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Books and Documents ( 3 Jun 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Krishna and Urdu

By Shafey Kidwai

4 Jun, 2010


Shamin Tariq's recently published monograph traces the history of Urdu poetry against the backdrop of religious tolerance.


Notwithstanding widespread adulation of the ghazal, immense popularity of some prominent Urdu poets such as Mir, Ghalib, Iqbal, Faiz, Faraz, Firaq, Gulzar and Shaheryar and news channels' penchant for using Urdu words frequently, Urdu is still stigmatised by some quarters as the forerunner of communalism.

For them it nurtures separatist tendencies by harping on a strong feeling of cultural and religious exclusivity. Further, insistence on a maudlin notion of love hardly enables Urdu poetry to go beyond the life of desire, and popular Urdu poetry recited in poetry symposiums (mushairas) betrays the communal insularity. This view is not completely fallacious, as contemporary Urdu poetry is marked with sporadic angry outbursts against communal riots and discrimination.


Does Urdu poetry regurgitate the themes of religious bigotry, intolerance and cultural chauvinism? Could one find the traits of a religious zealot in Urdu poetry? These questions are convincingly discussed by eminent Urdu scholar and poet Shamim Tariq in his well-documented monograph tiled “Krishna in the poetic wisdom of Sufis”.


The Government of India's Ministry of Culture awarded a senior fellowship to the author to undertake the research project, which is now published as a book.

The book, divided into 10 chapters, traces the history of Urdu poetry in the backdrop of religious tolerance. Explaining the poetic tradition of Mysticism and Bhakti, Islamic pantheism and Vedantic monotheism, Tariq also enumerates the similarities and dissimilarities among them with remarkable thoroughness. The philosophy of Maya and the Vedantic concept of being contributed immensely in popularising Islamic Mysticism, and it produced judiciously blended two distinct cultures. The cultural and spiritual ethos of India gave a much needed impetus to cultural assimilation, and the abiding concern for fellow human beings nullified rigid religious boundaries. Urdu poetry eloquently summarises this phenomenon.

How do cultural ethos and worldview operate in a multi-cultural society? Tariq zeroes in on this question by sifting the works of early Sufi poets dispassionately.

The focused study of the saint poets prompted him to describe Krishna as the most popular poetic symbol of Sufi poetry. The author points out that Sufis learnt local dialects and composed poetry in the regional languages despite being well versed in Arabic and Persian languages. They used to converse in Hindustani even in the 15th Century.


Equal love

Two famous saints of the 17th and 18th centuries, Shah Mohammad Kazim Qalandar and Shah Turab Ali Qalandar, come in for detailed discussion. Their texts — “Shant Ras” and “Amrit Ras” — have been made the object of a focused study. According to the author, Krishna emerges as the most shining symbol of the ‘quest for ultimate truth'. Muslim poets always look up to him for spiritual attainment and intellectual guidance. Their poetry betrays the equal measure of their love for Shri Krishna and the prophets. Tariq regrets that Shah Mohammad Kazim Qalandar and Shah Turab Ali Qalandar are not included in the list of Bhakti poets whose hero is Krishna though they have composed poetry even in Braj Bhasha. . The book is braced to provide a complete understanding of the Indian mind and culture and its close affinity with Islamic tradition. It also makes it clear that Urdu poetry is invested with the tremendous potential to bind the whole nation together.


Source: The Hindu, New Delhi