Sahir Ludhianvi and Kabir

Sahir is well- known to have picked up verses and poems from other poets and either parodied or transcreated them so effectively that the resulting poetry is a new piece of creation itself.

One of the lesser known songs of Sahir is the one from the movie Kajal ‘Kabira nirbhay raam jap’. It is unfortunately not so well known and is not included by Sahir himself in his collection of film songs ‘Gaata jaaye banjaara’.

‘Kabira nirbhay’ was sung by Asha Bhonsle (the odd stanzas- which I believe are Kabir’s) and Mohammad Rafi (the even ones that are clearly Sahir’s). The dialectic between the two is poignant and while listening only the intervening music between the stanzas is somewhat jarring.

kabiraa nirbhay raam jap
jab lagadii me.n baati ?
tel ghaTaa baatii bujhii
sovegaa din\-raati

mahafil me.n terii yuu.N hii rahe
aa.Nkho.n me.n hii ye raat
Guzar jaaye to achchhaa

saach baraabar tap nahii.n
jhuuTh baraabar paap
jaa ke hiraday saach hai
taa ke hiraday aap

jaa kar terii mahafil se
kahaa.N chain milegaa
ab apanii jagah apanii
Kabar jaaye to achchhaa

jab mai.n thaa tab hari nahii.n
ab hari hai mai.n naahii.n
sab a.ndhiyaaraa miT gayaa
jab diipak dekhaa maahi.n

jis subah kii taqadiir me.n
likhii ho judaa_ii
us subah se pahale
ko_ii mar jaaye to achchhaa \-2

(Acknowledgement for the lyrics above)

Sahir’s couplets alternate here with Kabir’s dohas, and it is interesting to see how the spiritual quest and redemption that Kabir seeks in an almost mystical manner is countered by Sahir by taking off from where Kabir leaves, to a melancholy reality- the overarching theme in Sahir’s poetry.

There are other aspects of Sahir that are related to Kabir. I believe that Sahir has a split personality as an artist. He was a poet- lyricist. As a poet, in his selection of words, for example, he borrows significantly from Persian, which is much like Ghalib, Iqbal and also Faiz. In this, he belongs to the ‘high tradition’ of Urdu poetry with its high faultin philosoplical discoursing. He , however, remained at the fringes of 20th century Urdu poetry and very rarely does he seem to come out of the shadow of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

As a lyricist, on the other hand, he shifts to a more popular idiom and tends to be closer to the tradition of Kabir, Mir and Ibne Insha that uses simpler words and even simpler structures- the usage of the short behr in Mir, for example, contrasts with the more often used long behr in Ghalib. As a lyricist Sahir occupies a central place in Hindustani cinema.

Sahir is not averse to simplifying his poety to meet the popular or lyrical elements of a film song. ‘Sanaa-khawaaney-takdeese-mashaariq kahan hain, for example in ‘Chakle’ (from ‘Talkhiyan’) easily becomes ‘Jine-he naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain’ (in ‘Pyaasa’), ‘teergi’ in Kabhi Kabhi becomes ‘siyaahi’ and so on.

In his popular lyrics Sahir dominates over his contemporaries and occupies a place that is probably accorded only to Kabir. Their verses are at the lips of the multitude.

The difference between the two being that Kabir was primarily a social reformer and used poetry as a mechanism to transmit his ideas. Sahir, on the other hand, might very well have been a romantic poet much in the mould of traditional Urdu poets had he not belonged to the post- 1930s generation that was strongly influenced by socialist thought and for which Marxism was the contemporary face of humanism.


6 thoughts on “Sahir Ludhianvi and Kabir

  1. You are right about Sahir never having come out of the Faiz shadow.. i am fond of Sahir coz he was my introduction to this larger domain of urdu poetry and although ghalib and faiz have taken over now, i guess its the simplicity of sahir’s language that hooked me on. The song that u’ve put here is beautiful and i’ve never heard it before.

  2. the illusionist:

    >Sahir was my introduction to this larger domain of urdu…

    Seems to be a well trodden path …. I preceeded you by a few years 🙂

  3. Kabir was the first, the first to imbibe a pluralistic tradition in his teachings and poetry, the first to transcend both Hinduism and Islam. Many were to follow in his foot steps….Akbar, Dara Shikoh, Amir Khusro…., but Kabir was the first to win the hearts and souls of the people who mattered – the common people of this land.An illiterate, he spoke of the highest esoteric truths in a simple language. A simplicity that the ‘learned’ pundits and maulvis are incapable of. One can see the synretistic reflections of Advaita theology and intense and personal passion of Islamic mysticism in his spontaneous compositions.Indian sufis in Delhi, Agra and Kashmir were reading his poetry during the rule of Jehangir and Shah Jahan. He was a predecessor of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion and the sacred Guru Granth Sahib contains a substantial number of Kabir’s verses.

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