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Hafeez Jalandhari: The Man behind Pakistan’s National Anthem also Wrote Urdu Poem-Krishn Kanhaiya to Praise the Hindu God Krishna

Decoding Hafeez Jalandhari's 'Krishn Kanhaiya'

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Hafeez Jalandhari wrote Krishn Kanhaiya, praising Hindu God Krishna
Hafeez Jalandhari wrote Krishn Kanhaiya, praising Hindu God Krishna. Pixabay
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  • Hafeez Jalandhari weaved a poem that has a political and devotional angle to it
  • Hinduism uses sight as a way to connect with the almighty
  • The poet doesn’t refer to Krishna as a God but he says that Krishna represents glory and majesty of God

New Delhi, August 31, 2017: This year, Pakistan’s 70th Independence Day coincided with Hindu Festival Janmashtami (a festival to celebrate Krishna’s birth). Both were on 14th August. The famous Urdu poet Hafeez Jalandhari wrote the Qaumi Taranah, Pakistan’s national anthem. But not many people know that the same poet penned Krishn Kanhaiya, a unique Urdu poem beautifully describes the greatness of the Hindu Deity.

The idea of a Muslim poet in today’s time writing on a Hindu God raises all sorts of reactions (some of which are negative) coming from different ethnic groups in South Asia: suspicion, anger, surprise, joy or mere curiosity.

There is much more nuance to the poem Krishn Kanhaiya than what the reader thinks on its first reading. This is not just a devotional poem. Jalandhari had a political bend of mind be it him as a thinker or a writer. So, even this poem of his is not an ordinary one, it talks about Krishna’s grand persona, Hindu idol worship, what makes him different, his righteousness, describing the role he played in a Hindu epic Mahabharata.

He weaved a poem that has a political and devotional angle to it. The hidden meaning of it, when compared with Qaumi Taranah, is that it tells about the cultural politics of South Asia- in the 20th Century and has relevance today.

Decoding the poem:

Idol Worship

In the first line of the poem, the poet says “O, onlooker”- he might be saying this as he’s talking about a Hindu God and Hinduism gives importance to seeing a God, they believe in Idol worshipping, Hindu Gods have a form, a face. Thus, Hinduism uses sight as a way to connect with the almighty. The poet wants the readers to have mental darshan of Lord Krishna by saying, onlookers. Jalandhari wants the readers to have a mental image of Krishna in their minds.

Krishna is a form of light

The opening lines of the poem are a bit abstract and don’t talk of Krishna; in further lines, the poet asks whether Krishna is a reality or a representation. He refers to him as a “form of light” and then asks is he fire or light. Referring to Krishna as light might indicate to Islamic scholars who said that “Krishna was a righteous prophet sent to the people of the subcontinent.”

Jalandhari finally gives a description of Krishna that we are more familiar with- him being a “flute player” and a “cowherd of Gokul.” The poet doesn’t refer to Krishna as a God but he says that Krishna represents glory and majesty of God.

In the tenth stanza, the poet says that – “Inside the temple / the sculptor of beauty himself / entered and became the idol”. He is talking about Idol Worship done by Hindus who pray to their God in a temple, having a belief that the deity resides in the temple in the idol itself.

ALSO READ: Hindu Temple in Aldenham (UK) Hosts Global Visitors for Largest ‘Hare-Krishna’ celebrations in the world

Krishna Leela

Then we get a glimpse of ‘Krishna Leela’ as the poet talks of Krishna’s playing and dancing around with gopis (cowherd girls), on Yamuna river bank that he describes as a “rare happenings”. He is youthful and charming, to set the tone of the scene, phrases like “intoxicated winds” and “waves of love” are used that there was something heavenly in the atmosphere.

The sound of Krishna’s flute is described as “neither intoxication nor wine / it’s something beyond.”  Such phrases transport the readers into Braj (Krishna spent his childhood and adolescence years here) and they get blissfully lost in the divine sound of Krishna’s flute.

Cheer-Haran of Draupadi and Krishna being her savior

The poem from here takes a serious transition into a serious mood. Here the poet talks of a famous Cheer-Haran (disrobing) scene from Mahabharata as the five Pandavas have lost their kingdom and Draupadi in the dice game. Draupadi is dragged into the court by Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, she prays to Krishna to help her.

It is said that Lord Krishna came to her rescue and due to God’s grace, her sari turned into a never ending piece of cloth as when the Kauravas tried pulling it off, more fabric draped her body and saved her dignity.

With this scene, Jalandhari begins to bring a political angle to the poem as Draupadi says, “These beloved princes (her husbands), have all become cowards!” It seems that Jalandhari is accusing India’s rulers, monarchs who behaved like cowards at the time of British Rule.

Some even argue that the poet is referring to all Indians who worked under British Rule as cowards. The poet uses the phrase “the light of India” for Krishna, this seems more of a political symbolism.

Preparations for the Mahabharata war

In the next scene, the poet takes us to the preparations for the great Mahabharata war, where he writes worryingly, “Duryodhana seems victorious.” Duryodhana (eldest kaurava) symbolizes British Rule over India which continued for a pretty long time, like the Mahabharata war.

The irony is that Kaurava army was much larger in number than Pandavas whereas Britishers were very less in number than Indians. But with Krishna’s arrival on the battlefield (from Pandavas side) and how he preached Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna, changes the anxiety and sorrow to much-needed enthusiasm: “the divine decree has been pronounced, the sword has been swung!”

This Krishna is very different from the young playful one which the poet has described earlier. Here, he symbolizes great strength and power: on his “face shines a bright gaze” also his “virtues burn enemies.”  He is so powerful that when he is angry, he can shower lightning. Thus, this Krishna can easily be an icon used for anti-colonial nationalism.

ALSO READ: If you are a Devotee of Lord Krishna, these 10 Lesser Known Facts Will Surprise You!

Relating Mahabharata with British Rule

After this, Jalandhari paints a picture of India suffering under colonial rule, using Vrindavan as a symbol for India. He says that once the joyful Yamuna is now silent, the waves are weak now. The gardens which were earlier beautiful are now ruined and the gopis symbolizing people of India are feeling helpless without their Krishna, their savior.

So, Jalandhari makes a personal plea to Krishna: “Oh king of India, come just once more.” He begs Krishna to return to Mathura (Mathura symbolizes India) and become the King again: “If you come, glory will come, if you come, life will come” With his plea to Krishna asking him to liberate India from British rule, Jalandhari ends his nazm.

If we compare Krishn Kanhaiya to Jalandhari’s more famous work (Pakistan’s National Anthem), we can learn a lot about the cultural politics which has influenced South Asia over the 20th century and continues to do so even today.


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Pakistan Fears Economic Turmoil, Re-thinks ‘Silk Road’ Project With China

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns.

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Pakistan
A man passes through a railing while others board a train as they make their way home at the Cantonment railway station in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan ’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects because of debt concerns.

The rail megaproject linking the coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is China’s biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Pakistan, but Islamabad has balked at the cost and financing terms.

Resistance has stiffened under the new government of populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has voiced alarm about rising debt levels and says the country must wean itself off foreign loans.

“We are seeing how to develop a model so the government of Pakistan wouldn’t have all the risk,” Khusro Bakhtyar, minister in Pakistan’s planning ministry, told reporters recently.

Pakistan
Visitors read instruction material about land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for the Colombo Port City project, on the Galle Face sea promenade in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 2, 2018. The Port City project was initiated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. VOA

Unease elsewhere

The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors.

Pakistan’s new government had wanted to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China.

But to Islamabad’s frustration, Beijing is only willing to review projects that have not yet begun, three senior government officials have told Reuters.

China’s Foreign Ministry said, in a statement in response to questions faxed by Reuters, that both sides were committed to pressing forward with BRI projects, “to ensure those projects that are already built operate as normal, and those which are being built proceed smoothly.”

Pakistani officials say they remain committed to Chinese investment but want to push harder on price and affordability, while re-orientating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion in infrastructure funds, to focus on projects that deliver social development in line with Khan’s election platform.

Pakistan
China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, Islamabad. VOA

‘Mutual consultation’

China’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, told Reuters that Beijing was open to changes proposed by the new government and “we will definitely follow their agenda” to work out a roadmap for BRI projects based on “mutual consultation.”

“It constitutes a process of discussion with each other about this kind of model, about this kind of roadmap for the future,” Yao said.

Beijing would only proceed with projects that Pakistan wanted, he added.

“This is Pakistan’s economy, this is their society,” Yao said.

IMF bailout likely

Islamabad’s efforts to recalibrate CPEC are made trickier by its dependence on Chinese loans to prop up its vulnerable economy.

Growing fissures in relations with the United States, Pakistan’s historic ally, have also weakened the country’s negotiating hand, as has a current account crisis likely to lead to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which may demand spending cuts.

“We have reservations, but no other country is investing in Pakistan. What can we do?” one Pakistani minister told Reuters.

Pakistan
Laborers dig the ground before replacing concrete sleepers along railway tracks in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Crumbling railways

The ML-1 rail line is the spine of country’s dilapidated rail network, which has in recent years been edging toward collapse as passenger numbers plunge, train lines close and the vital freight business nosedives.

Khan’s government has vowed to make the 1,872 km (1,163 mile) line a priority CPEC project, saying it will help the poor travel across the vast South Asian nation.

But Islamabad is exploring funding options for CPEC projects that depart from the traditional BRI lending model, whereby host nations take on Chinese debt to finance construction of infrastructure, and has invited Saudi Arabia and other countries to invest.

One option for ML-1, according to Pakistani officials, is the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, which would see investors or companies finance and build the project and recoup their investment from cash flows generated mainly by the rail freight business, before returning it to Pakistan in a few decades time.

Yao, the Chinese envoy, said Beijing was open to BOT and would “encourage” its companies to invest.

Pakistan
A man waits to cross a portion of track once shared with the Karachi Circular Railway line in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Large rail projects, problems

Rail mega-projects under China’s BRI umbrella have run into problems elsewhere in Asia. A line linking Thailand and Laos has been beset by delays over financing, while Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad outright canceled the Chinese-funded $20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

Beijing is happy to offer loans, but reticent to invest in the Pakistan venture as such projects are seldom profitable, according to Andrew Small, author of a book on China-Pakistan relations.

“The problem is that the Chinese don’t think they can make money on this project and are not keen on BOT,” Small said.

Off-books debt

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the ML-1 line was placed among a list of “early harvest” CPEC projects that would be prioritized, along with power plants urgently needed to end crippling electricity shortages.

But while many other projects from that list have now been completed, the rail scheme has been stuck.

Pakistan
. The difference between the two validate the investments made on the road, and give a hopeful image for the future.

Pakistani officials say they became wary of how early BRI contracts were awarded to Chinese firms, and are pushing for a public tender for ML-1.

Partly to help with price discovery, Pakistan asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance a chunk of the rail project through tendering. The ADB began discussions on a $1.5-$2 billion loan, but China insisted the project was “too strategic,” and Islamabad kicked out the ADB under pressure from Beijing in early 2017, according to Pakistani and ADB officials.

“If it’s such a strategic project then it should be a viable project for them to finance on very concessional terms or invest in?” said one senior Pakistani official familiar with the project, referring to the BOT model.

China’s foreign ministry said Beijing was engaged in “friendly consultations” with Pakistan on the rail project.

Chinese companies participated in BRI projects in an open and transparent way, “pooling benefits and sharing risks,” it said.

Pakistan
In this file photo taken Oct. 10, 2015, a bus moves past by solar power and wind power farms in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui region.

Chinese debt or no project

Analysts say Pakistan will struggle to attract non-Chinese investors into the project, which may force it to choose between piling on Chinese debt or walking away from the project.

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns and worries Beijing could end up owning a vital national asset if Pakistan could not repay loans, as occurred with a Sri Lankan port.

Khan’s government chafes at several Chinese intercity mass transport projects in Punjab, the voter heartland of the previous government, which now need hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies every year.

Also Read: Creating a New Silk Road: China’s Billion Dollar Investments to Expand Its Transportation Network

They also fume about the risk of accumulating off-books sovereign debt through power contracts, where annual profits of above 20 percent, in dollar terms, were guaranteed by the previous administration.

With the ML-1 line, there are also those who harbor doubts closer to home, including the previous government’s finance minister, Miftah Ismail, who said his ministry had always had concerns about its viability.

“When people say it’s a project of national importance, that usually means it makes no sense financially,” he said. (VOA)