Seldom if ever does a poet fall victim to bigotry, prejudice and narrow mindedness; a propagandist or publicist might, but not a poet. And the Urdu poet in particular has always been known for his liberalism and ecleticism. Even in matters of religion or religious occasions, he has always spoken for qaumi yakjahati and muttahida tehzeeb, on communal harmony and co-mingling of cultures.
Hindu and Sikh poets have written with passion on Eid and Milad un-Nabi and also produced vast amounts of soz, marsiya, naat, and manqabad just as Muslim poets have waxed eloquent on Holi, Diwali, Janamshtami, Gurparab, Christmas, Basant, Rakhi, not to mention heart-warming poems on Ram, Krishna, Shiv, Guru Nanak, Buddha, Mahavir and Isa Masih.
Diwali has had more than its fair share of attention from the Urdu poet because of its message of peace and promise of light. Given the sheer numbers of nazms and ghazals — either directly on Diwali or bearing references to the lamps of Diwali — what follows is, at best, in the nature of a sampler.
Let’s begin with Nazir Akbarabadi, the 18th-century poet from Agra, who is urging us to go about collecting all the kheel, batashe, diye, and mithai needed in Diwali ka Samaan:
Har ik makaan mein jala phir diya Diwali ka/ Har ik taraf ko ujala huwa Diwali ka (A lamp is lit in every house on Diwali/ Light spreads in every direction on Diwali).
Then there’s Ale Ahmad Suroor, who is intoxicated by the light from countless lamps that can lift the heaviest of hearts:
Ye baam-o dar, ye chiraghaan, ye qumqumon ki qataar/ Sipaah-e noor siyahi se barsar-e paikaar (This roof and ledge, this light, this line of lamps/ The inky blackness fleeing from the army of light).
Nazeer Banarasi links the religious significance with the seasonal change heralded by Diwali:
Meri saanson ko giit aur aatma ko saaz deti hai/ Ye Diwali hai sab ko jiine ka andaz deti hai../ Mahal ho chahe kuttiya sab pe chha jaati hai Diwali…/ Isi din Draupadi ne Krishn ko bhai banaya thha / Vachan ke dene vaale ne vachan apna nibhaya tha / Janam din Laxmi ka hai bhala is din ka kya kahna / Yahi vo din hai jis ne Ram ko raaja banaya tha …/ Kaii itihas ko ek saath dohrati hai Diwali/ Mohabbat par vijay ke phool barsati hai Diwali (Diwali repeats many histories at once/ Diwali showers the flowers of victory on love).
In Yeh Raat, Makhmoor Saeedi tells us why we wait so eagerly for this one night: Phir ek saal ki tareek raah tay kar ke/ Mata a-i noor luttati yeh raat aayi hai/ Ufaq se tabaan ufaq roshni ki arzani/ Yeh raat kitne ujalon ko saath layi hai (Crossing the dark passage of a year/ This night comes spreading effulgence /Spreading brightness on the horizon/ This night comes bringing so much light).
Arsh Malsiyani reminds us of the story behind the celebrations:
Raghubir ki paak yaad ka unvan liye hue/ Zulmat ke ghar mein jalva-e-taban liye hue/ Tarikiyon mein nur ka saman liye hue/ Aai hai apne saath charaghan liye hue…/ Woh Ram jo ki qaate-e-jaur-o-jafa raha/ Yeh raat yadgaar hai us nek zaat ki (Carrying the pious memory of Raghubir/ Bringing radiance to the house of cruelty/ Bearing the gift of light for darkness/ This night comes with the illumination of lamps…/ Ram who was destroyer of tyranny/ This night is a reminder of his being).
Harmatullah Karam too slips in references to Kaikeyi’s defeat and Ram’s victory in the Ramayan being narrated by the lamps: Raat Diwali ki aayi hai ujalon uss ko/ Neend mein kab se yeh nagri hai jaga lo uss ko (The night of Diwali has come, O Brightness/ Waken this city that has been slumbering for so long).
Kaif Bhopali looks back with nostalgia at a multicultural past: Woh din bhi hai kya din thhe jab apna bhi taalluq tha/ Dashahre se Diwali se basanton se baharon se (Those were the days when we too were linked with/ Dussehra and Diwali, with seasons of basant and bahar).
Elsewhere, if not direct references to the festival, Diwali ke diye find mention in different ways:
Iss tarah palkon pe aansu ho rahe thhe be-qarar/ Jaise Diwali ki shab halki hava ke samne/ Gaanv ki nichi munderon par chiraghon ki qatar (Tears were growing restless upon the eyelashes/ Like lamps quivering on the low ledges in the village/ In a soft breeze on the evening of Diwali).
And yet where Urdu is concerned, stereotypes persist: that it is a language of Muslims, for Muslims, by Muslims. The richness and variety of its poetic culture, not to mention its catholicism, is overlooked in favour of the popular tropes of the shama-parwana-bulbul.
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