C Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) and Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) were significant poet-songwriters of the Indian freedom struggle. Their works explore a wide range of themes – political, philosophical, romantic and devotional. Both poets were educated in rāga music, which is prominent in many of their songs. Bharati wrote in Tamil, while Nazrul wrote in Bangla. It is highly unlikely that they read or were influenced by each other’s works. However, one finds several similarities in their poetry, especially the importance given to the goddess Ādi Śakti in her various forms, Kālī in particular. The goddess plays a major role in their national consciousness; yet, they are not sectarian in their approach, and believe strongly in an inclusive Indian nation. Both of them criticize caste and patriarchy, and turn the worship of the goddess into a revolutionary act. Neither was confined to one religion or to the worship of only one deity, or to one genre of poetry. Bharati, a Tamil Brahmin, challenged the supremacy of his own caste. Nazrul, who was from a Muslim family, sang songs of Islamic and Hindu devotion alike. The goddess occupies a special place in both their hearts. Crucially, both poets used religious imagery propelled by music to convey their progressive and liberationist ideals to a large public. My work is a comparative exploration – the first, to my knowledge – of their songs on the goddess. I choose three broad aspects of the goddess: the beauty within the terrifying; the goddess as a child or daughter; and the goddess of the nation. Through these, I examine points of convergence in their poetry, the musical interpretations of their works, the influence of their contrasting cultural backgrounds, their views on women and caste, and how the goddess inspires them to contribute to the struggle for a free India.
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"The Dance of Ādi Śakti: The Goddess in the Songs of Bharati and Nazrul,"
Yale Journal of Music & Religion:
2, Article 3.