Kazi Nazrul Islam: Crossing Boundaries
Dr. Phyllis K. Herman
Chair, Department of Religious Studies
California State University, Northridge
In 2001, I established the South Asia Club on the campus of California State University, Northridge. It was and is non-religious, non-political, non-partisan group, and as such, we hope be a model of inter- and cross-cultural cooperation and understanding. Now, more than ever, as conflict and violence continue in South Asia, it is vital for our young people to find constructive ways of sharing the rich and varied traditions that flourish on the subcontinent. It is very fitting that in 2002, the Taranga Conference on Kazi Nazrul Islam was our first major venture. The South Asia Club helped sponsor what turned out to be hugely successful and rewarding event! Since then, with the help of Bangladeshis all over the world and especially those in Los Angeles/San Fernando and Ventura counties, the Kazi Nazrul Islam Endowment has been established in the College of Humanities at CSUN. Two Bangladeshi Consul Generals have appeared on our campus, as well as the honorable ambassador, Shamsher M. Chowdhury. We now have close to $16,000 in that endowment and are actively searching for more funds in order to facilitate events like this Conference, performances, special speakers, and teacher education devoted to Bangladeshi arts in general and Kazi Nazrul Islam in particular. The Dean of our college is very interested in keeping the Endowment active and we hope in the next few years to welcome all of you to our campus for spectacular public event or events. My topic for today was to be “romantic Nazrul.” I am not sure I am going to directly address it--as an Historian of Religions whose specialty is South Asia in general and women and religion and Hinduism in particular, I was unaware of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s work. My research has concentrated on the many variants of goddess worship in India, not only in the ancient texts and sites, but in the role goddesses played in the nationalism movement at the turn of both centuries—19th and 20th. When I began to study Nazrul, I found that he was also taken with the use of goddesses in India—and yet he was a Muslim! I could not believe that I had found a new source for my work and from the national poet of Bangladesh. Nazrul was very much from Bengal: he was drenched in a rich tradition of Hinduism, Sufism, folk tradition and the absolutely integral roles of religion in politics. His images in poetry, plays, essays, and music reflect a man who discarded nothing that would enrich the ideals he was trying to promote. In Nazrul’s writing, he speaks of the sort of egalitarian melting pot of ideas from which he drew: “I sing of equality in which dissolves all the barriers and estrangements, which is united Hindus, Buddhists Muslims, Christians. I sing of equality.” His work reflects this and no more so than when he speaks of the Hindu goddesses.