CAPT RAM SINGH THAKURI: THE SINGING SOLDIER

While heated debates raged in the recent past on whether one should stand up for the National Anthem or if it is a violation of individual freedom when it is played in cinema halls, forgotten lies the fact about the person who gave music to our stirring anthem. While accusations fly in cyberspace about “correct version’’ of history, one forgets to remember the correct version behind the history of the “Jana Gana Mana.’’ Captain Ram Singh Thakuri, the musical legend of the INA lies forgotten and his invaluable contributions to Indian martial music a fading note.

Opening Notes
Capt Ram Singh was born on 15 August 1914, at, Khaniyara, about 7 km from Dharamshala town in Himachal Pradesh, in the Thakuri family who were ruling royals of Nepal until 2008. He was motivated in his youth by his father, Havildar Dilip Singh who had groomed him to don the uniform. After completing school in 1922, he in 1924 joined the 1/4 Gorkha Rifles at Dharamshala Cantonment as a recruit in the unit band. From early childhood, he had an interest in music, which was encouraged by his grandfather Mr. Jamni Chand who migrated from Munakot village in Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand in 1890 and by his maternal grandfather, Shri Nathu Chand.Capt Ram Singh Thakuri 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. He was trained by renowned British musicians, Hadson and Danish in brass, string and dance music. Captain Rose would teach him to master the violin. Apart from classical and Western music, he took a liking to ballads. While serving in the North West Frontier Province he earned the King George VI Medal for bravery during the 1937- 39 Khyber-Phaktunwala war and was promoted as Company Havildar Major. The flames of Second World were spreading and his battalion was shipped overseas to Singapore. On 15 February 1942, Singapore fell and the Allied forces surrendered to General Fujiwara. The ignominy of the British Empire in the colony regarded as a diadem in the colonial crown was shattering. After the fall of Singapore, the Japanese forces took a large number of PoWs. As a Prisoner of War Captain Ram Singh escaped being treated harshly due to his musical skills. He was tasked by his captors to play the piano in the officers club. It was during his captivity that he began to hone his musical skills further.

The Rising Crescendo
General Fujiwara handed over 60,000 Indian Prisoners of War to General Mohan Singh, of the 14 Punjab Regiment, who was instrumental in the creation of the Indian National Army (INA). On 3 July 1943 Netaji formally took command of the INA. On 21 October 1943, it was decided to form a temporary Government of Azad Hind at Singapore under the leadership of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose.

A large number of Indian PsOW volunteered to join the Indian National Army. Thakuri, who had initially not volunteered, was sent to Japan, where he met Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Thakuri later joined the Indian National Army as it was reorganised under the leadership of Bose. Subhash Chandra Bose was instrumental in tapping the talent of Captain Ram Singh Thakuri as a dedicated music director. On his personal request, Thakuri composed the tunes for Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja, the INA’s marching song and now one of the most famous patriotic songs of India and also the music for “Saare Jahan se Accha”. He also composed the tune for Subh Sukh Chain ke (or the Qaumi Taran as it was known), the National Anthem adopted by Azad Hind Government. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment marching song “Hum Bharat ki Ladki Hai,” was also composed by Capt Ram Singh.

The Azad Hind Government felt that a national anthem was the need of this historic movement. At the proclamation of the provisional government of Free India, Vande Mataram had been sung. However Muslims were not comfortable with the expressly Hindu metaphors used in the song, and the dislike was compounded by the fact that the book ‘Anandmath,’ in which the song was first published had a tinge of perceived anti Muslim tenor. The leaders of the INA in Singapore were aware of this problem and hoped that Netaji would resolve the issue. Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, an INA legend, forwarded the selection of Jana Gana Mana. This song, written by Rabindranath Tagore was being sung at sessions of the Indian National Congress. Captain Lakshmi Sahgal arranged to have it sung at an INA Women’s Wing meeting which Netaji attended and he was taken by the song. He felt that it truly represented the nation but however disliked the fact that the song was in Sanskritised Bengali and Hindi. He then commissioned a free translation in Hindustani. Netaji tasked Captain Ram Singh and desired that the tune should be so powerful and inspiring that when INA soldiers render the same it should not only stir their souls but of the millions of Indians under the British heel to rise and shake off the shackles of the Raj. Within a week they did and Netaji approved. The musical score was sent to Germany and transcribed by experts to be played by a full military orchestra. This proved to be an unforgettable composition of Ram Singh Thakur.

Captain Ram Singh and Captain Abid Ali Hussain translated the poem into Hindi and Capt Ram Singh extended the music. The approval of Netaji was sought and duly accorded. The Jana Sukha Chaina ke Gaatha, Bharata Bhaga Jaaga—the Quami Tarana of the INA. Thus the tune national anthem was purely composed by Capt Ram Singh, a tune that stirs in us a fervour transcending, class, creed, caste, religion and regional identities and infusing the true Indian identity. Netaji said, “Ram Singh, the day Indian National Army takes shape in the Cathay Building of Singapore the song Subh Sukh Chain Ki Barkha Barse must 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.” The rehearsals were done at the INA Deedadri camp in Singapore. On October 31, 1943, the INA came into power and the INA orchestra played the Qaumi Tarana. The Cathay Building reverberated thunderously. It was the martial musical weapon of the INA towards liberating India from the British rule.
In 1944, Capt. Thakuri was decorated by Subhas Chandra Bose with a gold medal for his contribution. Thakuri also received a German violin and a saxophone as personal gifts from Netaji. The gold medal was sent to Rangoon after his departure from Singapore to Rangoon. Netaji wanted that the gold medal should be presented to him by the Indian Government on some historic day. But this could not happen. Later on, General Lokanand presented this gold medal to him 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.”

Anthem of an Era
After the end of the war, the INA laid down arms in Rangoon, and Thakuri was shipped back to India with his fellow soldiers. Imprisoned at the Kabul Lines of the Delhi Cantonment, Thakuri was released later as most of the INA troops were released without charge. Thakuri and members of his orchestra band were invited to play the National Anthem on the occasion of the Prime Minister’s inaugural address to the nation at the Red Fort. 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 Gandhi 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. Gandhi sought permission from the English Army General who readily gave it”.

In 1945 the British had declared Capt. Ram Singh’s composition “Kadam Kadam badeya jaye” as seditious, and banned its recording at the British Gramophone Company in Kolkata. Two weeks after Independence, on 29 August 1947 the ban was lifted. 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. As a mark of honour, Nehru paused for two minutes for Netaji to make his appearance and sought the permission and blessings of the absent leader before he addressed the nation. It was on this occasion that Capt Ram Singh was specially 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.

The Last Post
Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel suggested that Capt Ram Singh set up an orchestra of musicians (all from the INA, Ganesh Bahadur, Gulab Singh Thapa, Avtar Singh, Ram Saran, Nar Bahadur Thapa) under the supervision of Col Rathuri, Col Sahgal and Col Ahmed. It was named as “All India INA Orchestra”. Sardar Patel gave Rs 5000/-for instruments from Bombay and other expenses. They travelled around the country to light up national unity through patriotic music and songs with full gusto. Capt Ram Singh was a truly secular musician who performed all kinds of music with equal passion—Bhajans, Sufi music, Qawwalis, Gurbani, Christmas carols and folk music, performing at any event whether it be at Sports/ Founders day/Children’s Day at schools and colleges.

Capt Ram Singh was a truly secular musician who performed all kinds of music with equal passion—Bhajans, Sufi music, Qawwalis, Gurbani, Christmas carols and folk music, performing at any event whether it be at Sports/ Founders day/Children’s Day at schools and colleges.Captain Ram Singh, along with his orchestra group, was recruited in the Provicial Armed Constabulary band of Uttar Pradesh in 1948, from which he retired in 1974. Upon retirement he was accorded the honorary rank of DSP and was awarded the title of ‘Emeritus Musician’ and Life Advisor Music, Govt of UP. The song “Badhe Chalo Police ke Veer” penned by Bhagwati Prasad Verma was set to music by Ram Singh and adopted as the official police song of the Central para military forces. On 27 May 1971, Ms Padmaja Naidu, Governor of West Bengal invited Capt. Ram Singh with his musicians for  an  evening  of  patriotic  songs  on  the death anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru at Teen Murti Bhawan. For the morning prayer, Ram Singh played his composition “jalta hoon aur hasaan karta hoon” to the sacred ‘eternal diya/flame’. In the evening Capt. Ram Singh played the two eternal tunes of “Kadam Kadam” and “Shubh Sukh Chaina ki Barkha barse” along with the INA officers, All India Radio singers and National Drama Division. Col Sahib Singh Verma (former CM of NDA Govt Delhi) invited Capt. Ram Singh in September 1977 to play these two eternal songs in the Delhi Assembly. At the ceremonial installation of Netaji’s Chair at Red Fort, New Delhi on 7 July 1981, Capt Ram Singh again played the eternal two tunes on his violin. The Gramophone Company of India, which brought out a special album titled, Delhi Chalo containing Netaji’s favourite songs, includes Shubh sukh chain ki barkha barse in the same tune as Jana Gana Mana. Capt Ram Singh composed all the songs in that album sponsored by the Netaji Research Bureau. He has also composed around 30 patriotic songs. His forte ranged from Western to Indian. He also went on to provide music to late Bimal Roy’s film ‘Sipahi ka Sapana’. He turned down offers from Bollywood as his genre and interest was only patriotic music. His music has been credited in Shyam Benegal’s film “The Forgotten Hero”. Ram Singh’s recordings with Doordarshan and All India Radio, Lucknow stands as a monumental testimony to his extraordinary contributions.

He was honoured by the Central Government, as well as the Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim. Captain Thakuri’s final years were difficult and controversial, for which the Government drew much criticism. He was initially denied the status of a freedom fighter by the government, while the State government of Uttar Pradesh later faced contempt proceedings for withholding the corresponding payment although the amount in question was meagre. Captain Ram Singh continued to cope with this neglect and humiliation. His predicament was best spelt out by the judgment of the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court. The judgment said: “It is unfortunate and matter of concernfor this court that Captain Ram Singh who was awarded the King George VI Medal in 1937 for the services rendered by him in the North West Frontier during 1937 to 1939… has been treated shabbily by the state government”. The judges further observed: “It is really sad that Captain Ram Singh has been denied the respect and regard which is due to him. If we cannot do anything more for him at least we must provide him a decent living.”

On March 22, 1996, the court directed that an honorarium of Rs 1,000 a month should be given to him. In a contempt petition moved by him, the court once again on May 19, 1997, issued orders for compliance of its earlier verdict. But that too met a similar fate as the nation proudly celebrated its 50th year of Independence. In a conversation with Sharat Pradhan, Captain Ram Singh spoke about dreams that have run asunder and how independent India has wronged him. “We had conceived an India-free from all ills — poverty, crime violence and humiliation. Unfortunately, these ills  are  the only things I have received from governments in recent years. What could be a greater humiliation for me than to be left out of all celebrations of the 50th year of our Independence? The only occasion where I was formally invited was in a school. I could not even attend that function because I was unable to climb onto the high police truck sent to fetch me”.

A controversial court petition at one point also sought to establish that he was not the composer of the National Anthem. Captain Thakuri suffered an epilepsy attack in 2001, and after suffering ill health for nearly a year, passed away on 15 April 2002 at the ripe age of 87 years. He was cremated with State honours at Bhaisakund. However the State Government of Uttar Pradesh was again criticised for the absence of notable or prominent government officials save a few police officers.

Over his long career, Captain Ram Singh earned a number of awards. These include:

  • George VI Medal, 1937
  • Netaji Gold Medal(Azad Hind), 1943
  • Uttar Pradesh 1st Governor Gold Medal, 1956
  • President Police Medal, 1972
  • UP Sangeet Natak Akademi (UP Music and Drama Academy) Award, 1979
  • Sikkim Government Mitrasen Award, 1993
  • The First Azad Hind Fauj Award by the West Bengal Government in 1996

While India sang and played Kadam Kadam Badaye Jaye and Saare Jahan se Accha everywhere including at the Beating Retreat on the evening of Republic Day, the composer remains unacknowledged.  His letters and pleas for giving Netaji the true place in history remained unanswered causing much anguish to a man whose passion for India was a lifelong obsession, the motivation for his sterling and eternal patriotic music. The gauntlet for his quest for recognition was picked up the Indian Gorkha community soon after his death. They strove to spread awareness of this great Gorkha. On 15 August 2006, the Capt Ram Singh Thakur Memorial Football Tournament was inaugurated in Dharamshala, the day being his birthday and Independence Day. Efforts of the local Gorkha and Gaddi community laid the foundation of this highly anticipated annual event under Capt Bhagwan Singh Gurung (Retd), the President of the Memorial Association.

Except for the football tournament started by the Gorkha community in his name seven years ago, there is nothing to keep Thakur’s memory alive.”We want future generations to know who he was,” said Shive Raj Thapa, who is associated with the Capt Ram Singh Memorial Football Tournament. Ramesh, a social activist, said Thakur has been forgotten at the national level. “We don’t even get much funds for the tournament. Last year, we received just Rs 5,000, and that too with great difficulty,” he lamented. Thapa rued that political leaders and government officials came to the village to inaugurate the event, but had never done anything noteworthy in recognition of Thakur’s service to the nation. “Thakur’s contribution has been acknowledged by states such as Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim, but he is yet to get a befitting honour in his home state,” said Thapa. Another villager, Naveen, said they had submitted countless memoranda to the administration and local leaders for building a memorial in Thakur’s name, but to no avail. “We have been demanding that the Dharamshala- Khaniyara road should be named after him or a memorial be raised in his honour,” Naveen added. “A postage stamp should be released in Singh’s name,” said Mastana, another villager.

From 15 to 25 April 2010, Dharamshala’s Kangra Museum of Art held the first ever Exhibition on the History and Culture of Himachal Gorkhas, Language and Culture Department, Himachal Pradesh. A resounding success, the exhibition received top media coverage, visited by members of the Government and most of all, Indian Gorkhas from Darjeeling Hills and Dehradun. Panels displaying Capt Ram Singh Thakuri’s achievements received attention and created an unprecedented awareness all over. The Gorkha people of Darjeeling Hills erected a statue of him at Sukna with the road named after him. In 2017, at Khaniara village, Dharamshala from where Ram Singh hailed, the government named a senior school (Captain Ram Singh Education Academy Senior High School), and a road and Bhavan in his name. The Captain Ram Singh Degree College at Firozabad also bears mute testimony to this musical genius.Capt Ram Singh Thakuri Adarsh Gram is a township nestled near Salugara, Siliguri.

The profile of Capt Ram Singh was compiled by eminent Gorkha history writer Ms Jyoti Thapa Mani, who meticulously curated his profile over the past 12 years, and used it to nominate him for Padma Vibhushan in 2018. The initiative was undertaken by Shri Ravinder Rana, President of the Himachal Punjab Gorkha Association, and Gorkha community including Capt. Bhagwan Singh Gurung, Shri Naveen Gurung, Shri Anil Gurung, Shivraj Thapa of Khaniara Village, Dharamshala. This year, the prestigious Padma Awards Committee has received 15,700 nominations. The government has laid stress on honouring the country’s Unsung Heroes, a great initiative of the Modi Government. His recognition will also serve as a tribute to the Gorkhas of the INA for their part in India’s Freedom Struggle.

I had the unique honour to interact personally with Captain Ram Singh at his home in Lucknow in 2001. I was drawn to his existence by an article in the Eastern Panorama of January 2001. Even at an age of 84, bed ridden Capt Ram Singh was 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” one of his superhit musical melodies. He gave me copies of his recordings, official correspondence and his autographed photo of Netaji. His songs were a great source of inspiration for the INA soldiers who were fighting hard to liberate India from the British yoke. But Captain Ram Singh will always 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 based on a poem by Rabindranath Tagore and was translated into Hindi by Abid Ali; the present National Anthem composed by Captain Ram Singh as Qaumi Tarana of the INA at Singapore in 1943.

Very few are born to leave an impact to bind a nation with music for eternity. Late Capt Ram Singh Thakuri was one of those God gifted heroes whom India was fortunate to have in the right era. No one ever imagined that one day over one billion Indians would remain united with his music of Jana Gana Mana, Kadam Kadam Badeya jaye and Sare Jahan Se Achha. While music directors composers, musicians, singers and lyricists of Bollywood, Kollywood and Mollywood continue to reap fame, money, awards, rewards, public acclaim and adulation for their works; Captain Ram Singh, doyen of our martial musical history, sadly remains but a footnote or end note in the score of our history.

As I felt the violin strings gifted by Netaji to the Singing Soldier,17 years ago, I still today feel the stirrings, pangs and sacrifices of the INA generation who volunteered to shed their tears, blood and lives for the freedom of the Mother Land. Their tunes may fade away but their notes live on.

Colonel Joe Purakel is a veteran of the Regiment of Artillery. An alumnus of OTA and DSSC he is leading a retired life devoted to writing and gardening. This article is dedicated by the author to the forgotten INA veterans past and present.

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