Bring back Jagannath Azad’s Pakistan anthem

The death in custody of another ‘blasphemy accused’ once again highlights what many of us have long been stressing: a need to repeal the ‘blasphemy laws’, train the police force, revise the education curriculum to remove the hate-mongering, and enforce law and order with a firm hand.

Below, my article on Pakistan’s first national anthem by Jagan Nath Azad (slightly abbreviated version published today in Dawn ‘Another time, another anthem’)

Prof. Jagan Nath Azad. Photo courtesy: Chander K. Azad, Jammu

Prof. Jagan Nath Azad. Photo courtesy: Chander K. Azad, Jammu

Beena Sarwar

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 in the early 1950s. 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 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 1954 — 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 Mehroom (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, Mr Jinnah approved the lyrics, and the anthem went on air on Radio Pakistan the day Pakistan was born. Some Pakistanis still remember hearing it, like Zaheer A. Kidvai, then seven years old, who mentioned it on his blog Windmills of my mind – ‘A Tale of Two Anthems’, May 03, 2009. 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 Jagan Nath Azad three days before independence to write a national anthem for Pakistan. Jagan Nath 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 (Jun 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.”

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.”

Mr Jinnah approved Azad’s lyrics within hours, and the anthem was broadcast on Radio Pakistan, Karachi (then the capital of Pakistan).

The Hamsafar writer 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 percent 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 his son Chander K. Azad’s email of Sept 6 on this blog.)

However, his lyrics survived in Pakistani barely six months beyond Mr 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 the Hamsafar article (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 Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Jinnah’s vision, perhaps discarding Azad’s poem appears miniscule. 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 Mr Jinnah’s vision about a nation where religion, caste or creed “has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

21 Responses

  1. Thanks for drawing attention to this little-known detail about Pakistan’s history. Struck by the sheer irony of it. Azad could not have written that upbeat anthem with any conviction considering that his community was being massacred that very time. That a Hindu happened to write the first anthem of Pakistan however seems to reinforce the school of thought that Jinnah’s bottom line was a large confederation rather than a partition on religious lines.


  2. The Hindu Poet Who Wrote Pakistan’s First Anthem
    Jyoti Malhotra in Khaleej Times, Sept 24, 2009 –


  3. Kudos to Pakistan’s Sr. Journalist. Beena Sarwar for bringing to the notice of the world that it was a Hindu who was chosen by Mohd. Ali Jinnah to write a National Anthem for Pakistan. This shows that Mohd. Ali Jinnah was secular and wanted to build up a secular state, later on due to pulls and pressures of internal politics he may have changed his stance on secularism.


  4. @Sunil: Beena Sarwar has drawn attention towards an importnat issue but I don’t agree with you Mr Sunil. Muhammad Ali Jinnah wasn’t a secular person, nor he wanted to set up a secular state. Please don’t conclude things as you want to see them.


  5. […] (Taken with gratitude from Beena Sarwar’s blog) […]


  6. Many countries have more than one anthems. Pakistan’s original anthem should in any case be revived, even it exists alongside “pak sarzameen shad baad”. After all, this is the anthem to which the father of the nation rose in respect.


  7. Well written Beena…

    And to blow my own horn … You know I first unearthed this in 2005 … no one knew about it in Pakistan at the time. I was a subber then at Daily Times …

    I am glad this has taken a life of its own.


  8. Farina,

    On the contrary Jinnah was a very secular man … and his vision of statehood was based on equality of citizenship and state’s indifference towards faith.


  9. Hi
    What a contrast … First Indian anthem was by Sir Iqbal and First Pakistani Anthem by Prof Jaganath Azad…
    I wont say anything about India but being a Pakistan, I will prefer Jinnah’s choice over his successors….
    Can u plz search for complete Anthem by Prof Jaganath Azad?


  10. Cute but very short. I would say that current version of anthem is much patriotic and powerful than this old one, but very few people know that we had this one too.


    Thank you so much BEENA MA’AM for such a nice History.
    I really enjoyed reading this Story about Anthem..
    May ALLAH give You more success, beautiful life AMEEN.
    Take care


  12. A fine rebuttal by Dr. Safdar Mahmood:

    Daily Jang

    – June 06, 2010
    – June 08, 2010


  13. Thank you for sharing the news. I think nowehre in our history book does this first tarana figure out. Luckily I knew about it and had included this in my website “Pakistanpaedia” when writing about history of our national anthem.


  14. Kudos to Beena Sarwar for writing this very important piece. It is important to revisit some of the important events of history and reinterpret them in the larger interest of our people. Our nations have fought without taking people into account. Our historian wrote to please their governments but there are people like Beena who we need to acknowledge and salute for the major work she has taken to bring people together. India and Pakistan have common destiny and we have common culture and language. Is it not true that Azad could have liked Jinnah more than the Congress leaders. Who know it better that there were dark sheep in Indian national congress who wanted to paint Jinnah as the sole champion of division of the country without exposing the role of the upper caste leaders of Congress party. Partition was a tragedy though it was a reality as well and we need accept it and the identities of our nations yet we must understand that we share our history and culture together. There are many instances in the history which shows that people irrespective of their castes and religion, worked for this cause of our freedom and people’s right. We need to learn a lot from that. The thin line of division is not necessarily on the basis of religion but power politics as there are hundreds of things which unites against a few things which divides us. We need to take the positives and move ahead for our common interest and freedom.


  15. […] Beena Sarwar has mounted a campaign to resurrect Azad’s anthem. “Bring back Jagannath Azad’s Pakistan anthem” […]




  17. […] Beena Sarwar has mounted a campaign to resurrect Azad’s anthem. “Bring back Jagannath Azad’s Pakistan anthem” […]


  18. Great story by a bold journalist. In addition to this, whatever I would have liked to say, has already been said in his comment by Vidya Bhushan Rawat on March 26, 2012. I endorse every word of his. Thanks Beena!


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