Preachers of Love & Freedom
Compiled by Star Campus Desk
RABINDRANATH Tagore (7 May 1861-7 August 1941), sobriquet Gurudev, was an Indian Bengali polymath. He was a popular poet, novelist, musician, and playwright who reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", and as the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Tagore was perhaps the most widely regarded Indian literary figure of all time. He was a mesmerizing representative of the Indian culture whose influence and popularity internationally perhaps could only be compared to that of Gandhi, whom Tagore named 'Mahatma' out of his deep admiration for him.
Tagore was already writing poems at age eight. At age sixteen, he published his first substantial poetry under the pseudonym Bhanushingho ("Sun Lion") and wrote his first short stories and dramas in 1877. Tagore denounced the British Raj and supported independence. His efforts endure in his vast canon and in the institution he founded, Visva-Bharati University. Tagore modernised Bengali art by spurning rigid classical forms. His novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays spoke to political and personal topics. Gitanjali (Song Offerings), Gora (Fair-Faced), and Ghare-Baire (The Home and the World) are his best-known works, and his verse, short stories, and novels were acclaimed for their lyricism, colloquialism, naturalism, and contemplation. Tagore was perhaps the only litterateur who penned anthems of two countries: Bangladesh and India: Amar Shonar Bangla and Jana Gana Mana.
The youngest of thirteen surviving children, Tagore was born in the Jorasanko mansion in Kolkata of parents Debendranath Tagore (18171905) and Sarada Devi (18301875). Tagore family patriarchs were the Brahmo founding fathers of the Adi Dharm faith. He was mostly raised by servants, as his mother had died in his early childhood; his father travelled extensively. Tagore largely declined classroom schooling, preferring to roam the mansion or nearby idylls: Bolpur, Panihati, and others. Upon his upanayan initiation at age eleven, Tagore left Kolkata on 14 February 1873 to tour India with his father for several months. They visited his father's Santiniketan estate and stopped in Amritsar before reaching the Himalayan hill station of Dalhousie. There, young "Rabi" read biographies and was home-educated in history, astronomy, modern science, and Sanskrit, and examined the poetry of Kalidasa.
He completed major works in 1877, one a long poem of the Maithili style pioneered by Vidyapati.
A prospective barrister, Tagore enrolled in a public school in Brighton, East Sussex, England in 1878. He read law at University College London, but left school to explore Shakespeare and more: Religio Medici, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra; he returned degreeless to Bengal in 1880. On 9 December 1883 he married Mrinalini Devi (born Bhabatarini, 1873-1900); they had five children, two of whom died before reaching adulthood. In 1890, Tagore began managing his family's vast estates in Shilaidaha, a region now in Bangladesh; he was joined by his wife and children in 1898. In 1890, Tagore released his Manasi poems, among his best-known work. As "Zamindar Babu", Tagore crisscrossed the holdings while living out of the family's luxurious barge, the Padma, to collect (mostly token) rents and bless villagers, who held feasts in his honour.
Between 1878 and 1932, Tagore visited more than thirty countries on five continents; many of these trips were crucial in familiarising non-Indian audiences with his works and spreading his political ideas. Such extensive travels allowed Tagore to interact with many notable contemporaries, including Henri Bergson, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Romain Rolland. Tagore's last travels abroad, including visits to Persia and Iraq (in 1932) and Ceylon (in 1933), only sharpened his opinions regarding human divisions and nationalism.
In 1913 Nobel Laureate in Literature because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with comsummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.
KAZI Nazrul Islam, born on 25 May 1899, was a Bengali poet, musician and revolutionary who pioneered poetic works espousing intense spiritual rebellion against fascism and oppression. His poetry and nationalist activism earned him the popular title of Bidrohi Kobi (Rebel Poet). Accomplishing a large body of acclaimed works through his life, Nazrul is officially recognised as the national poet of Bangladesh and commemorated in India.
Born into a poor Muslim family, Nazrul received religious education and worked as a muezzin at a local mosque. He learned of poetry, drama, and literature while working with theatrical groups. After serving in the British Indian Army, Nazrul established himself as a journalist in Kolkata (then Calcutta). He assailed the British Raj in India and preached revolution through his poetic works, such as "Bidrohi" ("The Rebel") and "Bhangar Gaan" ("The Song of Destruction"), as well as his publication "Dhumketu" ("The Comet"). His impassioned activism in the Indian independence movement often led to his imprisonment by British authorities. While in prison, Nazrul wrote the "Rajbandir Jabanbandi" ("Deposition of a Political Prisoner"). Exploring the life and conditions of the downtrodden masses of India, Nazrul worked for their emancipation.
Nazrul's writings explore themes such as love, freedom, and revolution; he opposed all bigotry, including religious and gender. Throughout his career, Nazrul wrote short stories, novels, and essays but is best-known for his poems, in which he pioneered new forms such as Bengali ghazals. Nazrul wrote and composed music for his nearly 4,000 songs (including gramophone records) , collectively known as Nazrul geeti (Nazrul songs), which are widely popular today. At the age of 43 (in 1942) he began suffering from an unknown disease, losing his voice and memory. Eventually diagnosed as Pick's disease, it caused Nazrul's health to decline steadily and forced him to live in isolation for many years. Invited by the Government of Bangladesh, Nazrul and his family moved to Dhaka in 1972, where he died four years later.
Tagore and Nazrul- Magic in Union
I cannot recall which particular song started my interest in Tagore and Nazrul songs. What I can mention though is that there are the three HMV Long Plays from my Father's record collection that introduced me to the music of these two maestros. They were the two musical operas of Tagore’s Shyama and Tasher Desh; and a collection of Nazrul songs by Feeroza Begum. The musical operas were in commemoration of Tagore's Centenary Birth Anniversary in 1961. The Feeroza Begum album was a collection of twelve Nazrul songs. Those three LPs opened a world of delight that continues to delight even today....
Heavens only know how many times I listened to Shyama and Tasher Desh. With LPs, you do not have the luxury of rewinding and fast forwarding. You have to train your ears to listen to the music and verse without errors. This made me appreciate the musicals evermore. Every time I would listen, I would be left bamboozled as to how was it possible to narrate a story so wonderfully with verse and music? Although the Feeroza Begum LP introduced me to the music of Nazrul, it was Kanon Giri Shindhu Paar that ignited fascination towards Nazrul's music. The composition is so simple. Yet when repeatedly listened to its complexity shows the genius of a composer. Many years later when I first tried to play the tune on my bansuri I found the composition is based on Raga Bhimpalashi, but most unexpectedly the song is Nazrul's transliteration of a Rubai by the great Persian poet-mathematician, Umr-E-Khyyam.
I passed my adolescent years in Dhaka between the middle of the 1980s to the middle of the 1990s. The only sources of Bangla music were Geetali and Soor Kallal at New Elephant Road. I would read and re-read whatever was written on the covers and the inside flaps of the LPs of these two recording stores. Mozammel Bhai of Soor Kallal would introduce and explain songs and genres of Tagore and Nazrul. It was through Mozammel Bhai I discovered Debabrata Biswas and many years later Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, my two all time favourite Tagore and Nazrul singers. Ever since my encounter with those three LPs in my Father's collection, I have asked myself time and time again - what is there in the music of Tagore and Nazrul that make people want to hear them again and again?
In other cultures there are composers whose compositions have stood the test of time. Auld Lang Syne by the Scottish Poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796) is one example. This wonderful pentatonic tune influenced two popular compositions in Bangla. Tagore himself composed Purano Shei Diner Kotha based on the same composition. Suparnakanti Ghosh did the same many years later by injecting the tune verbatim to introduce the lyrics of Gauriprasanna Majumder's Coffee House-r Shei Adda, which Manna Dey made the anthem of the youth. The story of Burns ends here. Very little of the rest of the genius of Burns lives on. Be that his poetry or his music. For many other popular Celtic songs, the tune or composition has survived while the composer has gone into oblivion.
There are very few cultures where so many compositions of a single composer have stood the test of time and still keep on inspiring the audience. The works of Tagore and Nazrul, especially their music, have survived through the decades because they are simple yet so complex. Both kept things simple. They both focused on universal Bengali emotions and aspirations. Yet in all this simplicity Tagore and Nazrul both express a complexity that makes visiting and re-visiting their works worthwhile each time.
If three strands of Bengali culture are singled out- nature, festivals, and aspirations to be free- then Tagore and Nazrul represent the persona of Bangladesh and Bengalis. They complement each other perfectly. There is not one single Bengali event or festival where the compositions of at least one of the two maestros has not or cannot inspire. In times of festivity when all are happy Tagore and Nazrul sing the hearts and minds of Bengalis. At times of crises, when the Bengali nation needs to unite to face adversities, Tagore and Nazrul also sing for all Bengalis. It is the portrayal of this universality of the Bengali psyche and persona that makes Tagore and Nazrul so appealing and indispensable to Bangladesh and Bangla culture. Yet, in all this simplicity, the depth of complexity stands out. Tagore is the poet of poets. Nazrul is the composer of composers; the musician of musicians.
Poetry and music are grand dishes sitting at the table waiting to be enjoyed alone or in union. That is the beauty of art and the artiste. They express for us our latent thoughts and emotions. Through their art they speak and sing that resonate in our hearts and our minds. Bangladesh and Bengal are very lucky to have two such great poets and composers who spoke and sang the heart and the mind of their people. They addressed universal emotions and aspirations of the Bengali nation. That is what has made them men of all seasons; and men for all times. Let us see the two as one and not 'the' one as two. Let us enjoy their treats in union. In union, Tagore and Nazrul are synonymous to magic. Let this magic play for as long as the Bengali nation remains alive.
Kazi Nazrul Islam, the Rebel Poet
Md. Naibur Rahman Uupol
THE first thing which hit my mind when it comes about Kazi Nazrul Islam is his fiery poem "Bidrohi". The flame that was lit by this magnificent poem still works to inspire the oppressed to rise as one and dare to revolt against all odds.
"Dukhu Mia", nickname of Nazrul, depicted the reception that the world had given him at his birth. But the indomitable urge and energy to go against the wild wind generated within him in his childhood. Despite his familial poverty and failure to obtain a proper institutional education, he continued to amaze people with his magical poems of different moods. His anti-establishment and pro-liberation poems often landed him in jails but his pen transformed into a sword and he wrote “Karar Oi Louhokopat”. He was a born adventurer who took risks on life to see and know the unknown. This was the reason behind his joining the Indian Army in 1917. In 1920 he left the army and settled in Calcutta. His vast experiences inspired him to write some memorable prose and poetry.
His involvement in "Bangiya Musalman Sahitya Samiti" ("Bengali Muslim Literary Society") offered him the chance to know closely many writer-icons such as Mohammad Mozammel Haq, Afzalul Haq, Kazi Abdul Wadud and Muhammad Shahidullah. He was a regular at clubs for Calcutta's writers, poets and intellectuals like the Gajendar Adda and the Bharatiya Adda. Nazrul considered Tagore as a mentor and the two remained in close association.
Around this time, he started to publish his famous bi-weekly magzine Dhumketu (Comet).
But the British rulers did not like his language and sent him to jail and there he wrote "Rajbondir Jobanbondi". He wrote, “ I have been accused of sedition. That is why I am now confined in the prison. On the one side is the crown, on the other the flames of the comet. "
Nazrul was known for his progressive thoughts on the major religions. His love and marriage with Promilla Devi ensured his belief in true religion "Mankind". Gradually, his style of writing changed significantly from rebellious expositions of society to deeper examination of religious themes. Through his diversified creativity he redefined the Hindu devotional music by composing Shayma Sangeet, Bhajans and Kirtans, often merging Islamic and Hindu values in them. Nazrul's poetry and songs explored the philosophy of Islam and Hinduism. Nazrul expressed his vision of religious harmony in an editorial in Yuga Bani,
"Come brother Hindu! Come Musalman! Come Buddhist! Come Christian! Let us transcend all barriers, let us forsake forever all smallness, all lies, all selfishness and let us call brothers as brothers. We shall quarrel no more".
Nazrul has been compared with Yeats for being the first Muslim poet to create imagery and symbolism of Muslim historical figures such as Qasim, Ali, Umar, Kamal Pasha and Anwar Pasha.
Seeing the tomb of National poet every day on my way to University of Dhaka, I get inspired to be rebel like him. Everyone who wants a change for the better must feel the way Nazrul felt. We pay our heartiest homage and love on his 111th birth anniversary.
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