Ahen the world is fragmenting and India’s secular sentiment is being challenged, it is crucial to look back on the life of the Bengali poet, journalist, composer and activist Kazi Nazrul Islam. He was a remarkable literary genius and a true rebel, who in his quest for self-expression and freedom of thought, preached unforgettable lessons about pluralism, secularism and the importance of an egalitarian society. He is also the national poet of Bangladesh.

With his review Dhumketu (The Comet) and its legendary poem Bidroi (Rebel), Nazrul challenged autocratic rule and the communal hatred that followed. However, as the writer refused to side with either side, he ruffled the feathers of the Hindu and Muslim sides. Well-versed in Hindu and Islamic texts, Nazrul showed visible disdain for the orthodox practices of organized religion and believed in maintaining his personal relationship with God.

Nazrul’s writings were a beautiful amalgamation of Hindu and Islamic traditions. He composed bhajans and kirtans and introduces the concept of ghazals to the modern Bengali imagination, giving a clear example of art transcending religious boundaries.

In Dhumketuhe wrote about the importance of unison between Hindus and Muslims, joking that “mosques and temples should never be used to create barriers”.

of composition Nazrul Geetiwhich is as relevant to Bengali music as that of Rabindranath Tagore rabindra sangeetto become the voice of Bengali Muslim laureates in the face of Urdu domination by former West Pakistan, there are many things that bidrohi kobi (rebellious poet) Kazi Nazrul Islam did so – not only for Bengal’s burgeoning literary scene, but also for the struggle for Indian freedom, women’s emancipation and religious harmony. the Telegraph Prasun Chaudhuri says in his article“Nazrul was a militant who brandished his pen against colonialism, religious fundamentalism, elitism and fascism”.


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Birth of a poet and activist

Born at a time when landmark works like those of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay Anandamath and Vande Mataram were laying the foundation stone for a cultural renaissance in Bengal, Nazrul came into the world exactly when he was needed.

While the prefix Kazi (judge) suggests a life of comfort, Nazrul led a childhood full of hiccups and hardships. His father died when he was young and his early days were spent in poverty. He started out as a muezzin at a local mosque and continued to do odd jobs to support his family. His family was originally from Patna, but Nazrul was born on May 24, 1899, in Churulia, near Asansol district in Bengal, and it was there that he spent much of his childhood. He was also part of the traveling theater group of his uncle Bazle Karim, who exposed him to Puranic scriptures and Hindu literary texts in Sanskrit and Bengali. When a gentleman from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) recognized his artistic abilities, Nazrul was finally given the chance to pursue his educational aspirations.

It was Nazrul’s teachers who helped carve the poetic gem within him. While the well-known poet Kumud Ranjan Malik was one of Nazrul’s teachers, the influence of Nibaran Chandra Ghatak, a teacher linked to the revolutionary party Jugantar, had a profound impact on his life. Interestingly, Ghatak’s aunt, Dukuribala Debi, was the first woman from Bengal to be imprisoned under India’s Arms Act 1878 due to her radical opposition to colonial rule.

This initial exposure to Ghatak shaped Nazrul’s revolutionary outlook. Eventually, he decided to quit education for military training in Karachi at the Bengal Double Company, a unit formed during World War I especially for young Bengalis seeking a foray into the services. During this time, he was influenced by the Bolshevik revolution and “started to unravel and understand his role in the imperial army and how a writer was shaped by his time”, explains Debjani Sengupta in his article for Thread.

Nazrul could have had a comfortable job in the government due to his ex-military status, but instead chose to pursue his dreams in poetry. In 1919, he published his first poem, Mukti (liberation), in the Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Patrika – an expression of his fluid religious beliefs and spiritual bent. His first prose, Baunduler Atmakahani (Life of a Wanderer), preceded this remarkable poem. After that, Nazrul contributed most of his works to muslim bharata popular monthly magazine.

However, as the non-cooperation movement gained momentum, Kazi’s poetry began to evolve, and he began to show an increased interest in journalism. In 1922 he published Bidroia poem for which he is still known today. Bidroi was one of the few poems of the time that challenged a bitterly oppressive regime in a nuanced and sensitive way. He even surpassed that of Tagore Shonar Toris in terms of popularity, Nazrul burst into Tagore’s house and jokingly said, “Gurudev, I came to kill you.”

Even though Nazrul has often challenged Tagore’s dominance in the literary space through his articles in Kalolola leftist magazine, the two winners shared a deep respect for each other and supported each other when needed.

He then turned to journalism, launching the revolutionary movement Dhumketu magazine in 1922, which was so popular that people lined up for days to get a copy.

Despite its ability to generate enthusiasm, Dhumketu fostered community harmony. It was a deeply analytical magazine that challenged oppression with cold hard facts and was praised by both Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Chattopadhyay “enjoined Nazrul to speak the truth, whether against friend or foe,” Basudha Chakravarty states in his biography, Kazi Nazrul Islam. Tagore, too, in poetic eulogy, asked the comet to “surprise those who are still half-conscious with its audacious defiance”.

Tomb of Kazi Nazrul Islam | Wikimedia Commons

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Nazrul’s relationship with religion

A favorite child of controversy, Nazrul gave his first example of communal harmony through his marriage to Pramila Sengupta of Brahmo Samaj on April 25, 1924, which angered standard bearers of both faiths. Debjani Sengupta, in her article for Thread says it was “Nazrul’s first confrontation with the orthodoxies of Hinduism and Islam”. A Muslim man marrying a Hindu woman was rare at the time, but Nazrul’s love for Pramila transcended religious barriers. Nazrul’s secular spirit is evident in the choice of names for his children – Kazi Sabyasachi, Krishna Mohammed and Kazi Aniruddha.

In an article, Nazrul wrote: “Slaves have no religion. Young people must give first place to the fight for life and must not be inhibited by religious injunctions”.

A proponent of both Shaktism (a form of Hinduism centered on the goddess Shakti) and Islamic principles, Nazrul once said: “Open your heart – within you dwell all religions. All prophets – your heart. Is the universal temple…. Why do you seek God in vain? In the skeletons of the dead scriptures. When he resides smiling in your immortal heart?”

Influenced by Kabir, Nanak and Akbar Din-i-ilahiKazi Nazrul Islam preached and practiced a form of religious pluralism and syncretism which is still unknown today but which is a particular need of the hour.

In 1972, on a special invitation from the government of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam and his family permanently moved to Dhaka. Nazrul was eventually diagnosed with Pick’s disease (an extremely rare brain disorder similar to Alzheimer’s disease), which claimed his life on August 29, 1976. Thousands of people were harmed by his death and Bangladesh has declared two days of national mourning to commemorate, for the last time, Kazi Nazrul Islam.