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Karbala As Perceived By Munshi Premchand – Dr.Mazhar Naqvi

Editor’s History: An important footnote in interfaith relations between Hindus and Muslims in the Subcontinent is the effort of acclaimed writers like Munshi Premchamd.

Munshi Premchand correctly recognized that Imam Hussain’s Supreme Sacrifice at Karbala could be a binding force for humanity.

Attempts to dilute the importance of Karbala and Imam Hussain have been tried out at various times and have failed each time. During this time of increasing distance between two faith communities that had previously lived in relative harmony, Premchand recognized the crucial
Importance of the Karbala paradigm.

He was resisted from all quarters but he persisted. Even if his efforts did not bear fruit then, we should continue with them. After all, what have we got to loose. Not trying can only cause us to loose our souls and bring us closer to a nuclear holocaust.

Time has come for secular forces to ask the government to make the reading of ‘Karbala’ by Munshi Premchand compulsory for every Indian. Such a move will be the most apt reply to all those who have been delivering hate speeches to once again dis-harmonize India. The predecessors of these communal elements had vitiated the atmosphere of the country similarly before independence. Their sinister campaign had destroyed the great harmony witnessed between Hindus and Muslims in 1857.It was Munshi Premchand who had then eulogized the tragedy of Karbala as a solution to the strained relations between the twin communities. He presented Karbala as symbol of true Jihad – non-violent resistance. Not taking life but sacrificing life for Islam.

The play is not just Premchand’s tribute to the martyrs of Karbala but also an attempt at reconciliation of declining Hindu-Muslim relations. His work not only projected Imam Hussain as symbol of secularism but also universalized Karbala as a symbol of resistance to any oppression. Regarded as one of India’s greatest writers, Premchand manifested India’s homage to Imam Hussain by showing in his historic play Karbala that a large Indian army was standing nearby the Camp of Imam. Its soldiers urged him repeatedly to allow them to fight Yazidi troops but Imam did not accept the offer on the plea that this would cause more bloodshed.

In the introduction of play, Premchand drew parallels between Karbala and Mahabharat and Ramayan. He even stated that the Hindus, who fought and sacrificed their lives in the holy war of Karbala, were believed to be the descendants of Ashvathama. He even lamented  ““It is a matter of shame that even though we have been staying with Muslims for centuries yet we are unknown to their historical past. And this is the cause of disharmony between Hindu and Muslims We are not aware of great qualities inherent in great men belonging to Muslim community. When we think of Muslim king the image of Aurangzeb only comes but good and bad people are there in every society and this will continue forever. “  Prem Chand was bred in an atmosphere that was truly Indo-Islamic. He was grounded in Persian and believed in composite culture. He was naturally perturbed when articles published in books such as Islam Ka Vish Vraksh (poisonous tree) and Andha Aitmad Aur Khufia Jihad started appearing with the aim of disturb the peaceful co-existence of Hindus and Muslims. Being aware of the true tenets of Islam, Premchand wrote Karbala and several other articles to counter baseless accusations of some Hindi writers against Islam, Prophet and participation of non-Muslims in Muharram ceremonies.

Premchand scripted Karbala at a time when he was busy writing Rangbhumi. He wanted Daya Narayan Nigam, Kanpur-based Editor of Zamana, to publish it in series but the latter refused on the plea that Imamis may not like the dramatic version. He twice wrote to Nigam but failed to convince him. One of his letters reveals that he was fully convinced that name of Imam Hussain would surely reduce the tension and pacify the situation. Despite refusal by Nigam, he did not lose heart. Premchand was so obsessed with Karbala’s utility as a solution to the problem of communal divide that he wanted to publish it on his own despite his economic constraints.

Somehow he managed to get published Karbala but the atmosphere was so vitiated by 1920s that the play failed to attract the attention it deserved. In the process, however he reserved his place forever as the dissemination of a positive image of Islam, Prophet Hazrat Muhammad and his progeny. Karbala can easily be considered as perhaps the most moving tribute to sublime sacrifice of Imam Hussain and his companions .It is just ironical that efforts have not been initiated by sensible countrymen to use it as an effective weapon to frustrate the ugly designs of those once again longing for disturbing the harmony in India.

Premchand was born on July 31, 1880. His original name was Dhanpat Rai Srivastava. He began writing under the pen name “Nawab Rai”, but subsequently switched to “Premchand”. A novel writer, story writer and dramatist, he has been referred to as the “Upanyas Samrat” (“Emperor among Novelists”) by some Hindi writers. His works include more than a dozen novels, around 250 short stories, several essays and translations of a number of foreign literary works into Hindi. He breathed his last on October 8, 1936. References available on request).

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Karbala As Perceived By Munshi Premchand-Dr.Mazhar Naqvi