Dec 19th1999
© Akhilesh Mithal

A Verse to Mark the End of the Millennium


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Hurr fussaanavey ulfat, daastaaney tunhaaee, Qaiys O Koahkun tunhaa, Raam O Lakshmun Tunhaa 

India and China have been rich and prosperous countries from the dawn of human history. As such the end of another millennium is not of the same order of importance for them as it would be for younger nations such as those of Europe and the Americas.

Instead, in India and China, it will be a case of ‘me tooism’ and fallout from the world leaders who are white Anglo-Saxon. Some of the events will be ridiculous, such as the dyed-in-saffron Uma Bharati sallying forthwith a huge entourage to the Andamans in order to greet the dawn of 2000. How this fits in with “Hindutva” is a matter for the ideologues of the Parivaar to work out.

To be ‘with it’ we ourselves have to cast a backward glance at the happenings in the millennium about to end and assess how they were different from what went on earlier. The first Christian millennium started pre-Islam. Islam came into being in the 7th century in Arabia and took a while to come to the East.

India had Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism and it was quite common to see all three faiths practiced in the same family. Thus we have the Kashi Kannauj family, who at the beginning of the second Christian millennium were building both Shiva temples as well as Buddhist Stupas. The claim Indians and particularly Hindus make for religious tolerance arises from that period and has a Buddhist provenance.

The Yueh Chi tribe came out of the Central Asian wilderness to take over the rule of North India. Their names change from Vima Kadpheses, Huvishka and Kanishka to Vaasudeyva. Their coins sport icons of the Buddha as well as the Lord Shiva and his bull Nandi. A remarkable change appears to occur with the conversion of the Pathan tribes to Islam. The story of Amir Subuktagin starts with his release of a fawn he had captured in a hunt.

The mother deer followed Subuk and her distress, manifest and palpable caused his heart to melt. He released the fawn although it meant that he would go without meat that day. Legend dates his good fortune to that act of mercy. He soon thereafter won recognition and became a commander (tagin).

As Subuktagin he led the first raids into India around 950 AD and set an example for his son Mahmoud to follow. The vast booty these rulers of Ghazni acquired caused them to look for recognition and distinction. Although their conquests were made with Indian auxilaries like the Brahmin Tilak who joined them to share the loot, they looked to Baghdad and the nominal head of Islam, the caliph for letters patent and titles.

They won the high-sounding title Yaameen-I-Khilaafat or ‘Right Hand of the Deputy of the Prophet’. This did not prevent their removal from Afghanistan by another Muslim tribe, the Ghorids. In fact, one of the latter family, Alauddeen looted and burnt and sacked Ghazni so thoroughly that it became a vast ruin. It had been a world of great beauty, culture and distinction.

The title with which Alauddeen Ghori is known to history is Alauddeen “Jahaansoaz”. “Alauddeen who burnt down a whole world”. The riches of the Pathans attracted scribes, calligraphers, seal engravers, poets and other skilled and talented persons to Ghazni and Ghor. The Arabic and Persian languages were used to chronicle reigns.

The references and points of comparison came from the memories of these languages and the shades invoked were often pre-Islamic. Thus the warrior or brave with no one to equal him was Rustam of Zabulistan. The role model for the just ruler was Nausherwan or Anusherwan of pre-Islamic Iran.

For wisdom there was King Solomon, son of David of Jerusalem.When the tribes from across the hills came down to the plains and took the rulership over from the Rajputs of Ajmer and Kashi Kannauj, they brought with them a new folklore of Love. The legends of Arabia and Egypt, Palestine, central Asia and Mongolia.

The paradigms of Love now included Qaiys or Mujnoon and his great passion for Leiylaa, Farhaad and Shireen from Iran and Mahmoud and Aiyaaz from Afghan country. How all this melded with the Indian tradition to achieve a new high in the tradition of Love and the poetry concerning it can be illustrated by a verse. Our poet is the great master of Urdu poetry, Raghupathi Sahay ‘Firaq’.

He says (and we first provide a Roman rendering to enable our readers to savour its tone and cadence) 

Hurr fussaanavey ulfat, daastaaney tunhaaee, Qaiys O Koahkun tunhaa, Raam O Lakshmun Tunhaa 

All the tales of true love have the same thread running through their texture. The thread, story or legend of being alone, of solitariness. Thus the great lover of Arabia Qaiys or Majnoon, Farhaad of Iran and Rama and Lakshmana of India were each and all alone and solitary.

As Rama and Lakshmana are better known to readers than the Arab and the Iranian. We shall take the latter up first.Qaiys. The prince of Araby went to school as a stripling. There he saw Laiylaa and fell deeply in love at first sight. He wooed her until he won her heart. He could not, alas! win her hand because of social constraints. The white hot intensity of his passion could not take the failure and he lost balance and sanity.

He tore off his jewels and rent his clothes before walking out of the habitation into the desolation of the wilderness.He spent his days with only wild beasts for company and came to be known as ‘Mujnoon’, the demented one. Laiylaa finally managed to free herself and sought him out in the trackless desert. It was too late. The shock of seeing her proved too much for his enfeebled state.

His heart burst with joy and he died in her arms. Laiylaa too expired in this great moment of fulfilment and the couple separated in their lifetime were united in death to share a grave.

 The story from Iran is about Farhaad. Known as Koahkun or the stone cutter, Farhaad was a great manager of water or irrigation engineer. The Iranis have a natural affinity for water and they invented the Persian wheel which enables water to rise against the force of gravity.The Neharebahisht or rivulet of Paradise in the Delhi of Shahjahan and his Red Fort is the creation of an Irani. Farhaad was a water manager and engineer without equal. Besides the knowledge of waterflows he also knew the mystery of rock formations and could spot the faults where the chisel could carve a passage for the water with ease. 

The Emperor of Iran Khusroe built a city near a mountain and soon found it short of water. Across the mountain was a major river with a year long or perennial flow. The problem was to get it through the solid rock mountain. Farhaad was summoned to court and asked to perform the task and name his price. Khusroe had a most beautiful wife, the queen Shireen and Farhaad was very taken by her. Farhaad named Shireen as his price for the job of cutting through the rock mountain and bringing water to Khusroe’s parched city.

As desperate institutions need desperate remedies the deal was struck. Farhaad had to work alone to complete the task as no one else knew the mysteries of the rocks and their faults and how to move water up or down channels as needed. After a Herculean effort in the dark bowels of the mountain Farhaad’s chisel finally made a hole through which light flooded into the cavern he had carved.

It was a moment of triumph but short lived. An old crone approached Farhaad as he emerged from the rock and greeted him with a wail. Alas, Alas and again Alas! woe is me! the beauteous Shireen is dead! Alas! Farhaad instantly turned the chisel which had nearly won him his prize on to his own jugular and gave up his life.

The love of Rama and Lakshmana for each other was ordained by their dharma which enjoined the elder to be like a father to the younger and the younger to serve the elder without any reservation or holding back.

It was total commitment and of the same intensity and calibre as anything ever experienced by men or women in the art of love. The question of solitariness and of being alone is difficult to see in a case where the brothers spent a lifetime together whether at court in the city or in exile in the forest. ‘Firaq’ was a great poet and seer.

He is referring to the final chapter in the lives of Rama and Lakshmana. Seeta has already departed her life by entering the quick earth. Rama is full of years and he lives alone with Lakshmana to minister to him and guard his privacy. In the fullness of Time, the Lord Yama, the god of Death makes his call upon Rama. Lakshmana lets him in and bars the entrance after him.

The rule being that the interview or meeting with Yama is one upon one and no third person can come into the act. At this moment Fate intervenes in the person of Durvaasaa. This irascible sage will not take no for an answer to his demand for immediate admission into Rama’s presence.

He wins by threatening to curse Rama. Lakshmana turns the point of the dagger towards himself. By letting Durvaasaa in it is he who has broken a rule and therefore must pay. If he refused Rama would suffer the effect of a curse. What greater Love can there be? The visit was aborted by the intrusion and Yama left without doing the job.

After him Rama emerged and just looked askance at Lakshmana. The younger brother secure in the knowledge of his action touched the feet of his elder and walked into the river Saryu which flowed at the door of the palace. Rama saw in a flash how his brother had taken the load upon himself.

He saluted the setting sun and entered the waters. We repeat the verse as it sums up the Muslim millennium in India and all it did to make the culture rich with the perfumes of Arabia and the color of the blossoms of Iran.

Hurr fussaanavey ulfat, daastaaney tunhaaee, Qaiys O Koahkun tunhaa, Raam O Lakshmun Tunhaa.

© Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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