Thursday, February 29, 2024


                                                          (miniature painting ....portrait of Dara Shikoh )


The first Urdu Gazal was written by a Kashmiri Pandit Chander Bhan better known as Chander Bhan 'Brahman'. He used Brahman as his pen name or Takhallus. Chander Bhan used his caste name as his Takhallus. The need for that identification was a sign that Chander Bhan was secure in both worlds – a “sacred thread-wearing” man from the learned castes who also counted among his mentors the Mughal officials who happened to be Muslim and were deeply spiritual. Most were like Chander Bhan himself, affected and influenced by this Indo-Persian ethos of seeking harmony and showing a “mystical civility” toward all.

Son of Pandit Dharam Das Bhan, a respected government official during the rule of  Jahangir, Chander Bhan Brahman was an accomplished scholar, author , polyglot ,poet and philosopher . He was well-versed in Persian, Arabic , Hindi ,Sanskrit  and Urdu . As  young boy, he  mastered most of the standard works of Persian lan­guage and literature under the tutelage of Abd-al-Ḥakim Sialkoti , Mīr ʿAbd-al-Karīm (mīr-a ʿemārat “superintendent of buildings” at La­hore), and Jafar Khan . He studied Persian calligraphy with the governor of Lahore Mollā Šokr-Allāh Afżal Khan , Āqā ʿAbd-al-Rašīd, and Kefāyat Khan . Before joining the court of Shahjahan ,Brahman served as secretary to several highly placed figures in the time of Shahjahan : Āṣaf Khan (commander of the royal forces at Lahore), Eslām Khan, ʿAllāmī Saʿd-Allāh Khan , Moʿaẓẓam Khan, ʿEnāyat Khan, and Afżal Khan (Wazīr-al-Mulk ). Through contact with them, his literary tastes were refined, and he developed a strong affinity for Sufis and saints. After the death of Afżal Khan, his nephew ʿĀqel Khan presented Brahman to Shahjahan and recommended him for a suitable post in the Royal Court. The emperor was highly  impressed by Barahman’s deep knowledge of Persian literature and by his callig­raphy . That is how Brahman entered Shahjan’s court

Brahman belonged to a Kashmiri Pandit family that had come to live in Lahore during the rule of Jahangir . He worked as Munshi (secretary) to Shahjahan. Chander Bhan remained in the service of Shahjahan for 30 years. He was very close to the emperor and used to write his diary. Chander Bhan "Brahman" stayed with the king during his travels and wrote down the circumstances of his travels. Later, he was given the responsibility of writing down the details of the Emperor’s visit to various countries. For historians, Chander Bhan’s books are the key source of information on Shahjahan's reign. Shahjahan was highly impressed by Brahman's knowledge of Persian literature .A linguist king like Shahjahan could not have entrusted the job of writing his diary to a non-linguist. He also worked on compiling Sanskrit epistemology. Chander Bhan was an Urdu-Persian poet and also a great scholar of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. He authored several books on Sufism and literature. The following works by Brahman are mentioned by his biographers and also by him in his letters  . However, only a few of them are extant.

1. A Divan containing 342 Gazals, 36 quatrains , and some brief didactic Masanawis in Persian .

2.Chahar-chaman, a historical composition with four chapters

3. Goldasta-e Chanhar-chaman extracts from Chahar-chaman

4. Toḥfat al-wozarāʾ (Gems of the viziers).

5. Kār-nāma (Chronicle).

6. Toḥfat al foṣaḥāʾ (Gems of literary language).

7. Majmaʿ al-foqarāʾ (Collection of Sufi writings).

8. Monšaʾāt (letters), a collection of 128 letters div­ided into five sections, according to whether they are addressed to kings, statesmen, friends, and the like, all with brief forms of address, in contrast to the normal practice of the time.

9. Roqqaʿāt (fragments).

10. Mokālamāt-e Dārā-Šokūh wa Bābā Lāl, the Persian translation of a mystical discourse between Dara Shikoh and Bābā Lāl, a Hindu ascetic, that took place at Brahman’s residence .

Chander Bhan "Brahman " is one of the few Persian-language Indian poets who have been recognized by the people of Iran. His poetry dwelt on subjects of Tawhid, Sufism and Vedanta. Brahman was probably the first gifted Hindu poet and writer in Persian, a product of the Indo-Persian culture that flourished under the Mughals. His work in Persian has attracted the attention of modern-day Persian scholars including Prof Zabiollah Safa .


Chander Bhan's family moved from Kashmir to Lahore and then to Agra . He was also given some Jagir in Agra  by the Mughal Emperor . He is believed to have died sometime after the death of Shahjahan. Chander Bhan Brahman's proximity to Shahjahan made the latter entrust him with the complete responsibility of education and upbringing of his favourite son, Prince Dara Shikoh, who rose to become a literary figure. Apart from Arabic and Persian  literature,  Brahman also  passed on the knowledge of Vedanta and Islamic Tassavuf  to young Dara who grew up  to become a liberal and open-minded person . Dara was also an ardent follower of Sufi mystic Mian Mir . A proponent of peace and tolerance, Mian Mir is famously known as a friend of Guru Arjan Dev . Mian Mir was invited by the Sikh Guru to lay the foundation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar . Mian Mir used to say, “Karni Parvan Kya Hindu Kya Musalman? (In the path to God, there is no Hindu or Muslim)”. In 1657, Dara Shikoh  got 52 Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita  translated into Persian .Dara also had close bonds with  the seventh Sikh Guru( Guru Har Rai ). Although in 1655 his father and Mughal emperor Shahjahan declared him the Crown Prince, Dara was assassinated on August 30, 1659, by his younger brother, Aurangzeb, in a bitter struggle for the throne. Dara Shikoh was 44 at the time of his death.




There is a fascinating story in Rajeev Kinra’s (Associate Professor in the Department of History at Northwestern University, USA )  book on Chandar Bhan Brahman titled , "Writing Self, Writing Empire: Chandar Bhan Brahman and the Cultural World of the Indo-Persian State Secretary" .Based on Chahar-Chaman of Chander Bhan Brahman,  Rajeev Kinra narrates the story of Princess Jahanara, Shahjahan’s eldest child,  who sustained severe burn injuries after an accident in the Agra fort. The sad emperor looked in every direction for help to ensure the recovery of, arguably, his favourite child. In his eloquent and flowery prose, Chandar Bhan details Shahjahan’s concern, his vigil over his convalescing daughter and the efforts the court took to ensure the best medical care for her. Those who arrived at the fort included not just Unani medical men, but also Hakims,alchemists, herbalists ,Yogis, Vaids, Jyotishis and other practitioners of native medicine. A call had gone out across a wide region to secure the best possible help. The narrative also accentuates Chandar Bhan’s  role as a trusted official who was privy to the emperor’s emotions and feelings. Brahman’s book Chahar-Chaman is divided into four parts. The first chapter describes the celebration of festivals in the court of Shahjahan . Brahman used to recite poems in these festivals. The second chapter describes  the splendour of the court,  the daily business of Shahjahan , his new capital Shahjahanbad, and the major cities and suburbs of the empire .The third chapter contains the life story of Chander Bhan Brahman and his letters while the fourth chapter deals with moral and religious subjects . In Chahar-Chaman ,  Brahman writes the name of his son as Tej Bhan . He also mentions Rai Bhan as his brother who died young.The name of another brother of Brahman is mentioned as  Udai Bhan  .

 He was deeply influenced by Islamic culture but in all his writings he shows his Hindu proclivities. In one of his verses, he says: -

“Maraa dilest ba-kufr-aashnaa ki chandii.n baar

Ba-kaabaa burdam-o-baazash barhaman aawardam.”


(I possess the heart of an infidel.

Many a time I took it to the Ka’ba

but always brought it back a Brahman”.)

It is related” that when he recited this verse in the court, Shah Jahan became greatly displeased, but Brahman’s patron Afzal Khan humorously quoted the well-known verse of Saadi:

‘Khar-e-iisaa agar ba-makka rawad

Chuun bayaayad hanuuz Khar baashad”


(If the donkey of Jesus goes to Mecca,

 on its return, it remains a donkey.)

The king smiled at the pleasantry. Brahman being a devout Hindu had a special affection for his sacred thread. He says:

“Maraa ba-rishtaa-e-zunnaar ulfate Khaas ast

Ki yaadgaatr-e-man az barhaman hamii-daaram”


(I have a special love for my sacred thread,

for this is the only sign which I possess of the Brahmanic faith.)




                                      ( Chander Bhan  Brahman praises  Kashmir  in Chahar chaman )

What distinguishes Brahman from others is that he was not only the first Diwan-e-Hindu poet of Persian but also the first Diwan-e-Shair of Urdu language. He is credited with having written the first Urdu Gazal .Chander Bhan "Brahman ,lived before Wali Deccani. Though on records, it’s Deccani who is credited with writing the first Diwan (collection) of Urdu poetry, the fact is that Wali Deccani was born in 1669, six years after Chander Bhan’s death.A sample of his Urdu Gazal is as under:-


Khuda ne kis shahar andhar haman ko laaye daala hai...

Na dilbar hai na sheesha hai na saaqi hai na pyaala hai ...

piya ke naam ki simran kiya chaahoon karoon kis sinn,

na tasbih hai na simran hai na kanthi hai na maala hai ...

"Birahman"' vaaste ashnaan ke phirtaa hai bagiyan sinn,

na ganga hai na jamuna hai na naddi hai na naala hai ...


( Avtar Mota )

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