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Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
Born 26 September 1820
Ghatal subdivision, Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal, India
Died 29 July 1891 (aged 70)
Calcutta, West Bengal, India
Occupation Writer, reformer, lecturer
Nationality malyahlamunahhu
Ethnicity Bengali
Genres Philosopher, academic, educator, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer, philanthropist
Literary movement Bengal Renaissance

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar CIE (Bengali: ঈশ্বর চন্দ্র বিদ্যাসাগর Ishshor Chôndro Biddashagor 26 September 1820 – 29 July 1891), born Ishwar Chandra Bandopadhyaya (Bengali: ঈশ্বর চন্দ্র বন্দ্যোপাধ্যায়, Ishshor Chôndro Bôndopaddhae), was an Indian Bengali polymath and a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance.[1][2]

Vidyasagar was a philosopher, academic, educator, writer, translator, printer, publisher, entrepreneur, reformer, and philanthropist. His efforts to simplify and modernize Bangla prose were significant. He also rationalized and simplified the Bengali alphabet and type, which had remained unchanged since Charles Wilkins and Panchanan Karmakar had cut the first wooden Bangla type fonts in 1780.[3]

He received the title "Vidyasagar" ("Ocean of learning" or "Ocean of knowledge") from the Calcutta Sanskrit College (where he graduated), due to his excellent performance in Sanskrit studies and philosophy. In Sanskrit, Vidya means knowledge or learning and Sagar means ocean or sea. This title was mainly given for his vast knowledge in all subjects which was compared to the vastness of the ocean.[4]

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[edit] Early life

Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar was born at Birsingha village, in the Ghatal subdivision of Midnapore District, in 26 September 1820 A.D.[4] to a poor religious family. Actually, Birsingha is now a village in the Ghatal subdivison of Pashchim Medinipur district, but at the time when Vidyasagar was born, this village was part of then Hooghly district. His parents were Thakurdas Bandyopadhyay and Bhagavati Devi. The childhood days of Vidyasagar were spent in abject poverty. After the completion of elementary education at the village school, his father took him to Calcutta. Ishwar Chandra was a brilliant student. It is believed that Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar learned English numbers by following the mile-stones labels on his way to Calcutta at the age of eight years. His quest for knowledge was so intense that he used to study on street light as it was not possible for him to afford a gas lamp at home. He cleared all the examinations with excellence and in quick succession. He was rewarded with a number of scholarships for his academic performance. To support himself and the family Ishwar Chandra also took a part-time job of teaching at Jorashanko.

In the year 1839, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully cleared his Law examination. In 1841, at the age of twenty one years, Ishwar Chandra joined the Fort William College as a head of the Sanskrit department.

After five years, in 1846, Vidyasagar left Fort William College and join the Sanskrit College as 'Assistant Secretary'. In the first year of service, Ishwar Chandra recommended a number of changes to the existing education system. This report resulted into a serious altercation between Ishwar Chandra and College Secretary Rasomoy Dutta. In 1849, he again joined Sanskrit College, as a professor of literature. In 1851, Iswar Chandra became the principal of Sanskrit College. In 1855, he was made special inspector of schools with additional charges. But following the matter of Rasomoy Dutta, Vidyasagar resigned from Sanskrit College and rejoined Fort William College but as a head clerk.

[edit] Teaching career

Vidyasagar in Calcutta and many other reformers in Bombay set up schools for girls. When the first schools were opened in the mid nineteenth century, many people were afraid of them. They feared that schools would take away girls from home and prevent them from doing their domestic duties. Moreover, girls would have to travel through public places in order to reach school. They thought that girls should stay away from public spaces. Therefore, most educated women were taught at home by their liberal fathers or husbands.

Vidyasagar House, in Kolkata.

In 1841, Vidyasagar took the job of a Sanskrit pandit (professor) at Fort William College in Kolkata (Calcutta). In 1846, he joined the Sanskrit College as Assistant Secretary. A year later, he and a friend of his, Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, set up the Sanskrit Press and Depository, a print shop and a bookstore.

While Vidyasagar was working at the Sanskrit College, some serious differences arose between him and Rasamoy Dutta who was then the Secretary of the College, and so he resigned in 1849. One of the issues was that while Rasamoy Dutta wanted the College to remain a Brahmin preserve, Vidyasagar wanted it to be opened to students from all castes.

Later, Vidyasagar rejoined the College, and introduced many far-reaching changes to the College's syllabus.

In the face of opposition from the Hindu establishment, Vidyasagar vigorously promoted the idea that regardless of their caste, both men and women mathe mathe should receive the best education. His remarkable clarity of vision is instanced by his brilliant plea for teaching of science, mathematics and the philosophies of John Locke and David Hume, to replace most of ancient Hindu philosophy. His own books, written for primary school children, reveal a strong emphasis on enlightened materialism, with scant mention of God and religious verities - a fact that posits him as a pioneer of the Indian Renaissance.

Vidyasagar's house at Calcutta is in the process of being transformed into a museum. It is located at 36, Vidyasagar Street, Kolkata 700 006. Telephone : 033 2360 5093. Access is along Amherst Street, southwards from it's junction with Vivekananda Road. Proceed along Amherst Street from this junction up to the first park on the left. The park has a milk vending booth at a corner. Turn left at the booth, and again left at the end of the park. Vidyasagar's house is on the right and is marked IGNOU. Open between 11 AM and 5 PM, the visit is worth the effort. The main regret is that it is almost entirely in Bengali, and the few English translations, are unsatisfactory. The displays are hazy in parts. Entrance fee is Rs 2/-. Carry drinking water. Limited parking area is available very close to the museum.

[edit] A compassionate reformist

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar would start crying in distress whenever he saw poor and weak people lying on the footpath and street. Though he was very outspoken and blunt in his mannerisms, yet Vidyasagar had a heart of Gold. He was also known for his charity and philanthropy as "Daya-r sagar" - ocean of kindness, for his immense generosity. He always reflected and responded to distress calls of the poor, sufferings of the sick and injustice to humanity. While being a student at Sanskrit College, he would spend part of his scholarship proceeds and cook paayesh (rice pudding) to feed the poor and buy medicines for the sick.

Later on, when he started earning, he paid fixed sums of monthly allowances to each member of his joint family, to family servants, to needy neighbours, to villagers who needed help and to his village surgery and school. This he continued without break even when he was unemployed and had to borrow substantially from time to time.

Vidyasagar did not believe that money was enough to ease the sufferings of humanity. He opened the doors of the Sanskrit College to lower caste students (previously it was exclusive to the Brahmins), nursed sick cholera patients, went to crematoriums to bury unclaimed dead bodies, dined with the untouchables and walked miles as a messenger-man to take urgent messages to people who would benefit from them.

When the eminent Indian Poet of the 19th century, Michael Madhusudan Dutta, fell hopelessly into debts due to his reckless lifestyle during his stay in Versailles, France, he appealed for help to Vidyasagar, who laboured to ensure that sums owed to Michael from his property at home were remitted to him and sent him a large sum of money to France.

[edit] Widow remarriages

Vidyasagar championed the uplift of the status of women in India, particularly in his native Bengal. Unlike some other reformers who sought to set up alternative societies or systems, he sought, however, to transform orthodox Hindu society "from within".[5]

With valuable moral support from people like Akshay Kumar Dutta, Vidyasagar introduced the practice of widow remarriages to mainstream Hindu society. In earlier times, remarriages of widows would occur sporadically only among progressive members of the Brahmo Samāj. The prevailing deplorable custom of Kulin Brahmin polygamy allowed elderly men — sometimes on their deathbeds — to marry teenage or even prepubescent girls, supposedly to spare their parents the shame of having an unmarried girl attain puberty in their house. After such marriages, these girls would usually be left behind in their parental homes, where they might be cruelly subjected to orthodox rituals, especially if they were subsequently widowed. These included a semi starvation diet, rigid and dangerous daily rituals of purity and cleanliness, hard domestic labour, and close restriction on their freedom to leave the house or be seen by strangers. Unable to tolerate the ill treatment, many of these girls would run away and turn to prostitution to support themselves. Ironically, the economic prosperity and lavish lifestyles of the city made it possible for many of them to have quite successful careers once they had stepped out of the sanction of society and into the demi-monde. In 1853 it was estimated that Calcutta had a population of 12,718 prostitutes and public women.[6]

Vidyasagar took the initiative in proposing and pushing through the Widow Remarriage Act XV of 1856 in India. He also demonstrated that the system of polygamy without restriction was not sanctioned by the ancient Hindu Shastras.[7]

[edit] Alphabet reform and Vidyasagar's other contributions

Vidyasagar reconstructed the Bengali alphabet and reformed Bengali typography into an alphabet (actually abugida) of twelve vowels and forty consonants.

Vidyasagar contributed significantly to Bengali and Sanskrit literature.

Vidyasagar Setu

He was a great man and introduced many moments for the freedom of women. Rectitude and courage were the hallmarks of Vidyasagar's character, and he was certainly ahead of his time. In recognition of his scholarship and cultural work the government designated Vidyasagar a Companion of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1877[7] In the final years of life, he chose to spend his days among the "Santhals", an old tribe in India.

Shortly after Vidyasagar's death, Rabindranāth Tāgore reverently wrote about him: "One wonders how God, in the process of producing forty million Bengalis, produced a man!" and he was arefoemer

[edit] Meeting with Sri Ramakrishna

One of the important chapters in the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is the depiction of the meeting between Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century Indian saint and mystic, and Vidyasagar. The meeting was arranged by Mahendranath Gupta, better known as M, the author of the Bengali version of the Gospel, a lay disciple of Ramakrishna and the then headmaster in the Metropoliton school owned by Vidyasagar. At that time Vidyasagar used to stay in Badur bagan in North Calcutta. Sri Ramakrishna in the course of the conversation apparently praised him on his philanthropic activities, kindness and compassion and suggested him to do these activities in a selfless spirit. Vidyasagar was himself secular and liberal in his outlook even though he was born in an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family. He was highly educated and hence influenced by Western thoughts and ideas. Ramakrishna in contrast did not have any formal education. According to the gospel Ramakrishna discussed various topics including the world of duality and trascendental nature of Brahman, citing the parables of the salt doll, the wood cutter and the ant and the sugar hill, on discrimination between true and false knowledge, on different manifestations of God's power, on ego and suffering, on power of faith etc. [8]

[edit] Trivia

Vidyasagar Setu (commonly known as the Second Hooghly Bridge), is a bridge over the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India. It links the city of Howrah to its twin city of Kolkata. The bridge is named after Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

A fair named Vidyasagar Mela (Bengali: বিদ্যাসাগর মেলা Biddashagor Mêla), which is dedicated to spreading education and increasing social awareness, has been held annually in West Bengal since 1994. Since 2001, it has been held simultaneously in Kolkata and Birsingha.

There is a reputed college named after him and it is located in college street, Kolkata and a university in Paschim Midnapore.

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Ram Mohan Roy

Raja Ram Mohan Roy
রাজা রামমোহন রায়

Raja Ram Mohun Roy portrait
Born 22 May 1772
Radhanagore, Bengal
Died 27 September 1833 (aged 61)
Stapleton, Bristol
Cause of death Meningitis
Resting place Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol
Nationality Hindustani
Other names Rammohun, Rammohan, or Ram Mohan
Ethnicity Bengali Hindu
Occupation Social Reformer
Known for Bengal Renaissance, Brahmo Samaj
Successor Dwarkanath Tagore
Religion Hinduism
Spouse Uma Devi
Parents Ramakanta Roy

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (Bengali: রাজা রামমোহন রায়) (22 May 1772 – 27 September 1833) was an Indian religious, social, and educational reformer who challenged traditional Hindu culture and indicated the lines of progress for Indian society under British rule. He is sometimes called the father of modern India[citation needed]. He founded, along with Dwarkanath Tagore and other Bengalis, of the Brahmo Sabha in 1828, which engendered the Brahmo Samaj, an influential Indian socio-religious reform movement during the Bengal Renaissance. His influence was apparent in the fields of politics, public administration, and education, as well as religion. He is known for his efforts to abolish the practice of sati, the Hindu funeral practice in which the widow immolated herself on her husband's funeral pyre.

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Biography

Early life and education (1772–1792)

Roy was born in Radhanagore, Bengal, in August 1772[1] or May 22, 1774,[2] into the Rarhi Brahmin caste.[3] His family background displayed religious diversity; his father Ramkanto Roy was a Vaishnavite, while his mother Tarinidevi was from a Shivaite family. This was unusual for Vaishanavites did not commonly marry Shaivites at that time. Thus, one parent wanted him to be a scholar, a sastrin, while the other wanted him to have a career dedicated to the laukik, which was secular public administration.[4] He wandered around Himalayas and went to Tibet.

Early political and religious career (1792–1820)

Ram Mohan Roy's impact on modern Indian history concerned a revival of the ethics principles of the Vedanta school of philosophy as found in the Upanishads. He preached about the unity of God, made early translations of Vedic scriptures into English, co-founded the Calcutta Unitarian Society, founded the Brahmo Samaj, and campaigned against sati. He sought to integrate Western culture with features of his own country's traditions. He established schools to modernize a system of education in India.

During these overlapping periods[when?], Ram Mohan Roy acted as a political agitator and agent,[5] whilst being employed by the East India Company and simultaneously pursuing his vocation as a Pandit.

In 1792, the British Baptist shoemaker William Carey published his missionary tract "An Enquiry of the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of Heathens. In the following year, William Carey landed in India to settle. His objective was to translate, publish and distribute the Bible in Indian languages and propagate Christianity to the Indian peoples.[6] He realized the "mobile" (i.e. service classes) Brahmins and Pundits were most able to help him in this endeavor, and he began gathering them. He learned the Buddhist and Jain religious works as a means to improve his argument in promotion for Christianity in the cultural context. In 1795, Carey made contact with a Sanskrit scholar, the Tantric Hariharananda Vidyabagish,[7] who later introduced him to Ram Mohan Roy; Roy wished to learn English.

Between 1796 and 1797 the trio of Carey, Vidyavagish and Roy fabricated a spurious religious work known as the "Maha Nirvana Tantra" (or "Book of the Great Liberation")[8] and attempted to portray it as an ancient religious text to "the One True God", which was actually the Holy Spirit of Christianity masquerading as Brahma. The document's judicial sections were used in the law courts of the English Settlement in Bengal as Hindu Law for adjudicating upon property disputes of the zamindari. However, British magistrates and collectors[who?] began to suspect it as a forgery; its usage, as well as the reliance on pundits as sources of Hindu Law, was quickly deprecated. Vidyavagish has a brief falling out with Carey and separated from the group but maintained ties to Ram Mohan Roy.[9] The Maha Nirvana Tantra's significance for Brahmoism lay in the wealth that accumulated to Rammohan Roy and Dwarkanath Tagore by its judicial use, and not due to any religious wisdom within.

In 1799, Carey was joined by missionary Joshua Marshman and the printer William Ward at the Danish settlement of Serampore.

From 1803 till 1815, Rammohan served the East India Company's "Writing Service", commencing as private clerk "munshi" to Thomas Woodforde, Registrar of the Appellate Court at Murshidabad,[10] whose distant nephew, also a Magistrate, later made a living off the spurious Maha Nirvana Tantra under the pseudonym Arthur Avalon. In 1815, Raja Ram Mohan Roy formed Atmiya Sabhan spent many years[when?] at Rangpur and elsewhere with Digby, where he renewed his contacts with Hariharananda. William Carey had, by this time, settled at Serampore and the trio renewed their association with one another. William Carey was also aligned with the English Company, then headquartered at Fort William, and his religious and political ambitions were increasingly intertwined.

The East India Company was taking money from India at a rate of three million pounds a year in 1838. Ram Mohan Roy estimated how much money was being driven out of India and where it was headed towards. He predicted that around half of the total revenue collected in India was sent out to England, leaving India to fill taxes with the remaining money.[11]

At the turn of the 19th century, the Muslims, although considerably decreased after the battles of Plassey and Buxar, still posed a political threat to the Company. Rammohan was now chosen by Carey to be the agitator among them.[12]

Under Carey's secret tutelage[13] in the next two decades, Rammohan launched his attack against the bastions of Hinduism of Bengal, namely his own Kulin Brahmin priestly clan (then in control of the many temples of Bengal) and their priestly excesses. The social and theological issues Carey chose for Rammohan were calculated to weaken the hold of the dominant Kulin class, especially their younger disinherited sons forced into service who constituted the mobile gentry or "bhadralok" of Bengal, from the Mughal zamindari system and align them to their new overlords of Company. The Kulin excesses targeted included child marriage and dowry. In fact, Carey tried to convert Raja to Christianity and appointed a religious priest to try convert Raja, although the priest later accepted Hinduism.

Middle "Brahmo" period (1820–1830)

Commenting on his published works, Sivanath Sastri wrote that Roy was part of a second appeal to the Christian Public. Brahmanical Magazine Parts I, II and III, with Bengali translation and a new Bengali newspaper called Sambad Kaumudi, was processed in 1821. In 1822, A Persian paper called Mirat-ul-Akbar contained a tract entitled "Brief Remarks on Ancient Female Rights"; a book in Bengali called Answers to Four Questions was released the same year. The third and final appeal to the Christian public took place in 1823. Roy wrote a letter to Rev. H. Ware on the "Prospects of Christianity in India" and an "Appeal for Famine-Smitten Natives in Southern India" in 1824. A Bengali tract on the qualifications of a God-loving householder, a tract in Bengali on a controversy with a Kayastha, and a Grammar of the Bengali language in English were written in 1826. A Sanskrit tract on "Divine Worship by Gayatri" with an English translation, the edition of a Sanskrit treatise against caste, and the previously noticed tract called "Answer of a Hindu to the Question" was released in 1827. A form of divine worship and a collection of hymns were composed by Roy and his friends in 1828. In 1829, "Religious Instructions founded on Sacred Authorities" was published in English and Sanskrit; a Bengali tract called "Anusthan" was also published that year. A petition against Suttee also took place in 1829. In 1830, Roy was in charge of a Bengali tract, a Bengali book concerning the Bengali language, the trust deed of the Brahmo Samaj, an address to Lord William Bentinck congratulating him for the abolition of Sati, a document in English of the arguments regarding the burning of widows, and a tract in English on the disposal of ancestral property by Hindus.[14]

Life in England and death (1830–1833)

Statue in College Green, Bristol, England

In 1830, Ram Mohan Roy travelled to the United Kingdom from the Khejuri Port, which was then the sea port of Bengal and is currently in East Midnapore, West Bengal.[15] At the time, Roy was an ambassador of the Mughal emperor Akbar II, who conferred on him the title of Raja to convince the British government for welfare of India and to ensure that the Lord Bentick's regulation banning the practice of Sati was not overturned. Roy also visited France.

Roy died at Stapleton, which was then a village to the north east of Bristol but currently a suburb, on September 27, 1833. His cause of death was meningitis; he was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in southern Bristol.

Personal

Ram Mohan Roy was married three times. Roy's third wife, Uma Devi, outlived him.

Religious reforms

The religious reforms of Roy contained in beliefs of the Brahmo Samaj expounded by Rajnarayan Basu[16] are: Brahmos believe that the fundamental doctrines of Brahmoism are at the basis of every religion, followed by man; Brahmos believe in the existence of One Supreme God, and worship Him alone. Brahmos believe that worship of Him needs no fixed place or time.

Social Reforms of Rammohan

Roy demanded property inheritance rights for women and, in 1828, set up the Brahmo Sabha, which was a movement of reformist Bengalis formed to fight against social evils.

Roy's political background influenced his social and religious to reforms of Hinduism. He wrote: "The present system of Hindoos [sic] is not well calculated to promote their political interests…. It is necessary that some change should take place in their religion, at least for the sake of their political advantage and social comfort."[17]

Rammohan Roy's experience working with the British government taught him that Hindu traditions were often not respected or thought as credible by Western standards; this affected his religious reforms. He wanted to legitimize Hindu traditions to his European acquaintances by proving that "superstitious practices which deform the Hindoo religion have nothing to do with the pure spirit of its dictates! [sic]"[18] The "superstitious practices" Rammohun Roy objected included sati, caste rigidity, polygamy and child marriages.[19] These practices were often the reasons British officials claimed moral superiority over the Indian nation. Ram Mohan Roy's ideas of religion sought to create a fair and just society by implementing humanitarian practices similar to Christian ideals and thus legitimize Hinduism in the modern world.

Educationist

Roy believed education to be an implement for social reform. In 1817, in collaboration with David Hare, he set up the Hindu College at Calcutta. In 1822, Roy founded the Anglo-Hindu school, followed four years later by the Vedanta College, where he insisted that his teachings of monotheistic doctrines be incorporated with "modern, western curriculum"; Vedanta College offered courses as a synthesis of Western and Indian learning.[20] In 1830, he helped Alexander Duff in establishing the General Assembly's Institution, by providing him the venue vacated by Brahma Sabha and getting the first batch of students. Roy supported induction of western learning into Indian education. He advocated the study of English, science, western medicine and technology. He spent his money on a college to promote these studies.

Journalist

Roy published magazines in English, Hindi, Persian, and Bengali. He published Brahmonical Magazine in English in 1821. One notable magazine of his was the Sambad Kaumudi, published in 1821. In 1822, Ram Mohan published Mirat-ul-Akbar in Persian language.

Brahmonical Magazine ceased to exist after publication of few[weasel words] issues. But Sambad Kaumudi, a news weekly, covered topics such as freedom of press, induction of Indians into high ranks of service and separation of the executive and judiciary. Sambad Kaumudi became bi-weekly in January 1830 and continued for 33 years.

He published newspaper to register his protest against the introduction of Press Ordinance of 1823. The ordinance stated that a license from the Governor General in council would be mandatory to publish any newspaper. When the English Company censored the press, Rammohan composed two memorials against this in 1829 and 1830 respectively. Being an activist, he steadily opposed social atrocities like Sati and child marriage.

Cenotaph

Epitaph for Ram Mohan Roy on his cenotaph
Cenotaph of Ram Mohan Roy in Arno's Vale Cemetery, Bristol, England

The tomb was built by Dwarkanath Tagore in 1843, 10 years after Rammohan Roy's death in Bristol on Sep 27, 1833; the tomb is located in the Arnos Vale Cemetery on the outskirts of Bristol. In 1845, Dwarkanath Tagore arranged for Rammohan's remains to be removed and returned to India through Roy's nephew, who had accompanied Dwarkanath for this purpose to Britain. Rammohan's relics were cremated near Kolkata on February 28, 1846 by his family.[21]

In September 2006, representatives from the Indian High Commission came to Bristol to mark the anniversary of Ram Mohan Roy's death. During the ceremony Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women sang Sanskrit prayers of thanks.[22]

Following this visit, the Mayor of Kolkata Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, who was amongst the representatives from the Indian High Commission, decided to raise funds to restore the cenotaph.

In June 2007, businessman Aditya Poddar donated £50,000 towards the restoration of Rammohan's memorial after being approached by the Mayor of Calcutta for funding.[23]

In June 2008, the Arnos Vale restorers conceded that they could not locate Roy's remains at the site after searching for it by digging. Thebrahmosamaj.net stated, "To everyone`s surprise the coffin was not to be seen under the chattri."[24]

See also

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Kazi Nazrul Islam

Kazi Nazrul Islam

Kazi Nazrul Islam in 1920
Born 24 May 1899
Churulia, Asansol, Burdwan District, Bengal, British India
Died 29 August 1976 (aged 77)
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Nationality Flag of Bangladesh.svg Bangladeshi


For details about his philosophical works, see the Infobox.

Kazi Nazrul Islam (Bengali: কাজী নজরুল ইসলাম Kazi Nozrul Islam) (24 May 1899–29 August 1976), sobriquet Bidrohi Kobi, was a Bengali poet, musician and revolutionary who pioneered poetic works espousing intense spiritual rebellion against fascism and oppression. His poetry and nationalist activism earned him the popular title of Bidrohi Kobi (Rebel Poet). Accomplishing a large body of acclaimed works through his life, Nazrul is officially recognised as the national poet of Bangladesh and commemorated in India.

Born into a Muslim quazi (justice) family in India, Nazrul received religious education and worked as a muezzin at a local mosque. He learned of poetry, drama, and literature while working with theatrical groups. After serving in the British Indian Army, Nazrul established himself as a journalist in Kolkata (then Calcutta). He assailed the British Raj in India and preached revolution through his poetic works, such as "Bidrohi" ("The Rebel") and "Bhangar Gaan" ("The Song of Destruction"), as well as his publication "Dhumketu" ("The Comet"). His impassioned activism in the Indian independence movement often led to his imprisonment by British authorities. While in prison, Nazrul wrote the "Rajbandir Jabanbandi" ("Deposition of a Political Prisoner"). Exploring the life and conditions of the downtrodden masses of India, Nazrul worked for their emancipation.

Nazrul's writings explore themes such as love, freedom, and revolution; he opposed all bigotry, including religious and gender. Throughout his career, Nazrul wrote short stories, novels, and essays but is best-known for his poems, in which he pioneered new forms such as Bengali ghazals. Nazrul wrote and composed music for his nearly 4,000 songs (including gramophone records),[1] collectively known as Nazrul geeti (Nazrul songs), which are widely popular today. At the age of 43 (in 1942) he began suffering from an unknown disease, losing his voice and memory. It is often said, the reason was slow poisoning by British Government. It caused Nazrul's health to decline steadily and forced him to live in isolation for many years. Invited by the Government of Bangladesh, Nazrul and his family moved to Dhaka in 1972, where he died four years later.

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[edit] Early life

Nazrul in the Army

Kazi Nazrul Islam was born in the village of Churulia near Asansol in the Burdwan District of Bengal (now located in the Indian state of West Bengal).[2] He was born in a powerful Muslim Taluqdar family and was the second of three sons and a daughter, Nazrul's father Kazi Faqeer Ahmed was the imam and caretaker of the local mosque and mausoleum. Nazrul's mother was Zahida Khatun. Nazrul had two brothers, Kazi Saahibjaan and Kazi Ali Hussain, and a sister, Umme Kulsum. Nicknamed Dukhu Mian (Sad Man), Nazrul began attending the maktab & madarsa ; the local religious school run by the mosque & dargah where he studied the Qur'an and other scriptures, Islamic philosophy and theology. His family was devastated with the death of his father in 1908. At the young age of ten, Nazrul began working in his father's place as a caretaker to support his family, as well as assisting teachers in school. He later became the muezzin at the mosque, delivering the Azaan and calling the people for prayer.[3][4]

Attracted to folk theatre, Nazrul joined a leto (travelling theatrical group) run by his uncle Fazl e Karim. Working and travelling with them, learning acting, as well as writing songs and poems for the plays and musicals.[2] Through his work and experiences, Nazrul began learning Bengali and Sanskrit literature, as well as Hindu scriptures such as the Puranas. The young poet composed a number of folk plays for his group, which included "Chashaar Shong" ("The drama of a peasant"), "Shakunibadh" ("The Killing of Shakuni a character from the epic Mahabharata"), "Raja Yudhisthirer Shong" ("The drama of King Yudhisthira again from the Mahabharata"), "Daata Karna" ("Philanthropic Karna from the Mahabharata"), "Akbar Badshah" ("Emperor Akbar"), "Kavi Kalidas" ("Poet Kalidas"), "Vidyan hutum" ("The Learned Owl"), and "Rajputrer Shong" ("The drama of a Prince"),[3]

In 1910, Nazrul left the troupe and enrolled at the Searsole Raj High School in Raniganj (where he came under influence of teacher, revolutionary and Jugantar activist Nibaran Chandra Ghatak, and initiated life-long friendship with fellow author Sailajananda Mukhopadhyay, who was his classmate), and later transferred to the Mathrun High English School, studying under the headmaster and poet Kumudranjan Mallik. Unable to continue paying his school fees, Nazrul left the school and joined a group of kaviyals. Later he took jobs as a cook at the house of a Christian railway guard and at the most famous bakery of the region Wahid's/Abdul Wahid and tea stall in the town of Asansol. In 1914, Nazrul studied in the Darirampur School (now Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University) in Trishal, Mymensingh District. Amongst other subjects, Nazrul studied Bengali, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian literature and classical music under teachers who were impressed by his dedication and skill.[3]

Studying up to Class X, Nazrul did not appear for the matriculation pre-test examination, enlisting instead in the Indian Army in 1917 at the age of eighteen. He joined the British army mainly for two reasons: first, his youthful romantic inclination to respond to the unknown and, secondly, the call of politics.[5] Attached to the 49th Bengal Regiment, he was posted to the cantonment in Karachi, where he wrote his first prose and poetry. Although he never saw active fighting, he rose in rank from corporal to havildar, and served as quartermaster for his battalion.[3] During this period, Nazrul read extensively, and was deeply influenced by Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, as well as the Persian poets Hafez, Rumi and Omar Khayyam. He learnt Persian poetry from the regiment's Punjabi moulvi, practiced music and pursued his literary interests. His first prose work, "Baunduler Atmakahini" ("Life of a Vagabond") was published in May, 1919. His poem "Mukti" ("Freedom") was published by the "Bangla Mussalman Sahitya Patrika" ("Bengali Muslim Literary Journal") in July 1919.[3]

[edit] Rebel poet

Young Nazrul

Nazrul left the army in 1920 and settled in Calcutta, which was then the "cultural capital" of India (it had ceased to be the political capital in 1911).[6] He joined the staff of the “Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Samiti” ("Bengali Muslim Literary Society") and roomed at 32 College Street with colleagues. He published his first novel "Bandhan-hara" ("Freedom from bondage") in 1920, which he kept working on over the next seven years.[3] His first collection of poems included "Bodhan", "Shat-il-Arab", "Kheya-parer Tarani" and "Badal Prater Sharab" and received critical acclaim.[3]

Working at the literary society, Nazrul grew close to other young Muslim writers including Mohammad Mozammel Haq, Afzalul Haq, Kazi Abdul Wadud and Muhammad Shahidullah. He was a regular at clubs for Calcutta's writers, poets and intellectuals like the Gajendar Adda and the Bharatiya Adda. In October 1921, Nazrul went to Santiniketan with Muhammad Shahidullah and met Rabindranath Tagore. Despite many differences, Nazrul looked to Tagore as a mentor and the two remained in close association.[3] In 1921, Nazrul was engaged to be married to Nargis, the niece of a well-known Muslim publisher Ali Akbar Khan, in Daulatpur, Comilla. But on June 18, 1921—the day of the wedding—upon public insistence by Ali Akbar Khan that the term "Nazrul must reside in Daulatpur after marriage" be included in the marriage contract, Nazrul walked away from the ceremony.

Nazrul reached the peak of fame with the publication of "Bidrohi" in 1922, which remains his most famous work, winning admiration of India's literary classes by his description of the rebel whose impact is fierce and ruthless even as its spirit is deep:.[7]

I am the unutterable grief,
I am the trembling first touch of the virgin,
I am the throbbing tenderness of her first stolen kiss.
I am the fleeting glance of the veiled beloved,
I am her constant surreptitious gaze...
...
I am the burning volcano in the bosom of the earth,
I am the wild fire of the woods,
I am Hell's mad terrific sea of wrath!
I ride on the wings of lightning with joy and profundity,
I scatter misery and fear all around,
I bring earth-quakes on this world! “(8th stanza)” I am the rebel eternal,
I raise my head beyond this world,
High, ever erect and alone! “(Last stanza)”[8] (English translation by Kabir Choudhary)

Published in the "Bijli" (Thunder) magazine, the rebellious language and theme was popularly received, coinciding with the Non-cooperation movement — the first, mass nationalist campaign of civil disobedience against British rule.[3]

Nazrul explores a synthesis of differ forces in a rebel, destroyer and preserver, expressing rage as well as beauty and sensitivity. Nazrul followed up by writing "Pralayollas" ("Destructive Euphoria"), and his first anthology of poems, the "Agniveena" ("Lyre of Fire") in 1922, which enjoyed astounding and far-reaching success. He also published his first volume of short stories, the "Byather Dan" ("Gift of Sorrow") and "Yugbani", an anthology of essays.

[edit] Revolutionary

Nazrul with his first son Bulbul; his wife Pramila seated right and his mother-in-law Giribala Devi seated left, behind whom stands Bulbul's nanny

Nazrul started a bi-weekly magazine, publishing the first "Dhumketu" (Comet) on August 12, 1922. Earning the moniker of the "rebel poet”, Nazrul also aroused the suspicion of British authorities.[2] A political poem published in "Dhumketu" in September 1922 led to a police raid on the magazine's office. Arrested, Nazrul entered a lengthy plea before the judge in the court.

I have been accused of sedition. That is why I am now confined in the prison. On the one side is the crown, on the other the flames of the comet. One is the king, sceptre in hand; the other Truth worth the mace of justice. To plead for me, the king of all kings, the judge of all judges, the eternal truth the living God... His laws emerged out of the realization of a universal truth about mankind. They are for and by a sovereign God. The king is supported by an infinitesimal creature; I by its eternal and indivisible Creator. I am a poet; I have been sent by God to express the unexpressed, to portray the unportrayed. It is God who is heard through the voice of the poet... My voice is but a medium for Truth, the message of God... I am the instrument of that eternal self-evident truth, an instrument that voices forth the message of the ever-true. I am an instrument of God. The instrument is not unbreakable, but who is there to break God?[9]

On April 14, 1923 he was transferred from the jail in Alipore to Hooghly in Kolkata, he began a 40-day fast to protest mistreatment by the British jail superintendent. Nazrul broke his fast more than a month later and was eventually released from prison in December 1923. Nazrul composed a large number of poems and songs during the period of imprisonment and many his works were banned in the 1920s by the British authorities.[3]

Kazi Nazrul Islam became a critic of the Khilafat struggle, condemning it as hollow, religious fundamentalism.[3] Nazrul's rebellious expression extended to rigid orthodoxy in the name of religion and politics.[10] Nazrul also criticised the Indian National Congress for not embracing outright political independence from the British Empire. He became active in encouraging people to agitate against British rule, and joined the Bengal state unit of the Congress party.[3] Nazrul also helped organise the Sramik Praja Swaraj Dal, a political party committed to national independence and the service of the peasant masses. On December 16, 1925 Nazrul started publishing the weekly "Langal”, with himself as chief editor.[3] The "Langal" was the mouthpiece of the Sramik Praja Swaraj Dal.

During his visit to Comilla in 1921, Nazrul met a young Hindu woman, Pramila Devi, with whom he fell in love and they married on April 25, 1924. Pramila belonged to the Brahmo Samaj, which criticised her marriage to a Muslim. Nazrul in turn was condemned by Muslim religious leaders and continued to face criticism for his personal life and professional works, which attacked social and religious dogma and intolerance. Despite controversy, Nazrul's popularity and reputation as the "rebel poet" rose significantly.[3][11]

Weary of struggles, I, the great rebel,
Shall rest in quiet only when I find
The sky and the air free of the piteous groans of the oppressed.
Only when the battle fields are cleared of jingling bloody sabres
Shall I, weary of struggles, rest in quiet,
I the great rebel.[8]

[edit] Mass music

Nazrul on a hunting trip with friends in Sundarpur[disambiguation needed ], India

With his wife and young son Bulbul, Nazrul settled in Krishnanagar in 1926. His work began to transform as he wrote poetry and songs that articulated the aspirations of the downtrodden classes, a sphere of his work known as "mass music."[12] Nazrul assailed the socio-economic norms and political system that had brought upon misery. From his poem 'Daridro' Bengali: দারিদ্র (poverty or pain):

O poverty, thou hast made me great.
Thou hast made me honoured like Christ
With his crown of thorns. Thou hast given me
Courage to reveal all. To thee I owe
My insolent, naked eyes and sharp tongue.
Thy curse has turned my violin to a sword...
O proud saint, thy terrible fire
Has rendered my heaven barren.
O my child, my darling one
I could not give thee even a drop of milk
No right have I to rejoice.
Poverty weeps within my doors forever
As my spouse and my child.
Who will play the flute?[13]

Kazi Nazrul Islam

In what his contemporaries regarded as one of his greatest flairs of creativity, Nazrul began composing the very first ghazals in Bengali, transforming a form of poetry written mainly in Persian and Urdu.[4] Nazrul became the first person to introduce Islam into the larger mainstream tradition of Bengali music. The first record of Islamic songs by Nazrul Islam was a commercial success and many gramophone companies showed interest in producing these. A significant impact of Nazrul was that it drew made Muslims more comfortable in the Bengali Arts, which used to be dominated by Hindus. Nazrul also composed a number of notable Shamasangeet, Bhajan and Kirtan, combining Hindu devotional music.[14] Arousing controversy and passions in his readers, Nazrul's ideas attained great popularity across India. In 1928, Nazrul began working as a lyricist, composer and music director for His Master's Voice Gramophone Company. The songs written and music composed by him were broadcast on radio stations across the country. He was also enlisted/attached with the Indian Broadcasting Company.[15]

Nazrul professed faith in the belief in the equality of women — a view his contemporaries considered revolutionary.[7] From his poet Nari (Woman):

I don't see any difference
Between a man and woman
Whatever great or benevolent achievements
That are in this world
Half of that was by woman,
The other half by man. (Translated by Sajed Kamal[16])

His poetry retains long-standing notions of men and women in binary opposition to one another and does not affirm gender similarities and flexibility in the social structure:

Man has brought the burning, scorching heat of the sunny day;
Woman has brought peaceful night, soothing breeze and cloud.
Man comes with desert-thirst; woman provides the drink of honey.
Man ploughs the fertile land; woman sows crops in it turning it green.
Man ploughs, woman waters; that earth and water mixed together, brings about a harvest of golden paddy.[16]

However, Nazrul's poems strongly emphasise the confluence of the roles of both sexes and their equal importance to life. He stunned society with his poem "Barangana" ("Prostitute"), in which he addresses a prostitute as "mother".[17] Nazrul accepts the prostitute as a human being, reasoning that this person was breast-fed by a noble woman and belonging to the race of "mothers and sisters"; he assails society's negative notions of prostitutes.[18]

Who calls you a prostitute, mother?
Who spits at you?
Perhaps you were suckled by someone
as chaste as Seeta.
...
And if the son of an unchaste mother is 'illegitimate',
so is the son of an unchaste father.
("Barangana" ("Prostitute") Translated by Sajed Kamal[19])

Nazrul was an advocate of the emancipation of women; both traditional and non-traditional women were portrayed by him with utmost sincerity.[17] Nazrul's songs are collectively called as Nazrul geeti.

[edit] Exploring religion

Kazi Nazrul Islam

Nazrul's mother died in 1928, and his second son Bulbul died of smallpox the following year. His first son, Krishna Mohammad had died prematurely. His wife gave birth to two more sons — Savyasachi in 1928 and Aniruddha in 1931 — but Nazrul remained shaken and aggrieved for a long time.

Come back my birdie! Come back again to my empty bosom! Shunno e bookey paakhi mor aaye! Phirey aaye phirey aaye![20]

His works changed significantly from rebellious expositions of society to deeper examination of religious themes. His works in these years led Islamic devotional songs into the mainstream of Bengali folk music, exploring the Islamic practices of namaz (prayer), roza (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage) and zakat (charity). This was regarded by his contemporaries as a significant achievement as Bengali Muslims had been strongly averse to devotional music.[21] Nazrul's creativity diversified as he explored Hindu devotional music by composing Shama Sangeet, bhajans and kirtans, often merging Islamic and Hindu values. Nazrul's poetry and songs explored the philosophy of Islam and Hinduism.[22]

Let people of all countries and all times come together. At one great union of humanity. Let them listen to the flute music of one great unity. Should a single person be hurt, all hearts should feel it equally. If one person is insulted; it is a shame to all mankind, an insult to all! Today is the grand uprising of the agony of universal man.[23]

The badnaa, a water jug typical in usage by Bengali Muslims for ablutions (wazu) and bath (ghusl) and the gaaru a water pot typical in usage by Bengali Hindus, meet and embrace each other under the peace of the new pact (between the rioting Hindus and Muslims in Bengal during the British Raj on certain politico-religious differences and disputes that had preceded the said pact). There is no knife in the hand of the Muslim and also the Hindu does not wield the bamboo any more! Bodna gaaru te kolakuli korey! Nobo pact er aashnaai! Musholmaaner haatey naai chhuri! Hindur haatey baansh naai![24]

Nazrul's poetry imbibed the passion and creativity of Shakti, which is identified as the Brahman, the personification of primordial energy. He wrote and composed many bhajans, shyamasangeet, agamanis and kirtans. He also composed large number of songs on invocation to Lord Shiva, Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati and on the theme of love of Radha and Krishna.[4]

Nazrul assailed fanaticism in religion, denouncing it as evil and inherently irreligious. He devoted many works to expound upon the principle of human equality, exploring the Qur'an and the life of Islam's prophet Muhammad. Nazrul has been compared to William Butler Yeats for being the first Muslim poet to create imagery and symbolism of Muslim historical figures such as Qasim, Ali, Umar, Kamal Pasha, Anwar Pasha and Muhammad.[9] His vigorous assault on extremism and mistreatment of women provoked condemnation from Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists.[citation needed]

In 1920, Nazrul expressed his vision of religious harmony in an editorial in Joog Bani,

“Come brother Hindu! Come Musalman! Come Buddhist! Come Christian! Let us transcend all barriers, let us foresake forever all smallness, all lies, all selfishness and let us call brothers as brothers. We shall quarrel no more”.[25]

In another article entitled Hindu Mussalman published in Ganabani on September 2, 192 he wrote -

‘’I can tolerate Hinduism and Muslims but I cannot tolerate the Tikism (Tiki is a tuft of never cut hair kept on the head by certain Hindus to maintain personal Holiness) and beardism. Tiki is not Hinduism. It may be the sign of the pundit. Similarly beard is not Islam, it may be the sign of the mollah. All the hair-pulling have originated from those two tufts of hair. Todays fighting is also between the Pundit and the Mollah: It is not between the Hindus and the Muslims. No prophet has said, ‘’I have come for Hindus I have come for Muslims I have come for Christians.” They have said, “I have come for the humanity for everyone, like light’’. But the devotees of Krishna says, “Krishna is for Hindus”. The followers of Muhammad (Sm) says, “Muhammad (Sm) is for the Muslims”. The Disciple of Christ is for Christian”. Krishna-Muhammad-Christ have become national property. This property is the root of all trouble. Men do not quarrel for light but they quarrel over cattle.”[26]

Nazrul was an exponent of humanism.[26] Although a Muslim, he named his sons with both Hindu and Muslim names: Krishna Mohammad, Arindam Khaled(bulbul), Kazi Sabyasachi and Kazi Aniruddha.[27]

[edit] Later life and illness

Nazrul, in the 1930s

In 1933, Nazrul published a collection of essays titled "Modern World Literature", in which he analyses different styles and themes of literature. Between 1928 and 1935 he published 10 volumes containing 800 songs of which more than 600 were based on classical ragas. Almost 100 were folk tunes after kirtans and some 30 were patriotic songs. From the time of his return to Kolkata until he fell ill in 1941, Nazrul composed more than 2,600 songs, many of which have been lost.[4] His songs based on baul, jhumur, Santhali[disambiguation needed ] folksongs, jhanpan or the folk songs of snake charmers, bhatiali and bhaoaia consist of tunes of folk-songs on the one hand and a refined lyric with poetic beauty on the other. Nazrul also wrote and published poems for children.[4]

Nazrul's success soon brought him into Indian theatre and the then-nascent film industry. The first picture for which he worked was based on Girish Chandra Ghosh's story "Bhakta Dhruva" in 1934. Nazrul acted in the role of Narada and directed the film. He also composed songs for it, directed the music and served as a playback singer.[3] The film "Vidyapati" ("Master of Knowledge") was produced based on his recorded play in 1936, and Nazrul served as the music director for the film adaptation of Tagore's novel Gora. Nazrul wrote songs and directed music for Sachin Sengupta's bioepic play "Siraj-ud-Daula". In 1939, Nazrul began working for Calcutta Radio, supervising the production and broadcasting of the station's musical programmes. He produced critical and analytic documentaries on music, such as "Haramoni" and "Navaraga-malika". Nazrul also wrote a large variety of songs inspired by the raga Bhairav.[28] Nazrul sought to preserve his artistic integrity by condemning the adaptation of his songs to music composed by others and insisting on the use of tunes he composed himself.[citation needed]

Nazrul's wife Pramila Devi fell seriously ill in 1939 and was paralysed from waist down. To provide for his wife's medical treatment, he resorted to mortgaging the royalties of his gramophone records and literary works for 400 rupees.[29] He returned to journalism in 1940 by working as chief editor for the daily newspaper "Nabayug" ("New Age"), founded by the eminent Bengali politician A. K. Fazlul Huq.[29]

Nazrul also was shaken by the death of Rabindranath Tagore on August 8, 1941. He spontaneously composed two poems in Tagore's memory, one of which, "Rabihara" (loss of Rabi or without Rabi) was broadcast on the All India Radio. Within months, Nazrul himself fell seriously ill and gradually began losing his power of speech. His behaviour became erratic, and spending recklessly, he fell into financial difficulties. In spite of her own illness, his wife constantly cared for her husband. However, Nazrul's health seriously deteriorated and he grew increasingly depressed. He underwent medical treatment under homeopathy as well as Ayurveda, but little progress was achieved before mental dysfunction intensified and he was admitted to a mental asylum in 1942. Spending four months there without making progress, Nazrul and his family began living a silent life in India. In 1952, he was transferred to a mental hospital in Ranchi. With the efforts of a large group of admirers who called themselves the "Nazrul Treatment Society" as well as prominent supporters such as the Indian politician Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the treatment society sent Nazrul and Promila to London, then to Vienna for treatment.[30] Examining doctors said he had received poor care, and Dr. Hans Hoff, a leading neurosurgeon in Vienna, diagnosed that Nazrul was suffering from Pick's disease. His condition judged to be incurable, Nazrul returned to Calcutta on 15 December 1953.[30] On June 30, 1962 his wife Pramila died and Nazrul remained in intensive medical care. In 1972, the newly independent nation of Bangladesh obtained permission from the Government of India to bring Nazrul to live in Dhaka and accorded him honorary citizenship.[3] Despite receiving treatment and attention, Nazrul's physical and mental health did not improve. In 1974, his youngest son, Kazi Aniruddha, an eminent guitarist died, and Nazrul soon succumbed to his long-standing ailments on August 29, 1976. In accordance with a wish he had expressed in one of his poems, he was buried beside a mosque on the campus of the University of Dhaka. Tens of thousands of people attended his funeral; Bangladesh observed two days of national mourning and the Indian Parliament observed a minute of silence in his honour.[31]

[edit] Criticism and legacy

Nazrul's tomb near the Dhaka University campus mosque

Nazrul's poetry is characterised by an abundant use of rhetorical devices, which he employed to convey conviction and sensuousness. He often wrote without care for organisation or polish. His works have often been criticized for egotism, but his admirers counter that they carry more a sense of self-confidence than ego. They cite his ability to defy God yet maintain an inner, humble devotion to Him.[9] Nazrul's poetry is regarded as rugged but unique in comparison to Tagore's sophisticated style. Nazrul's use of Persian vocabulary was controversial but it widened the scope of his work.[9] Nazrul's works for children have won acclaim for his use of rich language, imagination, enthusiasm and an ability to fascinate young readers.[9]

Nazrul is regarded for his secularism. He was the first person to cite of Christians of Bengal in his novel Mrityukhudha. He was also the first user of folk terms in Bengali literature. He first printed the Sickle and Hammer in any Indian magazine.[citation needed] Nazrul pioneered new styles and expressed radical ideas and emotions in a large body of work. Scholars credit him for spearheading a cultural renaissance in Muslim-majority Bengal, "liberating" poetry and literature in Bengali from its medieval mould. Nazrul was awarded the Jagattarini Gold Medal in 1945 — the highest honour for work in Bengali literature by the University of Calcutta — and awarded the Padma Bhushan, one of India's highest civilian honours in 1960.[32] The Government of Bangladesh conferred upon him the status of being the "national poet". He was awarded the Ekushey Padak by the Government of Bangladesh. He was awarded Honorary D.Litt. by the University of Dhaka . Many centres of learning and culture in India and Bangladesh have been founded and dedicated to his memory. The Nazrul Endowment is one of several scholarly institutions established to preserve and expound upon his thoughts and philosophy, as well as the preservation and analysis of the large and diverse collection of his works. The Bangladesh Nazrul Sena is a large public organization working for the education of children throughout the country.[33]

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