Urdu poetry is thoroughly secular

Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

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Many people think Urdu poetry is communal. On the contrary it is thoroughly secular.

Thus, Ghalib, the greatest Urdu poet, writes :

“Imaan mujhe roke hai, jo kheeche hai mujhe kufr
Kaaba mere peeche hai, kaleesa mere aage”
“Faith is holding me back, atheism is pulling me forward
Kaaba is behind me, the Church is in front”.

As explained in my article, Urdu poetry is not to be understood literally. The Urdu poets often write not directly but indirectly, conveying their meaning allegorically by allusions, hints, suggestions, metaphors, and indications.

Kaaba is the place in Mecca, which is the holiest place for Muslims. But in this sher (couplet) the word Kaaba must not be understood literally. By Kaaba Ghalib means feudalism or backwardness.

Mirza Ghalib

The word kaleesa literally means Church (of Christians). But here it means modernism.

So when Ghalib says he has turned his back towards Kaaba (i.e. he rejected it ), he means he has rejected feudalism and backwardness.

The word kaleesa in the sher means modernism, and therefore what Ghalib means is that he is a supporter of modern civilisation, and is against feudalism.

Similarly, Ghalib writes :

“Kahaan maikhane ka darwaaza Ghalib aur kahaan vaaiz
Par itna jaantay hain kal voh jaata tha ke ham nikle”
“The tavern and the preacher ( mulla ) are said to be far apart

But when I was entering the tavern yesterday, the preacher was leaving”.

This is a subtle dig on religious clerics.

Among the modern Urdu poets, Sahir Ludhianvi is outspokenly atheistic. Consider the following lines :

“Aqaayad vaham hai mazhab khyaal khaam hai saaqi
Azal se zahen-e-insaan bastaa vaham hai saaqi”

which means :
“Creeds are a delusion and religions merely false notions; From the beginning man’s mind has been a slave to superstitions”

and again:

“bezaar hai kanisht-o-kaleesa se ek jahaan
Saudagaraan-e-din ki saudagari ki khair”

which means :
“The world is sick of temples and churches;
pray for the safety of the traffickers in religion”

Many other such examples can be given from Urdu poetry. Great Urdu poets like Mir, Nazir Akbarabadi, Ghalib, Faiz, Firaq, Josh, etc wrote poetry which had no connection with religion.

Hindu urdu
Brij Narain Chakbast

And here are a few verses from the Urdu Ramayana of the great Urdu poet Chakbast:

Ruḳhsat huā vo baap se le kar ḳhudā kā naam
Rāh-e-vafā kī manzil-e-avval huī tamām
Manzūr thā jo maañ kī ziyārat kā intizām
Dāman se ashk poñchh ke dil se kiyā kalām
Iz.hār-e-be-kasī se sitam hogā aur bhī
Dekhā hameñ udaas to ġham hogā aur bhī

(He [Rama] said goodbye to his father taking the name of God
The first step to fidelity’s tough path his feet had trod
Now for a meeting with his mother he began to plod
Wiping his tears he spoke inward keeping his shoulders broad
I dare not let her see my pain it will cause her unbearable grief
Better I show a smiling face that may give her some relief)

After reading all this, how can anyone call Urdu or Urdu poetry communal?


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Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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