The Mystic in the Rebel

Though popularly labelled as the Rebel poet of Bengal, Nazrul had been digging ceaselessly into the esoteric depth of his Self and Soul, both taken as complementary to each other in the form of individual and universal concepts respectively. This inward investigation of a seemingly loud and overt social dissenter like him make his readers puzzle, although temporarily, to strike an assesment of him as a poet and philosoper grown out of tariqat and its mystic practice, known as Sufism. That Nazrul wanted to change the existing social order grown in the wake of colonial subjugation, looking for the earthly gain and equitable shares of wealth for people belonging to all classes including the grassroots level, is apparently incompatible with the concept of Islamic mysticism, verily known as Sufism, that does not approve of any wordly gain except enlightened and selfless reunion with God, the source of all creations, peace and eternal light. In fact, in Nazrul there is a duality of this worldly possession and divine selflessness, right from the beginning of his poetic career when he wrote his towering poem ‘Bidrohi’ (The Rebel, December 1921), suggesting diverse interpretations of the conflicting shades of the Self in the word-picture ‘AMI’ or ‘I’. In this poem of 141 uneven lines, Nazrul refers to this ‘I’ almost in each line, in a bid to diversify his identity which tends to defy the height of the Himalayan peak or the seat of the Creator, but finally expresses his interest of calming down, suggestive of surrendering to the Universal Self (implied in the last few lines of the text), when he will discover a world of peace at the end of all struggles in an oppression-free world. In this poem he also proclaims himself as a hermit, rather a warrior equipped with the weapon of tunes, and a prince with a royal attire of pale gairik (red ochre, the colour of selfless hermits). (Ami sanyasi, sursainik / Ami jubaraj, momo rajbesh mlan gairik). It reminds us of the Gautam Buddha, the prince who retired from royal affluence, attired in gairik dress. In fact this is a cherished situation of all mystic rebels who are in constant struggle to free them from their sinful self trying to get united with the divine self, a symbol of purity, sublimity, stability and peace. This is exactly the practice of all Sufis, since the connotation of Sufism or Islamic mysticism is the selfless experiencing and actualization of the truth analogous with none but God, the Omnipotent. Every Sufi passes through an arduous path of struggle to free him from self-interest and it is certainly his insurgence against the corrupt self. Nazrul did the same thing at individual and collective level while waging his war against all possible forts of subjugation, oppression, tyranny and dominance.

A Sufi is selfless, devoid of all mundane possessions and it is the extreme form of poverty, so to say. It is the crown of all mystic saints as well. A Sufi is a metaphor of a wool cloak on purity that resembles his soul. Nazrul echoes almost the same sentiment in his celebrated poem ‘Daridrya’ (Poverty) which starts with a famus line, ‘O poverty, you have made me great, you have given me the honour of Christ’ (Hey daridrya, tumi more korecho mohan / tumi more daniyacho Christer somman). It is also an echo of the saying of Prophet Mohammad (SM), ‘Poverty is my pride’. As we proceed to look further into his poetic and aesthetic quest, a mystic journey underlying his different texts in the form of prose and poetry is identified. The mystic Nazrul appears in many of his texts – either prose or poetry or speeches – that he created till 1942, the year he fell ill losing his speaking power and surrendered to a mysterious silence for more than three decades, breathing his last in 1976. The key concept we propose to look into his texts for Sufi interpretaion is ‘Self’ or ‘I’ (Individual and Universal) and its relation with Beauty (Amar Sundor, a confessional prose), Struggle and Oved-sundar (Oneness of beauty despite differences of its perspectives). It may be also interesting to identify a careful distinction between religious rituals and divine essence present in almost all religions. The rituals may differ from one religion to another, but the essence of union with God is almost identical in every divine cult. Even this concept has its implicit presence in Buddhism that does not clearly speak of God or divinity, but prescribes the concept of ‘Nirvana’ as the ultimate target of all human beings. This ‘Nirvana’ is somewaht a similar Sufi state of dissolving oneself peacefully into the universal self of God.

In short, this paper would briefly investigate some key aspects of Sufism as reflected in the works of Nazrul, who lived a life of 34 years in almost a state of complete silence resembling the moraqaba of a Sufi saint.

Family, Tradition and Nazrul’s Individual ‘I’ diversified

Are all poets basically and habitually mystic in their physical and mental make-up? The answer is not quite easy to sort out. But one thing seems common to all creators of imaginative texts that they look deep into the metaphysical essence underlying the physical world they usually encounter. This way of looking into inscape of a matter is somewhat identical with mystic investigation. Nazrul, for that matter, any imaginative creator is not an exception to it. But the shaping of mystic journey in Nazrul seemed to have stemmed from the mental structure of his predecessors, since we clearly identify a great sufi saint called Hajrat Nakshband who was son of Syed Mohammad Islam, now recognized as 7th grandfather of Kazi Nazrul Islam (in ‘Nazrul Borshopanji’, prepared by Khilkhil Kazi, 1405-1406 Bengali Year, centenary celebration of the poet). Nazrul’s father Kazi Fakir Ahmed was an Imam, a relgious teacher and a sufi saint, closely familiar with Arabic and Persian literature, including the life and works of great sufi poets like Ferdousi, Attar, Hafiz, Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Mansur Hallaz and others. In his later life Nazrul translated many of their works in prose and poetry. Some of his original creations, mostly songs in the form of Islamic lyrics and ghazals, were created with intermixing of diverse texts and subtexts by Hafiz, Rumi and Khayam’s lyrics or excerpts from their creative pieces. This clearly shows that Nazrul inherited the Sufi cult from his great family tradition which had been nurturing its essence from generation to generation. Nazrul is a sequential zenith of this trend. The point now we propose to argue is that although Nazrul is a product of that tradition, yet he has reshaped it by dint of his extraordinary individual ethos, revolutionary ideals and adaptable reading of world classics and contemporary works, – a technique now largely adopted by almost all multitalented writers to enrich their new creations. Above all, he employed his understanding of Sufism as a conclusive way of unification of the postive spirits of all religions, regardless of the differences of their rituals and practices of worshipping the mightiest deity, who is also conceived as the smallest dot or seed or the supreme entity encompassing every end of this endless universe.

At the same time we may assert that the mystic idea of literature or sufistic literature, as we argued earlier, was not a new thing in Bengai literature; although its acculturation was not overt in the mainstream literaure here. It was frequently traceable in the folk writings, more particularly songs by our folk maestros. The immediate forerunner of Nazrul is undoubtedly Fakir Lalon Shah. He sang of self ‘I’ who is eager to diffuse in the exstence of the Omnipotent. The same has happened to Nazrul in a deviated form in his famous text ‘Bidrohi’ or ‘The Rebel’. It may be also mentioned that the philosophy of self was not a new phenomena to a particular community of the world, rather it has a symmetrucal tradition of interpretation in all enriched ancient civilizations. The essence and connotation of ‘I’ was duly recognized in the west, especially in Greek philosophy, much before the birth of Christ. ‘Know thyself’ – this realization is present in both Buddhist and Pagan philosophy. Numerous ancient symbols, forms or mythological themes from different parts of the world, especially Greek, Chineses, Macedonian, Egyptian and Indian regions bear testimony to it. Similarly, the Ruhaniat (emanating from soul) spirit in Islam is an essential artculation of this universal interpretation of Self, available in divderse expressive forms by different creative maestros. So Buddha’s ‘I’, Rumi’s ‘I’, Lalon’s ‘I’ or Nazrul’s ‘I’ – all are embodiment of the same spirit, despite the variation of the vessels they contain. It is interresting to note that Nazrul’s ‘I’ itself is expressed in more than 100 word-images in the poem ‘Bidrohi’. Let us have a look into a few lines of this text containing the seemingly opposite and clashing meanings of this ‘I’:

‘Surpassing the moon, the sun, the planets, the stars/ Piercing through the earth, the heavens, the cosmos/ and the Almighty’s throne, / have I risen – I, the eternal wonder of the cretor of the universe.’ (Islamic myth and metaphor)

‘I am the tempest, I am the cyclone / I destroy everything I find in my path./ I’, the danceloving rythm,/ I dance to my own beats./ …. (Opposites and contradictions)

‘I’m creation, I’m destruction /I’m habitation/ I’m the cremation ground/ I’m the end, the end of night/ (contradiction and reconciliation)

‘I’m the Orpheus’ flute. / I calm the restless ocean/ and bring lethean slip to the fevered world/ with a kiss of my melody. / I’m the flute in the hands of Shyam.’ (Diverse sources, but heading towards a unified target of peace and restfulness.)

And finally this ‘I’ is a passage from different individuals to a collective I, made of clay but embodiment of the Soul, which is essentially sufistic or mystic in its significance:

‘I’m made of clay, I’m embodiment of the Soul/ I’m imperishable, inexhustible, immortal/ I intimidate the humans, demons and gods/ / I’m ever-unconquerable./ I am the God of gods, the supreme humanity,/ traversing the heaven and earth.’ (all excerpts taken from translation by Shahed Kamal)

This is indeed a frenzied and exalted state of a sufi, who is able to proclaim, ‘I’m mad, I’m mad!/ I have realized myself,/ all the barriers have crubmled away.’ Understandably, this is the state of fanabillah, where the individual is torn into countless pieces to repeat a uniform zikr of the indivisibility of the supreme Self.

Beauty: its diverse expressions versus oneness

Nazrul’s metamorphosis from a folk-based leto poet to one of the most significant poets voicing the interlinking essence of his inner self and outer outfit is a most interesrting domain of aesthetic investigation. In his spontaneous attempt to strike a required balance between his ‘rebellious self with the introvert mystic within him, he outlined an aesthetics of his kind with beauty, metaphorized as sworno-jyoti or golden glow, remaining central to his core. Beauty is multishaded and multicoloured synonym of various realities, both positive and negative, as he explained in his ‘Amar Sundor’ (My Beauty). It is, indeed a unique idea of beauty growing out of the eqaution between the hunger of heart and hunger of body that creates a significant cognition of his being in his works.’ (On Nazrul’s Aesthetics by Mohammad Nurul Huda, P 24).

We would further argue that this quest of beauty in multifarious facets examining the seemingly opposite objects and their essence with a view to reach the unified origin and the target of all individual entities is essentially mystic in nature. An overt dissenter, feminist, realist and advocate of equality – whatever may be his diverse identities – he is ultimately looking for a globalized human being immersed in the glow of golden beauty – a state of uninterrupted peace, tranquility and sublimity. Though he was not a ‘university wit’ or a formal theoretician constructing literary, critical or creative theories, he created his kind of aesthetics through his creative works grown out of conflicting realties to attain a synthesis in the long run. In reaching his cherished goal of sublime stability he interacted with his destructive self calling upon him to show the right path. This destructive self has been phrased as ‘proloy-sundor’ by the poet. The answer came from his mystic self who is aware of great religious scriptures of all times. This awareness is the outcome of his reading and constant interaction with these holy scripts captured by great human minds. Nazrul says, ‘I started to call my ‘proloy-sundor with all my heart, ‘Show me the path, your path.’ Someone, as if in dream, came and said, ‘Read the Holy Koran; if you read what is written there you will see proloy-sundor – and even above me the fullness in you.’ I saluted him and said, ‘Are you the one who has been expressed in my imagination, in my consciousness in the form of my poetry, my writings to herald a revolt, the message of revolution?’ He replied to me, ‘Yes, I am your purbochetana, pre-consciousness (trans. by Huda).’ Nazrul clearly uttered the English word ‘pre-consciousness’, which is the basic constituent of his creative self. This constituent is the decisive instrument of his mystic self that closely interacted with all available major scriptures. Nazrul further says, ‘Silently I started reading Vedanta and Koran. The sky above my earth seemed to have been split at some thunderclap and by the strike of elctricity-writing. I seemed to climb higher and higher. From a distance I could see an incomparable glow as beautiful as gold. This my sworno-jyoti (gold-glow) I saw now for the first time.’ Amazingly enough, this incident resemebles the meeting of Moses with the Cretor on the Mount Tur or a Prophet’s receiving the divine revelation after a thunderous outburst of the Omnipotent.

However, even a hasty scanning of the brief confessional statement of Nazrul (‘Amar Sundor) about his search of creative journney reveals before us as many as 16 opposing and interactive shades of beauty. These are (1) Shokti sundor (power beauty), (2) Ontorotom sundor (heart-laden beauty), (3) Prokash sundor (expression as homeland); (4) Jouban sundor (Youth beauty), (5) pem sundor (love beauty); (6) shok sundor (Grief beauty), (7)sneho sundor (beauty of filial affection), (8) Shishu sundor (infant beauty), (9) Proloy Sundor (destruction beauty), (10) Songhar Sundor (Beauty of Slaughter), (11) Dhyan Sundor (Beauty of Meditation), (12) Dharitree Sundor (Beauty of Earth), (13) Pushpito Sundor (Beauty of Flowering), (14) Bish-Sundor (Beauty of Poison), (15) Srishti Sundor (Beauty of Creation) and (16) Sworno-jyoti Sundor (Beauty of Golden Glow).

The above listing of different metaphorical shades of beauty could be further elongated by the poet, but eventually he had to stop somewhere. And he stopped at a point where all clashes of the opposites and diversities ended in golden glow. It is quite clear to us that though beauty appeared in different transitory and clashing persona (such as happiness to grief, might to debility or darkness to golden glow) in him, his individual self tried to discover the universal self through a laborious and arduous journey. This reminds us of the whirl dance of a sufi saint both in his physical state and metaphysical ecstasy.

The Journey of Pre-consciouness

The mystic journey of Nazrul started from his ‘pre-consciousness’ that was largely shaped and subsequently enriched by his reading of the texts of different religions, hearsays and folk materials. It is evident from his writings as well, since he has profusely written on the themes of Islamic and Hindu origins and traditions alike, aspiring to unite people of all religions under a common faith. Apart from his huge number of ghazals and songs of these kinds (on various occasion of Eid, Puja, deities like Kali, Durga etc) he declared in an ubambiguos voice, ‘Mora ek brinte duiti kusum Hindu Mussalman / Islam tar noyon moni, Hindu tahar pran’ (We are two flowers from the same stem/ Muslim is its pupil, Hindu is its soul’. This is not merely a propaganda, rather he implemented this in his practical life by marrying Promila (who was originally Hindu by faith) or naming his son as Krishna Muhammad. One of the most non-communal personalitis the world has ever seen, Nazrul’s realization of oneness of humanity is immensely significant in the history of modern creativity. And this is the direct result of his physical and metaphysical struggle aimed at creating a universal individual combining all faiths and traits – a struggle that is wholly sufistic in nature. His idea of Ovedom (Differencelessness) or Oved-sundor (Beauty without difference), expressed both in his poems and prose bear testimony to it. In his opoem Ovedom he proclaims, ‘Mor bidroho samya-srishti – nai setha bhed nai. / … nai setha jash trishnar lov, nai birodher kled,/ nai setha mor hingsar voi, nai setha kono ved, / nai ohingsa, hingsa, sekhane porom Sham/ rajniti nai, kono bhiti nai, ‘ovedom’ tar nam.’ ((Ovedom, Notun Chand by Nazru). It literally means that Nazrul’s revolt is for creation of equality. Interestingly enough, this seems to be a poetic echo of Swami Vivekananda’s realization of differencelessnes (ovedom) of humankind despite their so called differences of caste, creed, colour, faith and so on and so forth. Mankind must unite on the basis of a unified condition called human beauty. Swami Vivekanda preached this lesson all his life and this is quite in conformity with the sufi phylosopy. Nazrul does not crave for fame or thirst. Despite feud, hatred, politics and violences of many kinds, he advocates this mystic Ovedom, the equality of all human souls. This idea was also echoed in one of his most celebtrated speeches where he claimed that he belonged to all humanity irrespective of caste, creed, color and any other man-made differences.

Nazrul was born in the religion called Islam, but he owns people of all religions and all times of this endless universe. And the binding force of all people is unamistakably recognized by Nazrul after his mystic journey. ‘I consider this arrogance a messenger of ugliness. This arrogance is not divine, it is demonic. To me He is eternally the Beauty of endearment, the beauty of love, the Beauty of flavour, the Beauty of joy. …. I can not tolerate my separation from Him even for a moment. Vowin by his name I have dedicated my entire existence in life and death, my present and future, to him. I have no hesitation today in saying that my forgivingly-beauteous lover has accepted me for my true self.’ This is how the intermingling of affection, love, craving, thirst, conflicts, interactions and fogiveness existing between the Lover and the Beloved absolutely sufistic in nature, which is why Nazrul is the icon of a true mystic within the fold of a defiant rebel.

Meditative mood and wool cloak on purity

Furthermore, Nazrul recognizes a meditative stage of his soul. He asserts the utility of his kind of meditation. He says, ‘If the power of Anondomoyee in me does not go back to its meditative state, does not dissolve me by carrying me away into the supreme Void, then I will once again sing the song of love, songs of equality – of the kind that this world has not heard for a long time. ….

If the same divine source which has permitted me to experience the eternal Beauty of Formlessness within my body wills to accept my entire existence and returns to it the Anondomoyee’s Power of Love, if a flood of tears wells up in the eyes of of that Power, if its feet dance to Krishna’s rhythm, then I will turn this malicious, ugly, communal, discriminating, demon-ruled world into a beautiful world’.

‘I came to forgive the ugly and slay the demon. You are my ugly and so is the supreme beauty.’ ’ (Trans. by Sajed Kamal).

Quotations from both his prose and poetry may be drawn in an enormous quantity. But all those will validate the same argument that Nazrul vowed to establish the essence of love, equality and beauty in its fullness. He revolted against all demonic forces with a view to achieving his divine target for making human existence meaninglful on this sinful earth. And the path he walked along is that of a struggling saint resembing a wool cloak on purity, bridging the distance between individual and universal soul. It is the endless I whom Nazrul has visualized in his being. He reiterates,

‘Seeing myself, I see the unseen Creator. / The merchants in the seaport trade in gems./ … They have never taken a dive / into the fathomless depth of the gem-bearing ocean. /Instead of messing with scriptures, my friend, dive right into / the ocean of truth.’ (God, trans. by Sajed Kamal).

And though Nazrul was not a practicing sufi so to say, he is undeniably a mystic diver searching out the fathomless bottom of the ocean of truth pervading human consciousness since prehistoric antiquity. This is how the rebel lives in a harmonious interaction with the mystic in the esoteric and aesthtic self of Nazrul.

Mohammad Nurul Huda is a poet, writer and translator.


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