Kazi Nazrul Islam
|Kazi Nazrul Islam|
Nazrul in Chittagong, 1926
|Native name||কাজী নজরুল ইসলাম|
|Born||24 May 1899|
Asansol, Burdwan district, Bengal Presidency, British India (now Paschim Bardhaman district, West Bengal, India)
|Died||29 August 1976 (aged 77)|
|Resting place||Dhaka University|
|Nationality||British Empire (24.05.1899–15.08.1947)|
|Literary movement||Bengali renaissance|
Kazi Nazrul Islam (Bengali: কাজী নজরুল ইসলাম, pronounced [kazi nozrul islam]; 24 May 1899 – 29 August 1976) was a Bengali poet, writer, musician, and revolutionary from the South Asia. He is the national poet of Bangladesh. Popularly known as Nazrul, he produced a large body of poetry and music with themes that included religious devotion and rebellion against oppression. Nazrul's activism for political and social justice earned him the title of "Rebel Poet" (Bengali: বিদ্রোহী কবি; Bidrohi Kobi). His compositions form the avant-garde genre of Nazrul Sangeet (Music of Nazrul). Nazrul and his works are equally commemorated and celebrated in Bangladesh and India, particularly in India's Bengali-speaking states such as West Bengal, parts of Assam, and Tripura.
Born in a Bengali Muslim Kazi family, Nazrul Islam received religious education and as a young man worked as a muezzin at a local mosque. He learned about poetry, drama, and literature while working with the rural theatrical group Letor Dal. He joined the British Indian Army in 1917. After serving in the British Indian Army in the Middle East (Mesopotamian campaign) during World War I, Nazrul established himself as a journalist in Calcutta. He criticised the British Raj and called for revolution through his poetic works, such as "Bidrohi" ("বিদ্রোহী", 'The Rebel') and "Bhangar Gaan" ("ভাঙার গান", 'The Song of Destruction'), as well as in his publication Dhumketu ('The Comet'). His nationalist activism in Indian independence movement led to his frequent imprisonment by the colonial British authorities. While in prison, Nazrul wrote the "Rajbandir Jabanbandi" ("রাজবন্দীর জবানবন্দী", 'Deposition of a Political Prisoner'). His writings greatly inspired Bengalis of East Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Nazrul's writings explored themes such as freedom, humanity, love, and revolution. He opposed all forms of bigotry and fundamentalism, including religious, caste-based and gender-based. Nazrul wrote short stories, novels, and essays but is best known for his songs and poems. He created the first Bengali language ghazals. He is also known to have experimented with Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit words in his works to produce rhythmic effects.
Nazrul wrote and composed music for nearly 4,000 songs (many recorded on HMV and gramophone records), collectively known as Nazrul Geeti. In 1942 at the age of 43, he began to suffer from an unknown disease, losing his voice and memory. A medical team in Vienna diagnosed the disease as Morbus Pick, a rare incurable neurodegenerative disease. It caused Nazrul's health to decline steadily and forced him to live in isolation in India. He was also admitted in Ranchi (Jharkhand) psychiatric hospital for many years. At the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh, Nazrul and his family moved to Dhaka in 1972. He died four years later on 29 August 1976 in Bangladesh.
Nazrul was born on Friday 24 May 1899 in the village of Churulia, Asansol Sadar, Paschim Bardhaman district of the Bengal Presidency (now in West Bengal, India). He was born into a Muslim Taluqdar family and was the second of three sons and a daughter. Nazrul's father Kazi Faqeer Ahmed was the imam and caretaker of the local mosque and mausoleum. Nazrul's mother was Zahida Khatun. Nazrul had two brothers, Kazi Saahibjaan and Kazi Ali Hussain, and a sister, Umme Kulsum. He was nicknamed Dukhu Miañ (দুখু মিঞা literally, 'the one with grief', or 'Mr. Sad Man'). Nazrul studied at a maktab and madrasa, run by a mosque and a dargah respectively, where he studied the Quran, Hadith, Islamic philosophy, and theology. His father died in 1908 and at the age of ten, Nazrul took his father's place as a caretaker of the mosque to support his family. He also assisted teachers in school. He later worked as the muezzin at the mosque.
Attracted to folk theatre, Nazrul joined a leto (travelling theatrical group) run by his uncle Fazle Karim. He worked and travelled with them, learning to act, as well as writing songs and poems for the plays and musicals. Through his work and experiences, Nazrul began studying Bengali and Sanskrit literature, as well as Hindu scriptures such as the Puranas. Nazrul composed folk plays for the group, which included Chāshār Shōng ('the drama of a peasant'), and plays about characters from the Mahabharata including Shokunībōdh ('the Killing of Shakuni), Rājā Judhisthirer Shōng ('the drama of King Yudhishthira), Dātā Kōrno ('the philanthropic Karna'), Ākbōr Bādshāh ('Akbar the emperor'), Kobi Kālidās ('poet Kalidas'), Bidyan Hutum ('the learned owl'), and Rājputrer Shōng ('the prince's sorrow').
In 1910, Nazrul left the troupe and enrolled at the Searsole Raj High School in Raniganj. In school, he was influenced by his teacher, a Jugantar activist, Nibaran Chandra Ghatak, and began a lifelong friendship with fellow author Sailajananda Mukhopadhyay, who was his classmate. He later transferred to the Mathrun High English School, studying under the headmaster and poet Kumudranjan Mallik. Unable to continue paying his school fees, Nazrul left the school and joined a group of kaviyals. Later he took jobs as a cook at Wahid's, a well-known bakery of the region, and at a tea stall in the town of Asansol. In 1914, Nazrul studied in the Darirampur School (now Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University) in Trishal, Mymensingh District. Amongst other subjects, Nazrul studied Bengali, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian literature and Hindustani classical music under teachers who were impressed by his dedication and skill.
Nazrul studied up to grade 10 but did not appear for the matriculation pre-test examination; instead in 1917, he joined the British Indian Army at the age of eighteen. He had two primary motivations for joining the British Indian Army: first, a youthful desire for adventure and, second, an interest in the politics of the time. Attached to the 49th Bengal Regiment, he was posted to the Karachi Cantonment, where he wrote his first prose and poetry. Although he never saw active fighting, he rose in rank from corporal to havildar (sergeant), and served as quartermaster for his battalion.
During this period, Nazrul read extensively the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, as well as the Persian poets Hafez, Omar Khayyam, and Rumi. He learned Persian poetry from the regiment's Punjabi Moulvi, practiced music, and pursued his literary interests. His first prose work, "Life of a Vagabond" ('Baunduler Atmakahini'), was published in May 1919. His poem "Mukti" ("মুক্তি", 'Freedom') was published by the Bengali Muslim Literary Journal (Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Samiti) in July 1919.
I am the unutterable grief,
I am the trembling first touch of the virgin,
I am the throbbing tenderness of her first stolen kiss.
I am the fleeting glance of the veiled beloved,
I am her constant surreptitious gaze...
I am the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth,
I am the wildfire of the woods,
I am Hell's mad terrific sea of wrath!
I ride on the wings of lightning with joy and profundity,
I scatter misery and fear all around,
I bring earthquakes on this world! "(8th stanza)"
I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond this world,
High, ever erect and alone!
– Translation by Kabir Choudhary
Nazrul left the British Indian army in 1920 when the 49th Bengal Regiment was disbanded. and settled in Calcutta, which was then the "cultural capital" of India.</ref> He joined the staff of the Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Samiti ("Bengali Muslim Literary Society"). He published his first novel Bandhan-hara (বাঁধন-হারা, 'Freedom from Bondage') in 1920, on which he continued to work over the next seven years. His first collection of poems, which included "Bodhan", "Shat-il-Arab", "Kheya-parer Tarani", and "Badal Prater Sharab", received critical acclaim.
Nazrul grew close to other young Muslim writers, while working at the Bengali Muslim Literary Society, including Mohammad Mozammel Haq, Kazi Abdul Wadud, and Muhammad Shahidullah. Nazrul and Muhammad Shahidullah remained close throughout their lives. He was regular at the social clubs for Calcutta's writers, poets, and intellectuals such as the Gajendar Adda and the Bharatiya Adda. Despite many differences, Nazrul looked to Rabindranath Tagore as a mentor. In 1921, Nazrul was engaged to Nargis, the niece of a well-known Muslim publisher, Ali Akbar Khan, in Daulatpur, Comilla. On 18 June 1921, the day of the wedding, upon public insistence by Khan that the term "Nazrul must reside in Daulatpur after marriage" be included in the marriage contract, Nazrul walked away from the wedding ceremony.
Nazrul reached the peak of his fame in 1922 with Bidrohi (The Rebel), which remains his most famous work, winning the admiration of India's literary society for his description of a rebel. Published in the Bijli (বিজলী, "Lightning") magazine, the rebellious language and theme were well received, coinciding with the Non-Cooperation Movement – the first mass nationalist campaign of civil disobedience against British rule. Nazrul explores the different forces at work in a rebel, the destroyer, and the preserver who is able to express rage as well as beauty and sensitivity. He followed up by writing Pralayollas ('Destructive Euphoria'), and his first anthology of poems, the Agni-veena ("অগ্নি-বীণা", 'Lyre of Fire') in 1922, which enjoyed commercial and critical success. He also published a volume of short stories, the Byathar Dan "ব্যথার দান" ('Gift of Sorrow'), and Yugbani ("যুগবাণী"), an anthology of essays.
Nazrul started a bi-weekly magazine, Dhumketu ("ধূমকেতু", 'Comet') on 12 August 1922. Earning the moniker of the "rebel poet", Nazrul aroused the suspicion of British Raj authorities. The Police raided the office of Dhumketu after it published "Anondomoyeer Agomone" ("আনন্দময়ীর আগমনে"), a political poem, in September 1922. Nazrul was arrested on 23 January 1923 and charged with sedition. He presented a long argument in the court, he said:
I have been accused of sedition... To plead for me, the king of all kings, the judge of all judges, the eternal truth the living God... I am a poet; I have been sent by God to express the unexpressed, to portray the unportrayed. It is God who is heard through the voice of the poet... I am an instrument of God. The instrument is not unbreakable, but who is there to break God?
On 14 April 1923, he was moved from Alipore Jail to a jail in Hooghly. He began a 40-day fast to protest mistreatment by the British jail superintendent, breaking his fast more than a month later and eventually being released from prison in December 1923. Nazrul composed numerous poems and songs during his period of imprisonment. In the 1920s, the British Indian government banned many of his writings. Rabindranath Tagore dedicated his play "Basanta" to Nazrul in 1923. Nazrul wrote the poem "Aj Srishti Shukher Ullashe" to thank Tagore. In 1924, his book Bisher Banshi ('The Flute of Poison'), published in August 1924, was banned by the British Raj. Bisher Banshi called for rebellion in India against the British Raj. Bisher Banshi was read and distributed in secret following the ban.
Nazrul was a critic of the Khilafat Movement in British India which he condemned as "hollow religious fundamentalism". His rebellious expression extended to rigid orthodoxy in the name of religion and politics. He also criticised the Indian National Congress for not embracing outright political independence from the British Empire. Nazrul became active in encouraging people to agitate against British rule, and joined the Bengal state unit of the Indian National Congress. Along with Muzaffar Ahmed, Nazrul also helped organise the Sramik Praja Swaraj Dal (Workers and Peasants Party), a socialist political party committed to national independence and the service of the working class. On 16 December 1925, Nazrul began publishing the Langal ('Plough'), a weekly, and served as its chief editor.
During his visit to Comilla in 1921, Nazrul met a young Bengali Hindu woman, Pramila Devi, with whom he fell in love, and they married on 25 April 1924. Brahmo Samaj criticised Pramila, a member of the Brahmo Samaj, for marrying a Muslim. Muslim religious leaders criticized Nazrul for his marriage to a Hindu woman. He also was criticised for his writings. Despite controversy, Nazrul's popularity and reputation as the "rebel poet" increased significantly.
With his wife and young son Bulbul, Nazrul settled in Krishnanagar in 1926. His work began to transform as he wrote poetry and songs that articulated the aspirations of the working class, a sphere of his work known as "mass music".
O poverty, thou hast made me great
Thou hast made me honoured like Christ
With his crown of thorns. Thou hast given me
Courage to reveal all. To thee I owe
My insolent, naked eyes and sharp tongue.
Thy curse has turned my violin to a sword...
O proud saint, thy terrible fire
Has rendered my heaven barren.
O my child, my darling one
I could not give thee even a drop of milk
No right have I to rejoice.
Poverty weeps within my doors forever
As my spouse and my child.
Who will play the flute?
– Translated by Kabir Chowdhury
In what his contemporaries regarded as one of his greatest flairs of creativity, Nazrul began composing the very first ghazals in Bengali, transforming a form of poetry written mainly in Persian and Urdu. Nazrul was the first person to use Middle Eastern and Central Asian themes in traditional Bengali music. Nazrul's recording of Islamic songs was a commercial success and created interests gramophone companies about publishing his works. A significant impact of Nazrul's work in Bengal was that it made Bengali Muslims more comfortable with the Bengali arts, which used to be dominated by Bengali Hindus. His Islamic songs are popular during Ramadan in Bangladesh. He also wrote devotional songs on the Hindu Goddess Kali. Nazrul also composed a number of notable Shyamasangeet, Bhajan and Kirtan, combining Hindu devotional music. In 1928, Nazrul began working as a lyricist, composer, and music director for His Master's Voice Gramophone Company. The songs written and music composed by him were broadcast on radio stations across the India, including on the Indian Broadcasting Company.
I don't see any difference
Between a man and woman
Whatever great or benevolent achievements
That are in this world
Half of that was by woman,
The other half by man.
– Translation by Sajed Kamal
Nazrul believed in the equality of women – a view his contemporaries considered revolutionary. From his poem Nari (Woman):
However, Nazrul's poems strongly emphasised the confluence of the roles of both sexes and their equal importance to life. His poem "Barangana" (Prostitute) stunned society with its depiction of prostitutes who he address in the poem as "mother". In the poem, Nazrul accepts the prostitute as a human being first, reasoning that this person was breastfed by a noble woman and belonged to the race of "mothers and sisters"; he criticises society's negative views on prostitutes.
An advocate of women rights, Nazrul portrayed both traditional and nontraditional women in his work. Nazrul wrote and composed about 4,000 songs, known collectively as Nazrul Geeti. He became famous through his music for the working poor such as the poem:'Poverty'( Daridro).
Who calls you a prostitute, mother?
Who spits at you?
Perhaps you were suckled by someone
as chaste as Seeta.
And if the son of an unchaste mother is 'illegitimate',
so is the son of an unchaste father.
– Translation by Sajed Kamal
Nazrul wrote an editorial in Joog Bani in 1920 about religious pluralism,
Come brother Hindu! Come Musalman! Come Buddhist! Come Christian! Let us transcend all barriers, let us forsake forever all smallness, all lies, all selfishness and let us call brothers as brothers. We shall quarrel no more.— 
In another article entitled Hindu Mussalman, published in Ganabani on 2 September 1922, he wrote that the religious quarrels were between priests and Imams and not between individual Muslims and Hindus. He wrote that the Prophets had become property like cattle but they should instead be treated like light that is for all men.
Nazrul criticised religious fanaticism, denouncing it as evil and inherently irreligious. He wrote about human equality in his writings. He also explored the philosophy of the Qur'an and Muhammad by writing about them. Nazrul has been compared to William Butler Yeats by Serajul Islam Choudhury, Bengali literary critic and professor emeritus at the University of Dhaka, for being the first Muslim poet to create imagery and symbolism of Muslim historical figures such as Qasim ibn Hasan, Ali, Umar, Kamal Pasha, and Muhammad. His condemnation of extremism and mistreatment of women provoked condemnation from Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists who were opposed his liberal views on religion.
Nazrul's mother died in 1928, and his second son, Bulbul, died of smallpox the following year. His first son, Krishna Mohammad, had died prematurely. Pramila gave birth to two more sons – Sabyasachi in 1928 and Aniruddha in 1931 – but Nazrul remained grief-stricken and aggrieved for a long time. His works changed significantly from the rebellious exploration of society to deeper examination of religious themes. His works in these years led Islamic devotional songs into the mainstream of Bengali folk music, exploring the Islamic practices of namaz (prayer), roza (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage), and zakat (charity). He wrote the song "O Mon Romzaner Oi Rozar Sheshe" on fasting during Ramadan. This was regarded by his contemporaries as a significant achievement, as Bengali Muslims had been strongly averse to devotional music.
Nazrul was not limited to Islamic devotional music but also wrote Hindu devotional music. He composed Agamanis, Bhajans, Shyama sangeet, and kirtan. Nazrul wrote over 500 Hindu devotional songs. Nazrul's poetry and songs explored the philosophy of Islam and Hinduism. Nazrul's poetry imbibed the passion and creativity of Shakti, which is identified as the Brahman, the personification of primordial energy. He also composed many songs of invocation to Lord Shiva and the goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati and on the love of Radha and Krishna. Nazrul was an exponent of humanism. Although a Muslim, he named his sons with both Hindu and Muslim names: Krishna Mohammad, Arindam Khaled (Bulbul), Kazi Sabyasachi and Kazi Aniruddha.
Later life and illness
In 1930, his book Pralayshikha was banned and he faced charges of sedition by the British Indian colonial government. He was sent to jail and released in 1931, after the Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed. In 1933, Nazrul published a collection of essays titled "Modern World Literature", in which he analyses different styles and themes of literature. Between 1928 and 1935, he published 10 volumes containing 800 songs, of which more than 600 were based on classical ragas. Almost 100 were folk tunes after kirtans, and some 30 were patriotic songs. From the time of his return to Kolkata until he fell ill in 1941, Nazrul composed more than 2,600 songs, many of which have been lost. His songs based on baul, jhumur, Santhali folksongs, jhanpan, or the folk songs of snake charmers, bhatiali, and bhaoaia consist of tunes of folk-songs on the one hand and a refined lyric with poetic beauty on the other. Nazrul also wrote and published poems for children.
Nazrul's success soon brought him into Indian theatre and the then-nascent film industry. His first film as a director was Dhruva Bhakta, which made him the first Muslim director of a Bengali film. The film Vidyapati (Master of Knowledge) was produced based on his recorded play in 1936, and Nazrul served as the music director for the film adaptation of Tagore's novel Gora. Nazrul wrote songs and directed music for Sachin Sengupta's biographical epic play based on the life of Siraj-ud-Daula. He worked on the plays "Jahangir" and "Annyapurna" by Monilal Gangopadhyay. In 1939 Nazrul began working for Calcutta Radio, supervising the production and broadcasting of the station's musical programs. He produced critical and analytic documentaries on music, such as "Haramoni" and "Navaraga-malika". Nazrul also wrote a large variety of songs inspired by the raga Bhairav.
Nazrul's wife Pramila fell seriously ill in 1939 and was paralysed from the waist down. To provide for his wife's medical treatment, he mortgaged the royalties of his gramophone records and literary works for 400 rupees. He returned to journalism in 1940 by working as chief editor for the daily newspaper Nabayug ('New Age'), founded by the eminent Bengali politician A. K. Fazlul Huq.
On hearing the death of Rabindranath Tagore on 8 August 1941, a shocked Nazrul composed two poems in Tagore's memory. One of the two poems, "Rabihara" (loss of Rabi, or without Rabi), was broadcast on the All India Radio. Within months, Nazrul himself fell ill and gradually began losing his power of speech. His behaviour became erratic, he started spending recklessly and fell into financial difficulties. In spite of her own illness, his wife constantly cared for her husband. However, Nazrul's health had seriously deteriorated and he grew increasingly depressed. He underwent medical treatment under homeopathy as well as Ayurveda, but little progress was achieved before mental dysfunction intensified and he was admitted to a mental asylum in 1942. Spending four months there without making progress, Nazrul and his family began living a quiet life in India. In 1952, he was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Ranchi. Through the efforts of a large group of admirers who called themselves the "Nazrul Treatment Society", Nazrul and Promila were sent to London, then to Vienna for treatment. The examining doctors said he had received poor care, and Dr. Hans Hoff, a leading neurosurgeon in Vienna, diagnosed that Nazrul was suffering from Pick's disease. His condition was judged to be incurable, Nazrul returned to Calcutta on 15 December 1953. On 30 June 1962 his wife Pramila died, and Nazrul remained in intensive medical care. He stopped working due to his deteriorating health.
On 24 May 1972, the newly independent nation of Bangladesh brought Nazrul to live in Dhaka with the consent of the Government of India. In January 1976, he was accorded the citizenship of Bangladesh. Despite receiving treatment and attention, Nazrul's physical and mental health did not improve. In 1974. his youngest son, Kazi Aniruddha, a guitarist, died, and Nazrul soon succumbed to his long-standing ailments on 29 August 1976. In accordance with a wish he had expressed in one of his poems, he was buried beside a mosque on the campus of the University of Dhaka. Tens of thousands of people attended his funeral; Bangladesh observed two days of national mourning, and the parliament of India observed a minute of silence in his honour.
According to literary critic Serajul Islam Choudhury, Nazrul's poetry is characterised by an abundant use of rhetorical devices, which he employed to convey conviction and sensuousness. He often wrote without care for organisation or polish. His works have often been criticized for egotism, but his admirers counter that they carry more a sense of self-confidence than ego. They cite his ability to defy God yet maintain an inner, humble devotion to him. Nazrul's poetry is regarded as rugged but unique in comparison to Tagore's sophisticated style. Nazrul's use of Persian vocabulary was controversial, but it increased the range of his work.
The government of Bangladesh conferred upon him the status of "national poet" in 1972. He was awarded an Honorary D.Litt. by the University of Dhaka in 1974 and in 1976 he was awarded the Ekushey Padak by the President of Bangladesh Justice Abu Sadat Muhammad Sayem. Many centres of learning and culture in Bangladesh and India had been founded and dedicated to his memory. The Bangladesh Nazrul Sena is a large public organization working for the education of children throughout the country. Nazrul Sanskriti Parishad has been working on Nazrul's life and works since 2000 in India. The Nazrul Endowment provides funding for research into the life and work of Kazi Nazrul Islam in U.S. Universities like California State University, Northridge and Connecticut State University. Nazrul was awarded the Jagattarini Gold Medal in 1945 – the highest honour for work in Bengali literature by the University of Calcutta – and awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award of India, in 1960.
Nazrul's works for children have won acclaim for his use of rich language, imagination, enthusiasm, and an ability to fascinate young readers. Nazrul is regarded for his secularism. He was the first Bengali person to write about the Christians of Bengal in his novel Mrityukshuda in 1930. He was also the first user of folk terms in Bengali literature. Nazrul pioneered new styles and expressed radical ideas and emotions in a large body of work. Scholars credit him for spearheading a cultural renaissance in Muslim-majority Bengal, "liberating" poetry and literature in Bengali from its medieval mould. His poetry has been translated to languages English, Spanish, and Portuguese. A major avenue is named after him in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol, West Bengal, India is named after him. Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University in Mymensingh, Bangladesh is a public university named after him. Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport in Andal, West Bengal, is India's first private greenfield airport. A chair has been named after him in University of Calcutta and the Government of West Bengal has opened a Nazrul Tirtha in Rajarhat, a cultural centre dedicated to his memory.
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Nazrul Islam, all the same, faced condemnation and stiff resistance from all quarters, Brits, Hindus and Muslims alike.
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block the nearby Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue
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