Kazi Nazrul Islam

Kazi Nazrul Islam's
Dhormer Pothe Shohid Jahara..'
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Singer: Saifullah Mansoor
Lyrics by Kazi Nazrul Islam

Kazi Nazrul Islam is a household name in Bengal. A towering figure in Bengali literature and the national poet of Bangladesh, yet he is virtually unknown in the West. Why?

There are two reasons for this: partly because, as William Radice (Sampling the Poetry of Nazrul Islam, 1997) has pointed out, he was a Muslim; and partly due to the fact that he identified himself with the rural poor rather than the elite of the pre-partitioned India.

Although Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, Nazrul is unknown in the West, notwithstanding the fact that the latter was arguably more popular with the masses in Bengal than the former. It is high time the record was set straight. Who was Kazi Nazrul Islam?

According to late Professor Syed Sajjad Husain, a Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University, renowned scholar and literary critic, “Nazrul Islam is a puzzling phenomenon: a non-conformist, who by his celebrations of traditional religious themes, came to be regarded even by those whose company he would presumably have hated to keep, as the best interpreter of their ancestral faith; a man without any formal education who shows more sophistication than many who possessed university degrees; without ever travelling beyond the sub-continent he acquired an international outlook which might have been the envy of many who, in spite of frequent journeys abroad, betrayed in their writings hardly any awareness of the world outside.” (Nazrul: An Evaluation, 1997, p69)

Nazrul’s writings were clear, simple, yet profoundly emotive and meaningful. He spoke from the depths of his heart. He was a sincere man who championed the cause of the Muslims of Bengal yet he shunned racism, discrimination and communalism. He advocated that both Muslims and Hindus should join hands and liberate their country from foreign rule. He wanted the two communities to cooperate and co-exist in peace and harmony.

Not surprisingly, a number of his poems and songs incorporated symbols and imagery from Islamic thought and history as well as Hindu culture and mythology. Sounds contradictory? This should not surprise anyone. Nazrul was a product of his age – his was an age of contradictions. His personality and writings were shaped by the contradictory forces of his times, for, on the one hand, Muslims and Hindus despised each other while on the other hand they had to join hands to liberate their homeland from foreign occupation. Nazrul tried to bring the two communities together without them having to give up their cherished beliefs and traditions.

Predictably this led many people to question his orthodoxy. In 1914, when Nazrul was the Chief Editor of the Daily Navayug (New Era) in Calcutta, he wrote a long reply to his critics. This was one of his very last articles. In this article, he refuted most of the charges levelled against him by his critics, and he also defended his works as an orthodox Muslim writer and poet.

This, however, does not mean that there were no contradictions in his personality, thoughts and writings. Of course there were many. That was only a part and parcel of the vigorous and, at times, an extremely turbulent and volatile life that Nazrul had led in very difficult circumstances. Even so, the contradictions that are generally discernible in Nazrul’s personality, thoughts and writings are not unique to him. Such contradictions are equally discernible in most other renowned writers, scholars and leaders of the time. Mawlana Abul Karim Azad is a prime example. He was arguably one of the foremost Muslim leaders of the sub-continent; at once a champion of Islam and a prolific writer yet he was an eminent leader of the Indian National Congress who strongly opposed the partition of India and Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory.

Like Azad, Nazrul was a product of the contradictory forces of his age and this, too, is reflected in his life and works. In the words of Professor Syed Sajjad Husain, “How unorthodox Nazrul Islam really was is a question on which hasty judgements must be avoided. It is true that he exercised the artistic right to use whatever material he considered appropriate, with an impartiality which often embarrassed his more orthodox friends. But to maintain that he had completely renounced his ancestral beliefs would be to read into his poetry more than he intended. On the contrary if one examined the entire corpus of his writings one cannot but be struck by his repeated borrowings from Islamic lore and legends. Not that this question should influence our evaluation of Nazrul Islam as a literary artist but I thought the point was worth mentioning in order to refute some of the current notions about him.” (ibid, p72)

Though Nazrul’s life as a creative poet, singer, song-writer, essayist and novelist lasted a little over 20 years, his literary output was phenomenal. Apart from three thousand songs, he composed twenty-one books of verses, fourteen of songs, six novels and a collection of stories, in addition to four books of essays, three plays, four collections of poems and plays for children, and three books of translations from the Qur’an and Persian poetry (notably from Hafiz). Many more of his works still remain scattered in different journals and periodicals of the time. Abdul Quadir (1906-1984), the well-known Bangladeshi poet and journalist, subsequently collected most of Nazrul’s writings and the Bangla Academy in Dhaka published them in five bulky volumes under the title of Nazrul Rachanabali (Collected Works of Nazrul). In 1976, a few months before his death, Nazrul was awarded a gold medal by the Government of Bangladesh for his services to literature and Bangladeshi citizenship was conferred upon him. He lies buried in the beautiful yard of the historic Dhaka University Mosque. His was the first ever funeral of a poet in full state honour in the history of the sub-continent.
[Muhammad Mojlum khan,www.the-muslimpost.co.uk]


  1. I've seen the University Mosque in Dhaka, great and detailed post. well Persian poetry is rich and moving afterall it's in the blood.

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  4. Thanks for writing about Kazi Nazrul Islam .He is a famous poet of Population of Bangladesh.