A linguistic and cultural expression, poetry is one of the most treasured forms of human creativity and art. It is expressing thoughts in a rhythmic, soulful and elegant manner to make a lasting impression. While we are well aware of the famous poets such as William Shakespeare, Allan Edgar Poe, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, etc. there are many famous poets of India, who have touched, revolutionized and inspired many people.
The history of Indian poetry dates back to ancient times. Since the early ages, poetry has been a flourishing art form in India. In the medieval era, religious and self-reflective poems were on the rise by some of the best poets in India namely Kabir Das, Rahim Das, Kalidasa, etc. In the Mughal period, poetry flourished as a respected art form and was highly appreciated and honored. The 19th and the 20th century saw a shift in the genres of poetry with notable poets such as Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Mahadevi Verma and many more.
Owing to our country’s linguistic diversity, the poems of India are penned down in Sanskrit, Hindi, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Urdu and English. Some ancient and famous poets of India even wrote poems in languages such as Persian.
This World Poetry Day, let us look at some of the famous poets of India responsible for bringing this art form to the forefront.
Rabindranath Tagore [1861 - 1941]
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” - Rabindranath Tagore
Fondly remembered as the ‘Bard Of Bengal,’ Rabindranath Tagore was a famous poet in India as well as across the world. He was the first non-European and the first lyricist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Rabindranath Tagore was highly regarded for his contributions and remolding Bengali literature and music as well as Indian art with contextual modernism. One of the best poets in India, his novels, stories, poems and essays explored diverse topics from politics to personal. Rabindranath Tagore modernised Bengali art by refraining from rigid classic forms and linguistic structures. His works were nothing short of magical, enlightening and elegant. The highly-acclaimed works of Rabindranath Tagore include Gitanjali (1910), Gora (1910), Ghare-Baire (1916), Chitrangada (1892), Chandalika (1938), Shyama (1939), Kabuliwala (1892), Atithi (1985), Chokher Bali (1903), Sonar Tori (1894) and many more.
Sarojini Naidu [1879 - 1949]
“Shall hope prevail where clamorous hate is rife, Shall sweet love prosper or high dreams have place Amid the tumult of reverberant strife 'Twixt ancient creeds, 'twixt race and ancient race, That mars the grave, glad purposes of life, Leaving no refuge save thy succoring face?” - Sarojini Naidu
Popularly known as the ‘Nightingale Of India,’ Sarojini Naidu was an Indian freedom fighter and also one of the greatest poets of India. The imagery and lyrical quality of Sarojini Naidu’s poems earned her the title of ‘Bharat Kokila’ from Mahatma Gandhi. A famous poet in India, her works revolved around children’s poetry and serious themes such as patriotism, romance and tragedy. Sarojini Naidu started her career in literature at the age of 12 and one of her early works - Maher Muneer, a play written in Persian, acquired her high praise from the Nizam Of Hyderabad. Some famous Sarojini Naidu poems are The Golden Threshold (1905), In the Bazaars Of Hyderabad (1912), The Feather Of The Dawn (1927), The Indian Weavers (1971) and many more.
Tulsidas [1543 - 1623]
“There can be no happiness for a being nor can its mind know any peace even in a dream so long as it does not relinquish desire, which is an abode of sorrow.” - Tulsidas
One of the ancient and best poets in India, Tulsidas a.k.a Goswami Tulsidas is believed to be the rebirth of Valmiki. He penned down some of his most popular poems in Sanskrit and Awadhi. The impact of Tulsidas’ works on Indian art, culture and society are widespread and can be seen today as well. Tulsidas commenced the dramatic enactment of Ramayan on stage known as ‘Ram Lila,’ there performed popularly even today during Navratri. He is the author of several literary texts about the Hindu religion. Some of them are: Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas:- A retelling of Ramayana in Awadhi language and Tulsidas’ Hanuman Chalisa:- Forty verses to Lord Hanuman recited by many Hindus on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A famous poet in India, Tulsidas had written Dohavali (1581), Krishnavali (1607), Gitavali, Hanuman Bahuka and many more.
Kabir Das [1398 / 1440 - 1448 / 1518]
“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” - Kabir Das
The 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint, Kabir Das, also known as Sant Kabir Das is considered amongst the oldest and greatest poets of India. His poems and his teachings are remembered even today and are reflected in the many art forms such as music. Kabir Das penned down his poems and dohas in Hindi, Braj and Awadhi and pertained to devotion, mysticism and discipline. A famous poet in India, literary works with compositions credited to Kabir Das are Kabir Bijak, Kabir Parachai, Sakhi Granth, Adi Granth and Kabir Granthawali. ‘Kabir ke Dohe’ are immensely popular and recited even today. His work strongly influenced the Bhakti Movement (15th century to 17th century). Kabir Das has influenced many artists of today’s generation and music albums including Jhini by Indian Ocean, No Stranger Here by Shubha Mudgal and Ursula Rucker and many other literary works as well.
Mahadevi Verma [1907 - 1987]
“वे खिलते पुष्प जिन्हें मुरझाना नहीं आता, और वे दीप जिन्हें बुझना नहीं आता, कितने अद्भुत प्रतीत होते हैं |” - Mahadevi Verma
Addressed as the ‘Modern Meera’ by many, Mahadevi Verma is one of the best poets in India and was considered as one of the four major pillars of the Chhayavadi era in Hindi literature. She introduced ‘Braj Bhasha’ softness to Hindi poetry with soft words from Sanskrit and Bengali.’ Mahadevi Verma worked for the wider society of India. Considered the foundation of feminism in India, her contribution to the upliftment and welfare development of women was reflected in her writings. A famous poet in India, Mahadevi Verma also experienced the honour of receiving all the notable awards in Hindi literature. Some famous poems of Mahadevi Verma include Nihar (1930), Rashmi (1932), Neerja (1933) and Sandhyageet (1935), etc. The short stories Mera Pariwar, Smriti Ki Rekhaye, Path ke Sathi, Srinkhala ke Kadiyan and Atit ke Chalchitra by her are considered among the best.
Amir Khusrow [1253 -1325]
“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.” - Amir Khusrow
(“If there is a paradise on earth, It is this, it is this, it is this”)
‘Voice Of India,’ ‘Parrot Of India,’ ‘Father Of Urdu Literature’ and ‘Father Of Qawwali’ - honoured with many titles, Amir Khusrow was a prominent figure in the cultural history of the Indian subcontinent. One of the greatest poets of India, he primarily wrote in Persian and Hindavi. He introduced the ghazal style of songs in the country which is immensely well-known even today. A famous poet in India, Amir Khusrow is believed to have invented the instrument of Sitar. He was well-known for his playful riddles, songs and renditions in the Delhi Sultanate. His works in these genres have been passed down from generation to generation and are a part of popular culture today in South Asia.
Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan [1556 - 1627]
“रहिमन धागा प्रेम का, मत तोड़ो चटकाय।
टूटे से फिर ना जुड़े, जुड़े गांठ परी जाय।।” - Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan
“Says Rahim do not snap ever the thread of love
once broken, it does not unite if it does, knots appear.”
One of the nine important Ministers in Emperor Akbar’s court, Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan was a famous poet in India. He is best known for ‘Rahim Das ke Dohe’ in Hindi and his books on astrology. Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan was also credited for translating Babur’s memoirs a.k.a Baburnama from the Chagatai language to the Persian language. Apart from literary works, he was quite well known for his strange manner of helping the poor and also exchanged a word regarding the same with one of the best poets in India, Tulsidas, in the form of couplets.
Poet Mirza Ghalib [1797 - 1969]
“Greenery is growing from walls and doors Ghalib
I am in a desert and my house blooms as its spring.” - Poet Mirza Ghalib
Poet Mirza Ghalib, also known as Asad, was one of the greatest poets of India. Well-versed in Urdu and Persian poetry, he was bestowed with the titles ‘Dabir-ul-Mulk’ and ‘Najm-ud-Daula.’ Some of poet Mirza Ghalib noteworthy works include Ode-e-Hindi, Abr-i-Gauharbar and Chirag-i-Dair. A famous poet in India, he was well-known for his ghazals in different genres, especially love. The first complete English translation of poet Mirza Ghalib’s ghazals was Love Sonnets Of Ghalib translated by Sarfaraz K. Niazi. Some famous ghazals of Mirza Ghalib are Aah Ko Chahiye Ik Umra, Ishq Pe Zor Nahi Hai Ye Wo Aatish Ghalib, Nukta Cheen Hai Gham-e-dil, Dil E Nadan Tujhe Hua Kya Hai and many others.
Popularly known as the Indian Shakespeare, Kalidasa was one of the best poets in India. His poetries and plays mainly revolved around the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas and were most likely penned down before the 5th century CE. Two of the outstanding Kalidasa poems include Kumārasambhava and Raghuvaṃśa. Some of Kalidasa’s noteworthy plays include Vikramōrvaśīyam, Abhijñānaśākuntalam and Mālavikāgnimitram. His play Abhijñānaśākuntalam has been adapted into many movies and TV serials in popular culture.
Gulzar Sahab [1934 - Present]
“Milta toh bahut kucch hai Iss Zindagi Mein. Bas hum Ginti usi ki karte hain, Jo haasil na ho saka.” - Gulzar Sahab
A famous poet in India, Gulzar Sahab or Gulzar is a man of many talents. He is a well-known lyricist, poet, author, screenwriter, and film director in the Bollywood film industry. Gulzar Sahab started his career as a lyricist with S.D. Burman in 1963 and never looked back since. He has given the audience many soulful tracks to croon to. As one of the greatest poets of India, Gulzar Sahab mainly writes in Hindi and Punjabi but is also well-versed in other languages such as Braj Bhasha, Khariboli, Haryanvi and Marwari. His poems are published in three anthologies namely Chand Pukhraj Ka, Raat Pashmine Ki and Pandrah Paanch Pachattar. Gulzar Sahab has also penned down beautiful ghazals for Jagjit Singh's albums Marasim (1999) and Koi Baat Chale (2006).