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The seven long years when Pakistan did not sing its national anthem

Updated August 14, 2015

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Left: Hafeez Jallandhri. Right: Ahmed Ghulam Ali Chagla
Left: Hafeez Jallandhri. Right: Ahmed Ghulam Ali Chagla

For seven long years after the inception of their country, the people of Pakistan could not sing their national anthem. The reason? They simply didn’t have one.

During this period, they got on by playing patriotic songs at various state events. The political leadership was faced with two major dilemmas:

  • How to chart out a constitution that is acceptable to everyone,
  • How to compose a national anthem that all regions of the country could sing in unison.

Perhaps, in the case of the national anthem, too, language was a contentious issue; people in East Pakistan spoke Bengali, while those in West Pakistan spoke four different languages, which included Sindhi, Balouchi, Punjabi, and Pashto. Moreover, Quaid-e-Azam had already declared Urdu as the national language.

Aqeel Abbas Jafari writes in Pakistan Ka Qaumi Tarana: Kia Hai Haqiqat Kia Hai Fasaana:

“On 4th August 1954, the cabinet held another meeting and announced that it had approved the anthem written by Mr Hafeez Jallandhri without any changes. The meeting also declared that after the adoption of this anthem, the two national songs – one each in Urdu and Bengali – had been rendered unnecessary.”

The man who had written the musical composition for the national anthem had by then departed. He died on 5th February 1953, whereas the anthem and its music won approval in 1954. The recognition for his service, too, came very late.

On page 21 of Yaad-i-Khazana: Radio Pakistan Mien 25 Saal, veteran broadcaster Jamil Zubairi writes under the heading The National Anthem:

“The musical composition for Pakistan’s national anthem had been prepared by Mohammad Ali Chagla [This may be a proofreading error, as his actual name was Ahmed Ghulam Ali Chagla]. After that, all poets of the country were invited to write anthems that could be set to Chagla’s composition. The government had appointed a committee tasked with the selection of the best anthem.

“When Z.A. Bukhari, then Director General of Radio Pakistan, heard Chagla’s composition, he teamed up with composer Nihal Abduallh and others and brought it into musical form; he then wrote the lyrics for a national anthem, becoming the first man to do so. Meanwhile, Hafeez Jallandhri and other poets sent in their anthems.

“All of these were put before the National Anthem Committee, which approved the one written by Jallandhri. That irked Bukhari, who insisted that he was the first to write a national anthem. However, the committee maintained its decision was final.

“Mrs Feldberg, the supervisor of English programmes of Radio Pakistan, sent the anthem to London for the orchestrisation [sic] and notation. When the finished product arrived back from London, Z.A. Bukhari and Hameed Nasim, together, recorded the national anthem at Radio Pakistan. The singers included Nihal Abdullah, Daim Hussain, Nazir Begum, Rasheeda Begum, Tanvir Jehan, Kokab Jehan and others. Thus was recorded the national anthem by Radio Pakistan.”

Exactly, when Chagla finalised the music for the national anthem, and which songs served the anthem's function before it was created, I wanted to know. Veteran journalist Naimatullah Bukhari says that soon after Independence, his school adopted Allama Mohammad Iqbal’s poem “Cheen o Arab hamaraa hindostaan hamaara/Muslim hain hum; watan hai saara jahaan hamaara” as the morning assembly song.

Human Rights activists Iqbal Alvi remembers that pupils at his school would sing “Lab pe aati hai dua ban kay tamana meri”.

Also read: Pemra asks private TV channels to telecast national anthem in morning

Aqeel Abbas Jafari has reproduced an excerpt from an article written by Aminur Raham in 1960. Rahman describes the circumstances around the musical composition of the national anthem:

“In the beginning of the year 1950, the youthful King of Iran, Reza Shah Pahlavi, arrived in Pakistan on a state visit. The customs and protocol required that the king be welcomed with an anthem ceremony. Hence, the need for an official anthem was direly felt, but Pakistan had not yet decided on its anthem. The officials were running short of time; they urgently needed a national anthem not only for this particular occasion but also for the future events, because it would have been impossible to change the national anthem once it had been selected and played.

“The decision called for a thorough examination of everything related to the issue; consequently, the National Anthem Committee hesitated, especially when they came across the apparent lack of a suitable person for the job in Pakistan.

“However, the officials demonstrated their acumen by picking up an artist whose selection warrants praise for the selectors. In the West, there are a number of great musicians, competing against each other, and if any one of them were asked to give musical composition for the national anthem of Pakistan, he would have accomplished the job excellently; but it would have attached with it a foreigner’s name to Pakistan’s anthem – something that could have hurt our national prestige. Hence, the selection of a Pakistani musician was apt.

“Ahmed G.A. Chagla was well-known as a skilled musician to the erudite section of our society – people who understood music. Possibly, there were superior experts of classical music in Pakistan at the time, but Chagla had not only developed an insight into the classical music of the subcontinent; he also understood the theory and technique of the Western melodies. He had studied Western music at the famous music academy of England, The Trinity College of Music, under Sir Henry Wood. As someone with intimate knowledge of both eastern and western traditions of music, he was the most suited candidate for composing the music of Pakistan’s national anthem.

“With time slipping away and his health worsening off, Chagla burned the midnight oil to produce a suitable composition for Pakistan’s national anthem. Long before the Iranian King arrived in Pakistan, the anthem had been produced. The entire process took no more than two weeks. Ahmed G. Chagla created a composition that reflects the patriotism and aspirations of our nation perfectly. When the King of Iran arrived in Pakistan, a navy band played the anthem to welcome him; the king was impressed.”

The ongoing debate among journalists and intellectuals over the issue of national anthem has generated another question: Who was the first person to write a national anthem for Pakistan?

See: Who really wrote our first 'official' national anthem?

Over the last decade, one group has claimed that Jagan Nath Azad was the first one to write a national anthem. Proponents of this claim cite one of Azad’s interview, in which he says that Jinnah had instructed him to write a national anthem. Historical facts, however, tell us that Azad had never termed any of his national songs as the ‘national anthem of Pakistan’. The debate rages on.

Senior Journalist Naeem Ahmed writes in one of his columns, “I don't think Mr Jinnah ever asked Jagan Nath Azad to write the national anthem; if that were the case, Azad would have been boasting about it. It's also a fact that Mr Jinnah had no taste for Urdu poetry; besides, he and Azad never lived in the same city.”

At the time, Bengalis living in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had been demanding that the national anthem must also include words of Bengali language, but their demand was turned down.

Aqeel Abbas Jafari writes on page 37 of Pakistan Ka Qaumi Tarana: Kia Hay Haqiqat Kia Hay Fasana:

“A study of Radio Pakistan's archives and a research undertaken by Dr Safdar Mahmood have confirmed that Radio Pakistan broadcast on the night between 14 and 15 August did not include any song or anthem by Jagan Nath Azad. There remains a possibility that Radio Pakistan later aired a song written by Jagan Nath Azad, who called it a national song, and whose admirers continue to tag it as national anthem. However, that is not very likely, as neither the archives at Radio Pakistan nor any written accounts of the radio veterans confirm such a thing.”

Jamil Zubairi in his preface to Yaad-i-Khazana: Radio Pakistan Mien 25 Saal reveals that on 4th August 1947 then Sindh Government had launched its own radio service.

“The idea for the [regional] radio station was conceived by S.K. Haider, who owned a radio shop in Karachi. He discussed it with Ahmed G.A. Chagla. Subsequently, both of them met with Mr Adnani, an advisor to the Sindh Government. Haider and Chagla were able to set up a makeshift radio station when they successfully repaired some old transmitters. It was named 'Sindh Government Broadcasting Station' and it hit the waves on 10th August 1947.

“When Pakistan came into being on 14th August 1947 and Quaid-e-Azam was sworn in as Governor-General, this same radio station broadcast eyewitness accounts of these historic events. However, the radio station lived for a mere 10-day period, as it was shut down on 20th August, because the Wireless Act did not provide for the provincial governments to run their own radio stations.”

Take our history buff quiz: How well do you know Pakistan's past?

Renowned historian Gul Hassan Kalmati writes on page 247 of his book Karachi Kay Lafaani Kirdar:

“There is a possibility that the same makeshift radio aired Jagan Nath Azad's anthem, but almost all of the people in a position to confirm it are dead. The issue should be explored by researchers.”

The national anthem that we, Pakistanis, sing today won approval in 1954, seven years after Independence. So did the musical composition, though the latter had already earned a semi-official status in 1950. Chagla had put his heart and soul into the musical composition for the national anthem, and you can feel that by listening to it.

However, he could not see his composition being formally approved during his life time, and successive governments failed to recognise the service he had rendered to the nation. His family, too, had to wait for 43 years before the recognition came (if counted from the date of cabinet approval, it becomes a 43-year period).

Gul Hassan Kalmati writes on page 242 of Karachi Ke Lafaani Kirdaar:

"Finally, after a lapse of 43 years, it was during Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's term in office that the government announced Presidential Award for Mr Ahmed Ali Chagla. His son, Abdul Khaliq Chagla, who lives in Houston, received the award at a ceremony held at Pakistan Embassy in Washington D.C. on 23rd March 1997."

Hafeez Jallandhri died on 21st December 1982. The government pondered over his last wish to be buried next to Allama Mohammed Iqbal. Renowned historian and researcher Mueenuddin Aqeel says that the government failed to fulfill that last wish of Jallandhri. First, he was temporarily buried in the Model Town cemetery, then he was interred in a tomb that had been built for him in the vicinity of Minar-e-Pakistan.

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Translated by Arif Anjum from the original in Urdu here.