The War of the Anthems

There was a recent twitter thread that I followed on the best anthem in the world (created by Brian Skinner, a physicist at MIT I follow). According to the unofficial poll the Indian National Anthem, or as innumerable bored school kids know it as – Jan Gan Man – a bhadrolok bong monstrosity that many of us have learnt to live with, won the competition. Probably more of a sign of the number of Indians on twitter than anything else (though he tried to normalise for it like a good physicist!).

As I replied to Skinner, own test of a good anthem is its soporific value. Basically something like the number of adults of a random lot size of say, 100, it can put to sleep if repeated say, 10, times (like a lullaby) divided by the total character length of that anthem. The denominator is to correct for the true sleep-inducing potential of the melody as opposed to sheer brute length. After all, *any* sufficiently long national anthem on repeat will put people to sleep out of sheer boredom. In that respect, I think Jana Gana Mana is pretty sleep-inducing too but I wonder how much of that has got to do with its length?

What do people here think? Which one is the best, i.e. the most sleep-inducing, anthem in S Asia or indeed the World? My own vote goes to Japan’s Kimi Ga Yo which is basically just one sentence. Good on you, Japs!

Also, please feel fee to comment on the worst, (a)rousing anthems too. Of those, La Marseillaise pretty much makes the bottom of the pile in my opinion. Literally asking for a revolutionary blood bath, that one…


16 Replies to “The War of the Anthems”

  1. I just feel had Tagore knew that Jan Gan Man would have been chosen as the national anthem he perhaps would have put bit more effort.

    Or perhaps the national anthem (of any country) being drab is a feature not a bug.

    1. I think the feature is not about meaning to make the anthem dull. However, the creators/choosers of the anthem typically take their task (and themselves) too seriously, ending up with stuff that sounds boring to people not used to thinking that seriously about that country…

  2. Trivia I find interesting.

    The American anthem Star Sprangled Banner contains the lines
    “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
    Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;”

    The bombs Franics Scott Key is talking about are Congreve rockets, which were an innovation on the Mysore rocket used by the army of Tipu Sultan.

    A bit of India in US history.

  3. I don’t think Kimigayo is boring at all. The music embodies a country still emerging from seclusion, yet also confident in its future. Besides, it’s also a fine piece of poetry.

  4. Canada’s is pretty sleep inducing. Here are the boring lyrics for you:

    O Canada!
    Our home and native land!
    True patriot love in all of us command.

    With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
    The True North strong and free!

    From far and wide,
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    God keep our land glorious and free!
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

  5. Thanks to watching at least 5 editions of the World Cup football, I can hum to most of the South American nations’ anthems. They all sound like an overture to a Verdi opera. I still remember the chill down my spine when I heard the Croatian national anthem in the European Nations Cup in 1996, when the newly founded Croatia kicked-off against Turkey. For the record, Spain, because of its regional linguistic variances, has no words in its national anthem.

    1. You may be interested in the background of Croatian anthem. The song was composed in 1835 by Serbian composer. At that time Croatia did not exist, it was Austro-Hungary. In the borders of today’s Croatia, Serbs were huge majority at that time. Subsequently they committed (with Austrian and Nazi help) several genocides against Serbs (in the ww1, in ww2 they killed about 1.2 million). Finally, (with American help) expelled several hundreds of thousands of Serbs in 1995. Couple years before that they were recognised by Germans and US as independent country. They adopted this Serbian song (and history and language because they did not have their own) as their anthem. Their listening of anthem is very theatrical and posery, with a hand on the heart (copying American) and with face expressions like they have thousands of years of history behind them, not only 27. (it seems, all of these made impression on you, what actually was the point).

  6. LOL , and here i felt that Indian national anthem is the most low effort national anthem ever. Clearly there were folks far lazier than Tagore 😛

  7. On the subject of national anthem typology, I once heard a Hungarian summarize his country’s anthem as “oh god, why”. Understandable, considering Hungary’s history, but I think it may be the only one of it’s type. Perhaps you need the frustrated arrogance of a former regional overlord along with general trauma. Countries that have only ever been on the receiving end of getting fucked over – or countries with more confidence – tend to opt for more typically inspirational anthems.


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