation of all modern songs in Bengali. Backed by his wealth of musical knowledge and creative imagination, throughout his life, he attempted to add a new dimension to the evolving musical trends and our growing cultural heritage. In 1928, at the age of 31, he renounced his family life (sannyas) and entered Aurobindo Ashram in Pondichery where he stayed up to 1950. As a member of the music mission sponsored by the Indian Government, he delivered talks on music in many European countries, the USA, Japan and Egypt in 1953.

Dilip Kumar Roy wrote a number of valuable books on music. At the request of the Government he wrote in 1938 two books Gitasagar and Sangitiki for the syllabus of Music Department of Calcutta University. Other books he composed on music were Surbihar, Hasir Ganer Swaralipi, Gitamanjari, Dwijendragiti etc. Besides he wrote a number of books on various subjects. A total of 80 books are credited to his name.

The notable of them are his Novels like Maner Parash (1926), Dudhara (1927), Dola in two volumes (1935), Plays like Apad O Jalatanka (1926), Sada Kalo (1944), Shri Chaitanya (1948), Bhikharini Rajkanya (1952); Essays on Sri Aurvindo O Dharma Bijnan, Chhandasiki, Kavirsi O Gunishilpi (discussion on Aurovindo, Rabindranath, Atulprasad and Sharat Chandra, 1978); Travelogues- Bhramyamaner Dinpanjika (1926), Abar Bhramyaman (1944), Bhusvarga Chanchal (1940), Edeshe Odeshe (1940), Deshe Deshe Chali Ude (1955) and works of Satire like Aghatan Ajo Ghate, Chhaya Pather Pathik, Ashruhasi Indradhanu. He also wrote a volume of poetry titled Eyes of Light (1945).

                                          Cover page of book
                                   by Dilip Kumar Roy published in 1940.

In my view Dilip Kumar Roy's most interesting book about men and matters is 'AMONG THE GREAT' which was published in 1940. This book brings together his accounts of his conversations and correspondence with Romaine Rolland, Mahatma Gandhi, Bertrand Russell, Rabindranath Tagore, and Sri Aurobindo. Dilip Kumar Roy declared: 'My chief aim is to elicit the views of these eminent personalities on various aspects of life, from the role of art and science to social equality and moving on to spirituality. All these great men are men of profound insight who have wrestled with the central problems of life and reached decisive certainties'.

                                      PILGRIMS OF THE STARS
                        Autobiography of two Yogis, Ma Indira Devi &
                                            Dadaji Sri Dilip Kumar Roy.

Pilgrims of the Stars is an autobiographical account of the inner journey of two remarkable contemporary Indian yogis- Dilip Kumar Roy, a renowned musician, philosopher, and scholar, and his disciple Indira Devi, a visionary poetess and dancer. Here I would like to digress and touch upon the remarkable mystical life of Ma Indira Devi.

Born in 1920, Ma Indira Devi was born to wealth and luxury. Yet curiously enough she felt no attachment to either. She had imbibed early a deep love of books and learnt Urdu and English from her infancy till she became perfectly at home in these languages.

She had a native aptitude for the histrionic art and acted brilliantly in amateur theatricals which attracted so much attention that she was pressed by a film magnate to join the movies. She declined; for, lonely in the midst of opulence and stirred relentlessly by a mystic impulse, she longed only for the Divine. It should also be borne in mind that Ma Indira Devi was a remarkable dancer who had mastered the styles of Manipuri, Kathakali and Bharata Natyam.

The turning point in her life was reached at Jabbalpore in 1946 where she had the good fortune of meeting Shri.Dilip Kumar Roy. He had gone there to deliver a talk on his Guru Sri Aurobindo. Ma Indira Devi came under the magnetic spiritual influence of Shri.Dilip Kumar Roy and she instantaneously decided to accept him as her Guru.

Shri Dilip Kumar Roy hesitated to accept her as his disciple. Ma Indira Devi had to wait for a few years till she met Shri.Aurobindo, who after seeing her in 1949, wrote to his disciple Sri.Dilip Kumar Roy and directed him to accept Ma Indira Devi as his disciple. Sri Dilip Kumar Roy adopted her as his daughter and disciple and she came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram renouncing her home, family, wealth and social activities to dedicate herself to the spiritual life under her Guru's guidance and direction.

Gradually, she began seeing visions of various gods and goddesses along with one figure she did not know, who later revealed herself as the great Saint Mirabai of hallowed memory. This noble queen of Mewar and composer of devotional songs, which are sung to this day throughout India, had given up her throne and palace and family to become a wandering mendicant in the name of Krishna, the Lord of her heart. Now she manifested herself again to Indira and sang song after beautiful song which Indira, after her samadhi, dictated to Sri Dilip Kumar and others. These songs, nearly about 1000 in number, were published by Sri Dilip Kumar in 7 books entitled Shrutanjali, Premanjali, Ushanjali, Vibhanjali, Sudhanjali, Bhavanjali and Deepanjali which were hailed by thousands of spiritual seekers in India and abroad.

Both Sri.Dilip Kumar Roy and Ma Indira Devi built a temple called Sri.Hare Krishna Mandir at Pune. Near the temple they also had their Ashram where for nearly 3 decades they lived together and did spiritual sadhanas in the field of prayer, meditation and devotional music. In the Ashram Ma Indira Devi learned singing from Sri Dilip Kumar himself.

                      SHRI.DILIP KUMAR ROY    MAA INDIRA DEVI
                                     1897-1980                       1920

A spiritual classic, Pilgrims of the Stars offers the reader an inspiring and humorous glimpse into the daily struggles and victories of two great souls. Dilip Kumar Roy describes his spiritual training by his Guru, the Indian statesman and saint Sri Aurobindo, and his meetings with Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Ramana Maharshi, and other spiritual luminaries. Indira Devi's candid memoirs of life and her Guru have a special beauty and simplicity, and contain a wealth of practical advice for spiritual aspirants.

Dilip Kumar Roy was awarded 'Sangit Ratnakar' for his valuable contribution to music. He was also honoured with the membership of the Indian Music and Drama Academy (1965) and the Honorary Degree DLit of the Universities of Calcutta and Rabindarbharati.

What can I say about the glorious music of Dilip Kumar Roy and his ecstatic rendering of VANDE MATARAM? No one can deny that great music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us. Dilip Kumar’s music, once admitted to our souls, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies. It wanders quiveringly through the halls and galleries of our memory, and it is often heard again and again, distinct and living, as when it first displaced the wavelets of the air.

Dilip Kumar Roy's music moves us, and we know not why. We feel the tears, but cannot trace their source. In this context I am inspired to recall the words of Addison: 'Music wakes the soul, and lifts it high, and wings it with sublime desires, and fits it to bespeak the Deity'. When the whole country ought to reverberate with the resonance of VANDE MATARAM today, the best salutation I can offer to Dilip Kumar Roy can only be in the words of his Acharya and Guru Shri Aurobindo:

'I have cherished you like a friend and a son and have poured on you my force to develop your powers to make an equal development in the Yoga. Your destiny is to be a Yogi but an ascetic dryness or isolated loneliness is not your spiritual destiny since it is not consonant with your swabhava which is made for joy, largeness, expansion and a comprehensive movement of the life force - Poetry and music come from the inner being. That is why you got the poetic power as soon as you began Yoga, Go on in the path of Yoga without doubt - Surely you cannot fail!”

Known as 'Dadaji' to his countless followers, Dilip Kumar Roy was a most remarkable human being who spread light and joy wherever he went. A supreme seeker of Truth, missionary of music, musicologist, virtuoso singer, linguist, translator, poet, lyricist, novelist, biographer, raconteur, patriot and yogi, Sri Dilip Kumar Roy was one of the most gifted personalities of the recent times. Under the aegis of Sri Aurobindo, his entire personality blossomed as a complete, harmonious being.

Dadaji strove to make the earth a world of harmony, beauty and love. He was a profound seer, philosopher, thinker and poet; but all his life he remained as simple as a child - unspoilt by the veneration and reverence in which he was universally held. The source of his magic was not far to seek---he was so spontaneously human! He had transparent sincerity and unswerving regard for Truth. For all those who had the privilege of knowing him, the impressions of his, spontaneous love, nobility and greatness remain etched upon their memories.

Sri Aurobindo had many disciples, and Dadaji was the most outstanding of them all. His work was an offering of love to his creator. As Dadaji said, "Grace involved responsibility". And he discharged that responsibility by ceaseless work. To quote Dadaji, "Work is Sadhana". He wrote great books which rank only next to Sri Aurobindo's in their sweep of thought, spiritual insight and beauty of expression.

Rabindranath Tagore wrote "Dilip Kumar possesses one great gift; he wants to hear which is the reason why he can draw out things worth hearing. Wanting to hear is not a passive quality but an active one; it awakens our power of speech because we come to know our mind's true expressions. Dilip Kumar has on many occasions given me the joy of discovering my own thoughts."

On 6th January, 1980 he said to Ma Indira Devi, "Wash my hands, I have to touch the Lord's feet." The great minstrel saint reached the lotus feet of the Lord, at 3:40 PM on that day.

Sri Aurobindo had once written to Dadaji: "Nobody can write about my life because it has not been on the surface for men to see". This can equally be said of Dadaji. So whatever we may write about him, a lot more will always remain unsaid.

I am presenting below my most favourite poem of Sri.Dilip Kumar Roy.

The Blossom Never Knows

The blossom never knows the fragrance sweet
That in its blossom’s mystery lies,
The deeps that mirror forth the Infinite
Question its secrets with their sighs.

For whom throng still the murmuring bees,
Restless amid the perfumed trees?
Whose memory thrills the impassioned breeze
And paints the magic skies?

Whose one lamps through the way-lost night
Glimmer in moon and starry light?
Whose glory in the dawn breaks bright?
For whom yearns all and cries?

For whose greatness down the ages long
Are the wide heavens a sapphire song?
For whom runs the stream with bablling tongue,
Repeats whose harmonies?

Whose breath perfumes trees, flower and grass,
Inspires the atoms’s dance in space?
Whose trailing robes in twilight pass,
A shadow in longing eyes?

Oh, if thou never wilt appear,
Why are thy masks of Beauty here?
Why sound thy anklets everywhere,
The spell that never dies?

My heart forgets that in my heart
Thy throne for ever lies.

Source: From: Among the Great 1940: by Dilip Kumar Roy (out of print)