NAAT poetry in Urdu has a long history, but, surprisingly, it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that serious critical and research works on it began appearing.
It does not follow that critical evaluation of naat was not done before the 20th century, but it is a fact that during the last 60 years or so, we have seen a tremendous growth of naat poetry itself and its research and criticism. In his doctoral dissertation, titled ‘Urdu naatiya adab ke intiqadi sarmae ka tehqeeqi mutal’a’, Dr Aziz Ahsan has discussed in detail that early critical works of Urdu had almost ignored naat poetry and only some passing comments on naat poetry and its composers were given in tazkiras, the earliest critical works on Urdu poetry.
One of the reasons, according to Aziz Ahsan, is that in the early period there were a few poets who had devoted much of their poetical talents for naat alone. Karamatullah Khan Shaheedi, an early 19th century poet of Urdu, had written some moving naats and he, as he had wished for, died in Madinah while on his way to the Prophet’s (PBUH) tomb with his gaze fixed on the Prophet’s (PBUH) mosque. The incident took place on April 7, 1840. But most of Shaheedi’s contemporary and latter-day critical writings in Urdu almost totally ignored him and his naat.
It was Mohsin Kakorvi whose famous naatiya qaseeda (panegyric ode in praise of Prophet Muhammad PBUH) written in 1876, titled ‘Madeeh-i-khair-ul-mursaleen’, that took the literary circles by storm and heated debates on the merits (and some shortcomings, according to some critics) began.
The famous qaseeda starts with the line that almost every student of Urdu literature knows by heart:
Samt-i-Kaashi se chalaa jaanib-i-Mathura baadal
Some critics were of the view that it was against the norms and un-Islamic for Mohsin to have used allusions and metaphors from Hindu mythology to praise the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). Though later on, this qaseeda’s literary value was weighed in true spirit and appreciation was heaped on Mohsin, which goes on even today.
The most recent example of such an appreciation can be seen in an article by Dr Sarwar-ul-Huda that has just appeared in the latest issue of Urdu, the research journal published by Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Pakistan. The article evaluates Mohsin’s famous qaseeda in the light of the rules applied in exposition and rhetoric.
So, before Mohsin, there was hardly any poet of Urdu who was known exclusively for naat poetry. Mohsin had devoted himself to writing naat only. An interesting debate ensued when in 1959 renowned critic Mohammad Hasan Askari published an article of his, raising many questions and comparing Mohsin’s poetry with other poets, especially those who have composed religious poetry, evaluating it, appreciating it and criticising it, as was Askari’s style. Aside from Askari, Abul Lais Siddiqi had carried out a critical analysis of Mohsin’s poetry in his PhD dissertation and it was one of the earliest and better analyses. But such articles and theses are usually out of the reach of common readers and students of literature. So Syed Sabeeh Rahmani decided to collect such articles and essays.
And the result is Kalam-i-Mohsin Kakorvi: adabi-o-fikri jihaat, a collection of research articles and critical essays on Mohsin Kakorvi and his naat poetry. Published by Karachi’s Academy Bazyaft, the book has, in addition to a thoughtful intro by Sabeeh Rahmani, 21 articles by some of the best known research scholars and critics, such as Abul Lais Siddiqi, Hasan Askari, Jameel Jalibi, Farman Fatehpuri, Kalidas Gupta Reza, Salahuddin Ahmed, Aslam Ansari, Sakhi Ahmed Hashmi, Abdul Muqeet Shakir Aleemi, Ismail Azad Fatehpuri, and Syed Rafiuddin Ashfaq.
Sabeeh Rahmani is a poet and scholar. He has been promoting naat and its critical and research studies for over 25 years now. This book, a very useful anthology for those who want to read about Mohsin Kakorvi and the tradition of writing naat poetry in Urdu, is yet another feather in Sabeeh’s cap.
Mohammad Mohsin Kakorvi Alvi was born on September 26, 1826 in Kakori, a small town near Lucknow. His Guldasta-i-Mohsin is a collection of famous pieces of naat poetry and includes poems such as ‘Sarapa-i-Rasool-i-akram’, ‘Masnavi subh-i-tajalli’, ‘Mukhammas-i-naatiya’ and ‘Rubaiyyat-i-naatiya’. His other works include ‘Chiragh-i-Kaaba’ and some other naatiya verses. Noor-ul-Hasan Nayyar Kakorvi, Mohsin Kakorvi’s son and the author of Noor-ul-lughaat had published Mohsin’s kulliyaat or collected works in 1908.
Mohsin Kakorvi died on April 24, 1905 in Mainpuri.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2019