Remembering Hasrat Mohani, The Forgotten Nationalist And Mystic Poet

As a versatile poet, Hasrat Mohani penned many remarkable pieces of poetry, including many of which he devoted to Lord Krishna. He was a great freedom fighter whose name, however, remains marginalised in the Indian national movement and absent from popular Indian consciousness.

B.R. Ambedkar with Maulana Hasrat Mohani at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s reception in 1949.

Parhiye is ke siwa na koi sabaq,
(Take to your heart no lesson but one:
Serve all life, and love Truth)

—    Hasrat Mohani

If We Shall Overcome served as the anthem of the African-Americans’ civil rights movement in the United States, then Inquilab Zindabad —Long Live The Revolution— takes that honour in India that became the war cry of Indian revolutionaries. The slogan was given by Syed Fazl-ul-Hasan, known to the world as Hasrat Mohani. 

Balkrishna Sharma, a veteran Indian freedom fighter from Madhya Pradesh, who later on lived in Kanpur and was elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly praised Maulana Hasrat Mohani during one of the debates and said: “The Maulana is a very great man. We have all looked upon him with reverence and respect all our life for his integrity of purpose and honesty.”

Not many would be able to connect the name of Mohani with the historic Indian national movement and he is remembered today famously for his romantic ghazal Chupke chupke raat din. His poetry reflected his passionate love for his country and his goal of total freedom from the British rule. Along with Ram Prasad Bismil, he got the proposal for Poorna Swaraj —complete Independence— accepted by the Indian National Congress in 1921.

This great freedom fighter, also a noted Urdu poet, was born in Mohan, a town in Unnao District of Uttar Pradesh in 1881. While in college, Mohani began writing as a journalist and became the editor of the Urdu monthly Urdu-e-Mualla. He also started the Urdu newspaper Mustaqil.

Mohan a small town in Uttar Pradesh on the left bank of the Sai river, about 6 km east of Hasanganj and 38 km north-east of Unnao. In the British period, it was a part of Lucknow district. After Independence, it was merged into Unnao district and is known for producing great writers and literary giants of the period like Hasrat Mohani and Iffat Mohani.

Hasrat belonged to a modest zamindar family as his father Syed Azhar Husain had inherited from his grandmother three villages in the tehsil of Khajwah as ancestral property. Hasrat did his early schooling on traditional lines in a local Maqtab at Mohan  and, after matriculating with distinction, he joined the Mahommedan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh, in 1899. 

In a very short span of time owing to his personal integrity and talent for poetry, he won the appreciation and affection of his fellow batchmates and adopted the title Hasrat (“Longing”) for his takhallus (nom de plume). He also started his own journal ‘Urdu e Mualla’ from Lucknow and newspaper ‘Mustaqil’ from Kanpur. The journal, ‘Urdu e Mualla’ was published on July 1, 1903, and he entered the field of active politics as its editor. 

Hasrat also suffered criminal charges for one of the articles published in his journal. He had to give up his rare collection of books to pay the fine for the punishment. At the time of Hasrat’s arrest, his wife said to him: “Whatever has befallen you, bear with manly courage. Never should you think of me or your home. Beware you should not give expression to any weakness on your part.”

In his later life, Mohani also wrote a commentary on the poetry of Mirza Ghalib titled ‘Sharh-e-Kalam-e-Ghalib’ (Explanation of Ghalib's poetry) and a commentary on the nature of poetry itself titled ‘Nukaat-e-Sukhan’ (Important Aspects of Poetry).

As a versatile poet, he penned many remarkable pieces of poetry, including many of which he devoted to Lord Krishna. Hasrat had immense love and devotion for Lord Krishna which is reflected in his verses. He is said to have frequently visited Mathura to celebrate Krishna Janmashtami, the birthday of the Lord Krishna. He wrote lyrical ballads, some in Urdu and others in the Awadhi dialect. 

Mann tose preet lagai Kanhai
Kahu aur kisurati ab kaahe ko aayi
Gokula dhundh Brindaban dhundho
Barsane lag ghoom ke aayi
Tan man dhan sab waar ke 'Hasrat'
Mathura nagar chali dhuni ramaye

(My heart has fallen for you, Kanhai
How can it think of anyone else now?
I searched for him in Gokul and in Brindavan
I even went till Barsana looking for him
Having sacrificed everything for him, I Hasrat
Am now going to set up my abode in Mathura)

Hasrat called Krishna ‘Hazrat Shri Krishna Alaihi Rahma’ (The Venerable Shri Krishna Blessed be His Name). Seeing no duality between his assiduous roza-namaz and ardent Krishna bhakti, he believed in the lines he wrote:

Maslak-i ishq hai parastish-i husn
Hum nahin jaante aazab-o-sawaab ‘

(The path of love leads to the worship of beauty
I know neither reward nor punishment)

Hasrat was a disciple of Hazrat Shah Abdur Razzaq Farangi Mahalli in the Qadri Sufi Order. He himself evolved into a mystic and mysticism to him the true religion. Just as Sufism believes in losing oneself to the Beloved to achieve salvation, he believed that love of Radha Krishna was also a beautiful example of the same.

He has written about the light of love found in holy places like Mecca and Medina, Benaras or Mathura:


Irfaan-e ishq naam hai mere maqaam ka
Haamil hun kis ke naghma-i nai ke payaam ka
Mathura se ahl-i dil ko woh aati hai boo-i uns
Duniya-i jaan mein shor hai jis ke dawaam ka
Labrez-i noor hai dil-i 'Hasrat' zahe naseeb
Ek husn-i mushkfaam ke shauq-i tamaam ka

(The name of my destination is Love's Knowledge
The message of whose melodious flute I carry
The scent of Oneness wafts from Mathura to the people of heart
And suffuses the living world
It is Hasrat's good fortune that his heart is brimful with the radiance
And love of that musk-scented Beautiful one)

Hasrat, besides being a worthwhile poet, was a great freedom fighter whose name, however, remains marginalised in the Indian national movement and absent from popular Indian consciousness. However, considering his important contribution and his pivotal role in the national movement for India’s Independence, he cannot be ignored from the pages of Indian history. He can, in fact, be described to be a nationalist in his own right. He strongly believed in Hindu-Muslim unity without which he believed Indian nationalism would be incomplete.


According to Arif Haswi, even during his student life, Hasrat was deeply interested and involved in politics. His poetry reflected his passionate love for his country and his goal of total freedom from the British rule. He was a staunch nationalist and criticised the liberal and moderate sections of Indian National Congress (INC). When he joined the party, he allied himself to Bal Gangadhar Tilak — the then leader of the radical section in Congress.

Hasrat did not agree with the political objectives of the Aligarh Movement and found his hero in Tilak and Sri Aurobindo. Syed Suleiman writes that whenever Hasrat stayed in the hostel with them, he would speak of Tilak with great love and reverence. He also composed many pieces of poetry in praise of Tilak. Hasrat did not only get inspired but also accepted Tilak, Pal, and Ghosh as his guides and leaders. 


The political career of Mohani was nothing short of an Odyssey. At the instance of Tilak, Hasrat had joined the Congress in 1904 and attended the special Bombay session of the Congress as a delegate. In support of the Swadeshi Movement, the maulana even opened a swadeshi store exclusively of Indian cloth as he believed that national development and swadeshi were inseparable.

The Bolshevik Revolution of Russia in 1917 also had a huge impact on several Indian revolutionaries. Mohani was one of them. He became a part of the Communist Party of India and became active in communist politics.

The World War I (1914-1918) saw Indian participation on the side of the British Empire. The Khilafat Movement (1918-24) saw the Muslims and Hindus closing their ranks further. The Caliphate however was abolished in 1924 by the Turkish nationalists under Mustafa Kemal to make way for modern Turkey. 


In his then Presidential address, Maulana Hasrat Mohani at the 14th Annual Session of the AIML Ahmedabad on 30th December 1921 regretted the weak position of the AIML. While expressing full appreciation for the Hindu-Muslim unity and the movement for Swaraj, the Maulana voiced his reservations as regards both. He stressed that though it was good to see Hindus and Muslims jointly struggling for the independence of India, but in the wake of independence, it will be hard to resolve the deep-rooted conflicts between the two communities. He put forward the idea of a United States of India, where the Muslim minority provinces were to derive strength from the Muslim majority provinces.
One of his popular verses is:


Gandhi ki tarah baith ke kaatenge kyun charkha
Lenin ki tarah denge duniya ko hila hum

(Why should we sit and spin yarn on the ‘charkha’
Like Lenin we will shake the world.)

Hasrat Mohani was the first Indian to demand ‘Complete Independence’ or ‘Poorna Swaraj’ for India along with Swami Kumaranand, leader of the Indian communist movement at the Ahmedabad session of the Indian National Congress in 1921. This session found attendance in the famous revolutionary leaders like Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan. Mohani was the chairman of the reception committee of the first Indian Communist Conference which was held on December 25, 1925.


He was the only prominent Muslim of his generation to promote and champion the radical thinking of Tilak. He wrote strongly about him in his journal and also wrote many verses praising him, including the following at his demise:

jab tak wo rahe dunya men rahe,ham sab ke dilon par zor unke,
ab rah ke bahisht men nizd-i-khud? 
hooron pe karenge raj Tilak

(So long as he lived he ruled our hearts, and now in Paradise,
Nearer to God, Tilak shall rule over the nymphs of paradise.)

Due to his radical approach and inflammatory speeches, Hasrat was arrested at the Ahmedabad conference early in 1922. He was tried in Ahmedabad and was sent to Yeravada Central Jail after conviction where he stayed until March 1924. Hasrat wrote a lot of poetry during his time in the jail, precisely dating each poem as was his habit. He in fact celebrated through his writings being withheld in the city of his mentor Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak. 


Rasm e jafa kaamyaab dekhiye kab tak rahe,
Hubb e watan mast e khwaab dekhiye kab tak rahe,
Daulat e Hindostan qabzah e aghyar mein
Be adad o be hisaab dekhiye kab tak rahe!


(How long will tyranny succeed, let us see
Till when will freedom be a dream*, let us see
Hindustan’s riches are in the clutches of plunderers.
Till When will this continue, let us see.)

[*dream here alludes to awakening of Indians from their slumber]

After India achieved Independence, Hasrat Mohani was elected as a member to the Constituent Assembly and was involved in the task of framing the Constitution of India under the chairmanship of Dr BR Ambedkar. In one of the deliberations in the Constituent Assembly on Dominion Status and Commonwealth, he said: “I think it necessary to point out to you that the Independence, which you have got, was already, christened as Dominion Status, but they openly call it as an independent status. They never meant full independence. Who will be bigger fools than us, who knowing that we are being cheated, are celebrating our Independence and are illuminating our houses? I can't understand this. 


“As I am not given to oppose the opinion of the majority, I kept quiet then, but now, I say that real Independence has not come to us. I have got eminent jurists and wise men as my friends here but it seems that the vision of all is befogged and they seem to be in a dream. I was saying that members of the Congress High Command are my friends and have been my co-workers. I came here to this Constituent Assembly through the Muslim League, generally for the purpose of cooperating with my old friends. But now I find that they do not want my co-operation and they are rejecting my co-operation. There is no alternative left for me but to oppose them tooth and nail, and I oppose them on the ground that I have just explained that they have been made fools by these British Imperialists.” 


On the same day, Hasrat further said: “Another proof of the fact that you have been befooled is that even such an enemy of Indian freedom as Mr. Churchill is, went out of his way and congratulated the Labour Government for having this thing passed. He said. ‘I do not mind whether this is only for a short time. It is quite sufficient for me that they have accepted for the time being to remain a Dominion.’ Mr. Churchill is clever enough, you know that. I am very sorry and it is very surprising that people of such keen intellect as my friend Mr. Rajagopalachari, Dr. Radhakrishnan, and Dr. Ambedkar do not see this trick and this deception.”


A versatile writer and poet, some of Mohani’s publications include Kulliyat-e-Hasrat Mohani, Sharh-e-Deewan-e-Ghalib, Mushahidaat-e-Zindan, and Nikat-e-Sukhan.

A nationalist to the core, Maulana Hasrat Mohani once commented “My advice to my Muslim friends has always been to discard communalism once for all.”

When the Constituent Assembly decided to discontinue the provision of reservation for religious minorities, it substantiated Mohani’s point of view. However, the crucial aspect of Mohani’s argument was about Muslims as a minority. He refused to accept them as a minority so long as they were a part of the democratic process. He argued that so long as the Muslims continue to have their party, they would continue to be a minority.


Hasrat led a life of simplicity and austerity and was a man who was free from worldly desires and wants. He was a fearless person who feared none but God. For days his family suffered starvation for want of food, but he bore all these trials with a smiling countenance. He possessed the rare qualities of sincerity, piety, straightforwardness, fearlessness, and above all the spirit of contentment and sacrifice. Whenever he ascended the high pedestal of the presidency of All-India Muslim League or the All-India Khilafat Committee, he performed his duties like the early Caliphs treading on the footprints of the Holy Prophet. It may fairly be concluded, without fear of contradiction, that Maulana Hasrat Mohani belonged to an illustrious tribe of great heroes of early Islam.


By the time he passed away in 1953, most of India had long known him simply as Maulana Hasrat Mohani. Hasrat Mohani was buried at an obscured and decrepit graveyard in Anwar Bagh in Farngi Mahal, besides a busy spice market of Lucknow, hardly visited by anyone worth a mention. 

(Dr Sanobar Haider is Assistant Professor, Department of History, Maharaja Bijli Pasi Government PG College, Lucknow. Views expressed are personal to the author.)