IOS Centre for Historical and Civilisational Studies’ (IOSCHS) symposium on “1857 IN URDU LITERATURE”

IOS Centre for Historical and Civilisational Studies’ (IOSCHS) symposium on “1857 IN URDU LITERATURE”

IOS Centre for Historical and Civilisational Studies, in collaboration with IOS Aligarh Chapter and Aqliyati Council of India, organised a symposium on “1857 IN URDU LITERATURE” on Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 4:30 p.m. at Aligarh.  

The Symposium began with the recitation of Surah al-Fateha by Alima Gulfishan, teacher at Qur’an School, Sultan Jahan, Aligarh. Conducting the programme, Alima Gulfishan requested Senior Advocate Farhat Husain, President, Aqliyati Council of India, to welcome the audience. Mr. Farhat Husain first gave his thoughts on the theme of the Symposium. He spoke about the concerns with regard to the present status of Urdu in the galaxy of languages spoken in India. He regretted that Urdu’s graph in popularity is declining. He said that for minorities 1857-like conditions are prevailing in our country. He added that only education can uplift the Muslims. He then extended a warm welcome to the Chairman of the Symposium, learned speakers and the enthusiastic audience. It was heartening that despite scorching heat, the Aligarh intellectuals braved the hardship of the audience and sat patiently to listen to the speakers.

As a good omen, Alima Gulfishan first recited a poem (Na’at) extoling the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). She then briefly spoke on the role of Urdu literature in India’s freedom struggle. She then invited Professor Waseem Raja, a senior professor at CAS, Deptt. of History at Aligarh Muslim University and Joint Director at IOSCHCS to present his research on the theme of the symposium. He first spoke about the rich Urdu legacy and urged upon the researchers present in the audience to get access to writings preserved in Urdu to reconstruct the history of the First War of Independence.

Coming to the theme of the symposium, Professor Waseem Raja presented a well-researched paper on the theme of the symposium. In the following, a gist of his brilliant presentation is being given which will help in understanding how the events unfolded following the great war of independence depicting the oppressive colonial rule and the Indian resistance to the British occupation. 

Gist of Professor Waseem Raja’s presentation: 

The significance of the Revolt of 1857 is such that would be told and retold again and again, as it is the landmark event which led to the extinction of the House of Timur ( The Mughal) and consolidation of the British colonial  Empire in India.

Prof. M Waseem Raja tried to highlight the importance of the works of Intellectuals, scholars, poets and other section of the society, who are eyewitnesses and provide details of the event of 1857. The contemporary and near-contemporary Muslim intellectuals, from whom we have got the impression and true picture of the events of the happening of 1857, ‘The Ruling Elite, The Amirs, nobles, courtiers or wealthy men,  belongs to  Poets and writers. 

The information related to 1857 Delhi are in the personal memoirs, roznamcha (daily diary), diwans, tazkiras, shahr-i ashoobs, Jasoos reports, private papers, and personal letters. The sources which potentially revealing are the contemporary newspapers like  Dehli Urdu Akhbar, Hand written Persian akh-brat, A’ina-e Sikandar, Sultanu’l-Akhbar, “akhbar-e-darbar-e-mu‘alla” Akhbar-e-Darbar-e-Abu’l-Muzaffar Siraju’d-Din Muhammad Bahadur Shah Badshah-e Dehli, The Aina-e Sikandar, published in Calcutta since 1833 by Ghalib’s friend Siraju’d-Din, though was recognized as the earliest Urdu Akhbar.

The contemporary historians and their works like Tarikhe Uruze Inglishia by Maulvi Zakaullah and Marghoobe Dil by Sayid Muhammad Ali Musavi, Dastane Ghadar (The story of Ghadar) by Zahiruddin Dehlavi, Fughane Dehli, a collection of poems of some forty Urdu poets on the ruin and plunder of Dehli etc., provide the eyewitness account of the event. Muhammad Hussain Azad wrote a Nazm on the victories of the armies of the East over the British, which was published in Delhi Urdu Akhbar of Maulvi Mohammad Baqar on 24th May 1857. We also have Syed Muhammad Ali’s Marghoob-i-Dil (1870) which dealt with the history of contemporary Shahjahanabad. Mirza Asadullah Khan aka Mirza Nausha, ‘Ghalib’s works such as Kulliyate Ghalib (verses of Ghalib), Ghalib Ka Roznamcha, Dastanbuye have greatly served as the first-hand account of the event.

The writings of intellectuals like Syed Ahmad Khan, Maulana Altaf Hussain ‘Hali’ Mughal Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, Mirza Asadullah  Khan aka Mirza Nausha, ‘Ghalib’ Hakim Ahsanullah Khan, Bakht Buland Khan and scores of others formed the part of the discussion.

In the end, Prof. M Waseem Raja discussed in length the sordid aspects of death and destruction in Delhi due to the ‘Siege of Delhi’ by the British.

Next speaker was Director IOSCHCS, Professor Syed Jamaluddin. He began his presentation by drawing attention to the recent trend of using literature in order to construct history. In this connection he particularly mentioned the historical writings of eminent historian Professor Mushirul Hasan who extensively used both known and lessor known writings in Urdu to rewrite the history of modern India focusing on the role of Muslims in the freedom movement. He then explained the Muslim contribution in all spheres of life which was reflected in the many facets of composite culture, better known as Ganga-Jamni Tahzeeb. He observed that while the Mughal Empire was declining fast since the latter half of the 18th century, but culturally speaking the life in Delhi was still very vibrant, which is best illustrated by classical Urdu poetry. 

Professor Jamal cited several Urdu verses from the poetry of the post-1857 era. He drew attention to significant works which throw light on the tragedy the city and its residents witnessed. Delhi was plundered by those who had entered the city from outside and ravaged it mercilessly. The verses he cited reflected the miseries suffered by both high and low born. Urdu intellectuals shed tears on their own pitiable condition. In particular, Urdu poets lamented the ruining of Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk, destruction of sufi shrines and huge gardens turning into desolate pieces of land.

In his presentation, Professor Jamal talked about Musaddas, a genre of Urdu poetry in which each unit consists of 6 lines or misra. The musaddas produced in the aftermath of 1857 Revolution describe the tragedies suffered by the Last Mughal Monarch, the nobility and Muslim intellectuals. Ordinary people’s sufferings also found expression in the musaddas poetry. Professor Jamal then recited the two musaddas which were penned by Bahadur Shah Zafar and Dagh Dehlavi. These two examples present the history of 1857. He concluded the paper by saying that soon after the suppression of the Revolt, Muslim intellectuals of Delhi started migrating to better pastures, or they started looking upon the new Sarkar and its eminent officials as their saviors.

Even Dagh who had once lamented the miserable conditions of the city of Delhi at the hands of the selfish rioters extended welcome to the new ruling elite following their victory against the Indian revolutionaries.

Mujdah ay bakht ke phir aaye yahan sahib log
Zeb-e- Dehli hai koi aur koi shan-e-Dehli!

(Good news o good luck! Sahebs have yet again returned
If one adds grace to Delhi, the other one is adding grandeur to Delhi!)

In the question answer session, Professor Kaleem Zaidi, Advocate Farhat Usmani, Engineer Shamshad Ali, Engineer S. Waqar Naqvi and Dr. Zabeen Anjum made observations on the two presentations. In the end, Professor Salahuddin Qureshi, Ex-Chairman, Dept. of Geography, AMU, delivered presidential address. He observed that Urdu poetry is not only about love and sorrow, it is more than that. He said that the 19th century Urdu poetry is a clear manifestation of our cultural ethos. He urged upon the researchers present in the audience to exhaust Urdu literature to present a new social and cultural history of the later Mughal period. Geographer as he is, Professor Qureshi recited numerous Urdu verses to show that Urdu poets were aware of their ecological concerns and environment found sufficient space in their creations.

Prof. Waseem Raja displayed the new book titled as The Making of India- A  Journey Through Eight Centuries, published by the Institute of Objective Studies, which has been edited by Professor Syed Jamaluddin.

In the end, Mr. Shahid Husain, Research Scholar, Deptt. of History, AMU, presented a vote of thanks.


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