- Yogendra Bali*

    The Indian poets played an important role in the freedom struggle. They gave the concepts and visions of freedom. The revolutionary freedom fighters gave shape and content to these concepts and visions. The freedom fighters kept the national struggle alive in many phases during the 19th and the 20th century, the poets and their poetic word kept the spirit and the flame of the national struggle alive.

    There were hundreds of known and unknown poets who gave immortal words to freedom struggle. Many of them are dead and unknown, but their word lives. In fact their verses have become part of the collective memory of the nation. Whenever the flag of Independent India flutters in celebration and triumph, thoughts would go to the poets of freedom in tribute, gratitude and pride.

    It would call for a major research effort to collect, process and present the profiles and the poetic words of those who sang of freedom and revolution in 22 scripts and 81 spoken languages and dialects of the country. Many of them were folk bards and wandering minstrels who walked from village to village and street to street to spread the tales of heroes and martyrs. But there are known names and songs of freedom which can be remembered as some of the landmarks in the poets’ contribution to freedom struggle.

    In the north, the freedom poetry of Ajit Singh, Nandlal Noorpuri and Ram Prashad Bismil became the immortal words of revolt and freedom that inspired mass movements and revolutionary activities of the great Punjabi freedom fighters. Ajit Singh’s Pagri Sambhal O Jatta, Pagri Sambhal Oye, Loot Leya Maal Tera, Haal Behal Oye, stirred the peasants by depicting their plight land exploitation. Its message was for the farmer to awaken and see how he was being looted. In Punjab, it was considered the first song of freedom and revolt. Similalrly, Aithon Ud Ja Bholya Panchhia of Noorpuri, which also got into a popular Punjabi film of the times indirectly used the cinematic medium to depict the plight of men and women of Punjab under the British rule. And then there was yet another song Mera Rang De Basanti Chola, meaning "O Mother! Dye My Robe the colour of spring. This song gave birth to one of the greatest and glorious freedom myths. It became Bhagat Singh’s song of the gallows. He was said to have marched to the hangman’s chamber with this song on his lips. For him death in the cause of freedom was like a celebration.

    With the poetic word as their weapon, poets from north, south, east and west, both kinds and commoners, raised their voice against exploitation of India by the foreign rulers. The partition of Bengal, the indigo revolt, India’s first battle form freedom in 1857, along with the glorious deeds of warriors and martyrs of yore became their themes. In the 19th Century the poetry of Wajid Ali Shah in Lucknow and Ghalib and Bahadur Shah Zafar in Delhi, of the ‘Young Bengal’ movement poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt in Bengal and the Gujarati poet Dalpat Ram set the tone for the poets of freedom in the later period. The 20th century saw the poets emerging out of reformism and revivalism to confront the alien ruler directly and support the freedom fighters and mass movements.

    From Bengal came two immortal songs of freedom, which are still alive and stir the blood of every Indian. Bande Mataram, out of Bankim Chandra’s revolutionary novel Anand Math and Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jaye Hey of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore, which was later to be honoured as the National Anthem of India. They inspired the Bengal poets to create immortal songs of freedom. Among the tallest of them was also Nazrul Islam.

    Marathi poem Sagar Pran Talmalta ‘An Exile on the Seashore’ is an example where the revolutionary promises his motherland to return after being uplifted by his experience of the world but how he was cheated and could not bear tobe separated from his land forever.

    Subrahmanya Bharati in the South took the freedom struggle as an act of faith, dharma of the Indian. He sang :

    Whatever may befall us,

    We shall equally share it

    Thirty crores shall strive

    Else all will dare defeat

    We are all of the same caste and race

    We are children of Bharat, all.

    Bharati’s first collection entitled Songs of Freedom was published in 1908 and was part of the Bande Mataram Movement and Lokmanya Tilak’s activities to foster the spirit of solidarity, nationalism, sacrifice, devotion and struggle. His songs went into the blood of Tamil youth.

    Sarojini Naidu, one of the few great Indian poets writing in English, called Motherland ‘the sovereign empress of the past’ and eulogised India in her poems published in three collections, The Golden Threshold (1905), The Bird of Time (1912) and the Broken Wing (1917). She was so shocked by the Jallianwala massacre that she stopped writing poetry after that.

    Swami Viveka Nanda, the great reformist saint, was also a poet. In his ‘Awakened India’ he exhorted the people to resume their march, telling them ‘Once more awake, for sleep it was, not death, to bring the life anew.’

    Wallathol became the immortal voice of the freedom songs of the Malayalam people. In his stirring poem Motherland he called upon the people to know their selves and realise their overwhelming power. His shorter poems were compiled and published in eight volumes to inspire generations of Malayalis.

    Kalindi Charan Panigrahi in Orissa, Lakshmi Ram Barua, Padmadhar Chaliha, Kamlakant Bhattacharya and Ambikarai Chaudhari in Assam led the freedom poetry movements in their areas.

    Dr. Mohammad Iqbal’s Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara, which acquired the honour of being called Tarana-e-Hindi or the Song of the Indian, and Bismil’s Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Ab Hamarey Dil Men hai are the other immortal songs. Today we have a desire in our heart to lay down our head, became immortal words of freedom struggle from the Urdu poets. Brij Narain Chakbast, a great poet of freedom, in his collection Subeh-e-Watan wrote that ‘breeze on the moonlit nights made on hear the heartbeats of the nation’. Urdu poets like Altaf Hussain Hali, Agha Hajju, Barq Lucknavi and Munir Shikohabadi were among the forerunners of poetry of patriotism and freedom. In later days they were followed by great poets of the progressive movement whose poetic word sought to raise banners of revolt on the socio-economic front too. Among these were Hasrat Mohani, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Kaifi Aazmi, Hans Raj Rahbar and Ali Sardar Jafari, who died recently, alas!

    The Hindi stream of freedom poetry perhaps began with Bhartendu Harish Chandra’s Bharat Durdasha. It was taken up by great poets like Maithli Sharan Gupta, Ram Dhari Singh Dinkar, Balkrishna Sharma Naveen, Hari Vansh Rai Bachchan and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan who wrote Khoob Ladi Mardani Woh To Jhansi Wali Rani Thi, meaning she fought so well like a man, for, she was the Rani of Jhansi.

    And the urchin’s street song Todi Todi Bachche Re, Teri Aisi Ki Taisi meaning Down with you today of the British. It sparked sentiment of defiance and freedom, on the street and among the youngest.

    Finally, the great poem of Tagore which shall ever remind the Indians what kind of India the poet dreamed of :

    Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

    Where knowledge is free,

    Where the world has not broken up into fragments by narrow dogmatic walls,

    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

    into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,

    Where the mind is led forward by thee

    Into lever widening thought and action

    Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!

* The author is senior Freelance Writer and Journalist.