History

A Diary Meets a Secret at Mohenjo-Daro’s ‘Great Bath’

Next stop – Mohenjo-Daro!
[Source – Wikipedia]

Along the great rivers – Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Indus, Yellow, Yangtze, coastal Peru rivers, Coatzacoalcos – rose the world’s oldest great civilisations – Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indus Valley, Chinese, Caral-Supe, Mesoamerican. Rivers sustained these agricultural civilisations, providing food, fertile soil and better access to build trade relations with the rest of the world.

Archaeological findings provide us with a map that take us closer to these ancient civilisations, yet mysteries remain, as in the case of the Indus Valley civilisation, also known as the Harappan civilisation.

Major sites and extent of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
[Source – Wikipedia]

Although bigger than Egyptian or Mesopotamian (spread across northwest India, Pakistan and northeast Afghanistan, more than 1500 sites being found), the Harappan society boasts no monumental marvels like the pyramids or a deciphered writing like the cuneiform, nor even a ruling class, a military, weapons of war and not even distinctive burial sites.

The historians found no evidence of violence either and therefore, a tectonic shift that dried up the river or a terribly great flood is seen as the main reason behind the Indus Valley civilisation’s final collapse.

Nevertheless, what was discovered makes Mohenjo-Daro and Dholavira – the main Indus Valley cities amongst others – world heritage sites of immense importance. Indus Valley people lived in a very well-planned city that was most likely cosmopolitan-natured.

With its naturally ventilated and uniformly baked clay brick houses, well connected grid-patterned streets, an elaborate drainage system (some of these 4,500-year-old drains still perfectly operational), public washrooms, dustbins, around 700 freshwater wells, a massive granary, a citadel, uniformly made artefacts, seals and weights – Mohenjo-Daro was one of the twin capital towns, along with Harappa, of the Indus Valley civilisation.

The most important structure excavated here is not a palace or a temple, but a public bath – known as the Great Bath – also called the “earliest public water tank of the ancient world”.

Tightly fitted bricks and a layer of bitumen (waterproof tar) made the floor of the bath watertight; it was a large building with several rooms, one of which also had a freshwater well.

The ruins of what was once a large multi-storied building – now termed as the House of Priests – right across the street of the Great Bath, reinforces the idea that the bath had a sacred purpose.

Most scholars agree that this tank would have been used for special religious functions where water was used to purify and renew the well-being of the bathers. This indicates the importance attached to ceremonial bathing in sacred tanks, pools and rivers since time immemorial.

J. M. Kenoyer
“The Priest-King”, a seated stone sculpture at the National Museum, Karachi. [Source – Wikipedia]

A single soapstone seated structure termed as “Priest-King” by the archaeologists does not suggest that a monarchy or a priest ruled the city of Mohenjo-Daro, yet the remarkable urban planning and meticulous construction focusing on public welfare hints at probably a council of elders and a community that worked together.


A Mohenjo-Daro’s citizen’s Diary

Seal with two-horned bull and inscription; 2010 BC; steatite; overall: 3.2 x 3.2 cm; Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio, US).
[Source – Wikipedia]

Day – Sunny

Got up. Slipped from broken stairs. Mended. Water’s fresh, took bath, drank plenty.

Seals made – water buffaloes, elephants, bulls, rhinoceros. Ha!

Day – Sunny, Clouds Playing

At The Great Bath. Slipped from slippery stairs. Cleaned. Cleaned more. Got fresh water from the well. Poured. Poured more. Thanked noble Indus.

Day – Too Rainy

Group work. Mending limestone slabs. Mended. Dry granary functions. Ate well. Didn’t slip. Healed.

Day – Raining

At The Great Bath. Mending roof. Unfinished. Slipped. Fell into the Bath. Resurrected. Ha!


Reclining mouflon; 2600–1900 BC; marble; length: 28 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City).
[Source – Wikipedia]

Blogger’s Note –

Only ten percent of Mohenjo-Daro has been excavated so far and yet it shows how grand the city must have been, its citizens living a simple life, nurturing good daily-living-practices; either celebrating special occasions at the Great Bath or just storing water, humbly accepting what the Indus River brought.

Spiritually awakened or not, religiously enlightened or not, fiercely ambitious or not, the Indus Valley folks definitely, without any doubt, slept well. And that’s their secret, if there is any. They rested and digested fantastically and so they functioned wonderfully. Maybe they slept for 12-14 hours, working from dawn, with a calming break around noon time, to early evening. Not rushing or worrying when at work.

And so, well rested, they loved water – fresh, salty, rainy (and were also aware about floods; they constantly rebuilt their buildings in cities like Mohenjo-Daro), and fire – for they loved baking bricks, and music and art – for ahm…The Dancing Girl, the ornaments and toys. They loved to work.

Every task was a joint venture, everything done together with nothing but the Sunny/Rainy/Cloudy day in front of them. And then the starry and peaceful night, when the wind played a lullaby and one with nature, they slept.

Good sleep made them bright and happy.

The Pashupati seal, showing a seated figure surrounded by animals.
[Source – Wikipedia]

Read further –

Rediscovering the magic of Mohenjo-Daro

Indus Valley Civilisation, Mohenjo-Daro and the Cradle of Civilisation

Watch to learn –
At the Great Bath, Bollywood style… enjoy –

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Tughlaq in the Library – Part II

Review
Read Tughlaq in the Library – Part I here.

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The siege of Daulatabad (April-June 1633).
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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But the play is more than a political allegory. It has an irreducible, puzzling quality which comes from the ambiguities of Tughlaq’s character, the dominating figure in the play. All the other characters are dramatized aspects of his complex personality, yet they also exist in their own right. Kannada critics have made detailed analyses of the play, paying special attention to the symbolism of the game of chess, the theme of disguise, the ironic success of Aziz whose amazing story runs parallel to Tughlaq’s, and the dualism of the man and the hero in Tughlaq, which is the source of the entire tragedy. Yet no critical examination of the play can easily exhaust its total meaning for the reader, because the play has, finally, an elusive and haunting quality which it gets from the character of Tughlaq who has been realized in great psychological depth. But it would be unjust to say that the play is about an ‘interesting’ character, for the play relates the character of Tughlaq to philosophical questions on the nature of man and the destiny of a whole kingdom which a dreamer like him controls.

Introduction, U. R. Anantha Murthy

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[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

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Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, in the play, commits to actions with a confidence of a master player, one who is certain of the ending, one who is far sighted somewhat like an ominous oracle – a skilful, wise puppeteer who runs the show singlehandedly, unaware and forgetful of his involvement in the drama.

People unlike puppets, even though tied to strings, quietly keep gathering the power to pull down and topple the king puppeteer, they always do.

The echo of a future that reached Tughlaq’s ears, the making of history that Tughlaq could see so clearly was nothing but an illusion, a time bound vision, a trick that tricked him.

Sure about a glorious tomorrow, he dragged his people along towards it – an ever evading tomorrow.

Sultan’s experiments done so as to unite the country as one, to build an ideal powerful state, failed pathetically, leading the kingdom to anarchy. With a staunch eye on greatness, Tughlaq couldn’t manoeuvre without ‘murdering’ the stubborn present – the present, so full of the past, so treasured by his subjects.

Subjects who wrote hate-letters, full of rebukes, all addressed to the Sultan.


Let us meet Tughlaq, whom we first met in the library, who is now placed, by the playwright, on the chess board and the game has begun –

Scene One

Old Man: You can go to the Kazi-i-Mumalik for small offences. But who do you appeal to against such madness?

Third Man: This is tyranny! Sheer tyranny! Move the capital to Daulatabad! Such things never happened in his father’s days – may his soul rest in peace. Now he’s got his father’s throne. He isn’t happy with that and—

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Tughlaq has set up the court of Chief Justice in the capital where people can file a suit against the officers of State or even the Sultan.

He talks about justice and equality after accepting the Kazi’s verdict; he declares to compensate and offers a post in the Civil Service for the Brahmin who had appealed against his land being seized illegally by the State.

The humanistic monologue ends with Tughlaq announcing his well-thought and thoroughly discussed decision of shifting the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad and without waiting for a reaction or a bird to fly by, he leaves.

The shocked public worries if their worst nightmare will come true – what are they to do? The guard shoos them away shouting “Go home! The show’s over!”

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Aazam: Anyway, why did you have to dress up in these ungodly clothes? Couldn’t you have come like a proper Muslim?

Aziz (scandalized): But then what would happen to the King’s impartial justice? A Muslim plaintiff against a Muslim King? I mean, where’s the question of justice there? Where’s the equality between Hindus and Muslims? If on the other hand the plaintiff’s a Hindu… well, you saw the crowds.

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Aziz, a thug, disguised as the Brahmin, seeking justice from the Kazi, truly understands Sultan’s ‘impartial justice’; playing along with the Sultan, he makes use of the State’s scheme and presents the Sultan a chance to make use of him – Sultan gets the tag of a “fair ruler” and in turn, Aziz makes some money.

Throughout the play Aziz maintains the stance that no one knows the wise Sultan as much as he does because it is only he who participates in the Sultan’s game.

Aziz will, sooner or later, dare to check-mate the Sultan, will he win?


Scene Two

Muhammad Tughlak orders his brass coins to pass for silver, A.D. 1330.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Step-Mother (bursts into laughter): I don’t know what to do with you. I can’t ask a simple question without your giving a royal performance.

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Tughlaq’s step mother is his confidant; well aware about his burdens, the Step-Mother always urges him to slow down and more importantly, to make every move not in secret, not from her.

The Step-Mother too is playing alongside the Sultan, sometimes delicately trying to use him as a game-piece, but never showing it. The crime of patricide and fratricide hangs heavily on the Sultan’s soul; the Step-Mother never brings this up, never, unless it is required to make an impact.

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Muhammad: Surely a historian doesn’t need an invitation to watch history take shape! Come, Barani, what does he say?

Barani: It’s as Your Majesty said… He says the Sultan is a disgrace to Islam.

Muhammad: That’s all? I could find worse faults in me. What else?

Silence.

Najib: He says Your Majesty has forfeited the right to rule, by murdering your father and brother at prayer time.

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First Tughlaq makes praying five times a day compulsory, then he completely bans praying in his kingdom, only to wait in the end for a messiah to bring back pious prayers for his doomed subjects.

Like a devotee crossing all boundaries – that of life too – to connect with the almighty, Tughlaq crossed all boundaries to win over the almighty.

The far-off dream seemed the biggest truth to him and making sacrifices the only way towards it.


Scene Three to Five

Muhammad: No one can go far on his knees. I have a long way to go. I can’t afford to crawl – I have to gallop.

Imam-Ud-Din: And you will do it without the Koran to guide you? Beware, Sultan, you are trying to become another God. It’s a sin worse than patricide.

Muhammad (refusing the bait): Only an atheist can try to be God. I am God’s most humble slave.

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One Sultan, one dream, one decision, and what did the thousand eyes see – bloodshed or sacrifice, deceits or promises, Delhi or Daulatabad? Perhaps they couldn’t see clearly, perhaps they were hungry – for prayers or food?

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Shihab-Ud-Din: I’m sorry. But you have never liked the Sultan, I don’t know why. After all that he has done for the Hindus –

Ratan Singh: Yes indeed, who can deny that! He is impartial! Haven’t you heard about the Doab? He levied such taxes on the poor farmers that they preferred to starve. Now there’s a famine there. And of course Hindus as well as Muslims are dying with absolute impartiality.


Scene Six to Eight

Daulatabad Fort, Aurangabad, Maharashtra.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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Moving stealthily ahead, like an animal approaching its prey, Tughlaq finds it hard to remember that he is not an animal. Playing the game too well, he begins to lose the grip on reality; shuffling strategies, imposing with a hope to win once again.

Muhammad: I could have killed you with a word. But I like you too much.

Stabs him. Then almost frenzied, goes on stabbing him. Hits out at Shihab-Ud-Din’s dead body with a ferocity that makes even the soldiers holding the body turn away in horror.

Barani: Your Majesty – he’s dead!

Muhammad stops, then flings the dagger away in disgust.

Muhammad (anguished): Why must this happen, Barani? Are all those I trust condemned to go down in history as traitors? What is happening? Tell me, Barani, will my reign be nothing more than a tortured scream which will stab the night and melt away in the silence?


Scene Nine

Aziz, the thug, awaits a chance to be in the centre, right in front of the king; to be there not as a pawn, rook or knight, but to be invited by the Sultan himself, to be revered – he plans to replace Ghiyasud-din Muhammad, a saint.

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Aazam (giggles): So you want power, do you? What do you want to be, a Sultan?

Aziz: Laugh away, stupid. You’ll soon see. It all depends on whether Karim will bring the goods.

Aazam (seriously): But, no, Aziz, why are you so dissatisfied? We have such a nice establishment here. We take enough money from travellers and the other robbers are scared to death of you. There’s no limit to what we can make here.

Aziz: I am bored stiff with all this running and hiding. You rob a man, you run and hide. It’s all so pointless. One should be able to rob a man and then stay there to punish him for getting robbed. That’s called ‘class’ – that’s being a real king!


Scene Ten to Twelve

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Unlike the game of chess, the king wages a war against his own people; wounded and hurt, he tortures himself by giving his step-mother the death sentence.

Step-Mother: You had your share of futile deaths. I have mine now.

Muhammad (shouting): No, they were not futile. They gave me what I wanted – power, strength to shape my thoughts, strength to act, strength to recognise myself. What did your little murder give you?

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The Step-Mother too wanted power, power to rule Sultan’s heart and mind and through him the Sultanate; Tughlaq knew it, but couldn’t accept it anymore, not after she had Najib, the royal adviser, poisoned.

Muhammad: God, God in Heaven, please help me. Please don’t let go of my hand. My skin drips with blood and I don’t know how much of it is mine and how much of others.


Scene Thirteen

Aziz is finally face to face his idol, unafraid and gleefully meek, he praises every move of the Sultan, revealing it to him unabashedly who all profited from his ‘just schemes’ – some goons like him and the generous Sultan himself.

The only character who manages to break Tughlaq’s dream and show him the ugly reality, the present that is far off from his historically grand future. He brings forth the truth as a twist.

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Barani: This man should be buried alive this minute!

Aziz: I only acted according to His Majesty’s edicts.

Muhammad (exploding): Hold your tongue, fool! You dare pass judgement on me? You think your tongue is so light and swift that you can trap me by your stupid clowning? Let’s see how well it wages when hanging from the top of a pole. I haven’t cared for the bravest and wisest of men – you think I would succumb to you? A dhobi, masquerading as a saint?

Aziz (quietly): What if I am a dhobi, Your Majesty? When it comes to washing away filth no saint is a match for a dhobi.

Muhammad suddenly bursts into a guffaw. There is a slight hysterical tinge to the laughter.

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Aziz wins without check-mating the king – his life is spared and a job in the deccan is offered by the Sultan – as he seals a deal to continue fooling the crowd for a while and then to vanish. He makes the king adhere to his wish.

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Judgement day!
[Source – Pixabay]

Muhammad: If justice was as simple as you think or logic as beautiful as I had hoped, life would have been so much clearer. I have been chasing these words now for five years and now I don’t know if I am pursuing a mirage or fleeing a shadow. Anyway what do all these subtle distinctions matter in the blinding madness of the day? Sweep your logic away into a corner, Barani, all I need now is myself and my madness – madness to prance in a field eaten bare by the scarecrow violence. But I am not alone, Barani. Thank Heaven! For once I am not alone. I have a Companion to share my madness now – the Omnipotent God! (Tired.) When you pass your final judgement on me, don’t forget Him.

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Barani, the historian, Sultan’s only friend, prepares to leave Daulatabad; Tughlaq will soon be all alone in the magnificent palace, alone with his deeds and this terrifies him.

As a king Tughlaq took responsibility of his subjects, confident of his vision, that when it breaks, he knows he has fallen and with him, so has his people. The cries, chaos, mayhem follow him like his shadow.

But if not a king, yet a ruler, a group of elected rulers, what does responsibility of the citizens mean to them? Who falls, if they fall? What do their shadows sound like?

The play ends with the fake Ghiyasud-din Muhammad performing at the prayer time in the background (Muezzin’s call to the prayer is heard), Tughlaq, sitting on his throne, takes a short nap, then suddenly wakes up unsure of the place or time.

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Tughlaq in the Library – Part I

Review
“Your Majesty, you’re out”,
“Am I?”
[Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay]

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Witnessing the sun rays dancing leisurely, peeking from this-that window, for days and days, it sat in dust amongst others, quaintly steady despite of its love for an extravaganza. Tughlaq – a play by Girish Karnad – captured in a petite white book, first published in 1972, sold at a humble (that now appears to be too little, too funny) price, steadily awaits the reader on the shelf in the library for that one chance.

But why so steady? Are you dead? Were you immured then?

Like a bright star in the darkness, it spreads its light when the reader opens the book first, without any promise – it may guide you, lead you astray or try nothing or try everything that you have cooked up in your head.

But be assured that it will stay with you, always, once you meet Tughlaq; a play in thirteen scenes, thirteen tricks, thirteen faiths, many murders and one Sultan.

Time’s moving, time has changed, many ruled and died, no more Sultans, no more sultanates, what’s in it for you? Has the power game changed too?

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What struck me absolutely about Tughlaq’s history was that it was contemporary. The fact that here was the most idealistic, the most intelligent king ever to come on the throne of Delhi… and one of the greatest failures also. And within a span of twenty years this tremendously capable man had gone to pieces. This seemed to be both due to his idealism as well as the shortcomings within him, such as his impatience, his cruelty, his feeling that he had the only correct answer. And I felt in the early sixties India had also come very far in the same direction – the twenty-year period seemed to me very much a striking parallel.

Introduction, Girish Karnad

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Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq (1290 – 1351) reigned the Delhi Sultanate (from 1325 to 1351) like no other; a visionary famous (less) for his political experiments, innovative ideas, (more for) tyrannical grandiose love for his public, the sultanate and history – he was the public’s beloved mad king.

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Painting depicting the court of Muhammad bin Tughluq. Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad.19th century
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

…I have something to give, something to teach, which may open the eyes of history, but I have to do it within this life. I’ve got to make them listen to me before I lose even that!

Sultan Muhammad, The Fort at Daulatabad, Scene 8

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Who is the Sultan addressing here, if not us?

Ahead of his time, this king spoke directly to his future listeners, galloping towards his ideals, desires and dreams, forgetting behind the world he was tied to, and while he fell several times on this journey, the world tied to him suffered more.

Shifting the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad (Maharashtra), he pined to make history in a jiffy, combine past-present-future hurriedly, uplift every life, even the one that was not his own.

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Guard 1: Was it hard, coming from Delhi to here?

Guard 2: I survived. But my family was more fortunate. They all died on the way.

Guard 1 (sympathetically): I am sorry. The arrangements must have been very bad.

Guard 2: Oh no. The merciful Sultan had made perfect arrangements. But do you know, you can love a city like a woman? My old father had lived in Delhi all his life. He died of a broken heart. Then my son Ismail. He was six years old – would have been ten now! The fine dust that hung in the air, fine as silk, it covered him like a silken shroud. After him, his mother.

The Fort at Daulatabad, Scene 8

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You begin with just one image – the mysterious cover design (by Vasudev), a chess-piece-like king wanting to seize it all – which challenges you, but not so much as the dramatic scenes in the play as they convert your imagination into a projector. You visualise as you read, only to find that the king is not where you placed him; he deceives you again.

Sultan’s sins grow faster than his glory and power; and we get a first-hand experience for the playwright makes us sit in the front row.

We witness it all – the king’s game, we take part in it, but what part do we play? Unknowingly, knowingly?

“Both Tughlaq and his enemies initially appear to be idealists; yet, in the pursuit of the ideal, they perpetrate its opposite. The whole play is structured on these opposites: the ideal and the real; the divine aspiration and the deft intrigue. Tughlaq is what he is in spite of his self-knowledge and an intense desire for divine grace.”

Introduction, U. R. Anantha Murthy

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Tughlaq, first published in 1964 in Kannada, received immense success on stage and amongst readers; it was translated into English by Karnad; capturing that era so well, he frees his work from limitations – time changes, but human emotions don’t.

Time, something the Sultan tried to play with, passing sleepless nights as if to overpower it, facing defeats, yet not accepting the fact that his public was not on his side, but Time’s.

For now, let us keep sitting in the front row, the classic play is about to begin –

“Announcer: Attention! Attention! The Warrior in the Path of God, the Defender of the Word of the Prophet, the Friend of the Khalif, the Just, His Merciful Majesty, Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq.”

Scene One, A.D. 1327

Also, read Tughlaq in the Library – Part II.


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Travelling Through Time to Meet the Hindi Poets

Feature Article
Silent stories.
[Image by ashish choudhary from Pixabay]

The Hindi language is a treasury that stores precious jewels gained from different languages like the ancient Indian languages – Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Apabhramsha and others like Dravidian, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Portuguese and English. Gathering from such enriching sources and reforming itself continuously, the Hindi language aimed both for simplicity and profundity, to be an easy guide for its user.

While every form of Hindi literature has only helped in fulfilling this goal, nothing matched the influence of Hindi Poetry. The word Hindi and/ or Hindavi, meaning Indian (the inhabitants of the Indus) in classical Persian, was understood to be the language of India and was taken up by many great poets like the Sufi poet and musician Amir Khusrow (1253 – 1325) for his poems.

Until the printing technique was invented, handwritten books and social gatherings were the only medium to spread literary and cultural ideas; it also meant that very few could afford handwritten books and reading was only for the scholars. Thus, it was poems that reached the masses in the form of songs, stories, folklore, fables and pure poetry; the most famous being the two epic poems of India – The Mahabharata and Ramayana.


The Hindi poems as well as other literary forms catered to and evolved with the time, changing styles and themes accordingly. With the records available, we find Hindi poems taking a firm position when the poets found patrons in the kings in the 11th to 14th Century, thus, beginning the Vir-Gatha Kaal or the AdiKaal. As this period saw many invasions and battles, it influenced Hindi poetry immensely; the poems were mostly about the valiant warriors of the time, adding fictitious encounters to please the King.

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Prithviraj Chauhan and Sanyogita.
[Source – museumsofindia.gov]

With Hindi speaking majority being in the North, the poems of this era also came from this region – Delhi, Kannauj, Ajmer, ranging up to central India. Prithviraj Raso, an epic poem, dedicated to the ruler of Delhi and Ajmer, Prithviraj Chauhan, by his court poet, Chand Bardai, is considered to be the most famous work of this period; though not historically reliable, it gives insights into society under a Hindu ruler. The poem celebrates Prithviraj Chauhan as a ruler; the widely known part of the poem being the King’s love life – how he fell for Sanyogita, his enemy’s daughter, who too wanted to marry him as Prithviraj Chauhan’s success wasn’t a secret, and how he barged in with an army on the day of Sanyogita’s sawayamvar and eloped with her. It is majorly because of this epic poem, that even today we see Prithviraj Chauhan’s love story being enacted on different platforms.

Other works by royal poets include Naishdhiya Charitra by Harsha, Khuman Raso by Dalpativijay, Bisaldev Raso by Narpati Nalha and Parmal Raso by Jagnayak, most of these being a lively rendition of battles and their consequences. Unfortunately, many of these poems were destroyed by the army of Muhammad of Ghor, thus, only a few manuscripts are available today.

Other poetic works include devotional works of the Siddhas (belonged to Vajrayana – a Buddhist cult), Nathpanthis (yogis who practised the Hatha yoga) and Jains. Gorakhnath, a Nathpanthi poet, wrote in styles like Doha (couplet) and Chaupai (quartet) and on themes that laid emphasis on moral values and scorned racial favouritism.

In the Deccan region in South India, Dakkhini or Hindavi was used. It flourished under the Delhi Sultanate and later under the Nizams of Hyderabad. The first Deccan poet was Nizami, his most famous poetical work is Panj Ganj (Persian for – Five Treasures).


By the end of the 14th century devotional poems took the centre stage and maintained its hold till the 18thcentury and came to be known as the Bhakti Kaal. New verse patterns like Doha, Sortha (Chhand/ verse), Chaupainya (four liners), Shringara Rasa, etc. were added to Hindi poetry styles. Also, fresh dialects like Avadhi, Brij Bhasha and Bundeli gave fervour to these new styles. The main works in Avadhi are Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat and Tulsidas’s Ramacharitamanas and in Braj dialect are Tulsidas’s Vinaya Patrika and Surdas’s Sur Sagar.

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The poet Jayadeva bows to Lord Vishnu.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Kabir, the great mystic poet and saint, is said to use a mixture of many dialects (especially Khaddi Boli) in his poetry and Dohas – 

माला फेरत जुग भया, फिरा न मन का फेर,
कर का मनका डार दे, मन का मनका फेर।

Translation – Kabir says, you spent your life turning the beads of a rosary, but could not turn/ change your own heart. Leave the rosary, try and change the evil in your heart.

In the Bhakti Kaal, two schools of thought were formed – Nirguna School (the believers of a formless God) and the Saguna school (the worshippers of Vishnu’s incarnations). Known as the Bhakti Movement, both these schools worked to transform the orthodox and biased ways of the society and offered every individual an alternative path to spirituality regardless of one’s caste or gender.

Kabir and Guru Nanak belonged to the Nirguna School; they were truly secular and thus, had a large number of followers irrespective of caste or religion; in fact, Guru Nanak became the founder of a monotheistic religion – Sikhism. The Saguna School was represented by mainly Vaishnava poets like Surdas, Tulsidas, Ramananda, Mira Bai, Tukaram and others.

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Mira Bai, the Bhakti saint, the mystic poet.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

This was also the age of tremendous integration between the Hindu and the Islamic elements in the Arts with the advent of many Muslim Bhakti poets like Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana who was a court poet to Mughal emperor Akbar and was a great devotee of Krishna.

जे गरीब पर हित करैं, हे रहीम बड़ लोग।

कहा सुदामा बापुरो, कृष्ण मिताई जोग॥

Translation – People who work for the poor are great ones. Poor Sudama says that Krishna’s friendship is like worshipping the supreme; Rahim means that one who helps the poor becomes worthy of getting divine love.


The 18th and 20th century saw the unfolding of Riti-Kavya Kaal, the age where the focus shifted from emotions to ‘riti’ which means procedure and to poetic theory and its elements like Alankrit Kaal, Shringar Kaal, Alankaar Kaal, Kala Kaal; euphoria, beauty, heroism and fancy became the major aspects of poetry in this era.

Riti Kaal’s poets lived in the shelter of kings and nobles. The literature written in such an environment was mostly decorative and artistic; thus, the poems also became distant from the general public.

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Krishna and Radha dancing the Rasalila.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Most of the Riti works were related to Krishna Bhakti, with emphasis mainly on the Rasic (joyful, passionate, playful) and Shringar (physical love and beauty) elements – Krishna Leela, his pranks with the Gopis in Braj, and the description of the physical beauty of Krishna and Radha (Krishna’s consort). The poems of Bihari (Bihari Satsai), Keshavdas (Rasikpriya), Chintamani (Pingal) and Matiram (Rasraj) are well-known works of this period; their poems were a collection of Dohas, dealing with Bhakti (devotion), Neeti (moral policies) and majorly Shringar (physical beauty).

The shift from Sanskrit to a simpler language, even for the royal courts, had long ushered the change that kept on evolving Hindi language and that finally resulted in the formation of Devanagari script in the end; the first two books in Devanagari script, the year 1795, were by Heera Lal, which was a treatise on Ain-i-Akbari and by Rewa Mharaja – a treatise on Kabir.


From the 19th century onwards, started the Adhunik Kaal (modern literature); with the British East India Company establishing a complete hold on the country, Hindi poetry became the catalyst for the chain of revolutions in India. This period is divided into four phases – Bharatendu Yug, Dwivedi Yug, Chhayavad Yug (1918–1937) and the Contemporary Period (1937–present).

Bhartendu Harishchandra(1850-1885), known as the father of modern Hindi literature as well as Hindi theatre, used new media like reports, publications, letters to the editor, translations and literary works to shape public opinion.

Writing under the pen name “Rasa”, Harishchandra represented the agonies of the people, the country’s poverty, dependency, inhuman exploitation, the unrest of the middle class and the urge for the progress of the country. He was an influential Hindu “traditionalist”, using Vaishnava “devotionalism” to define a coherent Hindu religion.

निज भाषा उन्नति अहै, सब उन्नति को मूल।
बिन निज भाषा-ज्ञान के, मिटत न हिय को सूल।।
विविध कला शिक्षा अमित, ज्ञान अनेक प्रकार।
सब देसन से लै करहू, भाषा माहि प्रचार।।

Translation – Progress is made in one’s own language, as it is the foundation of all progress. Without the knowledge of the mother tongue, there is no cure for the pain of the heart. Knowledge is boundless, we should take new ideas from different cultures, but these new ideas should then be proliferated in our own language.

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The freedom struggle and fighting with the mighty pen.
[Image by Ashutosh Kaushik from Pixabay]

Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi (1864 – 1938) was a Hindi writer and editor who played a major role in establishing the modern Hindi language in poetry and broadening the acceptable subjects of Hindi poetry from the traditional ones of religion and romantic love; he encouraged poetry in Hindi dedicated to nationalism and social reform.

One of the most prominent poems of the period was Maithili Sharan Gupt’s Bharat-Bharati, which evokes the past glory of India. Shridhar Prathak’s Bharat-git is another renowned poem of the period.


Chhayavaadi Yug refers to the era of Neo-romanticism in Hindi literature, particularly Hindi poetry, 1922–1938, and was marked by an upsurge of romantic and humanist content, by a renewed sense of the self and personal expression, visible in the writings of the time.

The great literary figures belonging to this school are known as Chhayavaadi poets –Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Mahadevi Varma and Sumitranandan Pant. These four representative poets of this era embody the best in Hindi Poetry. A unique feature of this period is the emotional (and sometimes active) attachment of poets with the national freedom struggle, their effort to understand and imbibe the vast spirit of a magnificent ancient culture and their towering genius which grossly overshadowed all the literary ‘talked about’ of next seven decades.

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The grand Himalayas (the Annapurna Sanctuary).
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Himadri Tung Shring Se is a patriotic poem by Jaishankar Prasad; though a short one, the poem holds the capability of encouraging a whole generation and is often sung as an anthem –

हिमाद्रि तुंग श्रृंग से
प्रबुद्ध शुद्ध भारती —
स्वयं प्रभा समुज्ज्वला
स्वतंत्रता पुकारती —

अमर्त्य वीरपुत्र हो, दृढ प्रतिज्ञ सोच लो,
प्रशस्त पुण्य पंथ है — बढे चलो,बढे चलो

असंख्य कीर्ति-रश्मियाँ ,
विकीर्ण दिव्य दाह-सी 
सपूत मातृभूमि के —
रुको न शूर साहसी

अराति सैन्य सिंधु में, सुवाड़वाग्नि-से जलो,
प्रवीर हो जयी बनो — बढे चलो, बढे चलो !

[Translation – the poem tells every Indian to be as strong as the Himalayas, to be a gallant son of this land and to take a firm vow to continue walking on the path of virtue (i.e. to continue serving the country). Endless glories await the ones who are patriotic. Not to stop, but to burn like pure fire, to keep on walking ahead until you achieve your goal.]

The other prominent poets who also used Chayavaadi elements in their poetry include names like Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Makhanlal Chaturvedi and Pandit Narendra Sharma.


After India’s independence, the core socio-economic, political and cultural aspect went through a whirlpool of changes and so did the Modern Hindi literature. It entered Pragativaad  (progressivist-socialist), Prayogavaad (experimentalist) tendencies culminating in new poetry and further labels like contemporary poetry and reflective poetry.

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Toota Pahiya – the broken wheel, a poem by Dharamvir Bharati.
[Source – newspuran]

Some of the famous poets of the Contemporary Period include – Bhawani Prasad Mishra (Buni Hui Rassi), Gulab Khandelwal (Usha, Alokvritt), Kedarnath Singh (Akaal Mein Saras), Nagarjun (Bādal kō Ghiratē Dēkhā hai), Sudama Pandey Dhoomil (Sansad se Sarak Tak), Padma Sachdev (Meri Kavita Mere Geet), Dharamvir Bharati (Toota Pahiya), Geet Chaturvedi (Ubhaychar).

A section of poets also wrote for cinema and television; poets became lyricists and screenwriters, moulding this literary form further. Some of the known lyricists are – Anand Bakshi, Shailendra, Saroj Mohini Nayyar, Sahir Ludhianvi, Amrita Pritam, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Prasson Joshi, Jaideep Sahni and Irshad Kamil.

O life, embrace me… a song from the Hindi film Sadma (1983), lyrics by Gulzar.
[Source – Pinterest, for English translation click here.]

It has been a long journey for the Hindi Poets, forever evolving along with the Hindi language. The ability of the Hindi language to sanction and its power to absorb new ideas has given Hindi literature a colourful past. While we compartmentalize the eras for it is then easier to approach the bulk of literature produced, it many times overshadow the individuality of a poet for poets are not of one era, they are of every era.

Poets, by nature of their profession, see what is beyond their times, see what is invisible to others, and this is what makes every honest poem unique.  The 21st century Hindi poets, like their ancestors, present an image of the world around, and also give us a peek into a deeper world, the inner world.

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