Deep-rooted Muslim mystical traditions have celebrated Shri Krishna

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 07-09-2023
Dahi Handi competitions being held on Janamstmi in Mumbai
Dahi Handi competitions being held on Janamstmi in Mumbai


Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi 

Deeply-rooted Muslim mystical traditions of India have revered Shri Krishna. The medieval historical accounts as old as Al-Bruni stand testimony to this fact.

In more recent times noted Indian Muslim scholar and Sufi poet Maulana Syed Fazl-ul-Hasan Hasrat Mohani, who coined the Urdu slogan Inquilab Zindabad during the freedom movement used to visit Vrindavan in Mathura before he went to perform Hajj in Makka. 

This is the deeply-seated and historically-rooted Muslim Mystical tradition in India; call it Sufism or some even call it 'Krishnite Sufism'. 

Like many nations and people, India too has been blessed with the holy Prophets and Apostles. Therefore, in all likelihood, the king of Ayodhya Maryada Purush Shri Ram, and the Prince of Dwarka Shri Krishna and their Avatars may have been the holy prophets sent to the Indian subcontinent and thus their teachings and traditions must be held in high regard by the Indian Muslims.

This has been propounded by the authoritative Sufi mystics in India such as the Naqshbandi saint and scholar Mirza Mazhar Jaan-e-Jaan (1689-1781) and the Chishti Sufi poet of the 18th century, Shah Turab Chishti.

Some Indian Ulema believe Shri Krishna may be one of the Divine Messengers who visited India, based on a hadith narration mentioned in a book Tarikh Hamdan. According to the history of Hamdan Daylami (Chapter Al-Kaaf), there was a prophet in India whose color was black and his name was Kahin (the saint).

Long ago, an Indian Muslim mystic popularly known as “Raskhan” immersed himself in Krishna consciousness. His deep devotion to Shri Krishna or Krishna-Bhakti culminated in marvelous poetry that he composed in his ecstasy and that is still sung by the common people of Mathura. Today, on the occasion of Janmashtami, many Hindus and Muslims celebrate the birth of Shri Krishna, by reciting his poems and offering prayers for the salvation and protection of all human beings. Indian Muslims remember Shri Krishna on Janmashtami to revive and rejuvenate their links with the glorious history of the Indo-Muslim mystical tradition.

Khwaja Hasan Nizami, a prominent Sufi scholar of the Chishti Order, popularly known in Urdu as Musawwir-e-Fitrat (a natural artist and essayist) who wrote many essays on Indian Sufism, published his book on Shri Krishna titled "Krishn Beiti" in 1917 which was later renamed as "Krishna Katha" or "Krishna Jeewan". In this book, Khwaja Hasan Nizami sought to clear various misconceptions about the persona of Shri Krishna, particularly prevailing among Muslims.

At the very outset, he described Shri Krishna as great, who taught Indians the secrets of the spiritual and material worlds. The chapter in the book on the blessed birth of Shri Krishna is titled Dawn of the Truth" in which he writes that that after the long night, Shri Krishna's birth came as the beacon of hope and light. 

Much like his contemporary Urdu poet Hafeez Jalandhri, Khwaja Hasan Nizami called Shri Krishna the light of India. Not just that, he also went on in his book to do an intellectual refutation of the arguments of Arya Samaji scholars like Lala Lajpat Rai who maintain that Sri Krishna was not the incarnation and even the author of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. 

Khwaja Hasan Nizami retorts: “O Indians, do not disrespect your nation in a bid to please foreigners, and give your predecessors their rightful place”. Notably, Khwaja Hasan Nizami thus attaches paramount importance to the study of Hinduism, its culture, and civilization as an exercise in nation-building.

One of the substantial points that Khwaja Hasan Nizami makes in his book is that the life and teachings of Shri Krishna should not be learned from secondary sources or books written by Western scholars or European authors. Many of the misconceptions about Shri Krishna are either sheer Western propaganda or an outcome of misreading his life. For instance—accusing Shri Krishna of ‘nudity’ or slandering his polygamy was a Western ploy and a distorted narrative that the British colonialists wanted to spread to further their ends. Therefore, Khwaja Hasan Nizami, categorically states that such accusations made by the colonialists and their sympathizers were meant to buttress the claim that the native Indians had no civilization, which is frivolous and untenable. Thus, this Indian Muslim scholar of the Nizami Sufi Order tried to de-colonize the narratives around the persona of Shri Krishna. He penned this book passionately as a devout Indo-Muslim scholar.

Much before Khwaja Hasan Nizami, Shah Burhanuddin Janam, in his 16th-century work 'Irshad Nama', which had a mystical theme, and 'Sukh Sahela', which consisted of his couplets, described the fascinating perceptions of Sri Krishna. To shed light on his greatness and popularity, he proudly stated that Krishna is the one who has sixteen thousand Gopis: Bal Baram Tu Achari Hai, Sola Sahas Nari Hai. Hazrat Mahmood Daryai was also a Krishna-Bhakt Sufi mystic and poet. He described himself as the bride and the Divine as the bridegroom in full synergy with Hindi poetry.

Among the mystical Urdu poets, Shri Krishna has always been a beloved (Mahboob). Nazeer Akbarabadi—the 18th-century Urdu poet known as "Father of Nazm"—wrote poems not only on Shri Krishna but also a beautiful poem about Baladev, Krishna’s brother, and his Mela. Even Mohsin Kakorvi, the noted Urdu poet famous for his Na’at who composed his Qasida Madeeh Khairul Mursaleen  (in praise of the holiest Prophet) invoked Shri Krishna. Celebrating Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (Meelad-un-Nabi), he composed a couplet meaning; The clouds are moving ecstatically from Kashi to Mathura and the sky will remain covered with dense clouds as long as there is Shri Krishna.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani was also one of the Indian Muslim mystics who fervently celebrated divine love and devotion towards Shri Krishna. As described by himself, he was a 'Sufi mo’min' (a believing Sufi), an ishtiraaki Muslim (secular Muslim), Aashiq-e-Rasool (lover of the holy Prophet), and at the same time a Krishn-bhakt (devotee of Krishna). 

While Hasrat Mohani composed several Urdu poems (na’at) in praise of Prophet Muhammad and other spiritual invocations (munajat), he also paid beautiful tributes of love and devotion, through his mystic poetry, to Shri Krishna. One on hand, Mohani invoked the Holy Prophet as follows:

Khyaal e yaar ko dil se mita do Allah Yaa Rasool

Khird ho apnadiwaanabana do Allah Yaa Rasool

(O Apostle of Allah, purge my heart from all worldly thoughts

Shift my attention toward your devotee, O Apostle of Allah)

On the other, he did not forget the earlier prophets who had been sent down to various territories, especially India. An embodiment of compassion, tenderness, and divine love, in Maulana Hasrat Mohani’s poetry Krishna is greatly revered as “Hazrat Krishna.”

Some of his moving mystical poems about Shri Krishna in Urdu are as follows:

To se lagaaiKanhaaipreet

Kahu or kisurati ab aaikaahe

Hasrat Tan man dhan sab waar-ke

Mathura nagarramaaichalidhooni

(My heart has fallen in love with Kanhaiya. Why would anyone else think of it now? O Hasrat, give up all that is yours for him. Then go to Mathura and become a mystic)

Bearing in mind the religious fanatics who may scoff at his devotion to Krishna, the devotional Maulana issues an inclusive “fatwa” in justifying his love:

Puna hoe nakipreet ka paap Shyam

Kou kaahepashchatap karat hai

Neha ki aagmaatan-pupa

Jalat rahichup-chaapkab lag

(Loving Shyam is not a sin, nor a virtue. So why do people repent? How long do I have to burn silently in the fire of love, oppressing my heart and my body?)

These Indian Muslim mystics and spiritual luminaries also need to be remembered on this Janmashtami. Their pluralistic messages in India should be rejuvenated, creating an atmosphere of selfless service and unconditional love.

The author is a Sufi writer and researcher