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Updated: January 8, 2012 11:33 IST

Bring back Jagannath Azad’s Pakistan anthem

Beena Sarwar
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Jagan Nath Azad . Photo courtesy: Chander K. Azad
Jagan Nath Azad . Photo courtesy: Chander K. Azad

As children we learnt that Pakistan didn’t have a national anthem until the 1950s. My journalist uncle Zawwar Hasan used to tell us of a reporter friend who visited China soon after Independence. Asked about Pakistan’s national anthem, he sang the nonsensical ‘ laralapa laralapa.’

If these journalists were unaware that Pakistan had a national anthem -- commissioned and approved in 1947 by no less a person than the country’s founder and first Governor General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, long before Hafeez Jullandri’s Persianised lyrics were adopted as the anthem in the 1950s -- ordinary citizens may be forgiven for their ignorance.

The lyricist of the first national anthem was the poet Jagannath Azad, son of the renowned poet Tilok Chand Mahroom (who won accolades for his rendering of naat at mushairas). Born in Isa Khel (Mianwali), Jagannath Azad was working in Lahore when Mr. Jinnah commissioned him for this task just three days before Independence. He complied, Jinnah approved the lyrics, and the anthem went on air on Radio Pakistan Karachi (then the capital of Pakistan) the day Pakistan was born. Some Pakistanis still remember hearing it. Those who came after 1948 have no memory of it.

My own introduction to it was recent, through an unexpected resource. Flying to Karachi from Lahore, I came upon an article on the history of Pakistan’s flag and national anthem in PIA’s monthly ‘ Hamsafar’ magazine (‘Pride of Pakistan’ by Khushboo Aziz, August issue).

“Quaid-e-Azam being the visionary that he was knew an anthem would also be needed, not only to be used in official capacity but inspire patriotism in the nation. Since he was secular-minded, enlightened, and although very patriotic but not in the least petty Jinnah commissioned a Hindu, Lahore-based writer Jagannath Azad three days before independence to write a national anthem for Pakistan. Jagannath submitted these lyrics:

Ae sarzameene paak?

Zarray teray haen aaj sitaaron se taabnaak?

Roshan hai kehkashaan se kaheen aaj teri khaak?

Ae sarzameene paak.”?

(“Oh land of Pakistan, the stars themselves illuminate each particle of yours/Rainbows brighten your very dust”).

As Jaswant Singh’s forthcoming book on Mr. Jinnah created ripples in mid-August, The Kashmir Times, Jammu, published a short piece, ‘ A Hindu wrote Pakistan’s first national anthem -- How Jinnah got Urdu-knowing Jagannath Azad to write the song’ (Aug 21, 2009). The reproduction of a front-page report by Luv Puri in The Hindu (June 19, 2005), it drew on Puri’s interview of Azad in Jammu city days before his death. Talking to Puri, Azad recalled how Jinnah asked him to write Pakistan’s national anthem. In the interview, headlined ‘ My last wish is to write a song of peace for both India & Pakistan: Azad,’ he said he was in Lahore working in a literary newspaper “when mayhem had struck” the entire country (Special report by Luv Puri, Milli Gazette, New Delhi, Aug 16-31, 2004).

“All my relatives had left for India and for me to think of leaving Lahore was painful… My Muslim friends requested me to stay on and took responsibility of my safety. On the morning of August 9, 1947, there was a message from Pakistan’s first Governor-General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was through a friend working in Radio Lahore who called me to his office. He told me ‘Quaid-e-Azam wants you to write a national anthem for Pakistan.’

“I told them it would be difficult to pen it in five days and my friend pleaded that as the request has come from the tallest leader of Pakistan, I should consider his request. On much persistence, I agreed.”

Jinnah’s speech

Why him? Azad felt that the answer lay in Jinnah’s speech of Aug 11, 1947, stating that if everyone saw themselves “first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations… in the course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

“Even I was surprised when my colleagues in Radio Pakistan, Lahore approached me,” recalled Azad. “…They confided in me that ‘Quaid-e-Azam wanted the anthem to be written by an Urdu-knowing Hindu.’ Through this, I believe Jinnah Sahib wanted to sow the roots of secularism in a Pakistan where intolerance had no place.”

Hamsafar terms it “the anthem for Pakistan’s Muslims” -- apparently forgetting about the country’s non-Muslim citizens. Even after the forced migrations on either side, West Pakistan still had some 10 per cent, and East Pakistan about 25 per cent non-Muslims -- symbolised by the white stripe in Pakistan’s flag.

Increasing insecurity forced Azad to migrate to Delhi in mid-September 1947. He returned to Lahore in October, says his son Chander K. Azad in an email to this writer. “However, his friends advised him against staying as they found it difficult to keep him safe… He returned to Delhi with a refugee party.”

Azad had a distinguished career in India -- eminent Urdu journalist, authority on Allama Iqbal (in the preface of his last manuscript, unpublished, ‘ Roodad-e-Iqbal’ he wrote immodestly, “anything on Iqbal after this has no meaning”), author of over 70 books, government servant (retired in 1997), and recipient of numerous awards and honours. (See Chander K. Azad’s email of Sept. 6 in

However, his lyrics survived in Pakistani barely six months beyond Jinnah’s death in September 1948. “The people and the Constitutional bodies of the country wanted to have a more patriotic and more passionate national anthem that depicted their values and identity to the world,” explains Hamsafar (loaded ideological terminology aside, one never read about the Hindu poet Azad’s contribution in any official literature before, ‘enlightened moderation’ notwithstanding.)

The National Anthem Committee (NAC), formed in December 1948, took two years to finalise a new anthem. After the Shah of Iran’s impending visit in 1950 made the decision imperative, NAC member Hafeez Jallandri’s poem was chosen from among 723 submissions.

The anthem commissioned by Jinnah was just one of his legacies that his successors swept aside, along with the principles he stressed in his address to the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947 -- meant to be his political will and testament according to his official biographer Hector Bolitho (Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, John Murray, London, 1954).

Pakistan’s inherited problems, he said included the maintenance of law and order (the State must fully protect “the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects”), the “curse” of bribery and corruption, the “monster” of black-marketing, and the “great evil” of nepotism. Since Partition had happened, he said, we must “concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.”

This speech, literally censored by “hidden hands” as Zamir Niazi documents in Press in Chains (1986), also contains Jinnah’s famous lines about the “fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State,” where religious identity becomes secondary and where religion, caste or creed “has nothing to do with the business of the State…”

A month after his death, the Safety Act Ordinance of 1948, providing for detention without trial -- the draft of which Jinnah had in March angrily dismissed as a “black law” -- was passed. The following March, the Constituent Assembly passed the ‘Objectives Resolution’ that laid the basis for recognising Pakistan as a state based on an ideology.

In all these deviations from Jinnah’s vision, perhaps discarding Azad’s poem appears minuscule. But it is important for its symbolism. It must be restored and given a place of honour, at least as a national song our children can learn — after all, Indian children learn Iqbal’s ‘ Saarey jehan se accha.’ Such symbolism is necessary if we are to claim the political spaces for resurrecting Jinnah’s vision about a nation where religion, caste or creed “has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

(The writer is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.)


Pakistan anthem September 22, 2009

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As far as respected Jagan Nath Azad's poetic contribution is concerned, it is a well-known fact that he is one of those luckiest people who could communicate their feelings to others. I live in the mohallah where respected Jagan Nath Azad passed his childhood and boyhood. whenever I happen to pass through that street, I feel that some unseen soul grips my feet and stops me from going further.alas! I could see and talk to that spirit. love to all who love Jagan .

from:  Farooq Adil
Posted on: May 23, 2011 at 10:55 IST

Beena - I am indebted and grateful to you for your above article on my father - Late Prof. Jagan Nath Azad. People like you will keep his memory alive till eternity. Thanks a ton.

from:  Mukta Lall
Posted on: Oct 5, 2010 at 08:43 IST

Beena you have done a great job. I have started a blog called:by my window and my first post was about the Quaid v. positive.

from:  Nina Bhatia
Posted on: Nov 8, 2009 at 19:02 IST

It is one of the few articles which will catch the attention of those who want to bridge the distance between the two hostile neighbors separated by human boundaries. It also speaks volumes about the secular shade of Jinnah's persona. I am really touched. Today's Pakistan is not something Jinnah would have envisaged. He was dreaming for a secular, prosperous and a stable Pakistan where the individual mattered, not the religion.

from:  Avinash
Posted on: Oct 4, 2009 at 18:52 IST

Thank you for your encouraging and thought-provoking comments.

I would like to share the link of a moving and powerful speech by Jagannath Azad:

from:  Beena Sarwar
Posted on: Sep 26, 2009 at 12:06 IST

The article brings out an interesting feature of Jinnah's politics. Jinnah had secular credentials when he started his political journey but as the time passed his political ambitions grew taller than his ideologies. He proclaimed himself as the sole representative of the muslim cause and claimed Pakistan at the cost of his beliefs and faiths. The quote from the article "in the course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state” shows the predicament of Jinnah. He tried to regain his faith after getting the power. It is an irony that he died only one year after accession as did Gandhi.

from:  Ravi Jha
Posted on: Sep 24, 2009 at 20:11 IST

I salute the greatest poet and the flag-bearer of secularism Jagannath Azad posthumously for his poetic genius. I salute Beena Sarwer for her journalistic efforts to disclose the hidddn facts. I salute Qaid-e-Azam for his secular character.

from:  Syed Fazil Hussain Parvez
Posted on: Sep 24, 2009 at 09:49 IST

It has been one of the best articles i have come across till now. Well done Mrs Sarwar. This article will surely silence those who feel that Urdu belongs to Muslims and Hindi to Hindus.

from:  Asif Majied
Posted on: Sep 23, 2009 at 22:44 IST

It is fine that she discovered it in 2009.

However, Pakistan was not that intolerant a society.

My inquiries indicate that articles crediting Jagannath Azad were published in Pakistani literary journals in 1950s, 1960s and 1970s including possibly Nuqoosh. As very young reader I read it in a Pakistani literary journal, Naqoosh, or something else in 1969.

This was re-discovered by a Pakistani blogger, Zakintosh, in his blog in May 2009. The same was reproduced by another blogger, Adil Najam, on his blog in June 2009.
Khushboo Aziz, who was lucky enough to be printed, and whom Bina Sarwar discovered in the August 2009 issue of the PIA magazine must have picked it from the earlier bloggers or from Naqoosh.

from:  A.H Amin
Posted on: Sep 22, 2009 at 17:25 IST

Beena Sarwar is perhaps one of the best writers in Pakistan and she is one journalist who is trying to spread the message of love and brotherhood right into the hearts of the people on both sides of the Radclife demarcation. She so far has done a commendable job so far and I am hopeful that she will continue doing so through some really great pieces like the one she has written above. Thanks Beena.

from:  Kulbir Rajput
Posted on: Sep 22, 2009 at 13:15 IST
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