Indian poetry has a long and rich history dating back to ancient times. It has been written in numerous languages including Sanskrit, Hindi, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Urdu, Persian and English. Meghaduta, written by the great Indian poet Kalidasa as early as the 5th century, is regarded as a poetic masterpiece. Famous Indian poems of the medieval period include the Dohas of Rahim and Kabir, which still remain hugely popular in India. However, the most renowned work of this period is Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, which has been acclaimed as “the tallest tree in the magic garden of medieval Indian poetry”. Due to the influence of the British, numerous works of modern Indian poetry are in English. The most famous among these are In the In the Bazaars of Hyderabad by Sarojini Naidu and An Introduction by Kamala Das. The most renowned modern Indian poet is however Rabindranath Tagore. His best known poems include Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo and Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata, both of which were written in Bengali but were also translated to English. Know more about Indian poetry through the 10 most famous poems by Indian poets.
#10 In the Bazaars of Hyderabad
Poet: Sarojini Naidu
Hyderabad is the capital city of the Indian state of Telangana and bazaar is a Hindi word for market. In the Bazaars of Hyderabad describes the social and cultural life of the city through the beautiful common scenes in its traditional markets. The poem has a conversational tone. It is set in the form of questions and answers between the vendors and buyers in the market. It contains a rhythm and a beat, and the sequence of the phrases “What do you” and “O ye” marks the rhyme scheme of the poem. To describe the bazaars, Naidu uses rich sensory images and a vibrant sense of touch, sound, smell, sight and taste. In the Bazaars of Hyderabad has been described as an oriental gem by The New York Times. It is the most famous poem of Sarojini Naidu, who is known as The Nightingale of India.
What do you weave, O ye flower-girls
With tassels of azure and red?
Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,
Chaplets to garland his bed.
Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered
To perfume the sleep of the dead.
#9 An Introduction
Poet: Kamala Das
This is an autobiographical poem which throws light on the life and work of Kamala Das. Das begins the poem by saying that she doesn’t understand politics but she knows the name of politicians probably referring to the fact that power is in the hands of a few elites and that it is usually males who run the country. She then gives a brief introduction of herself before she focuses on English being the medium she uses to expresses herself; how people criticize her for that; and why it is no one’s business other than herself. The poem then moves to her early and unsuccessful marriage and how the society she lives in is male dominated. The primary focus of the poem is the situation of women in a patriarchal society and the unjust burdens women have to go through in this male dominated world. Kamala Das or Kamala Surayya is one of the best known Indian female poets and this is her most famous work.
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.
#8 Guru Govind Dou Khade
English Title: I Face Both God And My Teacher
Doha is a lyrical verse-format which has been used extensively by Indian poets from as early as the 6th century AD. It is an independent verse, a couplet, the meaning of which is complete in itself. Kabir was a 15th century Indian poet whose dohe remain extremely popular in India. Guru Govind Dou Khade is the most famous among them. It asks the question that if God and your teacher are standing before you, whose feet will you touch first to show respect? It answers it by saying that you should pay respect to your teacher first as it is your teacher who has taught you who God is.
गुरू गोविन्द दोऊ खड़े, काके लागूं पांय।
बलिहारी गुरू अपने गोविन्द दियो बताय।।
English Title: Sun’s Charioteer
Poet: Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’
In the great Indian epic Mahabharata, Karna was the first-born son of Kunti. However, she abandoned him at birth as he was conceived before her marriage. Karna then grows up in a lowly family but becomes one of the best warriors of his time. He becomes friends with Duryodhana and ultimately fights on his side against his own brothers, the Pandavas. Rashmirathi brilliantly captures the tale of Karna capturing all hues of human emotions he is trapped in due to the various dilemmas he faces. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar is considered as one of the most important modern Hindi poets and Rashmirathi is his most famous as well as his most critically acclaimed work.
जिसके पिता सूर्य थे, माता कुन्ती सती कुमारी,
उसका पलना हुआ धार पर बहती हुई पिटारी।
सूत–वंश में पला, चखा भी नहीं जननि का क्षीर,
निकला कर्ण सभी युवकों में तब भी अद्भुत वीर।
English Title: Cloud Messenger
Written: 5th century AD
Kalidasa is widely regarded as the greatest Indian poet of all time and Meghaduta is his most famous poem. Consisting of 111 stanzas, the verse is unique to Sanskrit literature as it goes beyond the verse-repeating or chorus form, normally the form preferred for love poems, and instead strings the stanzas into a narrative. The poem talks about a yaksha (nature spirit) who has been exiled to Central India for neglecting his duties. While pining for his wife on a mountain peak, he sees a cloud and he tries to convince it to deliver a message to his beloved. He does so by describing to the cloud the many beautiful sights it will see on its northward course to the Himalayan city of Alaka, where his wife awaits his return. Meghaduta initiated the genre of Sandesa Kavya, or messenger poems, most of which are modelled on it. It also inspired the play Maria Stuart by 18th century German dramatist Friedrich Schiller.
For you the women look through tangled hair
with men-folk travelling and take their cheer
from unions urged on by your path of air,
while I still distant and to blame appear
a hapless prisoner to another’s care.
#5 Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo
English Title: Where The Mind Is Without Fear
Poet: Rabindranath Tagore
Written before India gained its independence, this poem represents Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of a new and awakened India. The first nine lines of the poem presents a number of statements beginning with “Where”. These statements describe a place which Tagore is hoping India will be after independence. In the last two lines of the poem, he then makes a plea to his Father, for his country to wake up into “that heaven of freedom.” Rabindranath Tagore is a towering figure in world literature and the most famous modern Indian poet. His best known poetry collection is Gitanjali and it was largely due to Gitanjali that he won the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature. Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo is the most renowned poem from Gitanjali.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way;
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee;
Into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom,
My Father, let my country awake.
English Title: Lake of the Deeds of Ram
Poet: Goswami Tulsidas
Ramcharitmanas is an epic poem which tells the story of the Hindu deity Rama. It is structured around three conversations that happen between: the deities Shiva and Parvati; the sages Bharadwaj and Yajnavalkya; and the sage Kakbhushundi and Garuda, a legendary bird who is the vehicle of God Vishnu. Ramcharitmanas covers the story of Rama in detail including why he was incarnated on earth; his childhood and adolescence; his marriage to Sita; his exile; Sita’s abduction by Ravana, the king of Lanka; and finally the great war between Rama and Ravana. Even though Tulsidas was a great Sanskrit scholar, he wrote Ramcharitmanas in the vernacular Awadhi dialect of Hindi so that the story of Ram was accessible to the general public and not just the Sanskrit-speaking elite. Ramcharitmanas is widely regarded as one of the greatest works in world literature. Among other things, it has been acclaimed as “the greatest book of all devotional literature”. It has had a huge impact on Indian culture and had initiated many cultural traditions including that of Ramlila, the dramatic enactment of the text.
रघुकुल रीत सदा चली आई,
प्राण जाए पर वचन न जाई।
#3 Vande Mataram
English Title: Mother, I Bow To Thee
Poet: Bankim Chandra Chatterjee
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote this poem in a spontaneous session using words from Sanskrit and Bengali. It was included in his 1881 novel Anandamath. Vande Mataram was composed into song by Rabindranath Tagore. The song was first sung by Tagore in a political context at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress. It soon became hugely popular as a marching song in the Indian Independence Movement. People worked themselves up into a patriotic fervour by shouting the slogan “Vande Mataram”. The British, fearful of an inflamed Indian public, made the recital of the song a crime. After independence, the first two verses of Vande Mataram were declared the “national song” of the Republic of India. Vande Mataram continues to enjoy enormous popularity in India. In a 2002, Vande Mataram, from the film Anand Math, was ranked second in an international BBC poll for the most famous song of all time.
#2 Hanuman Chalisa
English Title: 40 Chaupais On Hanuman
Poet: Goswami Tulsidas
Stotra, a Sanskrit word for a “poems of praise”, is a literary genre in Indian religious texts. Hanuman Chalisa is a devotional stotra addressed to Hanuman, a devotee of Lord Rama and one of the central characters in the Indian epic, the Ramayan. A chaupai is a quatrain verse in Indian poetry that uses a metre of four syllables. Hanuman Chalisa consists of 43 verses: two introductory Dohas, forty Chaupais and one Doha in the end. The first ten chaupais describe the auspicious form, knowledge, virtues, powers and bravery of Hanuman. The next ten chaupais describe the acts of Hanuman in his service to Ram. The last twenty chaupais describe the need for the divine grace of Hanuman. In the concluding doha, the poet requests Hanuman to reside in his heart, along with Ram, Lakshman and Sita. The Hanuman Chalisa is recited by millions of Hindus every day and a large population of India knows it by heart.
जय हनुमान ज्ञान गुन सागर।
जय कपीस तिहुँ लोक उजागर॥
#1 Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata
English Title: Dispenser Of The Destiny Of India
Poet: Rabindranath Tagore
In Hindu philosophy, Para Brahman is the formless spirit that eternally pervades everything, everywhere in the universe and whatever is beyond. It is the “Highest Brahman” that which is beyond all descriptions and conceptualisations. Penned by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in a highly Sanskritized Bengali, Bharoto Bhagyo Bidhata is a poem dedicated to the Para Brahman, who hailed as the dispenser of the destiny of India. Consisting of five stanzas, the poem was first sung on the second day of the annual session of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta on December 27, 1911. When India became independent, the first stanza of the poem was adopted as the National anthem of India. It became known as Jana Gana Mana.
जन–गण–मन अधिनायक जय हे
भारत भाग्य विधाता ।
विंध्य हिमाचल यमुना गंगा,
उच्छल जलधि तरंग
तब शुभ नामे जागे, तब शुभ आशिष मांगे
गाहे तब जय गाथा ।
जन–गण–मंगलदायक जय हे,
भारत भाग्य विधाता ।
जय हे, जय हे, जय हे,
जय जय जय जय हे ।