Sir Muhammad Iqbal remains in India both a controversial and revered figure. To nationalists he is the misguided intellectual progenitor of Pakistan; but to many lovers of poetry he is one of India’s greatest 20th century poets, perhaps next only to Rabindranath Tagore. Though he wrote in both Urdu and Persian, it is mainly upon his Urdu poetry that his fame rests. In India he is also remembered as the author of the popular song Tarana-i-Hindi – ‘Saare Jahaan Se Achcha’. In 1922, he was knighted by King George V, giving him the title “Sir”.
Having pursued higher studies in Lahore, by 1905 he was off to England. Prior to his departure, he had already become famous as a poet for such nationalist poems as Naya Shivala- ‘The New Temple’ and Tarana-i-Hindi. Western society and German vitalist philosophy had a major impact on him. He envisaged that if Muslims could recreate the Islam for modern-times, they could offer a model for the East and to the world in general. He believed that a polity created by Muslims in India could serve as a rallying point for Muslims throughout the world and the beginning step towards a global brotherhood. This is the background to his 1930 speech at the Allahabad session of the Muslim League where the first geographic outlines of this state were demarcated.
Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal delivered the presidential address at the 21st Session of the All India Muslim League held from 29-30 December, 1930, in which he declared: “I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluschistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North West India”. Largely due to the course of the political events that ensued, Iqbal has ended up becoming the poet-patriot of Pakistan. After the creation of Pakistan, nine years after Iqbal’s death, Jinnah and other League politicians would publicly credit Iqbal as one of the visionaries and founders of the new state. The Pakistan government officially named him a “national poet”. His birthday ‘Iqbal Day’ is a public holiday in Pakistan.
Bankinchrandra Chattopadhyay wrote many Bangali novels from 1865 to 1884, most famous novel being Anand Math (1880). Anand Math contained the song “Bande Mataram”, which was written in 1876. Anand Math started appearing in the magazine, Banga Darshan, during 1880 to 1882. Its concept itself generated ripples in people’s minds, as it was a novel, which speaks of revolutionaries who live and die for their motherland. 1883 saw a stage version of Anandmath, wherein the first singing of the song took place. Bankimda passed away in 1894. In the 1896 convention of the Indian National Congress a full-unabridged version of Vande Mataram was sung. None other than the great personality-Rabindranath Tagore sang it. In the 1901 Congress, again it was rehearsed, with Dakshanrajan Sen as the composer. Thereafter it became a norm to start the Congress convention with Vande Mataram.
The year 1905 was memorable to Vande Mataram in many ways. In this year the song crossed the boundaries of Bengal, spread like a jungle fire throughout the nation which would oust the British rule. No sooner than the Partition of Bengal was declared, thousands of angry Bharatiyas protested the decision in a unanimous voice: Vande Mataram. Indian freedom struggle had got it’s march song. The British government realized the potential and nuisance value of Vande Mataram. Saraladevi Chaudharani, niece of Ravindranath Tagore, sung it despite protest in the 1905 Congress convention.
It was translated into English by Shree Auribindo Ghosh to conform to its universality and eventually. The militant revolutionaries who faced the gallows recited Vande Mataram as their last words. This includes Madanlal Dhingra, Praful Chaki, Khudiram Bose, Suryasen, Ramprasad Bismil and many more. Even the great martyr Bhagat Singh addresses a letter to his father with Vande Mataram. Subhashchandra Bose had adopted this song for his Indian National Army. In 1937, the Congress leaders, owing to misconceptions from certain minorities, appointed a committee to interpret Vande Mataram. The first two stanzas were adopted as a national song. Other stanzas bearing reference of the nation as ‘Mother Durga’ were omitted.
In the middle of the 19th century, Maharshi Devendranath Tagore found solace and serenity in the barren land in Birbhum district of Bengal. He purchased the land and built a small retreat for meditation, named, Santiniketan, the name later came to denote the entire area. As a child, Rabindranath accompanied his father to Santiniketan. In 1901, Rabindranath started his Brahmacharyasrama, to fullfil wishes of his father who was a considerable figure of his time in the field of educational reforms. By then the barren land was converted in garden full of flora and fauna. Rabindranath’s choice of Santiniketan for his school was definitely because of its environment. The school began with five students on roll.
It was always the objective in Santiniketan that learning would be a part of life’s natural growth. The first step towards this objective was to establish in the child a sense of oneness with nature. Rabindranath said we concentrate on learning from books and neglect the knowledge that is freely available on all sides. From the beginning, he wanted his students to be aware of their environment, be in communication with it, probe it, make experiments and collect specimens. And to guide them he wanted teachers who could go beyond book-learning, who were seekers themselves and who would find joy in the process of learning.
The school was a conscious repudiation of the system introduced in India by the British rulers and Rabindranath initially sought to realize the intrinsic values of the ancient education in India. The school and its curriculum, therefore, signified a departure from the way the rest of the country viewed education and teaching. The curriculum had music, painting, dramatic performances and other performative practices. Beyond the accepted limits of intellectual and academic pursuits, opportunities were created for invigorating and sustaining the manifold faculties of the human personality.
The same joyous atmosphere is evident and the children look as happy and free as ever. Classes even to this day are held under the trees. The first day of rains is still celebrated with an outing, barefoot and sans umbrellas. The spirit of Rabindranath lives on in Santiniketan.