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Patriotic Songs in Gujarat (1920-1947): The Gandhian Inspiration
Kunjlata N. Shah

The freedom struggle against British rule, amongst other things, led to the creation of a vast body of patriotic literature in the various languages of India. The Gandhian era, in particular witnessed a tremendous proliferation of patriotic songs which were enthusiastically song all over the country. They were sung collectively at political gatherings and in protest processions, expressing as they did political sentiments of the masses. Utilizing many different folk forms such as - raasdas, garba, bhajan, akhyan and pawda, riddles, regional popillar lyrics, these songs established a whole new genre, which helped stir the patriotic fervour of the awakened Indian. The folk and popillar literary forms in their turn, acquired new vigour from the patriotic content which infused these songs. Using traditional symbols, popular metaphors and idioms, these songs achieved their aim-to effectively disseminate patriotic and nationalistic messages to the people and to reach their heart.

What was unusual about such songs, was that they were not always written by well-known poets, but were often composed by anonymous patriots, literate and illiterate, who were inspired by the times they lived in and the intense patriotic fervor which pervaded the very air of those times. Because these songs are a reflection of the sentiments of the masses, they give us significant insights into their socio-cultural sensibilities, thus providing an important source of study of the history of the freedom struggle from below.

This paper examines popular patriotic songs composed during the Gandhian period in Gujarat, in a historical context, and discusses in particular, songs composed by women who actively involved themselves in the freedom struggle under Gandhiji's guidance.

I

Gujarat had a variegated pattern of political culture in the pre- Gandhian period, different regions and cities responding differently to British rule. While commercial Ahmedabad was moderate in its politics, Surat remained a centre of agitational politics. Its citizens reacted sharply against unjust British laws in 1844, 1848, 1860 and again in 1878. Its press was both militant and vociferous and the district a stronghold of extremist politics, under the Patidars and Anavil Brahmins. Though, revolutionary politics did not take root in Gujarat, the regions of Baroda and Kheda did witness revolutionary activities under the influence of the Arya Samaj and the presence of revolutionaries such as Aurobindo Ghosh and others in the State of Baroda. The Swadeshi movement, that had developed in Gujarat much before the Partition of Bengal contributed greatly to promoting partriotism and politicizing the urban masses of Gujarat. However, large masses of rural and tribal areas were untouched by political movements. During the pre-Gandhian period, Gujarati literature dealt some- what sporadically with the themes of patriotism and nationalism. Dalpatram (1820-1898) though an admirer of British rule, was the first poet who in his long poem 'Hunnar Khan ni Chadhai' written in 1851, revealed the spirit of economic nationalism. He pointed out the importance of Swadeshi, explaining how the country was being drained of its wealth by the influx of Vilayati or foreign goods. He appealed to start industries. His contemporary, Narmad (1833-1886), in his poems 'Virsinha', 'Sahu Chalo Jeetva Jang', 'Jai Jai Garvi Gujarat', demonstrated a fiery patriotic zeal. The first patriotic novel Hind ane Britannia, written in 1885 by Ichharam Suryaram Desai (1853-1912) boldly criticized British policies in strong, telling phrases which evinced intense patriotic fervour.

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B. M. Malabari (1853-1912) (a well known social reformer) and Khabardar (1881-1853), two Parsee poets composed many poems reflecting patriotism. Another noteworthy poet of this period was Harilal Harshadrai Dhruv (1856-1896), whose poems showed his intense devotion for the country and his anti-British sentiments. His collection of songs, Kunj Vihar, published in 1895, has a section of poems on Swadesh Bhakti, that is, devotion to one's country.

During this period, many amateur poets, inspired by patriotism, wrote patriotic songs and poems that were incorporated later in the collection of popular national songs of the Gandhian period. Vasant Vinodi (Chandulal Desai) a doctor, Maganbhai Patel (1905- 1970) and Jivabhai Patel, lawyers, were such poets.

The Gujarat Sahitya Sabha compiled the first collection of patriotic poems entitled 'Deshbhakti Na Kavyo I in 1905. But it was Swadeshi Kirtan which formed the first collection of popular patriotic songs composed to be sung collectively. It was compiled by the Swadeshi Mitra MandaI of Ahmedabad in 1909, priced at only half an anna, in order to invoke bhakti or devotion to Hind devi, the new object of worship. The Swadeshi Mitra MandaI was established in 1906 in the wake of the fervour generated during the Bengal Partition Movement. It organized Swadeshi Kirtan Programmes in order to propagate the idea of Swadeshi at the grass-roots level. A picture of Hind devi, a new icon, was worshipped at such programmes and popular songs from this collection were sung as bhajans or kirtans. Thus, a patriotic song was elevated to the status of bhajan or kirtan. This was the first successful experiment to utilize a traditional popular literary form for the purpose of infusing patriotism among the masses. This collection contained poems and songs of Narmad; H. Dhruv, Vasant Vinodi, Jivabhai Patel, Maganbhai Patel, Khabardar, etc.

II

Gandhiji's arrival in Ahmedabad in 1915 soon transformed the political culture of Gujarat. He infused radical ideas and a new life in the political life of Gujarat. He electrified Gujarat. His striking genius is seen in his politically mobilizing all sections and communities of society- Hindus, Muslims, Parsees, mill-owners, traders, workers, peasants, students, women, children, the western-educated middle class, etc. As a result, the freedom struggle assumed the character of a mass movement. Gandhiji's influence was not only confined to political activities but it pervaded the field of education, literature and the social reform movement. The entire nation breathed in the Gandhian ethos. During this Gandhian period, patriotic songs became the effective carriers of Gandhiji's message to illiterate people of the rural urban and tribal regions. They were written in a simple language and captured the spirit of the age. Through these songs, Gandhian ideas filtered down to the very grassroots. They stirred feelings of patriotism among the masses and inspired them to fight against an unjust, alien rule. They also shaped public opinion. Themes such as Kham, the spinning wheel, temperance, Hindu-Muslim unity, the removal of untouchability, non-violence, formed the repertoire of these songs. Some songs also had woven into them, stories of national events such as Jalianwala Bagh tragedy, the Dandi March etc. These songs not only became an integral part of mass participation in the national movement but were also written to be sung on various occasions such as weddings, festivals etc.

This period witnessed a great spurt in the writing and composing of patriotic songs. The popular poets of this period were not always intellectuals. Many of them were patriots and were inspired by the love for their country. Many unknown and anonymous poets also composed some famous patriotic songs. Some prolific poets were, the blind poet Hansraj, Vasant Vinodi, Maganbhai C. Patel, Dr. Hariprasad, Lalit, Khabardar, Jyotsnaben Shukla, Keshavdas G. Shah, Gijubhai, Tribhovan Vyas, Kunvarji Mehta, Jugatram Dave etc. During this period innumerable collections of national and patriotic songs were published. Their price ranged from one paisa to eight annas. Not always containing great literary merit, these songs were nevertheless important because they echoed the patriotic sentiments of the people, and more significantly, helped to maintain the momentum of the freedom struggle. Their popularity can be evinced from the rapid sale of these booklets. Eight thousand copies of Sangram Geeto, published in 1930 by the Satyagraha Chhavni, Anand were sold out in just four days. Five thousand copies of Vanarsenana Geeto written by Gijubhai, published-in 1930, of Ranshingu, published in 1930 from Bombay were sold out in two days.

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The spinning wheel or Rentio became the national symbol of Swaraj. Khadi hand spun and hand woven cloth and Rentio became the subject matter of many popular songs. In 1922, Maganlal Bapuji (Godhrawala) composed a song in the folk form of garba which was addressed to women. It became very famous and popular.

Here, the poet appealed to women to give up foreign cloth, pomp, show, fashions and adopt Khadi however coarse it may be. He adds: "by doing so, Oh, my sister, we shall easily win Swaraj."

Another popular song was entitled: 'Balak ni Mangani' (A child's demand) written in simple language, by an anonymous poet.

(Oh mother: give me a Khadi cap, a Khadi Peharan (shirt) a dhoti, a Khadi bag and Khadi shoes. Make me look beautiful oh, mother, with Khadi.)

In 1930, a collection of songs was published by C. P. Chudgar entitled Khadi ane Lagan na Geeto from Wadhwan. Poets were inspired by various events of the freedom struggle and skillfully wove these events into folk and literary forms. Tribhuvan Vyas, teacher and a leading poet from Saurashtra wrote a narrative garba - Ratanbano Garbo - in which the episode of Jalianwala Bagh was vividly described. This katha or a narrative garba written in verse was set to music while being narrated to the masses. It was an adaptation of the akhyan form or Manbhattas katha form to suit the new context. An anonymous poet composed a popular song Danko Vagyo.. that was sung throughout the Gandhian period. It is in the form of a battle cry.

"There is a battle cry, oh brave soldiers: awake; those who are cowards will flee."

Another notable prolific poet was a blind poet, Hansraj. He hailed from Amreli. His songs reflected intense patriotism in which he expressed his strong anti-British feelings. His long poem "Topiwalana tola Uttarya' became very famous.

The song was published in 1922 and immediately became very popular. The British Government found it seditious and wanted to arrest him, but did not do so because Hansraj was a blind man. Another famous song he wrote was sung by the masses through out the struggle in India, and published on the front page of Navjivan dated 4th June, 1922. It was written in Gujarati- Hindi.

This poem expresses the poet's anger against the oppressive government. Here he most emphatically demands that such an autocratic government should be done away with. The song refers to the massacre of thousands of unarmed people at Jalianwala Bagh by the oppressive British Government and also the imprisonment of Lala Lajpat Rai after the incident. Swami Anand wrote in 1922 that whenever this song was sung during the Congress meetings at Anand, people used to be greatly moved. In 1923, Keshawdas G. Shah published a collection of some militant songs entitled Hamara Hakko, from Broach. It was priced at one paisa. He was the manager of the Gujarat Sahitya Mandir of Broach. These songs became popular. Later he restarted his Paisa series from Bhavnagar in 1930 entitled Deshi Geeto ane Swara} Bansi, Yuddha Geeto ane Swara} Kirtan, Desh Darpan ane Swara} Murli, Desh Darshan ane Swara} Veena etc.

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Quite often, Gandhi, the fountain head of the patriotic movement, was himself the subject of many raasdas and garbas.

During the Bardoli Satyagraha Movement of peasants in 1928, short and simple songs that kept up the spirit and morale of the people were sung in villages. When the rural folk gathered in Sabhas, they sang and danced national garbas and raasdas. Religious songs or bhajans composed by Meera, Narasinha Mehta, Kabir, Brahmanand were also sung at these meetings.

The following songs of Fulchand Shah became popular during the Bardoli Satyagraha.

This song says: "The oppressive rule is tottering because my Bapu's battle cry is heard everywhere."

The Civil Disobedience Movement inspired many poets. The stirring Dandi March became the theme of many popular songs and kathas. A song entitled 'Mohan Mithu Pakave' became popular.

This song describes Gandhiji with his 104 volunteers extracting salt on the shores of Dandi. It also tells how, without any weapon, Gandhiji and his soldiers fought against the oppressive government.

From the 1930s onwards, a number of songs were written on the national flag, or Jhanda. Collections of children's songs and Prabhat Pheris or morning processions, were published in large numbers. All these collections usually repeated older popular songs but added some new songs.
Here it is interesting to note that some collections contained militant songs that overtly criticized the British Government and showed intense hatred of British rule. A series of such collections were published by Shivdas Kesaria (probably a pen-name) in 1930, from Bombay, entitled Sarkarna Uthamnu (Funeral of the Government), Nar Yagna (Human Sacrifice), Dagmagti Satta (Tottering Power) etc. These collections were priced at one, two to three paise and were sold in great numbers. Militancy in tone as well as in content increased during the Quit India Movement, leading to the confiscation by the government of many such collections of aggressive songs. One such confiscated collection entitled Ranchandi, is discussed in detail in the next section.

A popular representative militant song is cited here:

The song says, "Oh Government: it is not too late for you to be cautious. The tolling of your death knell can be heard, and your power is being uprooted, Your boat is drowning, it has become heavy with your past sins. Your bones are melting in the heat of the curse of thirty crores of people. "

Though it is not in the purview of the theme of this paper, a mention may be made of some elitist poets, who inspired by Gandhiji's ideals, wrote patriotic poems. Nahnalal Kavi, Umashankar Joshi, Sundaram, Jhaverchand Meghani, Sneherashmi were some such poets, Meghani's songs gained great popularity among the masses because of its style of folk lore.

III

A significant feature of the Gandhian period was the wide participation of women in the national movement. Thousands of
them left the seclusion of their homes in order to participate in the freedom struggle, They picked shops selling foreign cloth or liquor. They propagated 'Khadi', a symbol of Swaraj. They marched shoulder to shoulder with men in processions and sang patriotic songs. The song became their weapon in the non-violent struggle. Prabhat Pheri (morning procession), was an important activity, when women went in procession in the early morning, singing national songs. These songs infused the atmosphere with the spirit of patriotism. Gandhiji had advised women to sing appropriate songs and bhajans during the picketing of shops. As a result many songs were specially composed for women, while some women even composed their own songs. These songs also carried the message of Khadi, Swadeshi, temperance etc. to women. This was significant as more than 95 per cent of women in India at that time, were illiterate. Nationalistic songs were composed for women to be sung on occasions of wedding, Gorov and Navratra festivals. Folk literary forms such as garbas, kirtan, garbi, katha, traditionally nurtured in Gujarat, were utilized creatively and meaningfully in order to mobilize women politically. These songs used traditional symbols and metaphors in a new context.

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Shardaben Mehta, a prominent woman leader reminisces in her book that garbas based on themes of nationalism and women's emancipation were sung by women during the Navratra Festival in the Maha Vidhyalaya of Ahmedabad.6 Many Rashtriya Garbavalis or collections of national garbas were composed during the Gandhian phase.

During the Bardoli Satyagraha many peasant women actively participated in the passive resistance against British rule. Some middle class women leaders such as Sharadaben Mehta, Mithuben Petit, Jyotsnaben Shukla, Bhaktiba, actively encouraged these peasant women in the Satyagraha. Special songs garbas, raasdas were composed to keep up their spirits and morale. Interestingly many women such as Jyotsnaben Shukla, Vadangauri, Pushpaben Vyas, and an anonymous rural lady from Valod, composed national songs. The last mentioned poetess was a peasant woman and her song 'Dhanya Bardoli' became very famous. The style and language of the song were distinctly rural. The most out- standing among them was Jyotsnaben Shukla who became the leading poet of the Gandhian period and her poems found a permanent place in most of the important collections of national songs. She was not a professional poet but was inspired by patriotism and nationalism.

Jyotsnaben was born in a Brahmin family in Surat in 1892. She studied in the Sanatana Dhanna Kanyashala. In 1904, she was married to Bahusukhram Shukla, a teacher in a Baroda School. Baroda at that time was a centre of revolutionary activities and Mr. Shukla was influenced by revolutionary ideas and their home soon became a meeting place of revolutionaries. Jyotsnaben too was greatly influenced by them and was infused with feelings of patriotism and hatred against British rule. Her natal family, too, was nationalistic in outlook and had adopted the ideal of Swadeshi. Her husband died in 1914 and she moved to Surat where she became the secretary of the Stree Samaj, a woman's organization. She became an honorary teacher in a girls' school but wrote for journals and newspapers. She had great respect for Gandhiji but did not join the Indian National Congress. However, in 1928 she plunged into the Bardoli Satyagraha and thereafter remained very active in the national movement7 She became one of the most outstanding women leaders of Gujarat and went to jail many times. The following song written by her became popular during the Bardoli Satyagraha.

This poem praises steadfastness of peasants of Bardoli. It says, "Their brave women inspired them to face death boldly."

Other topical songs were 'Satta Bale Chhe', 'Bardolino Rang', 'Veer Poojan' etc. During the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930 she wrote 'Swarajnu Mangulsutra' a famous song. Later she also prepared a collection of songs for young girls to be sung during the festival of Gorav. She wrote:

"Gonna's husband, Kesaria with spindle and cotton in his hands, is spinning his way to Swaraj."

Her collection of poems entitled Bapu was published in 1948. It contained poems and songs on Gandhiji composed on different occasions from 1928 to 1948.

In 1930, Rukshmani Ranchhoddas Parekh published a collection of her own poems from Bombay, entitled Swarajya Strotaswini. It had poems on the nationalist themes such as Rentio, Ahimsa, National Flag, Swadeshi etc.

In the same year, Indumati Chimanlal Sheth and Mrudulaben Sarabhai, eminent women leaders of Ahmedabad and Secretaries of the Videshi Kapad Bhahishkar Samiti, published a collection of national songs entitled Geeto containing songs on Khadi and Swadeshi.'

One of them was important which made a fervent appeal to women to wake up and abandon foreign goods. This collection advertised the use of Khadi.

In Ahmedabad, in 1930, another collection was published consisting of popular songs to be sung for the Prabhat Pheris. It was compiled and published by Lilavati Harilal Desai, the Secretary of the Picketing Committee, in Ratanpol, Ahmedabad. It was priced at one anna and contained songs for each day of the week.

In 1930, an interesting collection of songs published from Wadhwar, was lagnna gee to, songs to be sung on the occasion of weddings by C. Chudgar. Here again, while the structure and style were of the traditional wedding songs, the content was strongly Gandhian and patriotic. The songs in this collection emphasized the importance of Khadi and Swadeshi. A representative song is cited below:

The song welcome guests from the bride's in-law's family and expresses happiness at their wearing Khadi clothes. It congratulates them on obeying Gandhiji's wishes, and on giving up foreign goods for by doing this they are adding to the prosperity of the country.

IV

In 1942, during the Quit India Movement, songs became more militant and aggressive. Gandhiji had provided the people with an inspiring slogan of 'Do Or Die'. People fought against the British rulers with great determination. As many national leaders were in jail, the angry masses became violent. Poets too became militant and expressed their fury in songs. Many poets wrote garba ongs, invoking fierce goddesses - Chandika, Kali, Durga, Bahuchari, Ambika - to destroy the British empire in India. These garbas were sung and performed at the Navratra festival by urban and rural men and women. The Navratra Festival is dedicated to the goddess Shakti, the universal energy, the al- mighty and powerful deity who destroys evil. In Indian mythology she is Mahishasuramardini, the destroyer of the demon Mahishasur. She is invoked by devotees to protect them from evil and demonic powers. Women dance around the Garbo or perforated pot with a lighted lamp inside, a symbol of the goddess herself. Poets of Gujarat, keeping these religious aspects in mind, utilised the 'garbo' for, to express their acute hatred against British rule. They invoked the goddess in order to destroy the oppressive rule of the British. Thus, they added a political dimension to garba. These political garbas were meant to incite people against British rule. Poets retained the garba's traditional lyrical structure and style. In these new political garbas the British were represented as demonic and evil while Indians were represented as benevolent and good. Churchill and other British leaders were depicted as Satanic and wicked, while Gandhiji, Jawaharlal, Vallabhbhai, Subhashchandra were shown as good and heroic.

Ranchandi, a collection of similar defiant garbas was published in 1942 from Bombay by one Kunvarji Shah, the owner of a printing press in Kalbadevi. He edited and published them in the name of Mohanlal Desai, Vasantram Vakil and Munshi Maheshwari. These garbas were ascribed to the poet Chandidas. The collection was nominally priced at one anna. In order to popularize these garbas, the publishers stated that their pennission was not required for reprinting them. This collection of fiery garbas was confiscated by the Government, and Kunvariji Shah, the publisher was arrested and jailed.

Excerpts from three representative garbas cited below, show the intensity of patriotic fervour in these songs.

Here the poet expresses his fury against the British. Chandika, the fierce goddess is invoked to burn Britain. It says, "for two centuries, the British have exploited and harassed us, now Chandika, in her rage of fury will destroy them." The poet also exhorts the people of India to be vigilant as the British have not left India in spite of being warned by the 'Quit India' movement. Finally, he feels sure that Britain will definitely be defeated by India as it has already been badly trounced by Japan and Hitler.

This garba in scathing language expresses wrath against the British. The garba is addressed to Britannia (who in the poem is given a male identity) who is asked to pack his bags and leave the country which he has oppressed. Britannia is warned that he faces sure death. Though his empire is in flames, he still does not take care. He is condemned as a shameless, cunning traitor and a liar. The poet adds: "Other invaders in the past looted India but none was as bad as you." He says angrily at the end, "get out Britannia, shame on you! Your power will soon be uprooted."

Here, Bharatmata is shown as sending a letter to the goddess Kali (a fierce goddess) inviting her to come soon and kill the "Topiwallas" (British) with her sharp dagger and to make herself a necklace of their skulls.

All these political and nationalistic garbas had a fiery tone and a patriotic content. These songs sung enthusiastically by the masses reflected the patriotic ethos of the country during the Gandhian period. They formed a significant part of the popular culture of those times. They referred to contemporary events and situations, and were meant to incite people against British rule in a situation which was already volatile, and were greatly successful in their aim.


[Source: Pushpanjali - Essays on Gandhian Themes, edited by - R. Srinivasan, Usha Thakkar, Pam Rajput]

 

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