‘Mother, I bow to thee!’ by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, also known as Vande Mataram, was written in the 1870s in Bengali . It was later included in his 1882 novel Anandamth. It was not until the poem was composed into a song by Rabindranath Tagore that it became well-known. In 1937 the Congress Working Committee of India chose the first two verses as the National Song of India. The poem is primarily an ode to India with the title translated roughly into any number of versions of “I praise thee, Mother,” or “I praise to thee, Mother.” The mother in question is of course the country of India.
It is generally thought that Chattopadhyay wrote the poem as an alternative to “God Save the Queen” which was disliked by the Indian public. Tagore was able to popularize and weaponize the poem as a political tool when he sang it in the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. After this it became a popular marching song and came to represent Indian freedom from the British. At one point it was even banned by the British government.
Since it’s popularization it has been translated into Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Assamese, Hindi and a number of other languages. It has also been recorded in more than a hundred different versions, with the oldest dating back to 1907. More recently, the Madras High Court ruled the the song be sung on a regular basis in all educational institutions as well as within government offices.
Summary of Mother, I bow to thee!
The poem begins with the speaker describing the many wonderful qualities of “Mother,” or the country of India. She has wonderful fields, prosperous orchards and streams. The country supplies the much needed nutrients to the population and is a source of constant wonder.
As the poem progresses the speaker turns to compare the country to three different Hindu goddesses. The goddess and the country are one in the same. Chattopadhyay concludes the poem by restating his unending, unwavering devotion to India.
Analysis of Mother, I bow to thee!
Mother, I bow to thee!
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
bright with orchard gleams,
Cool with thy winds of delight,
Dark fields waving Mother of might,
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by restating the title of the poem. This confirms to the reader that this line, and the sentiments it represents, are going to be the most important theme. Without context, one is at first not aware that the “mother” is the country of India. She has “hurrying streams” that cover the land and “orchards” that likely “gleam” with fruits and flowers. Just from these first two lines one becomes aware that the land is very fertile. It supplies the speaker, and the others who live on the land, with the sustenance they need.
The speaker moves on to the winds of the land. They are a part of the larger space, this means they are “delight[ful]” and “Cool” as they blow. This line fits perfectly with the next as the speaker describes simple “Dark fields” that “wave” with “might.” Again, this is a reference to what the land can produce and the beautiful way it does it. More than just supplying the people with crops, the land represents “might” and freedom.
Glory of moonlight dreams,
Over thy branches and lordly streams,
Clad in thy blossoming trees,
Mother, giver of ease
Laughing low and sweet!
Mother I kiss thy feet,
Speaker sweet and low!
Mother, to thee I bow.
The second stanza is slightly longer but sticks to the same topic. The speaker describes other elements of the land and the way they make the speaker and the other residents feel. Darkness has fallen over the land and one is cast into “moonlight dreams.” Rather than a dull sleep, the reader is cast into a world that is filled with “Glory” and “lordly streams.” The speaker is elevating the land as one might elevate a monarch. It is depicted as the greatest of all possible places. It is also covered in “blossoming trees.” All areas are growing and blooming in full.
The last five lines are directed towards “Mother,” or India. The speaker tells her that she is the “giver of ease” and that he will “kiss” her feet to show his love for her. He is completely dedicated, so much so he “bow[s]” to her strength and beauty.
Who hath said thou art weak in thy lands
When the sword flesh out in the seventy million hands
And seventy million voices roar
Thy dreadful name from shore to shore?
With many strengths who art mighty and stored,
To thee I call Mother and Lord!
Thou who savest, arise and save!
To her I cry who ever her foeman drove
Back from plain and Sea
And shook herself free.
The third stanza begins with a rhetorical question. The speaker is asking who, after seeing “your” strength would say that the country of India is “weak in thy lands.” He is of course answering the question as he asks it. There is no one who would possibly say this. Especially not when there are “seventy million voices” which “roar” out in pride for their country “from shore to shore.” This is the central unifying message of the text.
The strengths of the land are numerous, and they are “stored” away. This does not mean they are forgotten though. There is an inherent strength to the people because they are from such a wonderful country.
Thou art wisdom, thou art law,
Art heart, our soul, our breath
Thou art love divine, the awe
In our hearts that conquers death.
Thine the strength that nervs the arm,
Thine the beauty, thine the charm.
Every image made divine
In our temples is but thine.
There are a number of moments of anaphora in the fourth stanza. This means that Chattopadhyay used the same word to start multiple lines. The first three begin with “Thou” and the fifth and sixth begin with “Thine.” It is clear the poem is still dedicated to India, even when the focus is spreading to focus on religion.
Repetition is very important in this stanza as well. The speaker is forming a list of features he sees as being the most crucial to an understanding of his land. While he is still speaking to India it is clear he has another audience in mind, one who wants or needs to be reminded of the greatness of the country. The essence of India is something that lasts beyond death and supplies one with the ability to move through life with determination and success.
In the last lines of the fourth stanza the speaker states that every devotional image one might come across in India, no matter it appears to depict, is an image of the country itself. The temples are less temples to gods than they are to India.
Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen,
With her hands that strike and her
swords of sheen,
Thou art Lakshmi lotus-throned,
And the Muse a hundred-toned,
Pure and perfect without peer,
Mother lend thine ear,
Rich with thy hurrying streams,
Bright with thy orchard gleems,
Dark of hue O candid-fair
In the fifth stanza the speaker begins by mentioning “Durga, Lady and Queen.” He is stating that India is this particular Hindu goddess (as well as others). In this instance he is emphasizing her power. Durga, also known as Shakti or Devi, is the mother of the universe. She is an extremely popular deity and is thought to protect the goodness of the world.
Next he moves on to relate India to “Lakshmi lotus-throned” who is known as the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She also has six different divine qualities, a fact which relates interestingly to the list of qualities possessed by India. The final goddess mentioned is perhaps Sarasvati, the muse or inspiration for all art.
In the next lines the speaker returns to the familiar language of praise from the first stanzas. India is once more elevated through language describing her “streams” and “orchards.”
In thy soul, with jewelled hair
And thy glorious smile divine,
Lovilest of all earthly lands,
Showering wealth from well-stored hands!
Mother, mother mine!
Sweet, I bow to thee,
Mother great and free!
The sixth stanza concludes the poem by speaking on the loveliness of the country. Just like a beautiful woman, India has “Jewelled hair” and a smile so “glorious” it is “divine.” The final lines repeat the title of the poem and reconfirm the speaker’s devotion. He would do anything he needed to to prove his love and protect his land.