For Mirza Ghalib, Banaras was a Place of Natural Beauty & Spirituality

Mirza Ghalib, the poet who wrote in Persian and Urdu epitomises the sub-continent’s syncretic tradition. 316 Years Ago today, on December 27, Urdu Poet, Mirza Galib was born, in 1701. On his birth anniversary, we reproduce his epochal verse on the city of Banaras (69/108 stanzas of Chiragh-e-Dair –Land of the Temple-are devoted to Banaras), home to Indian spirituality of all hues. He has words of high praise for the gardens, springs and people of Banaras not to mention Ma Ganga herself

“My friend, I like Banaras: it is a fine city. I have written a poem in praise of it called ‘The Lamp of the Temple’. (Russell and Islam, 1994: 246)

It was in the context of his case for pension in the Calcutta High Court, he started his journey for Calcutta (now called Kolkata) on August 1826 from Delhi and en-route he visited Lucknow, Kanpur, Banda, Modha, Chillatara and Allahabad. In August-September 1827 he reached Banaras and stayed there for over four months (Nayyar, 1969: 134-135). …Large parts of the journey were over unmetalled roads; part of the way he travelled by river; and the final stage, from Banaras to Calcutta, he did on horseback. The journey brought him in personal contact with men of letters in all the important centres along his route, and he continued to maintain this contact by letter in the years to come (Russell and Islam, 1994: 47).

Mirza Ghalib came to Banaras while he was sick, but the weather and natural beauty of the city helped him to relax and get healthy. He stayed for a few days in the Sarai of Navarangabad (Aurangabad), with an old woman, and later shifted to the palace of Mirza Gulam Ahmad. During his four-month stay in Banaras, Ghalib developed a high sense of attachment  to this great place, and insightfully experienced the genius loci of the place, which are profusely reflected in his poetry.

The Hindu rituals and festive acts attracted him so much that he wrote to his friend Mohammad Ali Khan: “This city (Banaras) is so beautiful and lovely that even a stranger misses counting his sufferings. If I would have no fear of religious contempt and criticism from my enemies, I would have left my religion and used to count beads, bear sacred threads, put a mark on the forehead and in this way I would have passed my life on the bank of the Ganga” (Nayyar, 1969:135).

On December 31, 1860, he replies to a letter which his friend Sayyah had written him from Banaras:

Even forty years after of his visit to Banaras Ghalib remembered the city with great respect and love.

In a letter to his student Miyan-Dad Khan Sayyah he wrote
“Oh! Banaras is a unique city. What to say more about! When is such city born? At the end of my life I visited the city. If I had been young, then I would have settled there and left Delhi” (ibid).

In fact, he might have seen the fantastic view of the meeting of the sky and the Ganga at dawn, when the city-edge of the river looks like a garland of oil lamps; while in the morning the reflection of sunlight on the ghats and their shades in the Ganga is another scenic beauty (Gupt, 1984: 22).

With this view in mind Ghalib wrote a poem of 108 stanzas in Persian called ‘The Lamp of the Temple’ (Chiragh-e-Dair), of which 69 stanzas directly narrate his feelings for Banaras.

Even poets earlier to him also wrote poems describing the glory of Banaras, about whom sometimes he refers. In this context one stanza by Sheikh Ali Hazim (1697-1766; he passed thirty two years of his life in Banaras and died there) is popularly cited in Banaras:

I won’t leave Banaras for anywhere else,
As it’s a house of realising universalism.
In fact, each and every Brahmin boy,
Looks like Rama and Lakshmana here.
Out of 108 stanzas of Ghalib’s The Lamp of the Temple, 69 which deal Banaras are translated here and their original numbers are given (based on Nayyar, 1969: 136-150).
In my imagination, there’s a city full of flowers,
Where always lives spring — the most loveable city.(21)
It is such a city, which Delhi has to praise
It comes to circumambulate this city.(22)

When eyes see this city, visioned it like spring,
As they perceive innumerable scenes of beauty.(23)
Those writers who praise the city of Kashi
Their works got the merit of heavenly bliss.(24)

From the evil eye, may God in his greatness
save Banaras as it is a grove in paradise.(25)
Praising Banaras someone said — it’s like China
Thereafter on its forehead the Ganga turned into a curve.(26)

Banaras is a beautiful, attractive painting
And Delhi has always to worship it.(27)
Perhaps Delhi had seen Banaras in a dream
And got water in its mouth with greed, flowing now as a canal. (28)

It’s wrong to say: Delhi’s jealous of Banaras
It’s no wonder Delhi wants to be like Banaras.(29)
Hindus believing in pilgrimages
Always worship and praise Kashi since time past.(30)

Those who die in this grand city of Kashi
Get liberation from transmigration.(31)
Such persons’ wishes and wills flourish
And they become immortal after death.(32)

Banaras gives peace and relaxation to souls
And cleans all the sufferings of the heart.(33)
There’s no wonder that even the departed soul
Never wishes to leave this city.(34)

O ignorant people! Come and see —
The great heavenly nymphs of Banaras.(35)
See body-less souls! These icons are without water and mud,
It means heavenly nymphs are soul from head to foot.(36)

Their faces are like light as the flowers’ sweet smell
And pious from head to foot like the pure soul.(37)
Even thorns and grasses are like flowers in Banaras
Moreover, even a particle of dust is full of soul.(38)

In this transforming world, Banaras’ glory and beauty
Are protected from all the changes that time brought.(39)
Either be spring, or cold or summer season
Banaras’ environment presents heavenly glory in all.(40)

All the springs of the world came to Kashi
To pass the cold and summer pleasantly here.(41)
Although even autumn has the quality of sandalwood
Yet it always opens its wing to complete its cycle here.(42)

In the city of gardens, Banaras, to get popularity
Even spring use to wear a sacred thread of flowers.(43)
If Banaras has not kept the mark on the forehead
Then from where does the red light of sunrise come.(44)

Even a handful mud here equals a sacred fire-pit
And each thorn in the greenery is like a heaven.(45)
Banaras is the capital of the icon-worshippers
And the site of pilgrimage for devout people.(46)

This city is a worship-place for conch-shell user Hindus
And the greatest seat of pilgrimage of Hindustan.(47)
The courtesans have the dazzling beauty of the Tur-hills,
a divine brightness from head to toe.
May this radiance be safe from the evil eye!(48)

Their waists are tender but their hearts are passionate.
They may look innocent but they are clever too
and skilled in the business of love.(49)
Their smiles enrapture the heart and their beauty
would cause even spring roses to blush with envy.(50)

Their graceful movements and the delicacy
of their gait make flowers bloom in their footsteps.(51)
Courtesans’ tender mood is much tenderer than pearls,
More speedy than running blood in coquettish lovers.(52)

These courtesans when walking with sweet strides
Paintings develop on the ground and enslave the visitors.(53)
By charming gestures they win heart and minds of lovers
On bed they’re like spring, and in lover’s lap like Id.(54)

Their scorching looks like the idolatrous Brahmin dumb.
They contrive to make their faces glowlike lamps beside the Ganga.(55)
When they go down to the riverside a whole garden seems
to spring up around them and a myriad lights shine.(56)

The heavenly nymphs when bathing in the Ganga water
Pay respect and homage to the holy water-current.(57)
Like long strides of doom’s day these courtesans walk
With their eyebrow throw arrows on their lovers’ heart.(58)

Their glancing produces flame of love in the heart
And their meetings give satisfaction and joy.(59)
Every ripple they make as they bathe
seems to reflect their grace.
Their merriment brings joy to the river’s current.(60)

They produce agitation in the body of water
Where many lovers like fish toss out in agony.(61)
The Ganga stands in zeal with open lap,
Aiming to receive these beautiful courtesans.(62)

In presence of their shiny gestures and beauty
Even pearls enter in their shell and feel shy.(63)
It seems that Banaras is a beloved for those
Who has the Ganga as mirror in her hand for day and light?(64)

The face of heavenly nymphs turns
the sun into a mirror in the sky,
So as to see her reflection in this mirror.(65)
O grand, wonderful beauty!
What unalloyed loveliness!
The shadow of Banaras is dancing in the mirror of the sun.(66)

The city is a garden of grand peaceful greenery
Where springs always live —this is a story told throughout the world.(67)
When Banaras views its reflection in the Ganga,
It becomes a symbol of beauty in itself.(68)

Reflection of the City’s turned to a radiant symbol
The fear of evil eye lost without any care.(69)
There in no such grand painted place even in China
There is no other comparable city to Banaras.(70)

There’re everywhere red-flower trees in forests,
Even in fields and gardens always lives spring.(71)
One night I asked a distinguished scholar of the city,
Who knows the mysteries of evils in the world and sky.(72)

He told me to see what are lost from the world —
Piety, loyalty, love, kindness and courtesy — all!(73)
In the place of religion only its name remained,
Nothing left except cheating and deceit everywhere.(74)

Fathers are thirsty for their son’s blood,
And, son’s are enemies to their fathers.(75)
Brothers fighting to one another now,
Companionship and love loosening day by day.(76)

These are the signs of cosmic dissolution,
But still why not that is appearing soon?(77)
At any time the conch shell of dissolution can blow
And who has stopped the dissolution yet?(78)

He smiled and answered, indicating Kashi, that —
This city has stopped dissolution till now.(79)
The truth lies somewhere there,
Even the Lord doesn’t want to destroy it.(80)
The glory of Banaras is the greatest of all,
Even our dream can’t reach to its height and prestige.(81)
O! diverted from the line of tradition! Ghalib —
You have fallen down in eyes of own and others too!(82)

You are now alien even for friends and relatives,
You became lunatic while living and loving this city.(83)
How you take all this?: Like a mad man,
We feel pity and are sorry for you and your heart.(84)

Why are you searching beautiful scenes in the garden,
See your own heart and enjoy those scenes inside.(85)
If yours manic love is true, only left half-a-footstep
Between Kashi and Kashan (in Iraq);
for a skillful man no troubles trouble him.(86)

If you stay in Kashi, how would you reach your goal?
O Ghalib! What’re you doing there — leaving your goal aside! (89)
Remember such views never grace your personality,
Kindly continue your work (your tour to Calcutta).(90)

In Kashi for a moment remember your own homeland
Even in this city of heaven, think of your own home too!(91)

[Singh, Rana P.B. 2004. On Banaras: Ghalib’s The Lamp of the Temple, Chapter 6]



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