By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Ugadi, the Telugu new year, is synonymous with "Kavi Sammelan" or poetic gatherings. Telugu writers and poets, both famous and budding, gather together and recite their poetry with verses that touch upon the various phases of life in a human being.
The concept of holding Kavi Sammelan on the auspicious day of Ugadi is as old as the Telugu language and culture. The art got its perfection during the regime of Emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya of the famous Vijayanagara kingdom. And since then there's no looking back for the Telugu poetry.
Though a majority of Muslims in Andhra Pradesh are Urdu-speaking, there has been no major Ugadi Sammelan without the participation of Telugu Muslim poets. Telugu Muslim poets have always been the part of Ugadi Kavi Sammelans right from the days of the Vijayanagara empire.
With more and more Muslims learning Telugu and penning verse in the language, the modern day Ugadi Kavi Sammelans have undergone a seachange both in the outlook and the content. Before Independence and for a couple of decades thereafter, Ugadi Sammelans were dominated by poets from a particular caste.
Of late, there have been poets even from the Dalit communities rubbing shoulders with upper caste poets. Muslim poets have made a mark of their own in Ugadi Sammelans with their unique flavour of national integration and communal harmony interspersed with the demand for the rights of the principal minority community.
There are over 80 Telugu Muslim poets and scores of poetry books have been published. "We all celebrate our birthdays. Time too has its birthday. And the birthday of Time falls on Ugadi. Ugadi is not just a new year. It is the beginning of an era, the era that heralds a new phase in our life. It is a wrong notion that Ugadi is a festival of Hindus. It is not the new year of Hindus.
It is the new year of Telugus, all those born in the Telugu land - Andhra Pradesh. Ugadi is as much an occasion for celebrations for Telugu Hindus as much for Telugu Muslims. Visit any village and you will find both Muslims and Hindus celebrating the new year," observes eminent poet and author Khadar Mohiuddin. Kavi Sammelans too have undergone a change with the change in time.
Earlier, Ugadi Sammelans were limited to reciting verses on Ugadi and related subjects. Now the Sammelans have attained a broader outlook with "feminism", "Dalitism" and "Muslimism" dominating such gatherings.
"Our ancestors started organising Kavi Sammelans on Ugadi as part of their programme to encourage various arts. Like the Ugadi pacchadi (pickle made of jaggery, raw mangoes and neem fruits and flowers), life is full of happiness (sweetness), troubles (bitterness) and comfort (sourness). Krishnadevaraya encouraged various forms of art like dance, poetry, paintings and singing and the artistes got the opportunity to express their expertise on the Ugadi.
Now this festival has given Muslims, Dalits and women an opportunity to express their views and problems and share them with the rest of society," points our writer-journalist Syed Naseer Ahmed. The Muslim pioneers of Ugadi Sammelans were Devi Priya (Khaja Hussain), Afsar, Kaumudi, MK Sugam Babu (Mahboob Khan), Umar Ali Shah, Dilawar, Ismail, Yakoob, Khadar Mohiuddin, Ghulam Ghouse, SA Rawoob, SM Mallick, Qadeer Babu and Khadar Khan. The torch is now being carried forward by the likes of Khwaja, Sky Baba (Shaik Yusuf Baba), Wahed, Soujanya (Muhammad Naseeruddin) and Iqbal Chand. There are Telugu Muslim poetess too, of the likes of Mahjabeen and Shahjahana.
The State government has honoured Mahjabeen with the Ugadi Puraskar (award) for Telugu literature. These Muslim poets have carved out a niche for themselves with their unique style and rendition of the Telugu poetry. "Ugadi enlivens our spirits," says Yakoob, a veteran of Kavi Sammelans.
"Now there has been Muslimisation of Ugadi to some extent. Ugadi stands as the best example of the joint cultural heritage of Hindus and Muslims. If there is any festival, other than Ugadi, which brings Muslims and Hindus together, it is Muharram. During Muharram Hindu poets recite poetry in praise of the Islamic martyrs Hazrat Imam Hassan and Hazrat Imam Hussain. Many do not know that our festivals bond people together and occasions like Ugadi and Muharram further strengthen those bonds," adds Yakoob.
There are occasions when Telugu Muslim poets stood apart from the rest of the poets at Kavi Sammelans. "It is the love of the language that makes our hearts speak out. And what occasion is more appropriate than Ugadi to share our views to the heart content, remembering the hoary past of Andhra and paving the way for a Swarna (golden) Andhra Pradesh," says Yusuf Baba, more popular as Sky Baba.
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