Anthems. They are feel-good songs, usually with a very strong geographic connection. They relate to concepts of place, scale, centripetal forces and geopiety. Sometimes, there is more than one anthem. However, one may be official and others not.

But first, let me welcome you back to school for a new academic year … full of new possibilities. May be new friendships. The first few days spent exchanging information about what you did over the summer holidays. What was boring and what was exciting. And, I am sure you will chat about the geography that you observed when you were out and about. Right? RIGHT?

Larger scale

As I said earlier, anthems are feel-good songs. When an anthem is about a place, it extols the virtues and history of that place. The place may be a political region, a cultural region, a country, etc.

Thus, for example, we have the Karnataka anthem (in Kannada), jaya bhaarata-jananiya tanjuaatey jaya hey karnaataka maatey … ‘be victorious, Mother Karnataka, daughter of Mother Bhaarata.’ You immediately noticed how the song’s opening lines show Karnataka as a sub-unit (‘daughter’) of the larger unit (‘Mother Bhaarata’, that is India). You can listen to in on YouTube. You thought, “Oh, hello! There is a neat example of the geographic concept of scale!!” You did, RIGHT? And of course, you are right! In fact, there is a nesting of scales … smaller unit within the larger unit.

The one from Tamil Nadu also uses this concept of scale. If you understand Tamil, you can check it out on YouTube. The lyrics are provided in both Tamil and Roman scripts.

Check out the anthem of Assam, sung by the famous Sri Bhupen Hazarika. Hone your internet research skills and look for the lyrics of this anthem in a script that you can read, and for the meanings of the lines of this song.

You can do this for any state anthem.

Many state anthems are, for some reason, called ‘state songs.’ It would not be wrong to call them state anthems. But hey, whatever, no?

You can look up and listen to anthems from other states also. Explore: Do they all have this scale nesting in them?

There are many anthems around. Usually, one is recognized as the official state anthem (or song).

Before India became a republic and the administrative units of states were formed, each kingdom had its own anthem. They were different in many ways from the modern, official anthems. Check out the one for the old kingdom of Mysuru. For those of you who may be interested in Karnataka sangeetam (‘carnatic’ music): this song is in raga Yaman, set to roopaka taala. Explore: Compare this with the official anthem mentioned earlier. What are the similarities and differences between the two?

We are talking about smaller places. Then why did I use the heading “larger scale” for this section? Explore: What are meanings of ‘large scale’ and ‘small scale’ in geography?

Smaller scale

Then we have anthems at the national level. The official one for India is jana-gana-mana-adhinaayaka … as you well know. This is full of both physical and cultural geography references. Explore: Which phrases and lines in the anthem talk about the two kinds of geographies?

Another popular, but not official, Samskrtam anthem is vande maataram (‘I salute the Mother’). Explore: If you are a student of Samskrtam, examine this anthem and explore the geographies contained in it.

Recently, young Nilā (aged 7 – Nilā is a Tamizh word for “moon”) visited me over a weekend. She sings very well. So, among the songs I had her sing for me, was an anthem I first heard when she sang it for me last year: jayati jayati bhaarata-maataa.

It has a very catchy tune. For the Karnataka sangeetam enthusiasts among you: it is in the raga Khamaaj (also called Khamaas) and aadi taala.

Its composer is Mayuram Vishvanaatha Sastri (1893 – 1958). He was a polymath well-trained in Samskrtam, Karnataka sangeetam, and dramatics. (A polymath is “a person of great learning in several fields of study.“) Explore: Read his biography on Wikipedia.

Not only is the tune very catchy, it expresses an ideal India. All anthems paint a very lovely, idealistic picture of the places they refer to. Here are the lyrics of the song (in Devanaagari) and an English translation.

जयति जयति भारतमाता
Victory to mother India
बुधगीता || प  ||
who is praised by the wise

निखिलमतावननिरता (निखल-मत-अवन-निरता)
who is engaged in protecting every religion
नत-जन-सुकृता || अ प ||
who favours those who bow to her

who treats all creatures equally
who is well understood by good men
who is celebrated everywhere
परम-अानन्द-समुदिता ||  च 1  ||
who is accompanied by great happiness

who is marked by uncountable virtues
who has great mercy
who spreads the web of auspiciousness
पतित-त्राण-लोला  ||  च 2  ||
who is eager to save the fallen

who is honored by scholars
who is free of sin
who frustrates the deeds of the wicked
अखण्ड-देश-वेष्टिता   ||  च 3  ||
who encompasses the entire nation

(Samskrtam text correction and translation, courtesy of: Sri Suhas Mahesh, Oxford University, UK)

Listen to a recording of Nilā singing the song with her mother’s (Indu’s) support. You could also follow the lyrics as you listen.


Here is another anthem. The Samskrtam text in Roman (English) transliteration, in Devanaagari (Samskrtam script), and translation are on the YouTube page of the song.

Recurring themes

Anthems always talk of unity, equality, and beauty. The beauty can be praise of the cultural and physical geographies of the place. Unity! That is a strong theme. Anthems are part of the symbols of the efforts at unity within a place. This is an effort at creating centripetal forces (in geography we use this to indicate ‘forces that unite a region’). Anthems hope to reject divisiveness/disunity (‘centrifugal forces’ in geography).


  • Look at other anthems and the meanings of the lyrics in them. Apply the concepts raised here to them and see if they fit.
  • How do anthems promote geopiety (reverence for place)?

Join us for the International Geography Youth Summit–2019 ‘Geographies of Our Stories’,
26-28 July 2019, Bengaluru

Featured image: Sri Mayuram Vishvanatha Sastry (1893-1958). Image source:

A version of this article appears in the Deccan Herald Student Edition.


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