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Interfaith Dialogue ( 22 Apr 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Maulana Who Loved Krishna (Complete Text)



By C M Naim

April 22, 2013

This article reproduces, with English translations, the devotional poems written to the god Krishna by a Maulana who was an active participant in the cultural, political and theological life of late colonial north India. Through this, the article gives a glimpse of an Islamicate literary and spiritual world which revelled in syncretism with its surrounding Hindu worlds; and which is under threat of obliteration, even as a memory, in the singular world of globalised Islam of the 21st century.

He was a true maverick. In 1908, when he was 20, he published an anonymous article in his modest Urdu journal Urdū-i-Mu’allā (Aligarh) – circulation 500 –which severely criticised the British colonial policy in Egypt regarding public education. The Indian authorities promptly charged him with “sedition”, and demanded the disclosure of the author’s name. He, however, took sole responsibility for what appeared in his journal and, consequently, spent a little over one year in rigorous imprisonment – held as a “C” class prisoner he had to hand-grind, jointly with another prisoner, one Maund (37.3 Kgs.) of corn every day. The authorities also confiscated his printing press and his lovingly put together library that contained many precious manuscripts.

In 1920, when the first Indian Communist Conference was held at Kanpur, he was one of the organising hosts and presented the welcome address. Some believe that it was on that occasion he gave India the slogan Inqilāb Zindabād as the equivalent to the international war cry of radicals: “Vive la Revolution” (Long Live The Revolution). On another occasion, he described himself in a verse as a Sufi man of faith (Sūfī Momin) and a communist Muslim (ishtirākī Muslim), whose chosen path was revolution Iinqilāb) and un-worldliness (Darveshī).

Darveshī-o-inqilāb maslak hai merā

Sūfī Momin hūñ, ishtirākī muslim

He was perhaps the only prominent Muslim of his generation to publicly champion the radical thinking of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghosh, writing glowingly about both in his journal. When Tilak passed away in 1920, he rushed to participate in the funeral procession and wrote a poem honouring him, including the following verses;

jab tak vo rahe dunyā meñ rahā ham sab ke diloñ par zor unkā

ab rah ke bahisht meñ nizd-i-khudā hūroñ pe kareñge rāj Tilak

har hindū kā mazbūt hai jī, Gītā kī ye bāt hai dil pe likhī

ākhir meñ jo khud bhī kahā hai yahī, phir āeñge maharāj Tilak

(When he was here in this world he ruled the hearts of all of us; And now in Paradise, in God’s embrace, he rules over the houris. Every Hindu’s heart is strong; on it are carved Gita’s words, And also what he himself said: Maharaj Tilak shall come again)

In 1921, three of India’s major political groups of the time held their annual meetings at Ahmedabad simultaneously. At the Khilafat conference, he succeeded in getting a resolution passed that called for India’s absolute freedom from British rule, but the very next day the conference quickly repudiated itself. He then tried his luck in the subjects committee of the Indian National Congress, but the Mahatma swiftly had his resolution voted down. Finally, at the meeting of the Muslim League, over which he presided that year, he forcefully reiterated his demand a third time, but wisely did not risk a vote.


 Hasrat Mohani with B.R. Ambedkar at Sardar Patel’s reception in 1949


In 1946, as a Muslim League member of the Constituent Assembly, he rejected the “Quaid” Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s diktat, and continued to participate in the Assembly’s deliberations; neither did he leave India to settle in Pakistan. However, when the constitutional document was finished, he declined to sign it. In his view, India’s Constitution should have been drafted and approved by a newly-elected group that represented the democratic polity of the new nation and not the communally divided colonial polity of the past.

He lived all his life close to poverty, refusing to enjoy any monetary or physical comfort that accrued to him as a political leader. While attending the sessions of the Constituent Assembly he always stayed in a nearby mosque at no cost to the nation. Though a devoutly observant Muslim, he did not keep his wife in Purdah. She wore a Burqa in public but kept her face exposed. During his three spells in jail, she looked after their on-and-off publishing business and their meagre little “Swadeshi” store. Further, she participated in political meetings and demonstrations, even without him by her side.

Varied Influences

He was born Sayyad Fazlul Hasan in 1881, in a modest Zamindar (landlord) family of Mohan, a Quasbah (small town) in Unnao district of present-day Uttar Pradesh (UP) which was known as the United Provinces. After matriculating with distinction when he arrived at Aligarh’s Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College in 1899, he reportedly got down from the Ekka (horse carriage) wearing flared pyjamas and his wedding Sherwani, and holding a Pāndān (betel-leaf container) in one hand. The smartly turned-out boys of the college immediately nicknamed him Khālajān (aunty). But in very short time his personal integrity and his talent for poetry – his Takhallus (nom de plume) was “Hasrat” (Longing) – won him the affection and respect of his peers and elders at Aligarh.

A few months before the graduating exams, Hasrat organized a Mushaira (poets’ gathering) for the annual “Old Boys’ Day” at the college. The following morning, when some old boys complained to the English principal, Theodore Morrison, about the “obscene” nature of some verses recited that night, a confrontation ensued. Morrison claimed that what was considered “obscene” in England had to be considered obscene in India; Hasrat insisted that each culture independently defined what was obscene. As a result, Hasrat was expelled from the hostel; however, his admirers among the elders at Aligarh managed to convince the principal to let him take the exams.

After graduation, Hasrat turned his back on his familial property, choosing instead to earn his living as an editor and publisher while taking part in the ongoing nationalist movement. As a man of letters, he made two enduring contributions: an invaluable multi-volume series of books, containing selections from the mostly forgotten pre-modern masters of Urdu Ghazal (a form of poetry meant for singing); and a substantial body of his own Ghazals, some of which should be regarded among the best Sufi verse in Urdu. While still in his teens, Hasrat had been taken by his father to Firangi Mahal at Lucknow for initiation into the venerable Quadiri Silsila (a spiritual lineage, a Sufi tradition) as traced through Shah Abdur Razzaq of Bansa (Barabanki, UP). He was also initiated into the Chishti Sabri Silsila, and eventually had the authority to initiate others in both. He also performed the hajj eleven times, travelling by land or sea as his meagre funds allowed. He passed away in 1953. By then most of India knew him simply as Maulana Hasrat Mohani.

Hasrat was a maverick in one more way: he wrote and published verses expressing a love for Krishna as an embodiment of both love and beauty, and often went to Mathura to celebrate Janmashtami (the Hindu festival to mark Krishna’s birth).

Hasrat’s Kulliyāt (collected works) contains a small set of Krishna Bhakti poems.1 A few are in Urdu, while the rest are in a language that he sometimes called Bhasha and at other times Hindi. It is a kind of simplified Awadhi that was prevalent even till the 1940s among the Muslim gentry of the Quasbah of Awadh, and was often referred to as kaccī bolī. He, however, wrote and published them only in the Urdu script. Fortunately, Hasrat was meticulous in dating his poems, and so we are able to note when and where he wrote these Krishna Bhakti poems.

Hasrat’s radical speeches at the above-mentioned Ahmedabad conferences had not gone unnoticed by the authorities. He was arrested early in 1922, and brought back to Ahmedabad for trial, eventually ending up incarcerated in the Yerawada Central Jail, Pune, until March 1924. Incidentally, that was where the Mahatma was also being held in custody, though in more luxurious quarters than Hasrat’s “C” class cell.

As usual, Hasrat wrote much poetry during the trial and his imprisonment. These were published serially by his wife in five slim volumes, and now constitute the sixth through the 10th Divan (collection) in his Kulliyāt. Glancing through them, one is struck by the intensity of the devotional and mystical fervour in most of these poems, particularly those in the fi rst of the five volumes. In the poems written at Ahmedabad, Hasrat rejoices at being in close proximity to the shrine of Shah Abdus Samad of Ahmedabad, the initiating pīr or mentor of his own particular Pīr, Shah Abdur Razzaq of Bansa. Intriguingly, in Divan 6, he has a poem that is described as “a Qalandari Ghazal written in a Hindi meter”. It was composed in the Yerawada Central Jail on 11 June 1923. The first verse reads:

tere kūce meñ jis din se ā-baithe

gham-i-dunyā ko dil se bhulā baithe

(The day I took my seat in your lane, I forgot all the sorrows of the world)

I cannot discern what was Hindi, rather than Urdu, in the above, but it is noteworthy that by that date Hasrat was recalling his Hindi literary heritage.

Having noted Hasrat’s great joy at being in Ahmedabad, close to the shrine of a spiritual mentor, one may rightly imagine him rejoicing similarly at being in Pune, the city of Tilak, his political mentor. We know that he was getting books and newspapers smuggled to him in the jail – he shared some with the Mahatma – and could possibly have gone back to reading Tilak’s writings, including his book on the Gita. Be as it may, Hasrat was at Pune when Janmashtami came around that year, and it was there that he wrote his fi rst love poem to Krishna. It is in standard Urdu, contains only three verses, and bears the date: “26-30 September [1923]”.

The poem is included in his seventh Divan, which carries an interesting introduction. Hasrat writes:

A few things about this collection are noteworthy. These [32] Ghazals were written in just eleven days, between 20 September 1923, and 30 September 1923.... I have occasionally mentioned in these verses the names of the saintly elders (Buzurg) from whom I have received spiritual boons (Faiz). In addition to the Islamic personages I have also mentioned Sri Krishna. Concerning Hazrat Srī Krishna ‘Alaihi-Rahma (the revered sri Krishna, may blessings be upon him), this Faqīr (mendicant) follows the path of his pīr (spiritual mentor) and the path of the Pīr of all Pīrs, Hazrat Sayyad Abdur Razzaq Bansawi, may Allah sanctify his innermost heart.

Then he quotes a verse of his own:

maslak-i-‘ishq hai parastish-i-husn

ham nahīñ jānte ‘azāb-o-savāb

(The path of Passion is to worship Beauty; We know nothing of Reward or Punishment)

The three verses of the poem are:

āñkhoñ meñ nūr-i-jalva-i-be-kaif-o-kam hai khās

jab se nazar pe unkī nigāh-i-karam hai khās

kuch ham ko bhī ‘atā ho ki ai hazrat-i-Kirishn

iqlīm-i-‘ishq āp ke zer-i-qadam hai khās

Hasrat kī bhī qubūl ho mathurā meñ hāzirī

sunte haiñ ‘āshiqoñ pe tumhārā karam hai khās

(When he cast at me a special, benevolent glance, My eyes lit up with a boundless, unending vision. Revered Krishna, bestow something on me too, For under your feet lies the entire realm of love. May you accept Hasrat’s attendance at Mathura – I hear you are especially kind to all lovers)

Given the date of its composition, one may safely presume that the final verse expressed Hasrat’s regret at not being able to be in Mathura in person that year. In subsequent weeks, Hasrat wrote several more poems of that nature, all in what he called Bhasha.

His first Bhasha poem, however, is not about Krishna. Dated 2 October 1923, it praises his Sufi masters in the Quadiri Silsila, beginning with Hazrat Abdul Quadir Jilani of Baghdad, the head of the Quadiri order, and continuing on, as protocol demanded, to Shah Abdur Razzaq of Bansa, whom all the people of Firangi Mahal considered their immediate spiritual master, and Shah Abdul Wahhab of Firangi Mahal, with whom Hasrat had his own direct spiritual link. As one reads the five verses, one immediately notices the vividly “feminine” persona – as distinct from the “masculine” voice prevalent in Urdu lyrical poetry – that the poet adopted. It strongly suggests that, for Hasrat, the shift to Bhasha from Urdu really reflected a shift in the manner of spiritual devotion. In other words, his Bhasha allowed Hasrat to relate to his objects of devotion – the Sufi masters of the Quadiri order – in a manner that his heart longed for but was not possible in standard Urdu. Here is that first Bhasha poem:2

Poem 1 (2 October 1923; Divan 8)

Baghdādī dayālū khivayyā

hamhuñ garīb han pār javayyā

birah kī mārī, nipat dukhiyārī

tākan kab-lag dūr se nayyā

pār utār piyā se mila’o

Razzāk piyā Bāñse nagar basayyā

Bāñse nagar ke, Firangi Mahal ke

ekai nām ke du’i-du’i khivayyā

Razzāk Vahāb piyā bin, Hasrat,

hamrī bithā kā kaun sunayyā

(Merciful Boatman of Baghdad, We poor ones too wish to get across. Separation-wounded, grief-accursed – How long must we watch your boat from afar? Our beloved Razzaq, residing in Bansa, please Take us across; let us meet with the Beloved. One is from Bansa, the other from Firangi Mahal – Our two boatmen who share one name. Except for beloved Razzaq and Wahhab, There is no one, Hasrat, to hear our woes)

That same day, he also wrote a second poem. Poem 2 (2 October 1923; Divan 8)

man to-se prīt lagā’i kanhā’ī

kahu or kī surati ab kāhe ko ā’ī

Gokula dhūñdh Brindaban dhūñdho

Barsāne lag ghūm ke ā’ī

tan man dhan sab vār-ke Hasrat

Mathurā nagar cali dhūnī ramā’ī

(My heart has fallen in love with Kanhaiya; Why should it think of anyone else? We searched for him in Gokul and Brindaban, let’s now go to Barsana and check that too. Sacrifice for him, Hasrat, all that is yours, Then go to Mathura and become a Jogi)

In the published Divan the two poems are placed far apart from each other, but only because the poems, following the custom, are arranged according to the alphabetical order of the final letters of their rhymes (radīf). I have placed them here in this particular sequential order on the basis of my understanding of Sufi conventions: Hasrat must have first dedicated a poem to the founding saint of his Quadiri order before doing the same concerning some other personage within the domain of his devotions. The first poem retraced his Quadiri lineage; the second then focused exclusively on Sri Krishna – his object of passionate devotion at that particular time. The rest of Hasrat’s “Bhasha/Krishna” poems are now given in their chronological order.

Poem 3 (4 October 1923; Divan 8)

mose cher karat nandlāl

lie thāre abīr gulāl

dhīth bha’ī jin kī barjorī

auran par rang dāl-dāl

ham-huñ jo de’ī liptā’e-ke Hasrat

sārī ye chalbal nikāl

(Nandlal keeps teasing me without end; There he lurks, ready to sprinkle colour on me. Having safely sprayed others many times, He is now set in his bullying ways. But what if I should embrace him, Hasrat, Then squeeze him dry of his fancy tricks?)

Poem 4 (20 October 1923; Divan 8)

birha ki rain kate na pahār

sūnī nagarya parī ujār

nirda’i shyām pardes sidhāre

ham dukhiyāran chorchār

kāhe na Hasrat sab sukh-sampat

taj baithan ghar mār kivār

(The unending night of separation lies heavy Like a mountain; the town is totally desolate. Heartless Shyam has gone to another land, Abandoning us, his wretched ones. Why shouldn’t then Hasrat cast off everything, And stay home, the doors shut tight?)

Poem 5 (28 October 1923; Dīvān 8)

puna ho’e na shām kī prīt kā pāp

ko’ū kāhe karat hai pashcātāp

neha ki āg mā tan-man māre

kab lag jalat rahi cup-cāp

dīna-dayāl bha’e dukh-dāyak

sab, hasrat, bhūl ke mel-milāp

(To love Shyam is no sin or virtue – Why do people go on about Repentance? How long must I burn in Love’s fi re, Silently, my heart and body suppressed? He who is called the “Wretcheds’ Solace” Now hurts, Hasrat, ignoring all ties)

Poem 6 (30 October 1923; Dīvān 8)

tuma bin kaun sune maharāj

rākho bāñh gahe ki lāj

Braj-mohan jab se man bāse

ham bhūlen sab kām-kāj

kūrāj sūrāj sab bhūl ke Hasrat

ab māñgat hai prem-rāj

(Who else listens to me, Maharaj, but you? You held my arm; don’t shame me now. Since the Braj-Enchanter entered my heart, I have neglected all my tasks. Hasrat forgot “bad raj” and “good raj;” He now seeks only the “raj of love”)

Poem 7 (31 October 1923; Divan 8)

manmohan shyām se nainan lāg

nis-din sulag rahī tan āg

birah kīrain nipat añdhiyārī

rovat-dhovat katat jāg-jāg

prem kā rog lagā’ike Hasrat

rag-rang sab dīn tyāg

(My eyes met Shyam’s bewitching eyes; Now my body smoulders night and day. Separation’s night – dark upon dark; I toss and turn, sleepless; I wail. Hasrat has caught love sickness, And abandoned all fun and game)

Poem 8 (6 November 1923; Divan 8)

mana lāgi premika jogik cāt

ranga bhabhūt, base Braj-ghāt

shyām-nagar kī bhīk bhalī hai

kā karbe le’i rāj-pāt

phūlan-sej bisār ke Hasrat

kamarī orh bichāvat tāt

(The lover is heart-set to become a Jogi, Cover her body with ash, and abide in Braj. I would rather seek alms in Shyam Nagar; What would I do with some kingdom? Hasrat gave up his bed of flowers; He lies on sacking, wrapped in a blanket)

Poem 9 (21 November 1923; Divan 9)

kāse kahī nāhīñ cain, banavārī binā

ro’e kate sārī rain, murārī binā

ko’ū jatan jiyā dhīr na dhāre

nīnd na āve nain, gridhārī binā

dekh sakhī ko’ū cīnhat nāhīñ

as Hasrat ho’igain, banavārī binā

(Whom should I tell how I suffer – without the Banawari? My nights are spent shedding tears – without the Murari. I try everything but the heart remains desolate; No sleep comes into the eyes – without the Giridhari. Look, my friend, no one recognizes me; Such have I become, Hasrat – without the Banawari.)

Poem 10 (No date; Dīvān 9)

kahāñ ga’e mohe bāvarī banā’e-ke

bāvarī banā’e-ke, jhalakiyā dikhā’e-ke

āñsun bhīj bha’ī hai sagarī

rakt-rang bhabhūkā cunarī

Hasrat kaun bithā sab hamarī

ā’e, sune, kahe shyām se jā’e-ke

(Where has he gone having made me crazy –Giving me one glimpse and making me crazy? Drenched through and through with my tears, My chunari is now a brilliant blood-red. Who is there, Hasrat, to come and listen to me, Then go to the Shyam and tell him my woes?)

Poem 11 (27-28 January 1924; Divan 10)

kahāñ chā’e rahe gridhārī

auran mil sudh bhūl hamārī

rovat-dhovat talpat bilkat

birah kī rain ga’ī kat sārī

jiyā [na] jāe barkhā-rut Hasrat

dekh badariya kārī

(Where has Giridhari disappeared? Has he met someone, and forgot us. I spent the dark night of separation, Weeping, tossing, wailing, and turning. I can’t bear to live when I see, Hasrat, The dark clouds of the rainy season)

Poem 12 (14 March 1924; Divan 10)

mo-pe rang na dār murārī

bintī karat huñ tihārī

paniya bharan kā jāe na deheñ

shyām bhare pickārī

thar-thar kāñpat lājan Hasrat

dekhat haiñ nar-nārī

(Don’t throw colour on me, Murari, Please, I beg of you abjectly. Shyam won’t let me go to fetch water; He lurks, ready with a loaded sprinkler. Hasrat, embarrassed, stands shivering, as men and women gather and watch)

Hasrat wrote no other poem in Bhasha after 1924, but he did write a couple of more “Krishna” poems in Urdu. One is dated 28 August 1926, and was written at Barsana, the birthplace of Radha in Mathura district. The date coincides with the Janmashtami festival that year. It is included in his 11th Dīvān.

‘irfān-i-‘ishq nām hai mere maqām kā

hāmil huñ kis ke naghma-i-nai ke payām kā

Mathurā se ahl-i-dil ko vo ātī hai bū-i-uns

dunyā-i-jāñ meñ shor hai jis ke davām kā

makhlūq ik nigāh-i-karam kī umīdvār

mastāna kar rahī hai bhajan rādhe-shyām kā

mahbūb ki talāsh hu’ī rahbar-i-muhib

Barsāne se jo qasd kiyā Nandgām kā

Gokul kī sarzamīñ bhī ‘azīz-i-jahāñ banī

kalma parhā jo unkī muhabbat ke nām kā

Brindā kā ban bhī rū-kash-i-jannat banā ki thā

pāmāl-i-nāz unhīñ kī bahār-i-khirām kā

labrez-i-nūr hai dil-i-Hasrat, zahe-nasīb

ik husn-i-mushkfām ke shauq-i-tamām kā

(I stand where Love’s perfect knowledge is found. Who plays the flute whose melody fi lls me? “People of heart” get from Mathura the fragrance Whose eternal presence permeates life. All creatures, hoping for one kind glance, Dance intoxicated, singing: “Radhe Shyam.” Beloved’s quest guides this lover In his journey from Barsana to Nandgam. Gokul’s ground became dear to him, When anyone sang out “his” name with love. And Brinda’s forest turned into paradise, When He gambolled there like the spring breeze. How fortunate, Hasrat, that your heart brims over With a glowing love for that musk-hued beauty!)

The second Urdu ghazal is dated November 1934, and was most likely written at Mathura.

Mathurā ki nagar hai ‘āshiqī kā

dam bhartī hai ārzū usī kā

har zarra-i-sarzamīn-i-Gokul

dārā hai jamāl-i-dilbarī kā

Barsāna Nandgāon meñ bhī

dekh āe haiñ jalva ham kisī kā

paighām-i-hayāt-i-jāvidañ thā

har naghma Kirishn bansurī kā

vo nūr-i-siyāh thā ki Hasrat

sarcashma farogh-i-āgahī kā

(Mathura, that city of passionate love, Even desire longs for that place. And each grain of Gokul’s dust Bears the beauty of the “Heart-Stealer.” To Barsana we went, and Nandgam too, And witnessed there someone’s beauty. The melody emerging from Krishna’s fl ute Was a message beckoning to eternal life. Was it some “Dark Effulgence,” Hasrat, Or the fount of ever-increasing Knowledge?)

Here we must remind ourselves that Hasrat wrote equally passionately about Madina and Ajmer on his many visits to those places. And what the different pilgrimages meant to him experientially is well put in one of his own verses:

jamāl-i-yār se raushan ba-har shān-o-ba-har sūrat

mere pesh-i-nazar haiñ jalva-i-dair-o-haram donoñ

(My eyes behold the mosque and the temple, And light up with the beloved’s beauty)

The Innermost Heart

What place did Krishna hold in Hasrat’s heart – and mind? We fi nd some clues in the above-mentioned introductory note to Dīvān 7 where he refers to the god Krishna as Hazrat Srī Krishna ‘Alaihi-Rahma and claims that in doing so he is following the path of his spiritual mentors, particularly Hazrat Sayyad Abdur Razzaq Bansawi, whom he mentions.

The use of the honorific, Hazrat, before both names indicates a certain similarity in their status in Hasrat’s view, while the different honorific expressions placed after the names suggest some subtle differentiation. The Arabic word Hazrat (literally: proximity; presence), is commonly placed, in both Persian and Urdu, before the name of any revered personality, in particular someone whose spiritual presence and grace are felt to be timeless. The latter would include all prophets, including the Prophet of Islam, the latter’s “Companions” and all Sufi saints, religious savants and martyrs. Its use, therefore, places Krishna in a most august company, though in a somewhat generic manner. The two different expressions used subsequently tell us a bit more. Instead of the commonly used expression, Rahmat-al-Allahi ‘Alaihi (may Allah’s blessings be upon him), used by devout Muslims after the name of any spiritually venerated individual, Hasrat uses an abbreviated variant, and thus avoids making any explicit mention of Allah with reference to Krishna while fully indicating his own belief in the latter’s spiritual eminence. With reference to the saint of Bansa, however, he uses an expression that invokes another subtle feature of speculative Sufism – “[the] Innermost Heart” – and also explicitly mentions Allah. Clearly, Hasrat did not view Krishna as a deity, but did regard him as imbued with some grace of the Divine.

Abdul Shakur, the principal of a college at Kanpur and a devoted friend of Hasrat, published the first comprehensive account of Hasrat’s life in 1946, together with a selection of his verse. In his comments on Hasrat’s mystical leanings, Shakur includes some remarks that Hasrat made to him in a conversation. According to Shakur, Hasrat declared that his fundamental belief (‘aqīda) had two solid foundations: (1) al-‘ishqu hūallāh va al-husnu hū-al-haq (love is Allah and beauty is Truth) and (2) dil ba-yār va dast ba-kār (engage your heart with the beloved, and your hands with worldly tasks). The two expressions also find mention in some of Hasrat’s verse, and are manifest in his devotion to Krishna and in his own life and work.

Mere ‘ishq-i-majāz kā hai shi’ār

fi l-masal dil ba-yār o dast ba-kār

(My perceivable love follows the dictum: Your heart with the beloved; your hands at the task)

It is interesting to fi nd an exemplary saying that is more closely identified with the Naqshbandi order of Sufi s as a chosen motto of Hasrat, but not surprising. In fact it perfectly expressed his chosen goal in life.

paRhiye is ke sivā na ko’ī sabaq


(Memorise no lesson except the one: Serve mankind, and love “eternal Truth”)

Shakur further writes, “I talked to him about Tassawuf, and he made a most interesting point: there was no difference between Truth and Beauty”; he then continues:

Because the Hindu Devtā Sri Krishna is regarded as an Avatār of beauty, Hasrat too was truly devoted to him, and used to visit Mathura and Brindaban like any true devotee. He believed he gained spiritual benefi t from those visits. Hasrat said that Gita did not stress virāg and tyāg, and that Sri Krishna taught karma yoga or the philosophy of action. According to Hasrat, there were quite a few similarities between Islam and what the Gita taught. In his view, Sri Krishna was an incarnation of both beauty and love, and that was why several eminent Sufi s and men of profound insight (ahl-i-bātin) regarded Sri Krishna to be a valī (friend of god; saint). Hasrat believed that Sri Krishna’s spirituality was still alive and active throughout India.3

In other words, Hasrat, a pantheist to the core, viewed Krishna as an embodiment of both the divine love and of divine beauty, though not as the divinity itself. Thus Krishna, for Hasrat, was a Mazhar or manifestation of god – in the same manner as any pre-eminent Sufi master – and not god in any measure.

Prophet or Lover

Some biographers of Hasrat have declared that he viewed Krishna as a rasūl or prophet sent to India centuries ago, referring, in that regard, to the line of thinking propounded by Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan, the eminent Mujaddidi Naqshbandi Sufi and poet of the 18th century Delhi, for whom both Rama and Krishna were prophets of Allah born in India centuries before the advent of Islam. Jan-i-Janan’s thinking was anchored in such Quranic statements as, “To every community we have sent a prophet (rasūl)....” (16:36), and “For every people there is a prophet (rasūl)....” (10:47), and was no doubt a major improvement over the thinking of the Indian fountainhead of his Sufi order, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) – better known as the Mujaddid (renovator) of the second millennium – who believed that Rama and Krishna falsely claimed to be “divine” when, in fact, they were merely “the lowest of God’s creations.”4 However, Jan-i-Janan too believed that the true message of the Indian prophets had become corrupted since their times centuries ago, and was in any case not valid after the final message of Allah had come to mankind through the prophet Muhammad.5

Hasrat, in my view, did not view Krishna as a prophet. Nothing in his writings suggests it.6 Hasrat’s relationship with Krishna was not merely intellectual – that is, not only through Tilak and the Gita – it was also intensely subjective and emotional. When Aurobindo Ghosh wrote about his own experience of a vision of Krishna and was ridiculed for it, Hasrat published a note in his journal Urdū-i-Mu’allā, in which he stated:

Babu Aurobindo Ghosh, after coming out of the jail, disclosed that he had the darshan of Sri Krishna Maharaj. Some internally blind people (kor-bātin) say it was a made-up story. We, however, have absolutely no doubt about the truth of his statement, for we have ourselves experienced that rare and amazing bliss (ānand) which the heart receives the moment one takes the name of Sri Krishna.7

It was that intensely personal love for Krishna, one may safely presume, that must have overwhelmed Hasrat in the Yerwada Central Jail for several months, and found its fullest expression only when he adopted the persona of a Sakhī (female friend) and used Bhasha.

As for Hasrat’s “mentors’ mentor”, Shah Abdur Razzaq of Bansa (d 1724), and his views on Krishna, it would suffice here to quote one anecdote as told by one of the Shah’s grandsons, Shah Ghulam Ali (d 1807), on the authority of his own father.

Once the Hazrat – [i e, Shah Abdur Razzaq] – went to Sihali, where Maulvi Nizamuddin, Maulavi Kamaluddin, and Maulvi Muhammad Raza were also present.8 At night, Maulavi Muhammad Raza offered his routine prayers at the tomb of his father then walked back the place where the Hazrat was staying. As he reached the Qazi Gate, he saw a few women and one man standing underneath the tamarind tree nearby. He then fl apped his slippers noisily so that they might take heed and move away, but they didn’t. He then reluctantly continued. As he passed by the tamarind, the man said to him, “Give my Salām to your Pīr”. That incensed Maulavi Raza still more. So when he came before the Hazrat he exclaimed, “Sihali has become a wretched place. Just now as I was approaching the tamarind tree there were some dissolute women and a licentious man standing underneath it. I noisily fl apped my slippers, but they didn’t move. Then, as I passed by, the man said to me, “Give my salām to your pīr.” The Hazrat asked, “Did you understand who that man was?” Maulvi Muhammad Raza repeated the same angry words. Then the Hazrat said to him, “No, that man was Kanhaiya, and the women were his Gopis”.9

In the above scheme of things, Shah Abdur Razzaq and Krishna Kanhaiya are identical in essence and co-equal in function. That, I would argue, was what Hasrat, and others like him, also held to be true, considering the two as eternally present spiritually – to a select few, even palpably – and perceiving in them, as also in their own intense devotion to them, one immanent singularity that was both beauty (husn) and love (‘ishq). For, as the Prophet is reported to have declared, “God is Beautiful and Love is Beauty”.


Growing up in an Awadh Quasba, Hasrat must have known and used kaccī bolī from childhood.10 We also know that while at Mohan he sat for the middle school examination twice in the same year, doing both the Urdu middle and the Hindi middle. This education must have further expanded his knowledge of Bhakti poetry since selections from Surdas, Tulsi Das, and Kabir have always been present in Hindi language syllabi. We may therefore rightly assume that by the time he left Mohan for Fatehpur to study at the high school there, Hasrat had been exposed to a fair amount of mystical poetry, not only in Urdu and Persian but also in Awadhi, Khadi Boli, and Braj, thus gaining a fair knowledge of their different conventions and registers.

There is also another matter to be borne in mind here. By the time Hasrat appeared on the scene, there had come to exist in Awadh a limited but influential tradition among Muslim Sufi s of using the vocabularies of Hindu Bhakti poetry for their own purpose. Historically, it can be traced back to the 16th century, to the writings of such Sufi (Shattari) poets as Malik Muhammad Jaisi, Syed Manjhan Rajgiri, and others, whose long premākhyān poems are still celebrated.11 There is, however, considerable evidence of a strong presence of that mode of thinking in the 19th century at several places in Awadh.

While studying in the high school at Fatehpur, Hasrat had also continued to study Arabic and Persian informally with two prominent teachers there. One of them, Maulana Saiyid Zahurul Islam, with whom he read Arabic texts, was reportedly a disciple and a khalīfa of Shah Fazl-i-Rahman of Ganj Muradabad, a qasba not too far from Mohan.12

Shah Fazl-i-Rahman (d 1895) was a highly regarded Sufi in his time, and many prominent Muslims had joined the circle of his disciples. One thing he is now remembered most for was his habit of translating Quranic verses into Bhasha during his discourses. A small book of such translations, culled from the notes of his disciples, was published under the title: Manmohan ki Bāteñ (The Words of Manmohan), Manmohan (literally, heart-enchanter) being the Shah’s favourite equivalent for the Arabic “Allah”.13 Here are some other examples of his favoured words:

Arabic    Bhasha            Arabic    Bhasha

Rabb      pāltā              Allāh     Parmesvar

Ilāha     prītam; thākur jannat    baikunth

kāfir     malīch             insān      manu

rasūl    mahāsiddha      nabī       basīth

And here is the Shah’s Bhasha version of the common Arabic invocation, Bismillāhi..., (“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful”) that all Muslims use at the start of anything significant: pahle pahal nām let hūñ manmohan kā jo barī mayyā-moh kā mehar-vālā hai. Given Hasrat’s close ties with his teacher, Maulana Zahurul Islam, one can be sure that he was aware of the Shah’s practices, and most likely also familiar with the book. Shah Fazl-i-Rahman’s Bhasha was not very different from what Hasrat heard ordinary people around him speak; he could also see that it communicated with some added charm what the patently learned men of his society expressed through Persian or Persianised Urdu.

Hasrat’s Bhasha poems devoted to Krishna are not the only examples of their kind by a Muslim from the region of Awadh. Not very far from Mohan is another venerable old Quasba called Kakori (district Lucknow), where a prominent Qalandari Sufi dynasty has long been settled. Its founding fi gure was Shah Muhammad Kazim Qalandar (b 1745-1806) – a disciple of Shah Basit Ali Qalandar of Allahabad, who was born in Kakori and also lived there for most of his life. He wrote much poetry in Awadhi, and quite a bit of which uses the language of Krishna Bhakti. His relationship with Krishna is best appreciated from what his son Shah Turab Ali (b 1768-1858) wrote on one occasion: 14

Once during his period of striving on the spiritual path he experienced severe mental confusion and frustration. Then he saw Shri Krishna in a dream and told him he wished to die. But Shri Krishna consoled him and said, “No, you are immortal”. That is to say: you are one whose heart is glorious with a love for the Beauty that revealed itself on the Day of Creation, and as such you are above Time and Space and Life and Death.

The final remarks carry an echo of an alleged prophetic saying that is so very dear to all Sufi s: “He who loves and remains chaste, then dies, dies a martyr.” It is an established belief of all Muslims that a martyr (Shahīd) is not dead in the grave, and becoming a martyr in the path of Love, Shah Kazim Ali had indeed made himself immortal. At another place, Shah Turab Ali wrote:

Krishna, in [the world of] Metaphors, was a beloved. But we are pantheists; for us, there was nothing [in him] but the Reality, for Shri Krishna was an Enlightened Truth-knower (‘ārif-i-haq-shinās).

Here is one example of Shah Kazim’s Krishna Bhakti verse: 15

uddho milā bansī-vālā yār

lāgauN tore payyāñ

bhūl ga’ī hamarī sudh unkā

jab sai rājā kīn gusayyāñ

hamrai sang khelat gokula māñ

so sab bisar ga’īñ larkayyāñ

hamarī ankhyan cubhat haiñ ve din

je din rahe carāvat gayyāñ

sudh āvat vā din kī avadho

jarat sadā hirdai kī thayyāñ

ādi se shyām rahe Kāzim sang

ant banī rahe yāse guiyyāñ

(I fall at your feet, Uddhav, take me to the flute-playing friend. The day God made him a raja he cast me out of his memory. In Gokul, we played together; now those games are all forgotten. Those days when he used to herd the cows still linger in my eyes, bringing tears. When a memory comes of those days a fi re lights up deep in my heart. Shyam has been with Kazim from the First Dawn; may he remain with him till the End of the Days)

Shah Turab Ali too wrote poems referring to Krishna in that same manner. Here is one example: 16

jā re kanhayya main gārī det hūñ

kāhe kharā more tīr

apnī to pāg bacāe rakhat hai

morā bhijovat cīr

apnā to mukh mose ot rakhat hai

mukh more malat hai abīr

dekh Turāb kehū kī na-mānat

aiso hai Shyām sharīr

(Go away, Kanhaiya, you wretch, why must you stand next to me? He keeps his turban neat and dry, but spills color on my clothes. He safely covers his own face, but rubs vermilion on mine. Look, Turab, he listens to no one, so naughty has the Shyam become)

These poems – as well as Hasrat’s – can also be seen as belonging to that tradition of Indian Sufi sm which was so enriched by such master poet-mystics as Shah Latif, Bullhe Shah, Lallan Faqir, who all adopted a feminine persona and used “regional” languages such as Sindhi, Punjabi and Bengali, whose literary practices were not so restrictively determined by the Perso-Arabic conventions as was always the case with Urdu. It may be relevant to note that there had also developed in south Asia a group of mystically inclined Muslims who called themselves Sadā Suhāgin (Married to an Eternally Alive Husband), used female grammatical gender for themselves in their language, and also included items of women’s clothing in their dress. Apparently, they too viewed their relationship with god as that of a Sakhī or gopi.17


In conclusion, one should regard Hasrat’s “Krishna” poems as just another moment in a considerably longer history of Awadh. In the 14th century the destruction of the Delhi-based Sultanate gave rise to regional smaller states, including the Sharqi kingdom of Jaunpur, which stimulated brilliantly creative activities that reflected fruitful exchanges, acceptances, transformations, and accommodations between the Hindus and Muslims of the area, now largely identified with the Awadhi language – significantly so in the matter of speculative spiritual thought and devotional poetry.

The Mahdawi Movement of Saiyid Ahmad Jaunpuri (d 1504), the emergence of the Shattari Sufi Tariqa, with its use of yoga in their meditational practices, and the Awadhi premākhyān poems composed by some of its followers are all illustrations of this. The habits of thought then generated spread, and continued in the writings of a Chishti (Abdur Rahman, 17th century), the words and practice of a Qadiri (Shah Abdur Razzaq, 17th century), and the poetry of a Qalandari (Shah Kazim, 18th century). In the 19th century, we find it in the words and practice of Haji Waris Ali Shah (d 1905) of Dewa (Barabanki), arguably the most influential Sufi saint of his time. Hasrat followed their example in the 20th century. Whether this tradition will survive, even at margins, in these times of a “globalised” Islam, is at best an open question.


1 I have mainly used Mohani (1943) and Mohani (1964), but also consulted two other collections to confirm my readings. Hence, his poems are referred here to the particular Divan or individual collections within the Kulliyāt.

2 I have sometimes taken slight liberties in my transcription; my aim was to produce an acceptable representation of what Hasrat could have recited or sung to himself.

3 Shakur (1965: 32, 37-8) Shakur also reports (1965: 31) that when asked about his religion Hasrat replied, “I’m a ‘conservative’ Sunni and a Sufi ”. He was, however, not a sectarian.

4 Rahman, ed. (1968: 212-3)

5 The position of Shaikh Abdur Rahman Chishti (1596-1683) in his Mirāt-al-Makhluqāt is more inclusive. He too used Quranic statements for initial inspiration, but then, using his knowledge of Hindu cosmology and speculative thought, he proposed that Rama and Krishna had lived in the Tritiya Yuga when, according to Chishti, the world was inhabited by Jinns alone. In other words, the two were Jinns, and had come down as god’s prophets to the Jinns, but were to be revered by all Muslims. I owe access to this text to my learned friend Muzaffar Alam.

6 Hasrat, for example, never used the phrase “alaihi-al-salām” (peace be upon him) – customarily used by Muslims after the names of their prophets – with Krishna’s name.

7 Azhar (1978: 148). Azhar claims that he once saw a small fi gure of Sri Krishna in Hasrat’s house in Kanpur.

8 The three were disciples of the Shah, and independently the most learned and respected scholars in Awadh at the time. Maulvi Nizamuddin (d 1748) was the founder of the syllabus of learning now widely known as the Darsi-Nizāmī. Their ancestral home, Sihali, was not far from Bansa.

9 Razzaqi (n d: 11–12).

10 Interestingly, according to Rabi’a Begum, a distant relative of Hasrat, he, as a boy in Mohan, much disapproved of the kaccī bolī used by the ladies of the household. Quoted in Lari (1973: 70)

11 A brief but useful account of that body of literature may be found in the “Introduction” to Manjhan’s Madhumālatī, translated by Aditya Behl and Simon Weightman (2000). For a more detailed survey, see the pioneering work: Pandey (nd). For the Shattari silsilah and its members’ exceptional interaction with Hindu Jogis, see Rizvi (1983), in particular Chapters 3, 8, and 9.

12 Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, as quoted in Anjum (1994: 81).

13 In Hindi, both Mohana and Manamohana are commonly understood as referring to Krishna.

The Shah’s selection of the word, however, should be understood, in my view, as indicating only the way he understood his relationship with Allah – that between a lover and a beloved – and not as implying any equivalence between Allah and Krishna.

14 Haidar (n d: Preface, 11) Quoting from Usūl-al- Maqsūd by Shah Turab Ali Qalandar. The Awadhi text is poorly printed in Urdu script; the Urdu translation, mostly useful, often extends into interpretation.

15 Haidar (nd: Text, 35).

16 Haidar (1957: 9).

17 As I remember, they identified themselves with the Chishti and Qadiri orders, the two that Hasrat chiefl y belonged to. I presently have only my memory to rely on, and cannot provide more details.


Anjum, Khaliq (1994): Hasrat Mohānī (New Delhi: Publications Division).

Azhar, Ishtiaq (1978): Sayyad-al-Ahrār (Bahawalpur: Urdu Academy).

Haidar, Shah Mujtaba (ed.), and tr (nd): Sānt Ras al-ma’rūf-ba Naghmāt-al-Asrār (Kakori: n p). – (ed.) and tr (1957): Amrit Ras (Kakori: n p).

Lari, Ahmar (1973): Hasrat Mohānī: Hayāt aur Kārnāme (Gorakhpur: Adabistan).

Manjhan (2000): Madhumālatī: An Indian Sufi Romance (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Mohani, Hasrat (1943): Kulliyat-i-Hasrat Mohani (Hyderabad: Intizami Press). – (1964): Kulliyat-i-Hasrat Mohani (Lahore: Shaikh Ghulam Ali).

Pandey, Shyam Manohar (nd): Madhyayugīn Premākhyān (Allahabad: Mitra Prakashan).

Rahman, Fazlur, ed. (1968): Intikhāb-i-Maktūbāt-i-Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindī (Karachi: Iqbal Academy).

Rahman, Shah Fazl (1990): Manmohan Ki Bāteñ (Patna: K.B. Oriental Public Library).

Razzaqi, Muhammad Khan, ed. (nd): Karāmāt-i- Razzāqiyya (Barabanki: n p).

Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas (1983): A History of Sufism in India, Vol 2 (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal).

Shakur, Abdul (1965): Hasrat Mohani (Lahore: Ishrat Publishing).

C M Naim is Professor Emeritus in the department of South Asian Languages and Civilisations, the University Of Chicago, United States.

Source: Economic & Political WEEKLY