Votary of Freedom : Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sarmad

The Sunday Tribune – Books

Votary of freedom
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sarmad
by V. N. Datta. Rupa. Pages 49. Rs 295.

There is a growing interest among intellectuals to understand the leaders as well as events of the past. Rightly so, for there is a new generation of readers who are ready to accept bare facts put in the right perspective. Historians and other writers are helping by satiating this demand of their readers. This has only led to further search and research.

This book by V. N. Datta is a fine attempt to understand Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who was one of the lofty political personalities involved actively in India’s struggle for freedom. The Maulana was a Muslim who decided not to take up his father’s profession of a pir, was secular in his outlook and felt stifled by Muslim orthodoxy. He was a firm votary of freedom of thought and expression of which this essay is an appropriate example.

This essay by Maulana Abul Kalam at a young age of 23 on Sarmad reflected Maulana’s liberal and bold outlook. His choice to deliberate and write on a poet who did not succumb to unreasonable pressure from Mullahs reflects a lot of Maulana’s personality. Sarmad, a poet and scholar, was close to Dara Shikoh, the heir presumptive to Emperor Shahjahan. Dara Shikoh and Sarmad shared common interest for spiritual quest and believed in oneness of religion. Maulana tried to highlight the extraordinary intellect and humanistic outlook of Dara Shikoh through his essay. He focuses on the heir apparent of the Mughal state never once losing trace of Sarmad. The latter was beheaded by Aurangzeb because he did not conform to the usual religious doctrinal propositions. For Sarmad, “a temple and mosque were symbols and expressions of the same reality, God, in which notions of faith and unbelief are extinguished for ever.”

Sarmad, according to Azad, was trying to grasp the Supreme Reality, the Divine Bliss that could make life better. Sarmad was a Sufi who tried to learn from his own experiences and was meditating and learning. These experiments did not go well with the orthodox Muslims who blamed him for religious heresy. What complicated Sarmad’s case was that he was a close associate of Dara Shikoh who held radical views that went against, “the power-hungry, self-righteous jurists backed by the wilful despotism of the Mughal state, headed by Emperor Aurangzeb.” Dara Shikoh believed that the Upanishads, too, proclaimed the unity of Being as the Quran did.
Datta analyses Maulana’s essay and tries to bring forth the influences and the hidden aspects of the leader. Maulana, like Sarmad, believed that, “love is the power that moves and sustains the universe; it is that which human soul realises its union with the ultimate reality, fulfilling thereby life’s purpose.”

Maulana Azad, the author suspects, faced rejection in love as Sarmad had faced. So, he identifies Sarmad’s life with his own, a tale of sorrow in which love was the guiding light and no sacrifice was too great. Azad adds, “Sarmad’s crime was that he drank the cup in public, while others drank in private.” Besides this, Azad was influenced by Sarmad’s pluralistic approach to humanity and his spirit of toleration and co-existence. Sarmad was beheaded because he refused to recite the full Kalima. Azad defends Sarmad for not doing so because Sarmad till then had not seen or experienced what he was told to recite.

The essay is laced with verses written by Sarmad. The English translation helps the reader understand the crux of the poet understanding of life. This essay traces the growth of Azad’s religious and political thought. V. N. Datta, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Kurukshetra University, and a prolific writer has done full justice to his subject. Sarmad is elusive because there is lack of material about him, yet Datta manages to give us a lucid detail of not only Sarmad but also the life and thoughts of Maulana Azad.

A short but crisp book, which gives a better understanding of the times and life of luminaries of their time—Dara Shikoh, Sarmad and Maulana Azad.


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