Songs of Unity

Hailed as ‘Bharat Kokila’, the ‘Nightingale of India’, she was a poet from whom flowed words as songs of unity, compassion, love, duty and responsibility towards a nation subjugated.

Songs of Unity


Hailed as ‘Bharat Kokila’, the ‘Nightingale of India’, she was a poet from whom flowed words as songs of unity, compassion, love, duty and responsibility towards a nation subjugated. When Sarojini Naidu passed away on 2 March 1949, seventy-five years ago, she was Governor of Uttar Pradesh, a public office which she held with grace and dignity. One could add that she was the first woman Governor but it would hardly do justice to this fiery feminist, a poet who travelled the world arguing, debating, and singing about women’s emancipation and equal rights; and a theme close to her heart, the unity between Hindus and Muslims.

In the Constituent Assembly in 1946, her speeches boldly addressed fears of minority group leaders like MA Jinnah, proclaiming a vision of justice and equality for all Indians. Her speech on 13 October 1917 in Patna, when she spoke to a large gathering of Patna City Students’ Association rang with fervor, poetic passion, and relevance. “Centuries ago, when the first Islamic army came to India, they pitched their caravans on the banks of the sacred Ganges and tempered and cooled their swords in the sacred waters.

It was the baptism of the Ganges that gave the first welcome to the Islamic invaders that became the children of India as generations went by,” she declared. It was a large gathering, primarily of young students and teachers; in the chair was Rai Bahadur Krishna Sahay, when Sarojini Naidu spoke of Hindu-Muslim unity: “We should bear in mind that historic circumstance, that historic culture, that historic evolution for which the Gangetic valley has stood in bringing about the Hindu-Muslim relationship age after age…It is only because we are ignorant that we are divided and it is the sacred mission of enlightenment to bring not the lesson of quarrel but the lesson of peace. That is the problem with which we have to deal today.


For what is the Hindu-Muslim Unity! We hear it spoken of vigorously, we hear it spoken of unceasingly, we hear it spoken of passionately. But have we defined to ourselves its practical issues? What is the meaning, what is the significance of the Hindu-Muslim Unity? There is so much misconception abroad that, if a Muslim shows sympathy towards a Hindu, he becomes a traitor and that if a Hindu shows sympathy towards a Mussalman, he becomes an outcaste. But what is the reason of this mistrust of those who stand as links between the two races? Nothing save our misreading of the entire purpose of national history.” By 1917 Sarojini Naidu had made her mark in national politics as a dynamic Congress leader, attending and speaking at major Congress conferences; building ties with senior leaders like Pt Motilal Nehru, Jinnah and then the newlyarrived from South Africa, Mohandas Gandhi who was getting engaged in India’s struggle for self-government.

There was thundering applause in the Patna gathering when she enumerated the problem of HinduMuslim Unity: “There are in India two communities (I will not say two races), two communities that are separated by what they consider the difference of creeds. But when you come to analyze this difference of creed, you begin to find that after all, fundamentally, the teaching that came in the wake of the Muslim conquerors was the same as the teaching that arose in the great hymns in the sacred mountain regions of the Himalayas and on the sacred Ganges five thousand years ago. It means essentially the love of truth, the love of purity, the service of humanity, the search for wisdom, the great lessons of self-sacrifice, the worship of the same transcendent Spirit, no matter whether in one language it was called Allah and in another Parameshwar.”

Posing the question to the audience, Sarojini Naidu asked, “After all, what is this antagonism between creed and creed? Antagonism is merely the asset of the ignorant. They are not the weapons of the wise who realize that after all it is only the misunderstanding of the essential truth wherein lies the difficulty in launching across that golden bridge of sympathy that brings together the two great communities whose fundamental teaching is the love of God and the service of men.” To the young, she explained, “In this great country the Muslims came to make their home, not to carry spoils and to go back to their own home but to build permanently here their home and create a new generation for the enrichment of the Motherland. How can they live separate from the people of the soil? Does history say that in the past they have so lived separate? Or rather it says that once having chosen to take up their abode in this land, they became the children of the soil, the very flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood.

Gentlemen, history has said that the foreign emperors sought not to divide and rule, but to unite the people and so build an imperishable guarantee of their own power and administration.” In words that dripped with simplicity and devotion, the ‘Nightingale of India’ spoke of daily actions, of ways and means to shun ignorance. “You love your neighbour as yourselves, you realize his humanity as common with your experiences and aspirations of life, his failures, his triumph, his hopes and fears, his culture and ignorance which are the common inheritance between you and him. There is no difference because of your common aspirations, your common destiny of humanity… why make difference between the tillers of the soil whether he is a Muslim or a Hindu? Does he not suffer from drought, from the failure of harvest, from pestilence from locusts?

The schoolmaster, whether he be a Hindu or a Mussalman, has he not the same responsibility of creating within his hands (is he not a sharer of a common responsibility, I ask) a bond between brother and brother whether he be a Hindu or a Mussalman? Then, when floods come, and famines come, and plagues come, do not all of us suffer equally? Why make difference between men? Are there different angels of death for the Hindus and Mussalmans to carry them off?” The applause can be heard even now. She began her address referring to the Ganga. Sarojini Naidu questioned, “Once more we turn to the sacred river flowing beneath us; what has been the symbolism of that river through the centuries? What has been the symbolism of that river? What is the symbolism, I say, that age after age has made it sacred not merely in Sanskrit but in Persian verses as well, that flows giving gift to the land, that waters the fields of both the Hindu and Mussalman alike. It has been the inspiration of the Hindu and Mussalman geniuses as well.

The sacred water of this sacred river, with the solemn music flowing through city after city has washed away sins after sins of the Hindu people and has given cold waters to the thirsting armies of the Mussalmans. And when the great river arrives where it meets another river, in sacred Prayag, there is the union with mystic music, soul to soul and heart to heart, of the two great rivers, the Ganga and the Jumna ~ a Sangam of two rivers each without losing its own characteristics and qualities. And yet it is a perfect union.

And that should be the symbol of the Hindu and Muslim unity, each keeping its own culture, its own individual characteristics, its own purity, its own special colour of its own waters, the music of its own deed even at that point of Union.” Hundred and seven years after Sarojini Naidu’s Patna address, her messages built around the purity of the river, its symbolism and meaning remain indelibly relevant, still a clarion call in free and independent India. She exhorted the youth to remain united, focused on building the nation together.

In ‘An Anthem of Love’, (published in ‘The Sceptred Flute ~ Songs of India’ in 1943), she penned this couplet: “Two hands are we to serve thee, O our Mother, / To strive and succour, cherish and unite; / Two are we to cleave the waning darkness, / And gain the pathways of the dawning light. / One heart are we to love thee, O our Mother, / One undivided, indivisible soul, / Bound by one hope, one purpose, one devotion / Towards a great, divinelydestined goal.”

(The writer is an authorresearcher on history and heritage issues and former deputy curator of Pradhanmantri Sangrahalaya)