Christ salvation

Celebrating Shiva, the Giver of Salvation

A few years ago, I made it my task to look in the mirror of Urdu to see how the Urdu poet had seen the other. My feeling was that a poet is rarely, if ever, a victim of bigotry, prejudice and narrow-mindedness; a propagandist or publicist might, but not a poet. And the Urdu poet, in particular, has always been known to be liberal, even iconoclastic. Even in matters of religion, the Urdu poet has always spoken for qaumi yakjahati and muttahida tehzeebon community harmony and the mixing of cultures.

there is love jihads and there is love jihads. Mine was a labor of love – which eventually took the form of bimonthly columns for an online portal – to present the range of concerns contained in Urdu literature. I found myself on a self-proclaimed crusade to find out how Catholic and diverse the concerns of the Urdu poet have always been, and how Urdu poetry is NOT poetry by Muslims for Muslims, and it is not mainly concerned with the difficulties of Shama and the bulb (the popular candle and nightingale tropes) as often mistakenly assumed.

The search yielded delicious results. I found large amounts of poetry written by Hindu and Sikh poets on Eid and Milad-un Nabi as well as a large number of soz, marsiya, naat, manqabad on subjects drawn specifically from the life of the Prophet Muhammad or from the early years of Islamic history, such as the events relating to the Battle of Karbala. In equal measure, these explorations revealed a large number of Muslim poets who were eloquent on Holi, Diwali, Janmashtami, Gurpurab, Christmas, Basant, Rakshabandhan, not to mention many comforting poems on Ram, Krishna, Shiva, Guru Nanak, Buddha. , Mahavir and Christ (Isa Masihconsidered a prophet in Islam).

Many of these poems about religious figures are grouped under such headings as ‘Hamarey Mazhabi Rahnuma‘ (Our religious guides) in anthologies; others are sown in complete works such as Maulana Hasrat Mohani’s many odes to his beloved KrishanJi Maharajwhich find a place of choice in its kulliyat. Still others are stand-alone texts such as Khwaja Dil Muhammad Khan’s delightful verse translation of the Bhagvad Gita, aptly titled, Dil ki Gita, first published in 1944 from Lahore. Among the several hundred versions of the manzoum (verse) Ramayana in Urdu, some of the best known are Ulfat ki Ramayana and Rahmat ki Ramayana.

As Urdu is gradually freeing itself from its “Muslim” label and regaining its rightful place as a popular language, it may be time to revisit these texts. Written by Muslim and non-Muslim poets at a time when inclusion and pluralism were the norm rather than the exception, they need to be revived and re-read not just for their evocations of communal harmony and goodwill, but also because many contain beautiful poetry. For this special thematic issue on Shiva, let’s see what the Urdu poet has to offer by way of aqeedat ke phool (flowers of faith) at Le Cou Bleu.

Among the many Shiva Puranas written and translated into Urdu, the most popular is that of Munshi Shankar Dayal Farhat, published by Nawal Kishore Press in 1870. Each adhyay (chapter) begins with a prayer’Sada Shivji ki nigah lutf idhar ho‘ (“Let 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 Shiva and Parvati as well as the essence of Advaita philosophy are made accessible in a simple way like 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 of Rai Bareilly has a Tamhid (Preface) describing the aims and objectives of the text followed by a Dibacha (Foreword) which, in keeping with Urdu treatise tradition of the time, begins with a hamd (usually in praise of Allah).

Among the poems specifically about Shiva is the writing of Munawwar Lakhnawi’Shivji ki Tareef Main‘ (“In Praise of Shivji”), listing the many attributes of Jagat Ishwar, Sansaar ke Swami and concluding by describing it as follows:

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 fully immersed in joy, absorbed in generosity
The most discerning call him the Giver of Salvation)

In a haunting lyrical poem titled “Kaash‘ (“If only”), Sarwat Zehra wishes that the compromises a woman has to make all her life could be eaten like broken bracelets into powder, or the “poison of loneliness” (“tanhai ka zahr‘) drunk, reworking Shiva’s drinking poison after the Samudra Manthan:

Shiv ke neel kanth ki tarah
Galey mein rakh kar jiya ja sakta

(Like Shiva’s blue-tinted neck
I too could live with this in my throat)

In a long poem titled “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

(Shiva sent this for you, here drink it
Today Shiva is knowledge, nectar, action)

The act of stirring up the dark waters that eventually produced the ambrosial nectar is an aspiration, iconic but ultimately 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 Shiva does not have to drink the poison
This universe that makes everyone equal)

That the poison ingestion analogy continues to impress generations of poets, especially women, is clear from this sher of 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 Shiva yet I drank all the poisons in the world
Such is the bitterness in my mouth, how can I speak softly?)

Then there was Nazeer Akbarabadi, the popular poet of Agra and one of the greatest chroniclers of his time who wrote on the humblest subjects such as the kakdi (cucumber) and a lived, multicultural, syncretic way of life where Holi was celebrated with as much vigor as Eid. In his ballad resembling ‘Mahadeoji ka Byaah‘ (‘The Marriage of Mahadevji’) with its opening lines evoking piety and love, ‘Pahle naanv Ganesh kaa lijiye siis nawae‘ (“Begin with the name of Ganesh with your head bowed”), he goes on to say how the very account of the incidents surrounding this marriage brings blessings to 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 game
Shivji will always keep them in good place)

An older poet, Munshi Dwarka Parshad Ufaq Lakhnawi, employs traditional Classical Urdu tropes and metaphors rubai in his ‘Shankar Darshan’ to describe the beauty of Shankar and Parvati:

Jism ka rang chamkte hue neelam ki misal
Chand ki rukh mein chamak chehre pe suraj ka jalal

(The color of her body like a sparkling sapphire
The glow of the moon on his face, the glory of the sun on his face)

Coming to the present day, here is Ashutosh Rana, an actor and a good poet, invoking the Ganges of Shiva while writing about his own troubled and divisive times:

Shiv ki Ganga bhi paani hai
Aab-e zamzam bhi paani hai
Mulla bhi piye pandit bhi
Pani ka mazhab kya hoga?

(The Ganges of Shiva is water
So is the water from the zamzam spring
The mulla drinks it, the pandit too
What will be the religion of water?)

(This appeared in the print edition as “Shiva in Urdu poetry”)

(The opinions expressed are personal)


Rakhshanda Jalil The Writer is a Delhi-based writer, translator and literary historian.