I am on a self-appointed crusade to demonstrate how diverse yet universal the concerns of the Urdu poet are. It is a labour of love to present the range of Urdu literature and how Urdu poetry is not poems by Muslims for Muslims. So, on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, here is a bouquet of verses on the founder of Sikhism. Needless to say, it comes with lakh lakh vadaiyaan.

Let us begin with the most famous and most-cited nazm by Sir Muhammad Iqbal which deserves to be quoted in its entirety to savour its reverence for the guru who is called a “mard-e kaamil” (perfect man):

“Our people paid no heed to the message of Gautam
They didn’t recognise the worth of that jewel of supreme wisdom
Oh you unfortunate ones who have remained heedless of the voice of truth
Like the tree that remains unaware of the sweetness of its own fruit
It was he who made manifest the secrets of life
But still Hind stayed proud of its imaginary philosophy
It wasn’t an assembly that could be lit with the lamp of truth
The rain of mercy fell but the earth was not deserving
For the shudra Hindustan was a place of sorrows
And the brahman was intoxicated with the wine of conceit
The lamp of Gautam was burning in the assembly of others
But after a long time the temples have been illuminated
The light of Abraham has lit the house of Aazar once again
Once again the call of unitarianism has rung out from Punjab
A perfect man has again awakened Hind from deep slumber”

“Qaum ne paigham-e-Gautam ki zara parva na ki
Qadr pahchani na apne gauhar-e-yak-dana ki
Aah bad-qismat rahe avaz-e-haq se be-khabar
Ghafil apne phal ki shirini se hota hai shajar
Aashkaar us ne kiya jo zindagi ka raaz tha
Hind ko lekin khayali falsafa par naaz tha
Sham-e-haq se jo munavvar ho yeh woh mahfil na thi
Barish-e-rahmat hui lekin zamin qabil na thi
Aah shudar ke liye hindostan gham-khana hai
Dard-e-insani se is basti ka dil begana hai
Barhaman sarshar hai ab tak mai-e-pindar mein
Sham-e-Gautam jal rahi hai mahfil-e-aghyar mein
But-kada phir baad muddat ke magar raushan hua
Nur-e-Ibrahim se aazar ka ghar raushan hua
Phir uthi akhir sada tauhid ki Punjab se
Hind ko ik mard-e-kaamil ne jagaya khvab se”

Let it not be forgotten, the same Iqbal who is vilified as the founding father of Pakistan and early proponent of the two-nation theory also wrote Hindustani Bachon ka Qaumi Geet which, in a gentler time, was recited in school assemblies. Today, those who wish to weed out Urdu words from the popular domain might do well to occasionally hum this sweetly lyrical ballad to the homeland:

“The land in which Chishti delivered the message of truth
The garden in which Nanak sang the song of oneness
That homeland is mine, that homeland is mine”

“Chishti ne jis zamin mein paigham-e-haq sunaya
Nanak ne jis chaman mein wahdat ka geet gaaya...
Mera watan wahi hai mera watan wahi hai”

The pairing of Chishti and Nanak seems natural to the Urdu poet and occurs in several instances. In much the same vein as Iqbal, there is Afsar Meeruthi in Watan ka Raag:

“The wine that Chishti had poured is still in our goblets
The teachings of Nanak are still echoing in our ears...
Our beloved Bharat our nation is the loveliest of all nations”

“Chishti ne jo dii thhi mai woh ab tak hai paimanon mein
Nanak ki taalim abhi tak guunj rahi hai kaanon mein
Bharat pyara desh hamara sab deshon se nyara hai”

And here’s Arsh Malsiyani singing in the same refrain in Mere Pyarae Watan:

“In every age your sufis
Have appeared as prophets
From Chishti and Nanak we have learnt
The superiority of asceticism and freedom”

“Sufi tere har daur mein
Kaarte rahe paighambari
Chishti o Nanak se mili
 Faqr-o-ghina ko bartari”

Then there is Tilok Chand Mehroom who paints a luminous portrait of Guru Nanak in Tasweer-e Rehmat (The Portrait of Mercy):

“To honour you is to honour all existence Guru Nanak
Your luminosity illuminates every particle Guru Nanak
Your estate endows the intoxication of enlightenment Guru Nanak
Your writings are the summit of worshipping truth Guru Nanak
Divine mercy streams down from your portrait Guru Nanak
Is it your portrait or is it a replica of kindness
Is it your portrait or is it an imprint of reality
Is it your portrait or is it an evidence of nobility
Is it your portrait or is it comfort for a troubled heart
Divine mercy streams down from your portrait Guru Nanak”

“Teri tauqir se tauqir-e-hasti hai Guru Nanak
Teri tanvir har zarre mein basti hai Guru Nanak
Teri jagir mein irfan ki masti hai Guru Nanak
Teri tahrir auj-e-haq-parasti hai Guru Nana
Teri tasvir se rahmat barasti hai Guru Nana
 Zuhuristan-e-rahmat hai ki yeh tasvir hai teri
Koi naqsh-e-haqiqat hai ki yeh tasvir hai teri
Ayaan suh-e-saadat hai ki yeh tasvir hai teri
Dil-e-muztar ki rahat hai ki ye tasvir hai ter
Teri tasvir se rahmat barasti hai Guru Nanak”

It isn’t just the poets of yore but contemporary ones too who invoke the name of Nanak in different ways. For instance, talking of Urdu or zuban-i Hind, Manzar Bhopali calls out to the centuries-old tradition of mingling of languages and cultures:

 This is the language of Nanak and Khusrau and Daya Shankar”

Yeh Nanak ki yeh Khusrau ki Daya Shankar ki boli hai”

In Hindola (Cradle), a long poem replete with images of a shared past, Firaq Gorakhpuri says:

“Rahim, Nanak, Chaitanaya and Chishti
Spent their childhood in this very expanse”

“Rahim Nanak o Chaitanya aur Chishti ne
Inhin fazaon mein bachpan ke din guzare thhe”

To conclude, here’s an exquisite little poem by Anand Narain Mulla on the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in 1969:

“How must the lamp of truth shed its radiance in the tyranny of life’s grossness
The light snuffed from the world’s eyes is illuminated by the light of Nanak
Neither is anyone pure nor impure, nor is anyone high or low
It is the Guru’s tavern where everyone is served the wine of Nanak
All differences are removed here and no trace of impurity remains
This word of love, this state of knowledge, this throne of humanity, this name of Nanak”

Kasafat-e-zindagi ki zulmat mein sham-e-haq zau-fishan ho kaise
Jahan ki bujhti hui nigahon ko jagmagata hai baam-e-Nanak
Na paak koi na koi napak koi uncha na koi nicha
Guru ka yeh mai-kada hai is ja har ik ko milta hai jaam-e-Nanak
Yahan mitte aa ke tafraqe sab rahi na aloodgi koi bhi
Yeh harf-e-ulfat, ye taur-e-irfan, ye arsh-e-insan, ye naam-e-Nanak”