In the year 1905 Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India announced the partition of Bengal. The provincial state of Bengal had an area of 189,000 square miles and a population of nearly 80 million. It included the Hindi-speaking regions of Bihar, the Odia speaking regions of Odisha as well as the Asamee speaking region of Assam making it a huge administrative entity. The capital of the British Raj was also located in the same province. With the growing efforts of the Indian National Congress to secure the independent India, the viceroy decided to address both these problems by partitioning the province into two entities, which would result in a Muslim-majority in the eastern half, and a Hindu-majority in the western half. This was the first attempt of the British to divide land according to religion.
This shocked the entire Bengal province from commoners to the elite. To protest the partition, our very own poet of Jorashanko Thakur Bari started to write protest songs. Near the end of 1905 Tagore wrote a song named Eka and it was first published in Bhandar magazine. After more than a hundred years, we hum this song as 'Jodi tor dak shune keo na ashe, tobe ekla cholo re.'
After its publication 'Ekla Cholo Re' became one of the most popular Tagore songs. Influenced by a popular Bangla kirtan 'Harinaam Diye Jagat Matale Amar Ekla Nitai Re', this song was incorporated in the 'Swadesh' section of Tagore's lyrical anthology Gitabitan. This is one of those works of Tagore's which still holds a big influence on Bangali people all over the world. Interestingly this song also inspired many leaders of Swadesi movement. When Mahatma Gandhi first visited Shantiniketan, this song was performed by the students on his entrance. Later Gandhi cited that he was very much influenced by this song and it was one of his favourites.
The song is often quoted in the context of political or social change movements. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose can be an example of what Tagore tried to express in this song. Against all odds Netaji revived and led the Indian National Army to achieve the independence of India. This was a time when not a single leader of the Indian Congress was in favour of Netaji, even Gandhi himself. Bose being an admirer of Tagore, many historians and Bose's contemporaries claimed that this song had a huge influence on him during his journey throughout Germany and Japan.
As we see now, this song was for the people who wanted to break the traditional norms and suppression. Even today when we want to take a new step in life, this song gives us a light of hope towards that journey. Every person can bring a change into the society, and needless to say this song is the perfect background score towards that change.
For more than a hundred years, this song keeps teaching us to walk alone, but strong. Even to this day when we face many challenges, we hum this tune of Tagore's to strengthen ourselves against all odds.