“Ladla Kanhiya mera kali kamli wala Isiliye kala”, this line from the song Yashomati Maiya Se Bole Nandlala from Raj Kapoor’s famous film Satyam Shivam Sundaram, may have escaped our attention but it has profound significance when it comes to our composite culture, commonly referred to Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. The term ‘kali kamli wala’ is used for both Lord Krishna and Prophet Muhammad, which is abundantly found in poetry – be it in Hindi, Brijbhasa or Urdu.

Today, as we celebrate Janmasthami, it is a good time  to go back into history and check how Lord Krishna was considered a part of common tradition. In this regard the greatest contribution came from Urdu poets who had immense respect, reverence and admiration for Shri Krishna who is seen as a symbol embodiment of love. Moreover, what made Shri Krishna a favourite of Urdu poets were his lovable mischiefs as a child, (stealing butter being most prominent) the various leelas (miracles) he performed during his lifetime, his love for the flute, romance with the Gopis and, ultimately, his divine love for Radha. These attributes were more than enough for the Urdu poets to weave a magical web of lyrics, where love and spirituality were the common themes. The first couplet which comes to mind is by late Pakistani poet Parveen Shakir:


“Yeh Hawa Kaise Uda Le Gayi Aanchal Mera

Yun Sataani Ki To Aadat Mere Ghanshyaam Ki Thi”

A modern Pakistan poet using Shri Krishna to signify mischief of wind is not something new as he has always been a part of Urdu literature.

Hafeez Jalandhari, who wrote Pakistan’s national anthem, in his nazm Krishn Kanhayya hopes that Shri Krishna will come back as a saviour of the country. At the very outset, Hafeez draws the attention of readers towards the grandeur of Shri Krishna using the words:

Hafeez Jalandhari, who wrote Pakistan’s national anthem, in his nazm Krishn Kanhayya called Shri Krishna ‘Bharat ke ujaale’.

Ai dekhne walo

Is husn ko dekho

Is raaz ko samjho

(O you who is watching, look at this beauty. Try to understand this secret)

  He goes on to write;

Ye paikar-e-tanviir

Ye Krishn ki tasviir

(This manifestation of light This portrait of Krishna)

The most important part of this poem comes when he urges Shri Krishna as the king of India to get the nation out of the bondages of slavery. It shows his faith in Krishna.

Sab ahl-e-khusumat

Hain dar pae izzat

Ye raaj dulare

Buzdil hue saare

(All the people of litigation are going towards gates of honour. These dear ones of the kingship Have become cowards)

Aa ja mere kale

Bharat ke ujaale

Daaman mai chupa le

(Come O my black light of India, cover us in your clothes)

Tracing the love of Urdu poets for Shri Krishna, Shamim Tariq in book “Sufia Ki Sheri Basirat Me Shri Krishna” (Shri Krishna in the poetic consciousness of Sufis) says:  “Because of his colourful personality and a life full of adventure, Shri Krishna offers Urdu Sufi poets many shades of spirituality. The Sufi Urdu poet of the 16th century Shah Burhanuddin Janam wrote a collection of Dohas on Shri Krishan named “Sukh Sahela.

Famous Urdu poet Hasrat Mohani, a true devotee of Shri Krishna, considered Lord Krishna an avatar of beauty.

Tariq further writes that Shah Mohd Kazim Qalandar, a Sufi of 18th century, had deep reverence for Shri Krishna. Shah Qalandar, whose collection of Sufi poetry is titled “Sant Ras”, was spiritually attached to Shri Krishna  so much that he once had a vision in which Shri Krishna appeared to him.

Many people may not be aware that the famous Krishna bhajan “Shri Krishna Kanhiyaa kaa baalpan” is written by the 18th century poet Nazeer Abkarbadi.

 However, among the greatest Shri Krishna bhakts was Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a freedom fighter, leftist revolutionary and a romantic poet. Hasrat Mohani was a multifaceted personality. His ghazal Chupke Chupke Raat Din sung by Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh is still popular among the connoisseurs  of Urdu poetry.

C M Naim,  an American scholar of Urdu language & literature and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, in his article The Maulana Who Loved Krishna, says Hasrat Mohani wrote his first love poem for Shri Krishna on the occasion of Janmasthami in 1923 he was imprisoned in the Yeravada Central Jail.

In in poem Hasrat Mohani expressed his regret for not being present in Mathura that year. It is said that he probably went to Mathura for Janmashtami as many times as he went to Mecca for Haj, which many people believed was 11 times.

Moreover, his reverence for Shri Krishna can be gauged from the use of the honorific “Hazrat”.

Professor Naim says Hasrat Mohani’s love affair with Shri Krishna continued and he wrote numerous poems in the praise of “Hazrat Krishna” in simplified Awadhi what he called “Bhasha”.

18th-century Urdu poet Nazeer Akbarabadi wrote famous bhajan ‘Shri Krishna Kanhiyaa kaa baalpan’.

Abdul Shakur, the principal of a college at Kanpur and a devoted friend of Hasrat Mohani, published the first comprehensive account of Hasrat’s life in 1946, together with a selection of his verses.

According to Shakur, Hasrat found no difference in truth and beauty. As Shri Krishna is also regarded as an avatar of beauty, Hasrat too was truly devoted to him, and used to visit Mathura and Brindaban like any true devotee. He believed he gained spiritual benefit from those visits. Hasrat said that Shri Krishna taught karma yoga or the philosophy of action. According to Hasrat, there were quite a few similarities between Islam and what the Gita taught. In his view, Shri Krishna was an incarnation of both beauty and love, and that was why several eminent Sufis regarded Shri Krishna to be a vali (friend of god; saint).

So borrowing again the line from the Satyam Shivam Sundaram song, one can say that “Kanhiya is Ladla” of all Indians.

About the author

Asif Ullah Khan

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