B L Razdan
The genius of the renowned Kashmiri saint poet Pandit Krishna Joo Razdan flourished in the valley of Kashmir towards the close of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Besides being a saint of very high order Krishna Joo Razdan was regarded as the “poet of kashmiri poets” of the native Kashmiri language apparently because of his divine devotional poetry that had come to engulf the literary circles in almost all the regional languages of India.
The merit of Krishna Joo Razdan’s poetry was recognised by none other than the renowned and the famous Dr. Sir George A. Grierson, who had a substantial collection of his Kashmiri poems translated into Sanskrit way back in 1914 – 1925 and published under the aegis of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, so that this treasure of rich Kashmiri poetry was not lost to the posterity merely because of the limited reach of the Kashmiri language.
The noted U S poet and writers Emily Warn once asked a difficult question like “Does the social function of poetry vary so wildly that we cannot generalize about it?” And then she herself hazarded an answer. “Poetry binds solitudes. It enacts a central human paradox: we exist as singular selves, yet can only know them through our relations. A poem creates a presence that is so physically, emotionally, and intellectually charged that we encounter ourselves in our response to it. The encounter, which occurs in language, preserves and enlarges our solitude and points out our connections.” According to Matthew Arnold poetry is a record of the emotions and sentiments of people at some particular point of time.
Thus viewed, even as the advent of 20th century saw Krishna Joo Razdan emerge as one of the great writers of devotional poetry, he did not confine himself to devotional themes alone. He also tried his hand at writing on other subjects and themes. No wonder that some critics have said that Krishna Joo Razdan was the first devotional poet to highlight the spirit of patriotism in the beginning of 20th century. This created a basis for poets like Azad and Mahjoor for strengthening the trend of patriotic poetry in Kashmiri.
Krishan Joo Razdan was the first Kashmiri poet who was proud of his mother tongue Kashmiri and lauded and hailed it as Mother Goddess’ own language. Wrote he in one of his poems:
I assert with confidence that Mother Godess loves Kashmiri language the best of all. For a person reading and speaking this language a gibbet changes into a mounting saddle. Those who read and hear Kashmiri language are absolved of all troubles By Mohter Goddess in her infinite beautitude Besides purging them of all their sorrows she sends bounties galore Treating as her own offspring she showers on them her abundant love I have composed a lyric pregnant with divine love and enlightenment I have abbreviated a tale adjudged too long by all My convictions should be avaialable to sages and savants They alone can appreciate all my thoughtful surmons
(Translated from Kashmiri by Prof. K. L. Moza)
As is clear from this famous poem, Razdan Sahib is proud of Kashmiri language which is the principal medium of his poetic expression. He regards it dearest to the Mother Goddess. He is convinced that salvation for Kashmiris is attainable only by singing praises of the Mother Goddess in Kashmiri language’. Krishna Joo enriched Kashmiri language with similes and metaphors culled from his charming rural ambience, making it a desirable medium for poetic expression. Loving deeply his mother tongue Kashmiri Razdan Sahib enriched the language by making it the principal medium of his poetry in spite of being a profound scholar of Persian and Sanskrit languages.
As is true about every great poet, the tone of some of Razdan Sahib’s lyrics is prophetic. Horrified by the progressively dwindlindling numbers of his community he painfully anticipates its diaspora. This prophetic vision of the immortal bard in the early decades of the twentieth century came very true towards the end of the very same century.
In spite of having suffered at the hands of foreign invaders, Krishna Joo Razdan, as a true Hindu, was secular to the core. Razdan Sahib’s devotional poetry illustrates the tremendous inclusiveness of Hindu faith. He calls shivratri shab-e-qadr and shab-e-meraj which are both fundamentally exclusive Islamic concepts. At the same time he was proud of his own sanatan dharam faith and went about proclaiming the same by applying a huge tilak of chandan and saffron on his forehead. As preached in the holy Geeta, Far from breeding any rancour, Krishnajoo had attained eternal peace by turning his mind away from worldly pleasures and adoring the divine in his heart. This gave him freedom from want, worries, anxieties and fear. He sincerely believed in the oneness of the universe and in the brotherhood of mankind. “Let us all unite”, he exhorts, “and go in for self-introspection. Let us stand united and strive for peace”. Again, like Lalla, he seems to believe that it is “we who existed in the past and we who shall exist in the future.”
Krishna Joo Razdan lived far ahead of his times. He was genuinely concerned about the condition of women and led by example in restoring their rights and dignity. He would suggest to one and all that they receive their daughters with broad smiles whenever they would visit their parents and make their stay as comfortable as possible. Never should anyone be seen with a frown on his face while dealing with one’s daughter. He lived up to these prescriptions himself. It is recounted that his sister broke an earthen pitcher while carrying water to her in-laws’ house. The mother-in-law saw this. Quickly came she and picked up the mouth of the broken vessel and after dangling it before her, put in around her neck. Krishna Joo was cut to the quick on learning about this incident. He hired men to carry dozens of earthenware resembling the broken pitcher and sent these to the mother-in-law, thereby not only avenging the insult to his sister but also making public the support she enjoyed among her kinsmen. Later, when the same sister was widowed with two children, he recalled them all to his village and constructed a separate house for her and her children and gave them landed estate that ensured their survival with dignity. Incidentally, one of these two children, on growing up, was later known as Swami Gobind Koul, a well-known saint of Kashmir in his own right.
Full of empathy and generous to a fault Krishna Joo Razdan ensured that the tillers at his estate were provided a fair share of the crops so that they could live comfortably and with dignity. He was also concerned about the plight of craftsmen and other professional workers like the potter, the jester, the blacksmith, the wrestler, the cook, the gardener, etc. Like Shakespeare’s stage, he regarded the world as a “Bhanda Jeshan” or a folk play and has manifestly written so in one of his famous poems. In his poems, Razdan also highlighted the plight of his fellow Kashmiri Pandits, who had acquired an exalted social status but were reduced to penury during the Afghan rule.
A contemporary of Razdan Sahib recalled that on one occasion, while attending a marriage feast he overheard another guest shout that some of the dishes served were not up to the mark and that one of these smelt like burnt. Krishna Joo at once called the person serving the dish and publicly asked him for another serving remarking aloud that the dish tasted so nice that he could not help asking for another helping. This silenced in tracks the murmur that had just been given rise to among the gathering by the unpleasant remark of the other invitee and saved embarrassment to the host.
Krishna Joo believed in Swdharma and like a true Vedantist held the view that all religions were true and the path shown by each different faith was a different path that ultimately led to Him, the one and only God. There was, therefore, no need for conversion, or re-conversion for that matter.
(The author is formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh).
B L Razdan