With World Poetry Day (March 21) coming up, we take a look at a few Indian poets. Poetry was a tool of social and political movement.
We’ve all written poems or at least attempted too. Even a simple rat-mat-bat poem, qualifies. But there are many who went on to evolve into great poets who are still remembered for their great talent and body of work that served to inspired millions of people – creatively, socially or politically.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
Language: Bengali/ English
Chit't'a j'eth'aa bhayashunya, uchcha j'eth'aa shir…
(Where the mind is without fear, the head is held high…)
One of the best testaments to his talent would be the fact that two countries owe him credit for their respective national anthems — “Jana Gana Mana” and Bangladesh’s “Amar Shonar Bangla”.
Tagore’s prowess as a poet is known the world over owing to his works like Gitanjali, Gora and Ghare-Baire. Besides, he has also written dramas, novels, short-stories and essays, composed songs, and has even had his drawings and paintings exhibited in galleries across Europe.
Tagore, who first wrote poetry as early as when he was eight-years-old, went on become the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He was also knighted by the British government in 1915, but returned the honour to protest against the British’s occupation of India. He was critical of the British government and politics were the subject of many of his works.
Subramania Bharathi (1882 – 1921)
Achamillai, achamillai, acham enpathu illaye,
Icckathulorellam yethirthu nindra pothilum…
(I fear not, I fear not, Even if the entire world is against me…)
Born to a Tamil scholar in a village in South India, Bharathi’s language and skill was influenced by his interactions with other scholars at the court of Ettayapuram. Besides growing up to become a renowned poet whose works were infused with patriotism and nationalism, he was also highly regarded as a writer, journalist and social reformer. He was especially devoted to the cause of upliftment of women in society.
Bharathi, who was famously called ‘Maha Kavi’ (Great Poet), first started writing poetry as a kid, and was adept at using simple words and structure, infused with vigour and powerful imagery. He is also said to be the father of modern Tamil literature.
The topics of his works were diverse — nature, children, love, gods, nationalism, national leaders, ode to countries…
His poetry and songs are in popular use even today.
Vallathol Narayana Menon (1878–1958)
Language: Malayalam/ Sanskrit
A warrior who fights moral war without weapons
A sacred teacher who teaches without books
Treating the sick without medicines,
My Guru tried hard to eradicate violence
Born in Kerala, Menon is part of the trinity of modern Malayalam poetry that also comprises Kumaran Asan and Ulloor. A scholar of Malayalam and Sanskrit, he wrote poetry in both languages. His most renowned work is the epic poetry titled Chitrayogam, for which received the title ‘Mahakavi’.
His other works mostly spoke of nationalism, and highlighted the turmoil that India were undergoing under the British rule. His poems served to inspire many during the freedom struggle.
He is also credited with translating the Rigveda, Valmiki's Ramayana and Kalidasa's Shokuntalom into Malayalam. Though he became completely deaf in 1909, his literary endeavours continued unabated.
Menon, an ardent Gandhi follower, has received several awards including the Padma Bhushan, 'Manihara' from Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the Prime Minister of Inida then, and the Nehru Peace Prize (conferred posthumously) by the Soviet Land in 1966.
Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar' ( 1908 –1974)
Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai
(Vacate the throne, for the people are coming…)
Called a national poet, the Bihar-born Dinkar gained national prominence for his fiery, patriotic poems during the freedom struggle era. A revolutionary at first, he turned a Gandhian and advocated non-violence.
His poems continue to inspire many people even after his death. During the Emergency in 1975, political activist Jayaprakash Narayan used the lines from Dinkar's poem (quoted above) to inspire thousands of people gathered at Delhi's Ramlila grounds. Even several protest rallies like the ones in 2012, used his powerful words to fuel their protests.
The influence of his works was such that they have been hailed by many prominent leaders. In 2008, his portrait was unveiled in the Central Hall of Parliament of India and an award was instituted in his honour too by the Indian government — Rashtrakavi Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar' Sahitya Ratna Samman.
Some of his greatest works are Rashmirathi, Parashuram ki Prateeksha and Kurukshetra.
Kamini Roy (1864 - 1933)
The daughter of a judge and reputed writer, Kamini Roy took to writing poetry quite early in life, and was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore and Sanskrit literature. Roy, who was one of the first women graduates in British-ruled India, took up the cause of cultural and social activism. She participated in fight for women’s suffrage along with other prominent women activists of her time like Kumudini Mitra and Mrinalini Sen.
Her first book of poems — ‘Alo O Chhaya’, was a collection of all her unpublished early works, which is quite popular besides her other works like Mahasweta, Pundorik, Nirmalya, Ashok Sangeet and more.
Poetry for the young poets
Dr. H.K.Kaul, President, The Poetry Society (India), says:
The Indian education system destroys the creativity of children. Even those who are interested and have the talent do not have time for anything else except academics. This sytem has to change. The schools need to help children to harness their creativity, and guide them with regards to poetry —how it is written and presented.
Children interested in poetry, should keep writing and reading a lot. There are many poetry workshops that are being conducted by organisations like ours that they can attend to learn the nuances. Many online courses for poetry are also available.
Tips for writing poetry:
- The concept of rhyme is outdated
- Try to express your ideas using imagery rather than using textual descriptions. For example, using the imagery of the moon to describe a beautiful woman.
- The poem has to have some kind of internal rhythm.