The national anthem rendition controversy

Ershad Kamol | Updated at 04:44pm on March 27, 2018

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Bangladesh on March 26, 2014 set a Guinness World Records, with the largest number of people singing the national anthem simultaneously in the National Parade Ground in Dhaka.

The rendering of the national anthem of Bangladesh, Amar Sonar Bangla, in different styles at national and public events created a huge controversy in public mind.

The Bangladesh army’s band plays the national anthem at state functions; but the band’s recorded version of the national anthem is also played at such events at times following the staff notation of the anthem done by the government in 1972, which was later included in the Bangladesh National Anthem, Flag and Emblem Order 1972, amended in 2011, and again in The National Anthem Rules 1978.

The controversy began in recent times as different other recorded versions of the national anthem are played at international cricketing events and in schools across the country.

Such recordings of the anthem done by the state-run Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and several other reputed cultural organisations such as Chhayanaut differ a lot from the staff notation approved by the government. Followers of the notation, approved by the government, in orchestration and vocal rendition present the second line of the anthem ‘Chiradin Tomar Akash’ just once while newer versions available on CDs and YouTube, recorded by the Shilpakala Academy, Chhayanaut and others render the line twice. There are several other disputes found in terms of tune, tempo, rhythm and music in several other versions of the anthem recorded by such public and private cultural organisations. Many schools play such versions at their assemblies, considering them to be the authentic tune of the anthem.

The cabinet division, the custodian of the national anthem, added fuel to fire by issuing two orders in February for making the latest version, recoded by Shilpakala Academy, popular with schoolchildren, saying it was the ‘authentic version of the national anthem’ but without issuing any notification or taking initiatives to amend the Bangladesh National Anthem, Flag and Emblem Order.

The Shilpakala Academy version, recorded in 2014 with consent from leading Tagore singers and researchers, however, differs from all previously available versions of the anthem. The version, approved by the Shilpakala Academy Parishad, is more of a simplified version of Chhayanaut’s recording and it deviates a lot from the staff notation of the anthem approved by the government.

This version, however, was also sung simultaneously by 254,537 people on March 26, 2014, when the cultural affairs ministry set a Guinness World Record of ‘Most People Singing a National/Regional Anthem’.

Many students, teachers, singers and researchers, however, say that they are confused as to whether they would follow it as the latest version when the version approved by the government in 1972 is still played at Jatia Sangsad, on Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar and in state programmes and sporting events abroad following the Bangladesh National Anthem, Flag and Emblem Order and the National Anthem Rules.

The documents preserved at the public administration ministry read that the first 10 lines of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’, written on August 7, 1905 during the first partition of Bengal, was officially adopted in 1971 by the then provisional government as the national anthem of Bangladesh, which was later approved by the constituent assembly in 1972.

The Bangladesh Film Archive’s documentary ‘Mujibnagar Sarkar’, based on footage collected from the film and publications department, shows that the cabinet members of the provisional government along with the masses and freedom fighters rendering ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ as the national anthem on April 17, 1971 while hoisting the national flag. It also shows that they rendered the first line of the song ‘Amar Sonar Bangla Ami Tomay Bhalabasi’ twice and the second line ‘Chiradin Tomar Akash’ just once. The tune of the presentation of the song was simple but dynamic as is found in the staff notation for orchestration and vocal presentation that had been issued in a government notification in 1972.

The staff notation was made in England by the British musician TN Cartledge under the supervision of Samar Das, chief music director of the now-defunct Swadhin Bangla Betra Kendra. The process began with the permission of Visva Bharati, which had copyrights of all Tagore songs.

The Bangladesh National Anthem, Flag and Emblem Order was passed on October 31, 1972 with the notification of the staff notation of the anthem despite protest by some Tagore singers and researchers such as Abdul Ahad, Jamil Chowdhury and Dr Sanjida Khatun, who argued that it did not follow the musical notation found in Swarabitan, the notation book of Rabindranath Tagore’s songs published by Visva-Bharati.

Many also criticised it saying that the staff notation of the national anthem was made following the tune and presentation style of ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ rendered by Ajit Roy and Sabina Yasmin under the direction of Khan Ataur Rahman, which was used as a playback song in Zahir Raihan’s film Jiban Theke Neya (1970). Khan Ataur Rahman as a music director did not repeat any line of the song and it was faster in tempo and simpler than the notation found in Swarabitan.

The 46th volume of Swarabitan contains two notations of ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ on page 9 and 87. The song along with the musical notation first appeared in the music periodical Sangeet Bijnan Prabeshika in September 1905. Tagore’s niece Indira Devi wrote down the notation hearing it from Tagore, who set the song to tune based on Baul singer Gagan Harkara’s song ‘Ami Kothay Pabo Tare.’ Visva-Bharati published it in 1905 in Swarabitan. Visva-Bharati included another version of the notation done by Shantidev Ghosh in Swarabitan in 1972, based on Suchitra Mitra’s rendition of the song in a more delicate and refined style recorded on gramophone in 1948.

Both the notations repeat the second line of the song ‘Chiradin Tomar Akash’ twice and the second version based on Suchitra Mitra’s rendition has frequent on-the-beat, off-the-beat alteration while rendering the eighth line ‘Ma Tor Mukher Bani Amar Kane Lage Sudhar Mato.’

Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra’s head of news Kamal Lohani and a singer of the station Tapan Mahmud said that the playback version of ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ done by Khan Ataur Rahman used to be played regularly by the radio station during the liberation war to inspire freedom fighters as the song was rendered following the same style it was rendered at the oath ceremony of the provisional government on April 17, 1971 at Mujibnagar, Meherpur.

Both of them also said that the government took the version as the standard while making staff notation for the orchestration of the anthem considering it easy, simple and ideal for presentation by the masses without having any skills of rendering Tagore song.

This government-approved version used to be followed by all organisations and schools in national and public events and the government in 1978 passed the National Anthem Rules, where Section 5 (7) stipulates that the national anthem shall be played only in accordance with the approved notation of the song.

But Chhayanaut, led by Dr Sanjida Khatun, one of the founders of Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Sangstha during the liberation war, continued practising and teaching its students ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ following the rendition style of Suchitra Mitra considering it to be the authentic tune. Being assigned by the Bangladesh Cricket Board, through event management organisation Asiatic Experiential Marketing Limited, before the 10th ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 held in Dhaka, Chhayanaut recorded the song in its signature style in 2010 to be used for the Bangladesh national cricket team with prelude of dotara, repeating the second line ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ twice, and rendering ‘Ma Tor Mukher Bani’ once on the beat and again off the beat, which, as some Rabindra Sangeet singers say, does not completely follow Suchitra Mitra’s style and has major deviations from the government-approved version. Chhayanaut’s version, however, is played in all international cricket matches and in many schools even today.

Simultaneously, the government-approved version of the anthem is played in all national programmes, at programmes having foreign guests, in state-run broadcasting agencies, on national days, in the parliament and even in the participation of other national sporting teams in international tournaments. Many cultural organisations such as Bangladesh Rabindra Sangeet Shilpi Sangstha still render the anthem following the government-approved version.

Several other organisations also uploaded more than 10 versions of the anthem on YouTube, each differing from the other. But schools authorities play these versions in their assemblies. Set against the backdrop, the cultural affairs ministry in 2011 instructed the Shilpakala Academy to work on a uniform version of the anthem taking consent from Tagore researchers and singers.

After a series of discussions spanning two years with leading Tagore singers and researchers, the Shilpakala Academy, as its director general Liaquat Ali Lucky says, made another version of the anthem, taking consent from singers and researchers such as Dr Sanjida Khatun, Jamil Chowdhury, Tapan Mahmud, Rizwana Chowdhury Bannya, Sadi Muhammad, Mita Haque and Sajid Akbar. They agreed, as the director general says, to render the second line ‘Chiradin Tomar Akash’ twice and omitted the highly sophisticated style of rendering the eighth line ‘Ma Tor Mukher Bani Amar Kane Lage Sudhar Mato’ as is found in the Swarabitan notation.

Under the supervision of Dr Sanjida Khatun and direction of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra’s music director Sujeo Shyam, the Shilpakala Academy in 2014 recorded the song in another style and received verbal permission from the prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Lucky said.

For making the latest version of the anthem popular, the cabinet division initiated a national anthem competition among school, college and madrassah students in February and March by providing them with Shilpakala Academy-recorded song and the sound track. The cabinet division also organised a programme on March 26 requesting all the ministries and agencies concerned to take initiatives so that Bangladeshi citizens, at home or abroad, render the song following the latest version of the anthem along with the prime minister Sheikh Hasina at a parade supposed to be held at Bangabandhu Jatiya Stadium.

The cabinet division secretary MN Zeaul Alam says that the latest version has been made available on the division’s official web site and on official sites of the cultural affairs ministry and the Shilpakala Academy. But, there has been no official notification in this direction. The first notification on the national anthem staff notation done in England in 1972 has not been cancelled either, Zeaul said.

Meanwhile, Tagore singers, senior citizens and cultural activists urge the government to take immediate steps to resolve confusion regarding the national anthem so that it is presented in a uniform style.

The cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor and the Shilpakala Academy director general Liaquat Ali Lucky say that they are working on an official notification on the version recorded by the academy as the authentic tune of the anthem.