Tagore's Gitanjali is influenced by Deewan-e-Hafiz

Today is Tagore’s birthday

'Literature of all countries and civilizations has a common streak — the streak of similarity and the essence of unwitting inspiration without degenerating into outright plagiarism. The great Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi's fifty three poems appear to have been inspired by Ovid's poems. But the fact is that both never met. Ovid (born March 20, 43 BCE) was born 1200 years before the great Persian mystic Rumi (born Sept. 30, 1207). Rumi didn't even hear the name of Ovid or any of his coeval Latin poets. Yet, there's a marked influence of Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' on Rumi and even the influence of Horace, yet another Latin great. We can't accuse Rumi of plagiarism. All were strikingly original. Rumi was a legend. But literary and poetic thoughts have a proclivity to percolate down in a tip-toeing manner, influencing unconsciously the ideas of the poets to come. So at times, “Rumi's poems sound like mirror images of Ovid's poems from the 'Metamorphoses' and Tagorean Gitanjali seems a direct inspiration from Hafiz Shirazi's Deewan....,” wrote the greatest English scholar of Islamic mysticism Reynold A Nicholoson (1868-1945) to Allama Iqbal.

This is what yours truly has been trying to state and prove for a long time. But the followers of Tagore find it outright blasphemous. Before I descant upon this subject which's akin to walking on egg-shells, let me give you the background of Tagore's mysticism. 'Tagorean mysticism was heavily influenced by Persian mysticism, particularly by Hafiz's (1315-1390) brand of mysticism,' openly admitted Tagore's best contemporary translator and custodian of his oeuvre Prabhat Kumar Mukherjee. This was endorsed by the scholar Ketaki Kushari Dyson in her modern Gitanjali which's better and much more contemporary than that of Tagore. 


Tagore didn't know Persian. But his father Maharshi Debendranath Thakur did. He could read and write Persian and would sleep with Hafiz Shirazi's Deewan-e-Hafiz (Compilation of Hafiz's poetry) on his bedside. He'd read out Hafiz's mystical poems to young and impressionable Rabindranath Tagore. He unwittingly imbibed Hafiz's style and symbols and employed them unknowingly when he started writing mystical poems. In a letter to the Irish poet and Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats, Tagore graciously admitted that he adored Hafiz and his poetry and was influenced by his mystic emblems (1912, quoted by Nirad C Chaudhury). Just a brace of random examples will buttress the point: 'Tokhon kaandi chokher jale duti nayan bhore/Tomay keno dee nee aamaar sakal shunyo kore' (Tagore's own prosaic translation: 'I wept bitterly and wished that I had had the heart to give thee you all'; Original Bengali poem: Kripan, English: Miser, 50th poem of Gitanjali). Now read Hafiz from his poem 'Taqaaz' (Destitute in classical Persian)-'Sheen az afraan iftikhaar azra-mezan wajoodast' (Wish, I could give away my whole entity to you)! Yet another example from Gitanjali, 'That I want thee, only thee---let my heart repeat without end....' Hafiz says the same thing, 'Fahaash fin unnizdam iqraaf' (My soul knows you and you only...'). Such similarities are galore. Those who know Persian and English and have pored over both the stalwarts, often get startled by the innumerable similarities in the works of Hafiz and Tagore. Furthermore, Hafiz and Tagore both believed in a faceless and formless god. To quote Coleman Bark, 'The essence of Islamic mysticism is formlessness of god. It's divine energy that surges through the universe.' Tagore completely believed in this idea of divinity and also in 'god's godlessness.'   


Great minds of all ages think almost alike. So despite centuries placing them apart in time, they all live in the same space where time comes to a standstill. Only when we compare poets of different eras, many a common strain appears to run through their works. It's not always plagiarism. It's 'universal echo of literary and creative uniformity', to quote the most perceptive of all modern English critics, I A Richards. All said and done, Tagore is indeed great. But Hafiz was even greater. Period.

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