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Mahashivratri 2023: What Urdu Poets — Hindu & Muslim — Wrote On Shiv & Parvati

Lord Shiv celebrated by Urdu poets at a time when inclusion and pluralism were the norm rather than the exception.

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I quite like to collect compendiums of Urdu poetry and have quite a collection by now. Each editor brings something new to the task of anthologising. I look out especially for the headings some editors like to give, such as ‘Hamare Mausam’, ‘Hamare Qudrati Manazir’, ‘Hamare Gaon aur Shehr’, and so on. I like to see if anything new appears under headings such as ‘Hamarey Mazhabi Rahnuma’ (‘Our Religious Guides’) and I am happy to report that such is the vast repertoire of the Urdu poet that I do find something new and interesting almost always.

Hasrat Mohani’s many lyrical odes to his beloved Krishan Ji Maharaj are quite de rigeur as is Iqbal’s jewel-bright nazm on Nanak, but every now and then when something new or lesser-known catches one’s eye one marvels afresh at the range and catholicity of Urdu poetry. 

On the occasion of Maha Shivratri, here is a sampler of verses on the Blue Necked One. Written by both Muslim poets and non-Muslims at a time when inclusion and pluralism were the norm rather than the exception, they need to be revived and re-read not merely for their evocations of communal harmony and goodwill, but also because many contain some fine poetry.

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Of the poems specifically on Shiv, here is an older poet, Munshi Dwarka Parshad Ufaq Lakhnawi. He employs the traditional tropes and metaphors of classical Urdu rubai in his ‘Shankar Darshan’ to describe the beauty of Shankar and Parvati: 

Jism ka rang chamkte huwey neelam ki misal 

Chand ki rukh mein chamak chehrey pe suraj ka jalal 

The colour of his body like a glittering sapphire 

The glow of the moon in his visage, the glory of the sun on his face 

Munawwar Lakhnawi writing ‘Shivji ki Tareef Main’ (‘In Praise of Shivji’), listing the many attributes of ‘Jagat Ishwar’, ‘Sansaar ke Swami’ on whose forehead the crescent moon glimmers (‘Chaand aadha hai namoodar jabeen par jin ki’) concludes by describing him thus: 

Rooh ko qaid-e tanasukh se rihaah karte hain 

Hamatan lutf hain masroof-e-karam rahte hain 

Maghfirat Bakhsh jinhein ahl-e-nazar kahte hain 

He releases the soul from the prison of transmigration 

He is entirely immersed in joy, engrossed in bounty 

The discerning call him the Granter of Salvation

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Shiv Drinking Poison Becomes a Powerful Metaphor

The Halahala (poison) that Shiv drank after the samudra manthan becomes a metaphor for the poet. In a hauntingly lyrical poem entitled ‘Kaash’ (‘If Only’), Sarwat Zehra wishes that the compromises a woman has to make all her life could be eaten like pieces of broken bangles that have been ground to a fine powder, or the ‘poison of solitude’ (‘tanhai ka zahr’) drunk: 

Shiv ke neel kanth ki tarah 

Galey mein rakh kar jiya ja sakta 

Like Shiv’s blue-tinged neck 

I too could live with it in my throat 

In a long poem entitled ‘Zindagi’ (‘Life’) by Kaifi Azmi, the ocean itself enters the poet’s room and says: 

Shiv ne ye bhejwaya hai lo piyo aur 

Aaj Shiv ilm hai amrit hai amal 

Shiv has sent this for you, here, drink it 

Today Shiv is knowledge, nectar, action 

The act of churning the dark waters which eventually yielded the ambrosial nectar is aspirational, emblematic though eventually futile for mere mortals as in the poem ‘Zahr ka Darya’ (‘The River of Poison’) by Qaleel Jhansvi: 

Woh jis mein Shiv ko zahr peena na parhey 

Woh kainat jo sab ko samaan karti ho 

Where Shiv does not have to drink the poison 

That universe which makes everyone equal 

That the analogy of swallowing poison continues to impress generations of poets, especially women, is evident from this sher by Aziz Bano Darab Wafa: 

Shiv to nahin hum phir bhi hum ne duniya bhar ke zahr piye 

Itni kadwahat hai munh mein kaise meethi baat karein 

I am not Shiv yet I have drunk all the poisons of the world 

Such is the bitterness in my mouth how can I talk sweetly

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The Homeliness of Shiv's Story

Then there was Nazeer Akbarabadi, the people’s poet from Agra and one of the greatest chroniclers of his age who has written on the humblest of subjects such as the kakdi seller and of a lived, multicultural, syncretic way of life where Holi was celebrated with as much vigour as Eid. In his ballad-like ‘Mahadeoji ka Byaah’ (‘The Wedding of Mahadevji’) with its opening lines redolent of piety and love, ‘Pahle naanv Ganesh kaa lijiye siis nawae’ (‘Begin with the name of Ganesh with your head bowed low’), he goes on to say how the very re-telling of the incidents surrounding this wedding bring blessings upon the listeners: 

Aur jis ne iss byaah ki mahima kahi banaye 

Uss ke bhi har haal mein Shivji rahein suhaye 

And whoever describes the glory of this match 

Shivji will always keep them in good stead 

To come to present times, here’s Ashutosh Rana, a television and film actor and also a fine poet, invoking Shiv’s Ganga while writing of his own troubled, divisive times: 

Shiv ki Ganga bhi pani hai 

Aab-e zamzam bhi pani hai 

Mulla bhi piye pandit bhi 

Pani ka mazhab kya hoga? 

The Ganga of Shiv is water 

So is the water of the zamzam spring 

The mulla drinks it so does the pandit 

What will be the religion of water?

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Blending Islamic and Indic Traditions To Sing the Glory of Shiv

Of the many Shiv Puran written and translated into Urdu, the most well regarded is the one by Munshi Shankar Dayal Farhat published by Nawal Kishore Press in 1870. Each adhyay begins with a prayer ‘Sada Shivji ki nigah lutf idhar ho’ (‘May Shivji’s benevolent gaze be upon us’) and goes on to describe in lyrical verse the essence of the original Sanskrit texts.

The mythology of Shiv and Parvati as well as the essentials of advaita philosophy are made accessible in a homely manner such as the story of the hunter and the deer thus: Eik hiran ka paani pina taalab mein aur sayyad ka teer khenchna bel ke darakht se...

An older version by an unknown author from Rai Bareilly, has a Tamhiid (Preface) outlining the aims and objectives of the text followed by a Dibacha (Foreword) that, in keeping with the tradition of Urdu treatises of the times, begins with a hamd (usually in praise of Allah)!

Today, its author would be hauled over coals for such a ghor paap!

(Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, translator and literary historian. She writes on literature, culture and society. She runs Hindustani Awaaz, an organisation devoted to the popularisation of Urdu literature. She tweets at @RakhshandaJalil. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Urdu   Urdu Poet   Urdu poetry 

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