In this essay…
Shubham Shyam, 28 years old young man who writes brilliant poems, recently told me that – ‘A pen is mightier than a sword. It means that you may win some land with force with the help of a sword but you can’t win hearts. The pen has the ability to sway opinions and leave indelible impressions that can help in winning the heart. History is filled with poets who transformed politics and philosophies around the globe and used their pen as a mighty weapon. For example, the originator of politics, Aristotle was also a poet in ancient Greek who used poetry for establishing logical sequences.
India too has a long history of poets since ancient days. They played role in transformations of political, social, cultural, spiritual spheres, etc. They have arisen up against social and political oppression and also brought changes at the grassroots level. For example, poets in Indian history like Kabir have challenged the dogma of those times. He spoke against the exclusivist behavior of society in the name of the “caste system”. This tradition has still been trickling down to contemporary times. But their roles are more or less unacknowledged by history.
Take a leaf out of the history
It is well said that perception matters more than posture. We all are aware of the contribution of Aristotle’s work in ancient Greek. He had legislated the fine fabric of politics in the world. Probably, that’s why he is called as the father of political science. Today we learn his ideas but not the mean because we focus more on the end rather than the means. He used poetry as a means of investigation – ‘why it is?’ and ‘what it is?’. According to him, it is more important to know what constitutes good life rather than ‘what is the good life?’.
Similarly, in the context of ancient India poets are not acknowledged vis-a-vis king and kingdom. ‘Darbari Kavi’ (Court poet) has been the tradition of political structure. For example, Kalidasa is a well-known court poet in the palace of Chandragupta II. He wrote many plays – Abhigyan Shakuntalam, Meghdoota, Ritusambara etc. Their guidance of kind was very important for the Kingdom. Thus, they legislate the social, political, and spiritual spheres of the kingdom.
Similarly, in medieval India, they played the role of a friend, philosopher, and guide. For example, Chand Bardai was a court poet of Prithviraj Chauhan. He was very close to close to Prithviraj Chauhan who accompanied the king during wars. Apart from him, Akbar also patronized poets in his court. Along with Abdul Rahim Khan, he also patronized musician Tansen in his court and gave them the status of gems out of a total of nine gems of his court. But they were also deemed by history as silent legislators.
Silent legislators in the Indian freedom struggle
Poetry is a powerful ambassador that has the ability to connect with the masses quickly. Many poets in India instilled patriotism and energy in the masses through words during the Indian freedom struggle. For example, Kazi Nazrul Islam, a Bengali poet with impassioned activism for political and social justice earned and earned the title of “Vidrohi Kavi”. He didn’t only oppose British imperialism but also challenged the religious intolerance of Indian society.
Subsequently, the words of poets were used during the freedom struggle by all strands of freedom fighters. For e.g. “Sarfarosi ki tammana…” poem was written by Ram Prasad Bismil to energize revolutionaries in the Indian freedom struggle. Even tribal communities in India used poems to mobilize people against British imperialism. For e.g. Bhil tribes of Madhya Pradesh’s song “Na manu re angreja” was used to mobilize tribal communities for their rights. Similar kinds of songs and poems are seen in the Munda rebellion as well.
Similarly, Chattopadhyay’s Bande Mataram was first published as a poem in the novel – Anandamath – as the rallying cry of the characters for creating enthusiasm and courage among the people. Later, the same poem was declared as the national song of India legislated the feeling of unity among the people. Along the same line, the national anthem written by Rabindranath Tagore is still sung on national festivals like independence day or republic day as well as playing tournaments at the international level.
New strands in the fabric
Even after independence from British imperialism, the works and the role of poets have not been given due respect. For example, during the partition, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the greatest Urdu poets opposed partition. His writings were so progressive that he was nominated for a Nobel prize in the field of literature four times. He considered himself a world citizen. In 1977, when General Zia-Ul-Haq came to power, he tried to establish a theocratic state in Pakistan. Faiz wrote numerous poems like “Hum Dekhenge” and organized mass protests opposing Zia’s regime.
At the same time, India was also facing a democratic crisis in the face of an emergency. In 1975, an emergency was declared, leaders were arrested and newspapers were censored. It was the prowess of poetry that mobilize people for freedom. Subsequently, Jay Prakash Narayan gave a famous speech in Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi where he read out the revolutionary poem written by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar – “Singhasan Khali Karo ki Janata aati hai…”
The relevance of the poet is so hard that it is still read in our society. For example, during India Against Corruption (IAC) movement in 2011, leaders used poetic lines to attract people. The phrase coined by Hasrat Mohini, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ is often used to sensitize people for political development. It is said that elections are the heart of a true democracy. During elections, poetic lines are written on banners. Their phrases are coined and poems are read in rallies for targeting people.
Poetic legislation in the 21st century
Even today, it is said that whenever a non-fictional writer faces a crunch of ideas, he/she should read poetry. It provides a new angle to see things. Poets feel the emotions of the people. Issues are brought to light so that government could work for the people standing in lower strata. Thus, indirectly they influence the decisions of the government. For example, the poem was written by Dushyant Kumar – “Bhuk hai to sabra kar, roti nahi to kya hua” – is a revolutionary poem that reminds the political class of poverty and hunger.
Apart from this, in the social sphere also poets legislate conventions in the heart and minds of the people. For example, Premchand’s novel like ‘Namak ka Daroga’ points out social issues like corruption and money power. People best remember their heroes through poems. For example, the poem was written by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, “Khub ladi mardani wo to….” is the best-known poem to glorify the courage of Rani Laxmibai in the freedom struggle. It is still being sung to remember her.
Recently, India witnessed a protest to oppose farm bills in 2020. Poets wrote poetry and sang before the farmers to keep them high. It was indeed true that the movement was started by farmers but it was sustained by artists like poets. Consequently, voices became so powerful that the government took back those laws. Thus, these poets have indirectly worked as opposition in Lok Sabha. It can be deemed as the legislative actions of the poet. Unfortunately, their efforts are not praised later on.
Thus, we can state that indeed poets have played very important roles in different spheres but there are unacknowledged. They have been the best tool to exercise Gandhi’s Talisman. It means they are the voice of the voiceless people standing at the lower strata. Right from the days of Mahabharata, the truth is known. Kauravas were much more powerful in sword and the size of their infantry but they lost in the hand of Pandavas because Pandavas had Krishna and his poetic truth – ‘Bhagavad Gita’ – to ignite and propel them forwards.
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