Saturday, May 4, 2002

A tribute to the legendary composer of National Anthem
Rajendra Rajan

Capt Ram Singh ThakurTHE master composer of the National Anthem is no more but his tune continues to infuse a spirit of patriotism among millions of our countrymen. This is the story of Capt Ram Singh who hailed from Khaniara, a small village near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. He passed away at Lucknow recently at the ripe age of 87. It was probably after his death that most people came to know about the rare and rich contribution he made as a band master of the INA.

I had an opportunity to meet and interact with Capt Ram Singh about three years ago when he visited his native village and stayed at Dharamsala for about a month.

Even at an age of 84, Capt Ram Singh looked quite hale and hearty and full of enthusiasm. A humble, soft-spoken and unassuming personality he sang with a gusto the songs he had composed as music director of the INA orchestra. "Kadam se kadam Badaye Ja, Khushi Ke Geet Gaye Ja, Ye Zindgi Hai Qaum Kee, Ise Qaum Pe Lutaye Ja" was one of his superhit musical melodies. His songs were a great source of inspiration for the INA soldiers who were fighting hard to liberate India from the British yoke. But Capt Ram Singh would be remembered for his composition of Jana Gana Mana, the original script of which was a little different. It was Sukh Chain Kee Barkha Barse, Bharat Bagiya Hai Jaga. The song was based on a poem by Rabindranath Tagore and was translated into Hindi by Abid Ali. The present National Anthem was composed by Capt Ram Singh as Qaumi Tarana of the INA at Singapore in 1943.


Capt Ram Singh Thakur playing the National Anthem in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi.
Capt Ram Singh Thakur playing the National Anthem in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi.

Capt Ram Singh was born in Bhagsu Khaniara village near Dharamsala, on August 15, 1914. His father Havaldar Delip Singh groomed Ram Singh to join the Army. After passing middle examination, he joined the IInd Gorkha Rifles in 1927 at Dharamsala cantonment as a recruit boy in the band. "I was inspired by my maternal grandfather Nathu Chand to learn music. Later on, I got training from renowned British musician Hadson and Danish in brass band, string band and dance band in Army. I also learnt the violin from Capt Rose."

Capt Ram Singh Thakur did not look back and continued to attain new horizons in the field of music. Apart from classical and western music, he was fond of ballad, football, sports and wrestling. Captain Ram Singh was promoted in 1941 as company Havaldar Major and was sent to Singapore and Malaya with his unit during World War II.

In December 1941, the Japanese forces attacked the Malaya-Thailand border and forced the British army to make a retreat. As many as 200 Indian soldiers were arrested by the Japanese. Later these soldiers joined the INA to carry out the struggle against Britishers to free India.

On February 15, 1942, Singapore was conquered by Japan as a result of which the INA got a fillip. Capt Ram Singh also joined the INA to free himself from the clutches of Japanese. Subhas Chandra Bose was instrumental in tapping the talent of Captain Ram Singh as a dedicated music director. Captain Ram Singh recalled, "Subhasji told me that the tune of Qaumi Tarana should be so powerful and inspiring that when INA soldiers render the same, it should stir the soul of not only the soldiers but millions of Indians also, as such we kept on practising the Qaumi Tarana at Deedadri camp in Singapore. I vividly recall the words uttered by Subhas Chandra Bose about the Qaumi Tarana. He had said, ‘Ram Singh, the day Indian National Army takes shape in the Cathay Building of Singapore the song Subh Sukh Chain Ki Barkha Barse would be played. The song should have such an indelible impact and force that the Cathay Building should ‘break’ into two parts and the sky should become visible. The gods and goddesses will shower flowers straight on the Tricolor of India.’ On October 31, 1943, the INA came into power and my orchestra played the Qaumi Tarana. The Cathay Building reverberated thunderously. It was a humble step towards liberating India from the British rule."

In 1944, Capt Ram Singh was decorated by Subhas Chandra Bose with a gold medal. "The gold medal was sent to Rangoon after my departure from Singapore to Rangoon. Netaji wanted that the gold medal should be presented to me by the Indian Government on some historic day. But this could not happen. Later on, General Lokanand presented this gold medal to me at Rangoon in the presence of all INA officers on January 23, 1944." Netaji had sent a citation which was read out at the function: "Today we are presenting the gold medal to Captain Ram Singh for his musical creation on behalf of the supreme command of the INA." This Qaumi Tarana of the INA was sung by 30 lakh Hindustanis settled in East Asia.

Captain Ram Singh had an opportunity to play the National Anthem of the INA in the presence of Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi. "We were imprisoned at Kabul line cantonment in Delhi. About 7 p.m. we were asked to get ready. Two or three cars stopped in front of our barrack. The flag of Army General was fixed on the first car. Bapuji stepped down from the General’s car. He was accompanied by Sardar Patel. We were all in queue. Mahatmaji said, ‘With the mercy of the British Government, I have got an opportunity to meet you people’. Then Bapuji asked about the name and village of each INA soldier. General Bhonsle of the INA made a plea to Sardar Patel that the INA soldiers wanted to play the Qaumi Tarana. Bapuji sought permission from the English Army General who readily gave it".

India attained Independence on August 15, 1947, and the next morning Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the Tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort and addressed the nation. It was on this occasion that Capt Ram Singh was especially invited to play the tune of Qaumi Tarana of the INA along with the members of his orchestra group. Later the duration of the tune was shortened with changes in the original script. However, the musical composition was adopted in its original form.

In 1948, Captain Ram Singh Thakur along with his orchestra group was recruited in the PAC band of Uttar Pradesh. He retired in 1974. In view of his rich contribution and valuable services he was given the honour of retaining the rank of DSP even after his superannuation. He was honoured by the Centre and the Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim with many awards.