Tagore and Iqbal – Daily Times

Posted: December 26, 2019 at 8:02 pm

Before I touch this subject, I confess my lack of knowledge of Bengali language, which I believe, has been partly compensated by my study of Tagores best-known work Gitanjali translated into chaste English by Tagore himself. In the case of Iqbal, I have in my view most of his Urdu and Persian works, but more specifically Baal-e-Gibriel which I believe is truly representative of his genius.

It is said that comparisons are odious, especially between two equally gifted personages. Most people have drawn comparisons and contrasts between Tagore and Iqbal to show that one was superior to the other, which I think violates against the best literary traditions. Two equally gifted poets could be different in their outlook about man, nature and God, their subject matter, their form and mode of poetic expression, but not fundamentally as poets.Which one is better than the other is only a matter of ones personal choice which varies from person to person.

The palpable commonalities between the two were that both were great poets and contemporaries and both hailed from the Indian sub-continent. Both were conversant in more than two languages; Tagore, in Bengali and English, while Iqbal in Urdu and Persian.Both were imbued in their local as well as western culture, and had benefited from the philosophic and religious currents of their time.But they were vastly different in their approach to life and treatment of their subject matter.

Tagore wrote in the common language of the Bengali people and raised its status from a dialect to a rich and authentic language by abandoning the ancient form of the Indian (Hindi) language, despite criticism from his own Indian critics and scholars.

Tagores reputation as a writer was spread in the western world more swiftly than that of Iqbal with the publication in 1912 of Gitanjali: Song Offerings, in which Tagore tried to find inner calm and explored the themes of divine and human love. The poems were translated into English by Tagore himself. His cosmic visions owed much to the lyric tradition of Vaishnava Hinduism and its concepts about the relationship between man and God. Gitanjalis introduction was written by the famous English poet William Butler Yeats, who wrote These lyrics -which, in its original Bengali version, are full of subtlety of rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies of colour, of metrical invention, which display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life. His poems were praised by great literary icons like Ezra Pound, who drew the attention of the Nobel Prize committee, which awarded Tagore with Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. This was the primary reason why he won the Prize as against his great contemporary Iqbal, whose works were more dynamic, diversified and philosophical in nature, but none of them had been translated in English by that time, which was the only language which the Nobel Prize Committee could understand and appreciate.In one of his reviews, Ezra Pound wrote There is in him(Tagore) the stillness of nature. The poems do not seem to have been produced by storm or by ignition, but seem to show the normal habit of his mind. He is at one with nature, and finds no contradictions and this is in sharp contrast with the Western mode, where man must be shown attempting to master nature if we are to have great drama. Iqbal was such a poet whose works displayed the great drama by attempting to master nature, but unfortunately the western world remained oblivious to his work and art because of the barrier of language which they could not understand or appreciate.

A comparison of the tenor of their work shows that Tagore brought out the romantic in man; Iqbal the heroic. Tagore exulted in feminine beauty; Iqbal in masculine strength. There was music in Tagores poetry; there was fire in Iqbals poetry. Tagore was humble; Iqbal was proud. Tagore was inspired by Hafiz; Iqbal drew his strength from Rumi.

Did Rabindernath Tagore break away from the age-old beliefs and traditions ? No. His conception of life was perfectly in tune with the teachings of the Upanishad. His poetry and songs were saturated with pantheistic thoughts and ideas which he drew from the Upanishad, and the Persian mystic poets like Hafiz and others. He saw the vision of his Beloved in the moon, the stars and flowers and other beauties of Nature and perceived her footfalls in the stormy night behind the clouds; he heard her singing in the birds and whispering in the breeze. He feels constant pangs of separation from her and is ever anxious to meet her. Complete identification with her is the cry of his soul. His imagination ends there and cannot go beyond that. The following extracts from Rabindranath will bear me out:

Let there be no distinction between you and me

So that I may see myself at one with you, both in and out.

I have come to this world only as a pawn of your sports

My own desires will die unto your pleasure and love

And in weal and woe, none shall survive except you.

A comparison of the tenor of their work shows that Tagore brought out the romantic in man; Iqbal the heroic

Rabindranath Tagore is out and out a mystic poet of Pantheism, bordering, at places, on paganism. The burden of all his philosophic poems and songs is separation from, and hankering after complete communion with his consort. Like the Vedantists and the Sufis, he also tries to flee from life and merge himself into the Ultimate Being. Death is the target of his life! The glorification of death and self-effacement thus constitutes his principal message to mankind. In a typical fashion he plays on soft sentiments of love and separation and does not bother about the duties and responsibilities of man towards God and the World.

Against this Idealistic-Pantheistic-Vedantic-Sufistic background of under-estimation of life, Iqbal boldly proclaimed the individuality and immortality of the Soul and its never-ending progress and development in our after-life. He says that this visible world is not a baseless fabric of fantasy; it is also real and meaningful. Man is also real and his Ego or Soul will not be absorbed. Here man has been bracketed with God and given the exalted position of His Viceroy. This proves that there is no intermediary in between God and Man and that man has limitless power and potentiality in him. Indeed man is destined to rule the universe as the representative of God. Evidently, as long as God is, man is. God is no doubt our Creator, but once He has created us, He will not absorb or annihilate us. It is His pleasure that we live eternally with Him. This philosophy, of course, is not his own; it is broad-based on the teachings of the Holy Quran which vouchsafes eternal life not only to the dwellers of Paradise, but also to those of Hell. Iqbal has given a philosophic shape to this eternal veracity of Islam. Herein lies his contribution. I quote below a few lines from Iqbal to corroborate my views:

Life is preserved by purpose;

Because of its goal its caravan-bell tinkles. Life is latent in seeking.

Its origin is hidden in desire.

Desire keeps the Self in perpetual uproar ..

Negation of life is death to the living.

Abandon self and flee to God

Strengthened by God, return to thy self.

It is sweet to be Gods Vicegerent in the world

And exercise sway over the elements.

He gives new values to life and urges upon strengthening of the Soul. He believes that, in the scale of being, the status of every object is determined according to the degree of strength it attains. As God is the perennial source of all power and success, and as mans is not yet a complete personality, it is essential that he should come in close contact with God for borrowing strength from Him. The motivating idea behind this should be not to absorb himself into God, but rather to absorb God into himself. Man has to mouldhis character in accordance with the character and Attributes of Allah. Indeed, the nearer is a person to God, the greater is his personality. A man full of divine qualities is the perfect man. Iqbal calls him Insan-i-Kamil or the Perfect Man, as opposed to Neitzsches Superman. Iqbal pays tribute to the perfect man in these two immortal lines:

Develop thyself, so that before every decree

God Himself will ascertain from thee what is thy will?

In short, while the terminus station of Rabindranaths journey of life is God, that of Iqbal is Eternity. Iqbal is a perpetualtraveller; he does not stop at God, but goes further beyond. Rabindranaths span of life is, therefore, shorter than that of Iqbal, his outlook is also narrow and antiquated and mediaeval in character, having no dynamic appeal to this new age of space-flight and inter-planetary journey. Iqbal is the poet of today and also of to-morrow.

The writer is a former member of the Provincial Civil Service, and an author of Moments in Silence

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Tagore and Iqbal - Daily Times

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