Ode to Krishna: Urdu Poetry Brings Out Kanhaiya’s Inclusive Spirit
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: iStock / Altered by Arnica Kala / The Quint)

Ode to Krishna: Urdu Poetry Brings Out Kanhaiya’s Inclusive Spirit

(This is part of Rakhshanda Jalil’s exclusive weekly column titled ‘Hindustani Awaaz’)

It’s that time of the year again... the two handsome kadamb trees in my neighbourhood are in full glory. They have been preparing themselves for months now; shedding their old, worn leaves for glossy new ones. The few remaining fruits leftover from last year have almost all dropped to the ground, creating a slushy, pulpy mess these past few weeks.

(Photo: Rakhshanda Jalil)

Tiny green balls began to peep through the foliage in July. By August, their size increases; soon they will transform from spiked table-tennis sized balls to closely-packed orange flowers in dense globe-shaped clusters, resembling moti choor ke laddu. But that stage is still a while away. For now, I am content to gaze upon the handsome tree and recite these lines from Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, that so many of us first encountered in school Hindi textbooks:

Yeh kadamb ka perh agar Ma hota Yamuna teerey
Mai bhi uspe baith Kanhaiya banta dheerey dheerey

The child-god Krishna, his playfulness and his leela (a divine play of aesthetics), have been the subject of a great deal of Urdu poetry.

Also Read : Krishna Janmashtami 2019: Date, Significance & Puja Vidhi

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Krishna & The Kadamb Tree: What’s The Link?

Across much of North India, the kadamb is associated with Lord Krishna and with Janmashtami around the corner, on 24 August, the resplendent tree fills my mind with images of infant Krishna, of his birth on a tumultuous rain-filled night, of his dalliance with Radha and the gopis under the sweet, scented shade of this very tree, of Krishna climbing the kadamb to hide the clothes of the gopis on its branches while they bathed – all of this brought alive through countless songs and lyrics, and embedded in the popular imagination as jewel-bright cameos.

(Photo: Rakhshanda Jalil)

The child-god Krishna, his playfulness and his leela (a divine play of aesthetics), as also his mohini (ability to enchant) and the sage counsel he gives to a distressed warrior in his role as partha-sarthi, the friendly charioteer of Arjuna, have been the subject of a great deal of Urdu poetry.

‘Janam Kanhaiya Ji’ by Nazeer Akbarabadi (1740-1830) is redolent with the flavours of Braj.

While Maulana Hasrat Mohani is his most ardent and best-known admirer among the Urdu poets, of whom more later, there are numerous poems on different facets of Krishna’s life and personality, such as: Har ki Taarif Mein by Nazir Akbarabadi; Krishn aur Radha ki Mulaqat by Munnawar Lakhnavi; Krishn Kanhaiyya by Hafeez Jallundhari; Sri Krishn by Seemab Akbarabadi; and two others bearing the same title by Nihal Seoharvi and Munshi Banwari Lal Shola — and most recently, Aur Phir Krishn ne Arjun se Kaha by Kaifi Azmi; and Brindavan ke Krishn Kanhaiya Allah Hu by Nida Fazli.

Not to mention, the numerous versions of the Gita in Urdu, the most notable being the elegaic Dil ki Gita by Khwaja Dil Muhammad published in 1944.

Also Read : Krishna is the Heart of India: A Muslim’s Ode on Janmashtami

Janam Kanhaiya Ji: ‘Ab Nand Ke Ghar Ki Baat Suno’

To begin with, let us look briefly at the long and lyrical poem on the birth of the blue god, entitled Janam Kanhaiya Ji (‘The Birth of Kanhaiya ji’) by Nazeer Akbarabadi (1740-1830). Redolent with the flavours of Braj, it tells the story of the birth of a baby boy to Devki and Vasudev at a time when they are imprisoned in their home by Devki’s tyrannical brother, of Vasudev crossing the swollen Jamuna river to take the baby boy to safety in the home of Nand Baba, exchanging his infant daughter with Krishna:

...Ab Nand ke ghar ki baat suno waan eik achambha yeh thehra
Jo raat ko janmi thhi ladki aur bhor ko dekha to ladka....
Sab naari aayin Gokul kii aur paas padosan aa baithiin
Kuchh dhol manjire laatii thhii, kuchh geet jachha ke gaatiin thhiin...

Also by Nazeer there’s Har ki Tareef Mein, listing the many attributes of the beloved god:

Main kya kya dasaf kahuun yaaron uss shyaam baran auvtari ke
Sikshan, Kanhaiya, Murlidhar, Manmohan, Kunj Bihari ke
Gopal, Manohar, Saanwaliya, Ghanshyam, Atal Banwari ke
Nandlal Dulare, Sundar Chhab, Brij Chandr Mukut Chhalkari ke...

‘Krishn Kanhaiyya’ by Hafeez Jallundhari is a long love lyric, eminently sing-able in its melodious invocation of Krishna’s beauty.

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Krishn Kanhaiyya: ‘Duniya Se Nirala, Yeh Bansuri Wala’

Krishn Kanhaiyya by Hafeez Jallundhari is yet another long love lyric, eminently sing-able in its melodious invocation of Krishna’s beauty and the sheer magnetic pull of the flute-playing cowherd of Gokul:

Ai dekhne walon
Iss husn ko dekho
Iss raaz ko samjho
Yeh naqsh-e-ḳhayali
Yeh fitrat-e-aali
Yeh paikar-e-tanvir
Yeh Krishn ki tasvir
Ma.ani hai ki surat
San.at hai ki fitrat
Zahir hai ki mastur
Nazdik hai ya duur
Yeh naar hai ya nuur
Duniya se nirala
Yeh bansuri wala
Gokul ka gvala
Hai sehr ki eajaz
Khulta hi nahin raaz
Kya shaan hai vallah
Kya aan hai vallah
Hairan huun kya hai
Ik shan-e-ḳhuda hai
But-ḳhane ke andar
Khud husn ka but-gar
But ban gaya aa kar
Woh turfa nazzare
Yaad aa gaye saare
Jamuna ke kinare
Sabze ka lahakna
Phulon ka mahakna
Ghanghor ghataein
Sarmast havaein
Maasum umangein
Ulfat ki tarangein
Woh gopiyon ke saath
Hathon mein diye haath
Raqsan hua Brijnath
Bansi mein jo lai hai
Nasha hai na mai hai
Kuchh aur hii shai hai
Ik ruh hai raqsaan
Ik kaif hai larzaan
Ik aql hai mai-nosh
Ik hosh hai madhosh
Ik ḳhanda hai sayyal
Ik girya hai ḳhush-hal
Ik ishq hai maghrur
Ik husn hai majbur
Ik sehr hai mashhur
Darbar mein tanha
Lachar hai Kirishna
Aa Shyam idhar aa
Sab ahl-e-ḳhusumat
Hain dar pa.e izzat
Ye raaj dulare
Buzdil hue saare
Parda na ho taraj
Bekas ki rahe laaj
Aa ja mere kaale
Bharat ke ujale
Daman mein chhupa le
Woh ho ga.i an-ban
Woh garm hua ran
Ghalib hai duryodhan
Woh aa ga.e Jagdish
Woh miT ga.i tashvish
Arjun ko bulaya
Updesh sunaya
Gham-zad ka ġham kya
Ustad ka ġham kya
Lo ho ga.i tadbir
Lo ban ga.i taqdir
Lo chal ga.i shamshir
Sirat hai adu-soz
Surat nazar-afroz
Dil kaifiyat-andoz
Ghusse men jo aa jaa.e
Bijli hi gira jaa.e
Aur lutf par aa.e ...

Julius Naheef Dehelvi’s ‘Krishn-Kanhaiya’ stresses on the all-inclusive love that Lord Krishna has for everyone.

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Sri Krishn: ‘Preet Ke Geet’

Sri Krishn by Seemab Akbarabadi talks of the preet ke geet (the songs of love) and plays with the idea of cosmic ‘play’, of playing with the colourful spring of love:

Huwa tulooh sitaron ki dilkashi le kar
Suroor aankh mein, nazron mein zindagi le kar
Khudi ke hosh udaane basad niyaaz aaya
Naye pyalon mein sehba-e zindagi le kar
Fiza-e dehr mein gaata phira woh preet ke geet
Nishat khaiz-o sukoon rez bansuri le kar
Jahan-e qalb sarapa gudaaz ban hi gaya
Har ek zarra muhabbat ka saaz ban hi gaya
Jamal-o husn ke kafir nikhar se khela
Riyaz-e ishq ki rangeen bahar se khela

With its internal rhyme and alliterations, Nida Fazli’s ‘Brindaban ke Krishn Kanhaiya Allah Hu’ makes Krishna a votary of inclusiveness.

Then there’s Julius Naheef Dehelvi’s Krishn-Kanhaiya brimful with adoration for Kanhaiya, which literally means a beautiful, adorable boy. Interestingly, the poem stresses the all-inclusive love that Kanhaiya has for everyone, that makes no difference between ‘apne-paraye’:

Jo sun leta hai gosh-e-dil se afsana Kanhaiya ka
Woh ho jaata hai sachche dil se divana Kanhaiya ka
Nazar aati hai jis ko ḳhvab mein vo surat-e-dilkash
Woh apna dil bana leta hai kashana Kanhaiya ka
Surur-o-kaif ki milti hai us ko lazzat-e-da.im
Laga leta hai honton se jo paimana Kanhaiya ka
Tum apna haath phailao zara saaqi ki mahfil mein
Ki banta ja raha hai aaj paimana Kanhaiya ka
Kisi par band hone ka nahin mai-ḳhana-e-ulfat
Chale aao khula rahta hai mai-ḳhana Kanhaiya ka
Kanhaiya ki mohabbat mein jo jaan par khel jaata hai
Usey sab log keh dete hain divana Kanhaiya ka
‘Nahif’ apne paraiey sab isi ke dil mein rahte hain
Sab apne hain nahin koi bhi begana Kanhaiya ka

Krishna: A Votary Of Inclusiveness

Invoking Him by His many names — Gobind, Radha Kishan, Gopal, Radha Raman, Madhav Murari, Mukut Dhari Madan Gopal and so on — Munshi Banwari Lal Shola in Sri Krishan talks of the combination of many qualities within one Form:

Tu hii khaliq hai kaun-o makaan ka
Tu hii razzaq hai ha runs-o jaan ka
Alag kab tujh se teri guftagu hai
Gharaz ik tu hi to hai tu hi to hai...

Hailing the arrival of Krishna the messiah, Nihal Seharvi employs the sort of metaphysical imagery one associates with Sufi mysticism in this nazm, also entitled Sri Krishan:

Intizar-e jalwa-e haq mei thha toor-e zindagi
Deen-e aadam bhool baitha thha shaoor-e zindagi
Aagahi se hal na hota thha muamma-e hayaat
Tishna abr-e karam thha yaani sehra-e hayaat....

No one can match the ardour of Maukana Hasrat Mohani, a practising Muslim, for Hazrat Shri Krishna Alaihi Rahma.

With its internal rhyme and alliterations, Nida Fazli’s Brindaban ke Krishn Kanhaiya Allah Hu makes Krishna a votary of inclusiveness, an all-embracing wholeness in which everything from the Ganga to the Gayya (the cow), the maulvi and the mazdoor come together:

Bansi Radha Gita gayya Allah hu
Thode tinke thode daane thoda jal
Ek hi jaisi har gaurayya Allah hu
Jaisa jis ka bartan vaisa us ka tan
Ghatti badhti Ganga mayya Allah hu
Ek hi dariya niila piila laal hara
Apni apni sab ki nayya Allah hu
Maulviyon ka sajda pandit ki puja
Mazduron ki haiyya haiyya Allah hu

A Muslim’s Ardour For ‘Hazrat Shri Krishna Alaihi Rahma’

And, finally, no one can match the ardour of Maukana Hasrat Mohani, a practising Muslim, a panch-waqta namazi (one who prays five times), one for whom worship of any deity is kufr, yet whose ardour for Hazrat Shri Krishna Alaihi Rahma ('The Venerable Shri Krishna Blessed be His Name') knew no bounds. Of the vast amounts of poetry on his beloved Krishan ji maharaj, here’s a small sample:

On the worship of beauty:

Maslak-i ishq hai parastish-i husn
Hum nahin jaante aazab-o-sawaab

(The path of love leads to the worship of beauty
I know neither reward nor punishment)

On the boo-i uns (‘the fragrance of oneness’) that permeates all paths of love, be it leading to Mecca, Barsana, Medina, Mathura, Ajmer or Nand Gaon:

Irfaan-e ishq naam hai mere maqaam ka
Haamil hun kis ke naghma-i nai ke payaam ka

Mathura se ahl-i dil ko woh aati hai boo-i uns
Duniya-i jaan mein shor hai jis ke dawaam ka
Labrez-i noor hai dil-i 'Hasrat' zahe naseeb
Ek husn-i mushkfaam ke shauq-i tamaam ka

(The name of my destination is Love's Knowledge
The message of whose melodious flute I carry
The scent of Oneness wafts from Mathura to the people of heart
And suffuses the living world
It is Hasrat's good fortune that his heart is brimful with the radiance
And love of that musk-scented Beautiful one)

‘Mann Tose Preet Lagai Kanhai’

The classical poet of the ghazal finds refuge in the more rustic, more real Awadhi to express his feelings for Kanhai thus:

Mann tose preet lagai Kanhai
Kahu aur kisurati ab kaahe ko aayi
Gokul dhundh Brindaban dhundho
Barsane lag ghoom ke aayi
Tan man dhan sab waar ke 'Hasrat'
Mathura nagar chali dhuni ramaye

(My heart has fallen for you, Kanhai
How can it think of anyone else now?
I searched for him in Gokul and in Brindavan
I even went till Barsana looking for him
Having sacrificed everything for him, I Hasrat
Am now going to set up my abode in Mathura)

‘Mathura Ka Nagar Hai Aashiqui Ka’

When this poet-politician from Mohaan in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh is locked in Yervada Central Jail in Poona by the colonial government, he speaks of his longing to go to Mathura to celebrate Janamashthami thus:

Mathura ka nagar hai aashiqui ka
Dam bharti hai arzu issi ka
Har zarra-e sar-zamin-e Gokul
Daara hai jamaal-e dilbari ka
Barsana-o Nand Gaon mein bhi
Dekh aayein hain jalwa ham kisi ka
Paigham-e hayaat-e jaavidaan thha
Har nagma-e Krishn bansuri ka
Voh noor siyah ya ki 'Hasrat'
Sar-chashma farogh-e-aagahi ka

(Mathura is the city of love
All my desires are centred on it
Every particle of the dust of Gokul
Possesses loveliness and comeliness
Even in Barsana and Nand Gaon
I have seen that certain someone's splendour
Whose message of reality is eternal
As is every note from Krishna's flute
Like a dark radiance or is it Hasrat
Like a spring of water gushing knowledge)

(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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