The song of the nation

Pâk sarzamîn shâd bâd
Kishwar-e-hasîn shâd bâd
Tû nishân-e-azm-e-âli shân arz-e-Pakistân
Markaz-e-yaqîn shâd bâd

Hail, the pure, holy land
Hail, the realm of beauty
The symbol of our high resolve is the glory of the land of Pakistan
Hail, fortress of faith

Pâk sarzamîn ka nizâm
Qaum mulk saltânat pâinda tabinda bâd
Shâd bâd manzil-e-murâd

The law of the pure, holy land
is the might of the brotherhood of all
May the people, the land, and the country shine in undimmed glory
Hail, the goal of our dreams

Tarjumân-e-mazî, shân-e-hâl, jân-e-istaqbâl

Our banner, with its star and cresent:
a signpost to progress and wonders
a witness to our past, giving dignity to our present, the soul of our future
a symbol of God's perfection.

Uniquely enough, Pakistan did not have a national anthem for seven years after its formation. Until a little over eighteen months earlier, no-one knew for certain that it would exist, and unlike the Indian vande mataram, the movement for a Muslim state never had a song that captured everyone's hearts. The result: in 1947, the Pakistani flag rose for the first time to the strains of a makeshift song hurriedly chosen three days earlier. The process of choosing a national song now began in earnest. In typically South Asian style, the responsibility was delegated to a specially constituted National Anthem Committee, which began work in late 1947.

Time passed. A year. People began to grow impatient. A Pakistani businessman, Mr. A. R. Ghani who had made a fortune in South Africa cabled an offer of a prize of five thousand rupees (then several years wages) each to the poet and the composer of the anthem. The NAC received a fresh jolt of enthusiasm, and wrote to all the leading Urdu poets (many of whom were still in India, but that's a different story).

More time passed.

In 1950, the Shah of Iran was invited to pay a special state visit to Pakistan. All of a sudden, everyone realised that there was no national anthem to play at the official function. A flurry of activity ensued, and several tunes and words suddenly surfaced. None of the words were up to the mark, but one tune submitted by Ahmad Chagla, a doyen of Sindhi music, won instant approval. And not without reason - Chagla was an acknowledged master of Hindustani classical music and the western musical tradition, having spent several years at the Trinity College of Music under Sir Henry Wood. So now we had a tune, but no words. It was with some relief that Pakistani officialdom realised that a band didn't need words to play the tune. The tune was played to well-deserved acclaim. It is indeed a beautiful tune, solemn but uplifting and rhythmic, and very much grounded in the Hindustani tradition, but without its intricate melodial subtleties making it easy to play and sing (unlike the Indian vande mataram, which was abandoned for precisely that reason).

That wasn't enough for the government, however, and it spent four years studying every note and harmony to assess the worth of the anthem. It was not until 1954 that the tune was actually confirmed by the government, by which time Chagla was dead. The NAC now sent the composed tune to the leading Urdu poets of the time, and this time the words produced by Abul Asar Hafiz Jullandhri were found worthy. On 14 August 1954, the anthem was played and sung as the flag was raised on independence day.

The anthem is brief, and in beautifully lyrical lines celebrates the ideals, dreams, and aspirations that animated the founders of Pakistan. Everyone agreed that it had been worth the wait.

Translated here by me. I have deliberately not used the official translation (easily locatable using google), because with my usual modesty, I firmly believe this is much better.

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