(Last Updated on : 13/03/2009)
Indian poetry and Indian literature from a panoptic perspective, possesses an extensive history in itself dating back to Vedic times. The Vedic seers forever will reign in historical annals, owing to occupying pioneering positions, believed to be some of the first recorded verse writers in the world. History of Indian poetry, just like the elemental evolution of umpteen other genres in art and performance from ancient times, was commenced from the Hindu religious flowering and their various classified sections for penning treatises and discourses for the upcoming generations to be verily boosted. Poetry in India was framed and composed in numerous Indian languages such as Vedic Sanskrit, Classical Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali and Urdu, followed by the various other gradually developing languages to come up with masterpiece creations in poetry and poetic diction. It is also in this very context of the historical evolution of Indian poetry, that the significant phases of maturing in verse can be witnessed. For instance, this very discussed germination is divided into the periods, comprising: Indian Epic Poetry and Indian Medieval Poetry. Both these ages, with the advancement of Sanskrit and additional Islamic development of Urdu in darbars (the king`s court), had induced Indian poetry to travel to majestic and subliminal heights. The Epic Age was predominated by the Sanskrit language and its tremendous reach, whereas, Medieval Period was overridden by the overwhelming of Urdu and poets penning for the said language.
Poetry in languages from the overseas and almost the unfamiliar in historical times, just like Persian and English also have bore an everlasting influence upon Indian poetry, owing to the incessant foreign invasions and incursions by the Islamics or the Europeans under the British Raj later. Poetry and poets and their immortal creations always have deeply affected the Indian society, each time nearly governing on its own principles. Indian poetry reflects motley of spiritual traditions, perfectly mirroring the quintessential society of the urbanity and rurality. When stated particularly, umpteen Indian poets have been enlivened and invigorated by mystical experiences that perhaps have been gathered from such diversified encounters from the Oriental scenario.
Coming out from the cast of ancient Indian poetry, the present poetic scenario also is of much attention, roughly beginning from the pre-Independence era, post Indian renaissance under the hands of men like Rabindranath Ragore, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rishi Aurobindo or Swami Vivekananda. However, poetry in India was not only restricted to one single genre. Indian poetry absolutely did ponder upon the dissimilar and sundry pious and devout traditions that have since prospered in India. The dissimilar strands and astounding varieties of Hinduism come under profound scanner, when the most striking Indian poetical genre comes from the devotional Bhakti Movement, with luminaries like Mirabai, Ramprasad Sen, Kamalakanta or Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Another significant element in India`s sanctified and pious life of divine poetry, is this devotional bhakti tradition of Vaishnava Hinduism. The great Bhakti poets mentioned above had made use of poetry to express their devastating and crushing devotion and love for their preferred deity (often Krishna or Goddess Kali). To Mirabai, nothing else had weighed upon heavily apart from worshipping her `beloved` - Lord Krishna. The songs of Ramprasad Sen were sung more than often by India`s legendary mystic, saint Sri Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna had enormously admired Ramprasad`s devotion to the Divine Mother (Goddess Kali).
Acting side by side the Vaishnava Bhakti tradition in Indian poetry, the Vedantic tradition, is comparatively less devotional in disposition, stressing the unreality of the world. This Vedantic tradition in Indian poetry is illustrated by poets such as Shankaracharya. Rather contemporary spiritual masters such as Sri Aurobindo, Sri Chinmoy and Swami Vivekananda, have ceremoniously added to the already-affluent heritage of verses in the country and in some respects have comprehended both tresses of Hindu poetry. Contemporary Indian poetry and its poets include Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian and first Asian to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. After Tagore, penning poetry was not just restricted to the most intellectual and the most elite, but also began to include revolutionary thinking and upbeat musings under personas like: Shankha Ghosh, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Srijato, Joy Goswami, Dilip Chitre, Kamala Das, Toru Dutt, Nissim Ezekiel or Jayanta Mahapatra.
When elaborating and relating further on the journey of Indian poetry, the historical and ancient age is time and again harked back into present times, owing to its sheer originality and uncanny thought process even in such times, when the Western civilisation was much under the dark shroud. For example, the poetry of the Upanishads and Vedas is downright soaked up with the tremendous confidence of the Vedic seers. Such poetic tradition in India, emote an exalted and rarified message of `spiritual transformation` as can seen below:
Death To Immortality
Asato ma sad gamaya.
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya.
Mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya.
Lead me from the unreal to the Real.
Lead me from darkness unto Light.
Lead me from death to Immortality
From: The Upanishads
Numerous Indian poets have been voraciously instigated to write poetry in an endeavour to express their almost transcendental mystical experiences. Adi Shankaracharya was India`s leading exponent of Non-Dualism (Advaita). "I am He" is an immortal poem by the Shankaracharya that verbalises a circumstance of consciousness far beyond the commonplace and everyday temporal experiences. India has had possessed its protracted tradition of illumined spiritual lords; equipped with their own pretty way, these geniuses have employed poetry in India as their own tool of alluding to the `transcendental consciousness`, which is the basic aim of Yoga, another line of thinking that has been integrally linked with Indian poetry.
Indian poetry, as has been enunciated earlier, already had won the crown of modernism long ago. The phenomena of `intertextuality` in Tagore`s poems can be observed very much and that too with successful alludings - in his numerous borrowings from Vedic hymns, Bhakti poems, Baul songs, Maithili religio-erotic poetry and the likes. `Death` for Tagore is the "celestial wedding between the self and the Almighty, the elixir of life" just as in the Upanishads.
The flowers have been woven and the
Garland is ready for the bridegroom.
After wedding, the bride shall leave
Her home and meet her lord alone in
The solitude of night.
From: Verse 91 of Gitanjali
Poetry in India truly celebrates "unity in diversity". The deviations and dissimilarities in language, in presentation, in cultural background, in religious practices - everything as if suspend in the rudimentary sameness of thoughts and theme, in the true essence of religion, in the adherence of oneness referred to as `humanity`. Thus, the prolific Amir Khusro`s poetic originality rebounds and echoes in the poignant theme of Verse 91 of Rabindranath Tagore`s chef-d`oeuvre under Indian poetry. Amir Khusro`s Hindvi doha, generated on the aching demise of his dear Nizamuddin Aulia (also acknowledged as Hazrat Nizamuddin, He was an eminent Sufi saint of the Chishti Order in Islam), is empowered with a sweet sadness, unlike Gitanjali. It majestically delineates this heart-breaking sense of estrangement as a bride`s departure from/after wedding:
Gori sovay sej par
Mukh par daray kesh;
Chal Khusrau ghar aapnay saanjh
Bhaee chahu des.
The fair maiden rests
On a bed of roses,
Her face covered
With a lock of hair ;
Let us oh Khusrau , return home now,
The dark dusk settles in four corners of the world.
It becomes pretty obvious that a land which can give birth and life to creations like Ramayana and Mahabharata - its two most prestigious and exalted masterpieces, invariably can also render life to a precious poetic version of the cosmos with all the miscellanea that life offers. So, the moment an admirer of literature endeavours to embrace Indian poetry, he is invited into an awesome infiniteness of Omniscience. He is sure to acquire a lifetime of an encounter with the wealth of imagination, brilliance of intellect, sublimity of spiritual quest and with the plethora of references made to the social framework, the cultural heritage, the intellectual pursuit and the various political, social, cultural, ideological and economic upheavals that affect Indian life. And most of all, he is sure to sense the very involvement of the poet`s soul which casts the halo of beautiful poetry that has illuminated the Indian literary tradition from time immemorial.
Indian poetry has verily been associated with patriotism and nationalism, which almost every Indian has been born with, in their blood. The feminine power of revolution amidst the turmoil of Indian Independence and hence, deeply interrelated to patriotism, expresses itself thoroughly in the vigour of the respected and fiery poetess Sarojini Naidu. This urgency to drive away the intruder British from India, had tremendously motivated Bankim Chandra Chattopadhay to compose the stirring national song of India, Vande Mataram, still an unmatched creation for all generations to come. Till today, their unwavering and undaunted commitment is saluted by both the class and the mass. Indian poetry bears undying testimony of slogans for emancipation, rhyming idyllically with the resurgence Independence Revolution:
Freedom is our universal speech
Equality is the experienced fact.
During post-Independence times, Indian poetry and poetical genres had welcomed to embrace the emergence of Subaltern Poetry with a group of poets, who hailed from the marginal section of the society. And yet, these `subalterns` were immensely successful in coming into the limelight of recognition, that too in an almost whirlwind manner. Anuradha Mahapatra`s utter rural background could not prevent her from lending shape to `spell`, wherein she bewails the intrinsic habit of desire and its sad subsequent drowning into the waters of melancholy, which, according to her, is the other name for the always `sullen self`. Female poets and their wonderfully channelled verses have been an innate part of Indian poetic history. In historical times, poetesses like Gargi Vachaknavi and Lopamudra, also serving as philosophers had illuminated the poetical scenario in India, the illustrious lineage of which is still borne in present times, with the scenario being ruled by names like Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Kamala Das, Sujata Bhatt and umpteen others. Nabaneeta Dev Sen`s The Yellow River aesthetically eulogises the overpowering force of the spirit of revolution and necessary changes, symbolised in the image of the yellow river which spouts forth into "the great wall of china" that "rises within/blocking everything" in the throttled prison of rigid, narrow psychological world.
Indian poetry of the contemporary period also encounters striking experimentation in forms, devices, voices and motifs, as one tries to pursue in that thin line of almost perfection hidden within. Chandra Raut`s Snake (Oriya) explores Christian myth and Biblical imagery, while Keki Daruwalla`s A Parsi Hell (English) caters to a Parsi heritage. Then again, Nilmani Phookan`s picturesque imagistic magic is demonstrated in his poems. His poems delightfully pertain to the Assamese tribal myth and folklore, the rhythms of village life, while Nilmani Phookan himself luxuriates in the enigma of the so seen poetry in India. Indian poetry with its everlasting appeal will exist as long as emotions will continue to evolve within each human being, as long as man will breathe, his heart will beat.
Poetry as a perception is much fuller than it being just a notion of verse-composition. It is the `rhythm of existence` which one experiences in living the life-like, the divine conjugation of lovers or even a significant discovery about the self or the world, which in succession, gives birth to poetry.