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Interfaith Dialogue ( 30 Aug 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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When the Man Who Wrote Pakistan's National Anthem Saw the Divine in Hindu God Krishna

By Nikhil Mandalaparthy

August 30, 2017

This year, Pakistan’s 70th Independence anniversary and Janmashthami (the Hindu festival celebrating Krishna’s birth) fell on the same day: August 14th. With that coincidence in mind, I want to share a very unique Urdu poem: Krishna Kanhaiya.

This Nazm is by Hafeez Jalandhari, the Urdu poet most well-known for composing the lyrics to Pakistan’s national anthem, the Qaumi Taranah. Born in the Punjabi city of Jalandhar (now in India), he moved to Lahore following India and Pakistan’s independence and Partition in 1947.

As its title suggests, Krishna Kanhaiya is a poem about the Hindu god Krishna. Today, the mere idea of a Muslim poet writing about a Hindu deity raises all sorts of emotions among different groups in South Asia: surprise, joy, curiosity, suspicion, anger.

However, there is much more depth to Krishna Kanhaiya than meets the eye. This is no ordinary devotional poem. Jalandhari, ever a politically-minded thinker and writer, draws upon the mythology and persona of Krishna in order to produce a poem that is simultaneously devotional and political in nature.

It is, in fact, a call to liberate India from British colonial rule. Moreover, this poem, especially when examined in comparison with Jalandhari’s more famous work, the Qaumi Taranah, can tell us a great deal about the cultural politics of South Asia in the 20th century and today.

Setting the Scene

Let’s begin with a close reading of Krishna Kanhaiya.

In the very first line of the poem, Jalandhari addresses his readers as onlookers (Dekhne Walo). Although this may seem trivial, I believe there is a deeper significance to this choice of words. Urdu poetry is usually meant to be heard, not read silently. One popular type of poetry, the Ghazal, is sung, while Nazms (of which Krishna Kanhaiya is one) are usually recited. Yet, Jalandhari chooses Dekhne Walo, “those who look,” to characterise the consumer of this poem.

Could Jalandhari’s choice of words be referring to the importance Hinduism gives to seeing God? I don’t think it would be inaccurate to describe Hinduism as a religion which, among the five senses, gives primacy to sight as a way of connecting to the Divine.

The central act of devotion when one goes to a Hindu temple is Darshan: gazing upon the decorated image of the deity. And, of course, the incredibly intricate and symbolic iconography of Hindu gods and goddesses suggests the importance of Saguna Brahman, God with a Form.

By addressing the readers of the poem as “onlookers” instead of “listeners” or “readers,” Jalandhari might be encouraging them to engage in an act of Darshan in their mind. As they read or hear the poem, he encourages them to also visualise Krishna in their minds.

But, where is Krishna in the poem? We haven’t gotten there yet. The opening lines are quite abstract. After asking whether Krishna is “reality or representation” (Ma’ani Hai Ki Surat), Jalandhari refers to Krishna as as a “form of light” (Paikar-E-Tanvir), and asks “Is he fire or light?” (Yeh Nar Hai Ya Nur).

Again, these descriptions are full of meaning. In an article on Firstpost, Sharjeel Imam and Saquib Salim suggest that Jalandhari is alluding to Krishna as a being of light, reiterating "the age-old belief of a section of Islamic scholars, that Krishna was a righteous prophet sent to the people of the subcontinent.”

Jalandhari finally gives a description of Krishna that most Hindus would be familiar with: “this flute player / this cowherd of Gokul” (Yeh Bañsuri Wala / Gokul Ka Gwala).

At the same time, Krishna is praised using the most typical Urdu expressions and words relating to God: “By God, what glory!” (Kya Shan Hai Wallah) and “he is the Majesty of God” (Ik Shan-E-Huda Hai). Jalandhari differs from traditional Hindu viewpoints in that he does not equate Krishna with God; yet, for him, Krishna is an embodiment of God’s glory and majesty.

Entering the Idol

Echoing the earlier point about Darshan and the importance of sight in Hinduism, Jalandhari displays a very intimate understanding of Hindu idol worship in the tenth stanza of the poem. He writes that “Inside the temple / the sculptor of beauty himself / entered and became the idol”.

This last line, that Krishna “entered and became the idol” (But Ban Gaya A Kar) is extremely important. Hindus worship idols as symbols of a deity’s presence in the sanctum sanctorum of a temple. The deity is not simply the physical statue; rather, devotees believe that God is present within that statue, and that presence is what makes an idol worthy of worship.

In Hindu temples, before a new image or statue is worshiped as a deity, a ritual called Prana-Pratishta is usually performed, to invoke that deity’s presence in that statue. Traditionally, the deity’s eyes were not fully carved until this ritual was performed. Before Prana-Pratishta, the statue is merely a statue. Afterwards, the god or goddess is seen as residing within that statue. Jalandhari’s line about Krishna “entering” the idol is thus a clear insight into Hindu temple worship.

On The Banks of the Yamuna

Finally, we now get a glimpse of the leela (divine play) narratives that Krishna is so commonly associated with. Jalandhari describes Krishna’s youthful, romantic dancing and playing with the Gopis (cowherd girls) on the banks of the Yamuna river as “rare happenings” (Turfa Nazzare). In setting this scene, natural and sensual beauty are intertwined, as seen in phrases like “intoxicated winds” (Sarmast Hawayeiñ) and “waves of love” (Ulfat Ki Tarañgeiñ).

In his description of Krishna’s Leela with the Gopis, Jalandhari describes the sound of Krishna’s flute as “neither intoxication nor wine / it’s something beyond” (Nasha Hai Na Mai Hai / Kuchh Aur Hi Shai Hai). Through these charming vignettes, we, the onlookers, are also transported to Braj, dancing blissfully to the music of Krishna’s flute.

Humiliation in the Kaurava Court

So far in the poem, Jalandhari has described Krishna’s glory, and then paints an idyllic scene of Krishna dancing with his Gopis. Then, abruptly, the poem transitions into a much darker mood. Jalandhari takes us from the banks of the Yamuna to one of the most famous scenes from the Mahabharata epic.

The reader now finds themselves in the court of the Kaurava princes, the villains of the Mahabharata. This is the famous incident known as Vastra-Haran or Cheer-Haran (both roughly meaning “disrobing”). After the five Pandava brothers lose in a rigged dice game to their cousins (the Kauravas), they are forced to forfeit their kingdom, possessions, and eventually their wife Draupadi as their “property.”

Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, orders Draupadi to be brought into court and disrobed, to humiliate her. When Draupadi is dragged into the court, she prays to Krishna for help. Miraculously, Duryodhana and his brothers are unable to disrobe her. In some re-tellings, her sari is never-ending, and in others, when the Kauravas pull off one sari another one appears in its place.

Draupadi praying to Krishna is not part of the critical edition of the Sanskrit Mahabharata, and was almost definitely added later as Krishna became a more popular deity across India. Nevertheless, it has become one of the most popular and iconic incidents from the Mahabharata. It is with this scene that Jalandhari begins to make his political views more explicit.

In the poem, the anguished Draupadi wails to Krishna, “These beloved princes [her husbands] / have all become cowards!” (Yeh Raj Dulare / Buzdil Hue Sare). However, I wasn’t sure how to translate Raj Dulare; it could also have a much more pejorative sense, more like “royal babies.”

From this reading, we could guess that Jalandhari is accusing India’s numerous monarchs and rulers of princely states—all of whom eventually acquiesced to British rule—of cowardice. We could even read Raj Dulare as “babies of the [British] Raj!” This is Imam and Salim’s interpretation; they argue that Jalandhari is branding all Indians who worked under the British colonial administration as cowards, not just the royal families.

However, what is most telling is when Draupadi calls out to Krishna as “the light of India” (Bharat Ke Ujale). In the poem, Krishna has morphed from being an abstract form of divinity, to a charming flute player in Vrindavan, and now he shines as a symbol of hope; the light of all of India. Jalandhari makes Krishna’s political symbolism much more salient from this point on.

Preparations for War

Jalandhari then takes us from the Kaurava court to the preparations for the great Mahabharata war. He writes that, worryingly, “Duryodhan seems victorious” (Ghalib Hai Duryodhan). Ostensibly, Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, is a symbol of foreign (British) rule over the subcontinent, which held sway for centuries. Ironically, while the Kaurava army was much larger than that of the righteous Pandavas, British citizens were vastly outnumbered by Indians all through colonial rule.

But, with Krishna’s arrival on the battlefield (on the side of the Pandavas, of course), everything changes. Once Krishna preaches the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna, anxiety (Tashvish) and sorrow (Gham) changes to war-like enthusiasm: “the divine decree has been pronounced / the sword has been swung!” (Lo Ban Gayi Taqdir / Lo Chal Gayi Shamshir)

The Krishna that Jalandhari describes now is different from the Krishna who dances with gopis. This Krishna is a symbol of strength and power: on his “face shines a bright gaze” (Surat Nazar-Afroz), but his “virtues burn enemies” (Sirat Hai Adu-Soz), and “If he gets angry / he strikes down lightning” (Ghusse Meiñ Jo A Jaye / Bijli Hi Gira Jaye). This Krishna is, in short, an icon that can be easily used in service of anti-colonial nationalism.

A call to action

With this invigorated, confident Krishna in mind, Jalandhari now paints a picture of India suffering under colonial rule, using Vrindavan as a symbol for all of the subcontinent.

He takes us back to the banks of the Yamuna, which were full of beauty and joy during Krishna’s youthful Lilas. What do they look like now? The Yamuna has become silent (Sunsan), and its waves are weak and lacking in energy (josh). Once-beautiful gardens have been ruined (Barbad) and the Gopis (perhaps standing in for all people of India) have become distraught (Pareshañ) without Krishna’s presence.

Jalandhari now makes his own plea to Krishna: “Oh king of India / come just once more!” (Ai Hind Ke Raja / Ik Bar Phir A Ja) Interestingly, while Jalandhari makes Draupadi use the Sanskrit Bharat in her plea to Krishna, Jalandhari uses the Arabic/Persian hind when he is speaking in the poem.

He begs Krishna to return to Mathura (symbolising all of India) and restore his rule: “If you come, glory will come / if you come, life will come” (Tu Aye To Shan Aye / Tu Aye To Jan Aye). With this call for Krishna to liberate India from foreign rule, Jalandhari ends his Nazm.

The Pakistan Question

Krishna Kanhaiya is one of Hafeez Jalandhari’s more obscure works. As I mentioned earlier, Jalandhari is known today largely because he wrote the lyrics for Pakistan’s national anthem. By comparing Krishna Kanhaiya to Jalandhari’s more famous work, I believe we can learn a lot about the cultural politics that have influenced South Asia over the past century, and continue to do so today.

Jalandhari’s Wikipedia page claims that before he moved to Pakistan, he was the director of the Song Publicity Department (it is unclear whether this was under the British colonial administration, or an Indian political party), and he wrote a number of popular songs during World War II.

He is described as an “active participant” in the Pakistan movement and after independence in 1947 participated in India and Pakistan’s first war over Kashmir. For the rest of his life, Jalandhari was intimately involved with Pakistani military and government institutions: Director General of Morals for the Pakistan Armed Forces, Director of the Writers’ Guild of Pakistan, and a senior adviser to Pakistan’s second president, Ayub Khan.

I mention all of this simply because I find it fascinating that the same person could write both Krishna Kanhaiya and the national anthem of Pakistan. Each of these works represents a dramatically different worldview.

I do not intend to oversimplify Jalandhari’s worldview, but I would argue that Krishn Kanhaiya represents a deeply syncretic form of South Asian identity. In his poem, Jalandhari doesn’t just display a remarkable understanding of Krishna’s mythology, Hindu temple worship, and epics like the Mahabharata (which he all does very well); he even situates Krishna firmly within the Islamic tradition of prophets.

This is a cultural mode that the great Indian political psychologist Ashis Nandy describes quite eloquently in his essay in which the gods and goddesses of India inevitably find their way into other religious traditions, thus creating new, syncretic cultures and ways of existing. Nandy mentions the People of India census conducted by the Anthropological Survey of India between 1985 and 1994, in which 35 Indian communities described themselves as both Hindu and Muslim!

Final Thoughts

What does it mean that the same person wrote both Krishna Kanhaiya and the national anthem of Pakistan — works which have such radically different cultural routings?

In the end, we are left with more questions than answers. Part of this is due to gaps in the historical record. Frustratingly, we don’t know when Krishn Kanhaiya was written, or in what written work it was published. Did Jalandhari write it before he became involved with the Pakistan movement and was exposed to the Two-Nation Theory? Did he write the poem after migrating from India to Pakistan? Without knowing these details, I admit that it is hard to make an argument about cultural politics using this poem.

However, one thing is very clear to me. The worldview that produced Krishna Kanhaiya is under threat. Extremists in both Indian and Pakistan thrive off the idea that Muslim and Hindu religious and cultural identities should be as separate and distinct as possible, with no room for overlap. Anyone who oversteps the boundaries set by fundamentalists is a target.

Let us ask ourselves: could a poem like Krishn Kanhaiya be written in today’s cultural atmosphere in South Asia? Despite all the negative forces of nationalism and fundamentalism, I believe that it still could.

Syncretism is by no means dead in South Asia. However, it will not operate on auto-pilot; when it comes to culture, nothing is guaranteed to last. It is up to us to make space for these cultural products that defy easy categorisation and exist purely in a state of hybridity. It is these cultural products which have the power to unify communities.

In these times, I too call out to Hafeez Jalandhari’s Krishna:

Ai Hind Ke Raja, Ik Bar Phir A Ja!

Oh king of India, come just once more!

Krishn Kanhaiya, by Hafeez Jalandhari

(I'd like to thank my friend Hamza Shad for helping me with this translation)

Ai Dekhne Walo

Is Husn Ko Dekho

Is Raz Ko Samjho

O onlooker,

gaze upon this beauty;

try to understand this secret:

Yeh Naqsh-E-?Hayali

Yeh Fikrat-E-Ali

This figment of the imagination;

this grand thought.

Yeh Paikar-E-Tanvir

Yeh Krishn Ki Tasvir

This form of light;

this image of Krishna.

Ma’ani Hai Ki Surat

San’at Hai Ki Fitrat

Is he reality or representation?

Is he craft or nature?

Zahir Hai Ki Mastur

Nazdik Hai Ya Dur

Yeh Nar Hai Ya Nur

Is he apparent or hidden?

Is he near or far?

Is he fire or light?

Duniya Se Nirala

Yeh Bañsuri Wala

Gokul Ka Gwala

He’s an odd one,

this flute player;

this cowherd of Gokul.

Hai Sehr Ki Aijaz

Khulta Hi Nahiñ Raz

This is a magical miracle;

this secret will not open.

Kya Shan Hai Wallah

Kya An Hai Wallah

By God, what glory!

By God, what dignity!

Hairan Hooñ Kya Hai

Ik Shan-E-?Huda Hai

I am perplexed by what he is;

he is the Majesty of God.

But-?Hane Ke Andar

?Hud Husn Ka But-Gar

But Ban Gaya A Kar

Inside the temple,

the sculptor of beauty himself

entered and became the idol.

Woh Turfa Nazzare

Yad A Gaye Sare

Jamuna Ke Kinare

Those rare happenings—

they’ve just come back to me—

Back on the banks of the Yamuna…

Sabze Ka Lahakna

Phuloñ Ka Mahakna

The plants waving in the breeze;

the fragrance of flowers…

Ghanghor Ghatayeiñ

Sarmast Hawayeiñ

The dark rain-clouds,

the intoxicated winds…

Ma’asum Umañgeiñ

Ulfat Ki Tarañgeiñ

That innocent enthusiasm,

those waves of love…

Woh Gopiyoñ Ke Sath

Hathoñ Meiñ Diye Hath

Raqsañ Hua Brijnath

Together with the gopis,

placing his hand in theirs;

the lord of Braj danced.

Bansi Meiñ Jo Lay Hai

Nasha Hai Na Mai Hai

Kuchh Aur Hi Shai Hai

In his flute is a melody that

is neither intoxication nor wine;

it’s something beyond.

Ik Ruh Hai Raqsañ

Ik Kaif Hai Larzañ

It is a dancing soul;

it is a quivering joy.

Ek Aql Hai Mai-Nosh

Ik Hosh Hai Mad-Hosh

It is a mind fond of drink,

it is an intoxicated consciousness.

Ik ?Handa Hai Sayyal

Ik Girya Hai ?Hush-Hal

It is a laugh flowing like a torrent,

it is a joyful cry.

Ik Ishq Hai Maghrur

Ik Husn Hai Majbur

Ik Sehr Hai Mas-Hur

It is an arrogant love,

a constrained beauty,

a mesmerizing spell…

Darbar Meiñ Tanha

Lachar Hai Kirishna

Aa Shyam Idhar Aa

Alone in the [Kaurava] court,

Draupadi [also called Krishnaa] is helpless.

She calls out: “Come, Shyam, come here!”

Sab Ahl-E-?Husumat

Haiñ Dar Pa’e Izzat

“All these hateful people;

their honour lies at the door!”

Yeh Raj Dulare

Buzdil Hue Sare

“These beloved princes [the Pandavas, Draupadi’s husbands]

have all become cowards!”

Parda Na Ho Taraj

Bekas Ki Rahe Laaj

“Without a veil, I will be shamed;

may this helpless wretch’s honour be saved!”

A Ja Mere Kale

Bharat Ke Ujale

Daman Meiñ Chhupa Le

“Come, my Dark One,

the light of India;

Drape me in your robe!”

Woh Ho Gayi An-Ban

Woh Garm Hua Ran

Ghalib Hai Duryodhan

They have started quarrelling,

they have heated up the war.

Duryodhan seems victorious.

Woh A Gaye Jagdish

Woh Mit Gayi Tashvish

Wait—he has come, the Lord of the World!

Our anxiety has been erased!

Arjun Ko Bulaya

Upadesh Sunaya

He called Arjuna,

and preached to him [the Bhagavad Gita].

Gham-Zad Ka Gham Kya

Ustad Ka Gham Kya

What is the sorrow of that sorrowful one?

What is the sorrow of the teacher (guru)?

Lo Ho Gayi Tadbir

Lo Ban Gayi Taqdir

Lo Chal Gayi Shamshir

The solution has been reached;

the divine decree has been pronounced;

The Sword Has Been Swung!

Sirat Hai Adu-Soz

Surat Nazar-Afroz

Dil Kaifiyat-Andoz

His virtues burn enemies;

his face shines a bright gaze;

his heart understands character.

Ghusse Meiñ Jo A Jaye

Bijli Hi Gira Jaye

Aur Lutf Par Aye

To Ghar Bhi Luta Jaaye

If he gets angry,

he strikes down lightning;

and if he is pleased,

he still loots houses. [Similar image to stealing hearts?]

Pariyoñ Meiñ Hai Gulfam

Radha Ke Liye Shyam

Among the angels, he is rose-colored;

For Radha, he is Shyam, the Dark One.

Balram Ka Bhayya

Mathura Ka Basayya

Bindra Meiñ Kanhaiya

Balaram’s brother,

the famed one of Mathura,

that Kanhaiya of Bindra (a forest near Gokul).

Ban Ho Gaye Virañ

Barbad Gulistañ

Sakhiyañ Haiñ Pareshañ

Forests have become desolate;

gardens ruined;

the gopis are distraught.

Jamuna Ka Kinara

Sunsan Hai Sara

The banks of the Yamuna

have gone silent.

Tufan Haiñ ?Hamosh

Maujoñ Meiñ Nahiñ Josh

Even its storms are silent;

there is no passion in its waves.

Lau Tujh Se Lagi Hai

Hasrat Hi Yahi Hai

My affection is to you;

this is my unfulfilled wish:

Ai Hind Ke Raja

Ik Bar Phir A Ja

Dukh Dard Mita Ja

Oh king of India,

come just once more!

Destroy our suffering and pain!

Abr Aur Hawa Se

Bulbul Ki Sada Se

Phuloñ Ki Ziya Se

From the clouds and the winds,

from the nightingale’s song,

from the flowers’ radiance

Adu-Asari Gum

Shorida-Sari Gum

The effect of magic is lost

The lovesickness is lost

Hañ Teri Judayi

Mathura Ko Na Bhayi

Indeed, your absence

does not befit Mathura.

Tu Aye To Shan Aye

Tu Aye To Jan Aye

If you come, glory will come;

if you come, life will come.

Ana Na Akele

Hoñ Sath Woh Mele

Sakhiyoñ Ke Jhamele

Don’t come alone,

let those festivals also be there together,

those quarrels with the Gopis…

Nikhil Mandalaparthy is a student at the University of Chicago studying public policy and South Asian studies. He writes about South Asian history, culture, and art at