Pakistan’s National Anthem: Lost in translation?

Pak sar zamin ka nizamQuwat e ukhuwat e awam

Qaum, mulk, sultanat

Pa-inda tabinda bad

Shad bad manzil e murad


Most of us learn the National Anthem of Pakistan by singing it every day in school, but how many of us can truly claim to understand its meaning? As I sit and watch Coke Studio’s rendition I can’t help but wonder whether the majority of Pakistanis can grasp the powerful feelings that our national anthem should and does invoke (albeit in Persian).


We can make all out the meaning of some of the words above, but while uncovering the intent of what it was trying to communicate, many of us would be at fault for not ‘getting it’. Here’s what the lyrics at the beginning of this article say:


The order of this sacred land

Is the might of the brotherhood of the people

May the nation, the country, and the state

Shine in glory everlasting!

Blessed be the goal of our ambition


Now read the stanza at the top again. Can you truthfully say reading the translation and knowing what the lyrics exactly meant didn’t make a difference? I felt like the words suddenly took on a gut-stirring, skin-tingling power. Reciting the anthem stimulated a deep sense of pride and devotion.


Our national anthem is made up of three stanzas and is about 80 seconds long. The stanzas are brief but carry a world of meaning that emphasize aspirations of our nation, the inspiration of its past to achieve a future of brotherhood, integrity and enduring freedom. The first stanza is about a prayer to God for the long-life of Pakistan with a lot of happiness and blessings. The second stanza describes the system of Pakistan that based on ideas of about unity and prosperity. The third stanza is about the flag of Pakistan and talks about how the presence of star and the crescent and the colors green and white denote peace and honoring all castes and religions under the blessing of the Almighty.  

Pakistan’s national anthem was composed in 1950 by Ahmad G. Chagla, a musical composer, historian, author, journalist, and writer. It took another 7 years before the famous Urdu poet, Hafeez Jullundhri’s lyrics were chosen to accompany the music and the official anthem was played on radio Pakistan for the first time on August 13, 1954. Hafeez Jullundhri chose to write the anthem in Persian (Farsi) and the anthem uses only one Urdu word ‘Ka’ (meaning ‘of’). Although Urdu is heavily influenced by Persian language, everyday Urdu is much simpler than the language used in our national anthem.


If more Pakistanis are made aware of the concept and the spirit of the anthem they often sing, its importance of inculcating pride in a free and blossoming nation will take root in the hearts of the youth.


All of the above becomes even more important as we collectively sit and bask in the beauty of the new version just released by Coke Studio. While hauntingly beautiful as is, just imagine the power of has he music when coupled with a deep understanding of what the words mean.

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