Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Nanalal The Poet-Visionary

Bhalchandra Parikh


The Poet-Visionary of Modern Gujarat 1

Ah! the dread of Time’s serpentine grip on life!
Ah! the mighty stratagems of all-devouring Death!
Only for Love is there no threat of death’s decay,
Love and Beauty reign supreme, invincible of Death!

Nanalal, born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century during the full flush of the Indian Renaissance, was the son of Kavishvar Dalpatram who had been himself acknowledged as one of two outstanding poets of his age and universally honoured as the triumphant leader of the social and cultural awakenment of Gujarat through popular channels of poetry current in his time. But while Dalpatram had primarily worked as a realist of everyday life, carrying a predominantly socio-educational appeal and gently taming the crude instincts of his age with a winning poetic genius, Nanalal was a born idealist who dreamed of transforming the mental life of his people under the light of a poetic vision, touched by the splendour and glory of the new Renascent Spirit of India.

Having received the best education available in his time, he started his career -a Master of Arts -as an important figure in the educational sphere, destined to rise in eminence, till he was placed in charge of the Educational Department of Saurashtra during the early years of the present century. And his poetic genius, too, was flowering with equal potency at this time, alongside of his general advancement in life; and before he had hardly attained the prime of his youth, he had positively won the heart of the new generation by his splendid lyrics, his rapturous songs and idylls, as also by his captivating lyrical romance, Vasantotsava, the Festival of Springtide. In this first adventure of his creative imagination, the poet sought to portray the efflorescence of the human spirit in its primal loveliness against the ground of a blossoming Nature–a striking phenomenon which was to leave its indelible impress over the entire current of Nanalal’s later evolution as an idealist of the romantic world. In this connection, it becomes highly significant that, as the young poet entered the memorable first session of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad, held in Ahmedabad in 1905 under the presidentship of Gujarat’s greatest savant, Govardhanram, he was spontaneously acclaimed in a rousing reception by another celebrated poet of Gujarat, Kavi Kanta, as “the Full Moon rising over the firmament of Gujarati literature, overflowing the soul of man with the nectar of perennial life”.

In the years that followed, Nanalal fully justified this appellation by establishing himself as indisputably the foremost savant of Gujarati literature, the unrivalled poet-laureate who won his recognition by the instinctive affirmation of his people. In work after work, his growing genius poured itself, fed by the choicest creative inspiration of the Renascent Age in Gujarat, and impelled by an irresistible urge to rouse the new generation with the light and power of a stirring vision. Essentially, however, Nanalal was a supreme lyrist and, as such, he took up the traditional dance-lyric of Gujarat to tune it to the finest melodies by infusing new lilt and glamour, new sentiment and beauty, into an old indigenous pattern, thus lending a fresh lease of life to the typical idyll of his race. It was particularly through the creation of this eminently aesthetic pattern, amalgamating the elements of poetic beauty, musical cadence and the subtle rhythm of an accompanying dance movement into a richer and more vitalized mould of surpassing romantic expression-the Rasa-that Nanalal won his first laurels in Gujarati poetry in a lightning sweep, while he was still in the springtide of his youth. But, though he applied his creative genius to the handling of a variety of lyrical forms and scored honours in almost every field of romantic poetry, his most important achievement during the first two decades of the present century was to initiate a new form of romantic drama based on the free pattern of an Impassioned Rhythmic Style, the Dolanshaili, an unique achievement of Nanalal which stands like lone star shedding its brilliance from a distance over the entire arena of poetic melody and rhythm in Gujarati literature. It was a characteristic pattern, capable of giving facile expression to the lofty ideas and aspirations that constituted the content of the poet’s mellow idealism, as it infiltrated the layers of his growing dramatic world. Quite appropriately has it been called the Gujarati counterpart of the English Blank Verse–that grand poetic medium which was initiated and handled with such absolute power and dignity by Marlowe, which was perfected and naturalized by Shakespeare to respond to the subtle nuances of human cadence in his variegated dramatic world, and which was finally elevated to the highest pitch of sublimity and grandeur by Milton in the twilight of England’s Renaissance.

It was with delightful gratification that Gujarat, having fully emerged into the light of the New Revival, viewed her darling poet pursuing this new pattern with the inherent confidence of a master, moving through plays like ‘Indukumar’ (in Three Parts completed over twenty years), ‘Jahangir and Nurjahan’, ‘Premkunja’ and the bewitching romance ‘Usha’ to embody his aesthetic vision of life in all its loveliness and glory, while illuminating, at the same time, the deeper tones of its higher creative urge in the treatment of divers aspects of emotional integration and dedicational fervour, so impressively discussed in the fulsome masterpieces of this new romantic drama.

Thus, it is no wonder that our poet, a true Visionary of Love and Beauty, should have consistently handled, at the crest of his glory in Gujarati literature, the vital forces of human attachment, their discords and harmonies, their conflicts and ripe unities, with such perfect ease and charm, creating a dramatic world of his own that imaged the complete spiritual synthesis of man. However, it must be remembered that, although the fervent poetic inspiration of Nanalal has a flow which is perennially fresh, it yet naturally seeks its wider outlet in the hallowed communion of an enlightened wedded life that succeeds in galvanising the flickering currents of romantic passion into the serene beatitude of an elevated love. In songs and lyrics, in idylls and serenades and odes, in poetic romances or lyrical dramas, this is the natural direction of the forward progression of Nanalal’s genius, but it does not stop there. From the ecstasy and glamour of aesthetic vision he steadily advances towards a pitch of creative sublimation that absorbs the fascination of romance into the transcendental urge of man’s soul to meet the universal soul. From this viewpoint. Jaya-Jayant, the crowning lyrical drama of Nanalal, stands at the centre of the poet’s work, indicating the inevitable direction of its future movement. Portraying with a subtle melody the process of creative sublimation of love against the ground of deep human yearnings, it emerges ultimately as the noble testament of the spiritual realization of life projecting its enchanting serenity over the broader canvas of universal love:

Ah! When the mighty gates were opened,
Leapt the whole universe in joy;
The Sage attained his communion
With the Soul of the Infinite;
The Lover was in ecstasy
At the fulfilment of life,
As his eyes merged into eyes,
And saw Love’s Vision reflected there.

A generation after the epic masterpiece, Sarasvatichandra, by Gujarat’s great savant Govardhanram, had broadened the cultural and literary horizon of Gujarat, its direct heir, Jaya-Jayant, rose over her aesthetic and spiritual firmament to deliver its sublime message from the beyond to the flowering human soul. Ever since its appearance in 1914, it has remained an epoch-making work of Gujarati literature, transcending the limitations of a purely literary masterpiece to take its rightful place as the spiritual testament of the Gujarati people. And it continues to be the mainspring of abiding inspiration towards a higher idealism to the renascent mind of Gujarat.

All these years, while he was bringing out, one after another, imaginative masterpieces of a largely romantic character, with a marked idealistic bias, the poet was getting more and more interested in the vast cultural aspects of ancient Indian history and legend, and in their legacy as developed in later times. Having been a master of Sanskrit and Persian studies moreover, he dreamed of presenting a vision of cultural synthesis uniting the best in Hindu and Muslim traditions and relating this to the living ground of present-day Indian Civilisation through an amalgamation of the finest and most universal elements in both. This the poet eventually accomplished in his two impressive Mogul dramas, Shahanshah Akbarshah and Jahangir and Nurjahan, although his dream to complete the entire arch of Mogul dramas from Babar to Aurangazeb remained unfulfilled.

Nevertheless, the mental horizon of the poet was expanding with unbounded zest to embrace the potential realities of ancient Indian heritage in religion and culture, and it found its fruition in a number of plays which bear a high cultural impact, such as Rajarshi Bharat, Sanghamitra and Harshadeva. The peak of this glorious vision is reached in the dramatic saga of Vishvagita, a unique masterpiece offering a panoramic view of ancient Indian life with a clear emphasis on its abiding cultural content. And it is no less striking as an extraordinary phenomenon of the literary world, shattering as it does in one breath all the three dramatic unities enunciated by Aristotle pieces, and yet creating a panoramic drama with an innate spiritual unity of its own.

Vishvagitamarked the meridian of Nanalal’s poetic career, and the poet delivered the message of his life to the rising generation in a number of characteristic addresses when he was honoured by all Gujarat through the celebration of the Golden Jubilee. But it was a travesty of Fate that, during this period when his creative powers were growing from strength to strength, unfortunately a shadow came that went to eclipse the poet’s personality in Gujarat and elsewhere. In the first tide of Mahatma Gandhi’s nationwide influence, and at the call of the Supreme Leader, he had relinquished, in the flash of an instant inspiration, the lucrative and comfortable position as the head of the Educational Department of Saurashtra, to join the patriotic movement, soon becoming the friend and lieutenant of the Mahatma at Ahmedabad in the sphere of the cultural and educational renovation of the nation. But before much time had elapsed, a clash came between the two outstanding figures of Gujarat, owing to reasons which are still obscure to the literary world. Be that as it may, the poet, recoiling from the political field, withdrew himself to dedicate his life entirely to his muse, in the seclusion of a savant’s retreat. And, although the political bias which he was to develop during the process was never totally eliminated from his mind, he would not turn his face to past honours or look forward to fresh comforts, but continued to live an undaunted soul, a rock amidst shifting sands, for the rest of his life. Indifferent to social response or public recognition, he dedicated all his energies to the expansion of his creative vision, leading the austere life of a seer through a relentless struggle for existence, throughout this period of growing maturity in literary genius. The surpassing fruition of this lone endeavour found its expression in the eventual realisation of the poet’s lifelong dream, the completion of his great epic poem in twelve books, Kurukshetra, over a period of fifteen years of strenuous creative activity. After the appearance of Sarasvartichandra of Govardhanram half a century ago, it was another great epoch-making event in the history of Gujarati literature and was duly celebrated as such by all Gujarat, following closely upon the enthusiastic celebration of the poet’s Diamond Jubilee in 1937. Nanalal had thus fulfilled the poetic mission of his life, moving towards the summit of epic sublimity in his interpretation of the great cataclysm that took of place on the battle-fields of Mahabharata, taking the roots of human civilization in the course of its fratricidal conflict, but leading eventually to a serene reconstruction of human society on sounder cultural values.

And yet this tremendous literary activity had not exhausted the founts of the poet’s creative inspiration. Passing through a new efflorescence of vision, the invigorated genius of the poet set outin a vast imaginative saga, Sarathi(The Charioteer), to grapple withthe problem of the new cataclysm that had broken out with the Second World War. Outlining the direction of man’s future, it visualized the reconstruction of the present-day world from the ashes of the old, with the restoration of political peace, under the cultural leadership of Bharat as the Charioteer of the New World in alliance with the growing political statesmanship of Britain.

It is true that the dreamy fabric of this monumental saga has not taken concrete shape as the reality of today, but, even so, many of its indications are ripe with the potential developments of the future. It is a characteristic product marking the breath of the sustained vision of a poet as he embraces the stark realities of the political world of the day and explores the unrealised possibilities of the destiny of man in the womb of the future.

And even this did not complete the cathedral of the poet’s lifelong creative work. Its superb dome was yet to come. Before the twilight fell, the daring genius of the poet took its last bound to reach the snowy peak of Olympus, turning the snow into the vast cataract of a sublime inspiration, a Virat Mahakavya, an epic flowing like the Mahabharat. It was an auspicious moment in the history of Gujarati literature and culture when this great architectural masterpiece of the poet’s mellowed genius in the sunset of his life, Hari Samhita, thirteen years after the poet’s death, saw the light of the day, on a memorable occasion, by the hand of our beloved leader, Shree Jawaharlal Nehru. A work of titanic proportions, had it been completed, it would have probably dwarfed all other masterpieces of Gujarati literature by its majesty and vastness, and might have taken its rightful place among the immortal epics of the world’s literature. But, even as it stands, it erects a splendid arch of that sovereign dome of Indian Culture which Shree Krishna built out of the ashes of Kurukshetra, by reintegrating the scattered sparks of light in the heart of the nation. And it replenishes it with the inexhaustible springs of his dynamic inspiration to stand, for future times, a beacon of eternal light. To a poet of such majestic regions, what fitter monument could there be than this perennial fount of light and life, which he has left as a rich legacy of culture to the soul of Gujarat in a last monumental creation of a mellowed being, his Hari Samhita?

A luminary of modern Indian literature, Nanalal was a child of that transcendental light which has taken in its embrace the whole civilization of India from the earliest times, when the seers of the Vedas poured out their vision of the universe in their divine hymns, to the dawn of the present-day India, when it attained its consummation in the luminous creation of a supernal world which Shree Aurobindo projected through his grand epic of Savitri. A noble heir of Valmiki and Vyas, replenishing their tradition with his cultural vision, he may be rightly called the spiritual child of Kalidas, the poet who realised the sublime glory of life through the vision of its aesthetic beauty. Raso vai sah was the guiding star of Nanalal’s entire literary creation and the centre of his innermost being. In the Renascent Bharat of today, unknown to Tagore, he was still a younger brother to India’s greatest modern seer and poet in the realms of poetry and vision. And across the channels of the past, and over the bridges of the nations, he joins hands with the great luminaries of English literature, the representatives of western culture in modern India.

The resounding voice of Milton as he pours out his lofty vision of man’s eternal destiny is heard like the sound of the far-away waves of an ocean in the unfolding song of human destiny sung in Nanalal’s Kurukshetra. The flowering vision of love and joy which finds its fulfilment in the poetry of Spenser attains a more hallowed and beauteous expression in the Darnpatyastotro, Hymns of Wedded Love, of Gujarat’s immortal visionary. The irrepressible urge for a Vision of the Beyond which inspired the finest odes and lyrics of Shelley and became the life-breath of his tireless striving for self-realisation is embodied in the soul of the hero of Nanalal’s greatest drama, Jaya-Jayant, and burstsinto innumerable springs of fresh inspiration in Nanalal’s idyllsand songs with a new glory of their own. The Vision of Beautywhich enchanted the delicate soul of Keats and beckoned him to explore the depths of the sensuous world is impressed in visual loveliness on many an ode of Nanalal, and pervades the texture of his poetry, encasing it in a fabric of varied hues. The spirit of communion with nature and the note of the utter simplicity of life in the fulness of human sympathy, which distinguished Wordsworth at the dawn of the Romantic Revival in England, illuminate the delicate dance-lyrics of Nanalal, which have theirroots in the soil, and which sing of birds and clouds, of twilight and dawn, of stars and moonlight, of founts and rivers, of groves and flowers, of spring and showers, and attune their impalpable melodies to subtle notes of human joy or sadness, anguish or rapture, yearnings and aspirations which are inexpressible. And no less do the artistic perfection and the superb grace of expression, in which Tennyson stands unique in English Poetry, find their natural counterpart in the regulated pattern of implicit loveliness in which are cast the matchless odes and lyrics that are the spontaneous outpourings of Nanalal’smelodious youth. Is it then a wonder that, although our poet himself was conscious only of Tenyson’s direct influence over him in the matters of beauty of expression and craftmanship, unconsciously, through Tennyson, he was related to the very fountain springs of Romantic Poetry in England, bound by spiritual bonds with its great masters, Spenser and Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats, his comrades in the Paradise of the Muses?

It was not for nothing that many a litterateur of ripe insight in Gujarat, moved by the larger currents of the literature of the renaissance in India, instinctively felt that Nanalal, had he been adequately placed on the forum of the world’s literature through the medium of English, would have spontaneously attained a rank only next to Rabindranath Tagore among the renascent litterateurs of modern India. On this sacred occasion which opens to public approbation the last heir of Nanalal’s poetic parentage, let us pray to God from the depth of our being that Gujarat may be worthy of this noble heritage which she received from her master visionary, her darling poet, leading her for ever along the path of light and beauty, of joy and glory, on to the peaks of life’s transcendent vision!


On November 28, 1959, the publication of “Harisamhita”–Abhinava Bhagavatam–(running to some 2700 lines even in its present incomplete form) by Kavivar Nanalal was initiated, thirteen years after the poet’s death, to India’s literary public by Shree Jawaharlal Nehru at a special convention held at Ahmedabad under the auspices of the Nanalal Memorial Trust. It was an event of national significance for the renascent Bharat of today in its cultural implications, particularly as this vast epic, itself an inspired creation of light, embodied the poet’s vision of a vital regeneration of Ancient India after the great holocaust of Kurukshetra, under the enlightened leadership of Shree Krishna. In the following article, the author pays his homage to Gujarat’s greatest poet and visionary, presenting a picture of his varied achievements, and tracing the growth and evolution of his creative vision, against the ground of the renascent culture of Modern Gujarat.

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