A love song from Yamuna: The tale of Ras Khan and his poetry

  • Renuka Narayanan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 28, 2015 16:55 IST

There's new talk about reviving our dead Yamuna which sets our hopes soaring that this precious river will gladden our lives again as she meant to, world without end. She is so much more than a 'substance'. I often think, as millions must, that the Yamuna brimmed with the most extraordinary memories of which surely the sweetest was of a stormy Shravan night when a man with a basket on his head set his feet in her raging waters to cross from Mathura to Gokul?


Yet, though she is the river of the Rajdhani, the Yamuna is cut off from our lives. There are no beautiful riverfronts, promenades and boat rides to refresh those who presently live in or visit Delhi whereas this once-splendid river apparently saw interesting traffic and like the Ganga of blessed name drew innumerable pilgrims to her banks - dreamers, drop-outs, mystics, musicians, poets and saints.

One such fascinating person was Ras Khan, author of the 'Rachnavali', in which he says, "manus ho to vahi raskhani baso braj gokul gaon ke gvaran/ jo pasu hon to kaha bas mero charaun nit nand ko dhenu manjharan" (If I, Ras Khan, am reborn as human, I wish to be a cowherd in the village of Gokul in Brajbhumi. If born an animal, I would like to be a cow in the herd of Nanda, grazing blissfully all day).

How did 16th-17th century Saeed Ibrahim, said to be a Kabuli Pathan settled in Delhi, or perhaps Amroha in UP, become 'Ras Khan' ('lode of rasa') of Mathura-Vrindavan-Gokul? And why do we sing his verses centuries later as part of the beloved heritage of Krishna Bhajan? One tradition goes that he was from a rich zamindari family of Amroha and was treated very shabbily by the local proud beauty he loved.

Being a nobleman's son, Sayeed Ibrahim knew Persian and Sanskrit. He chanced to read the Bhagvat Puran, the 'biography' of Sri Krishna, said to have been written by Veda Vyasa as a mind-cleanser on Sage Narada's advice. This was when Vyasa finished composing the Mahabharata and complained of feeling depressed after writing about so much destructive jealousy.

When Sayeed Ibrahim read of the unconditional love of the gopis for Sri Krishna in the Bhagvat Puran, he was so deeply moved that he went as a tourist to Vrindavan where he fell under the spell of Krishna-lore, becoming a devotee himself.

The Delhi story goes that Saeed Ibrahim fell in love with the son of a Hindu merchant and followed him everywhere, which enraged everybody else. One day he heard one Vaishnava tell another, "We should love the Lord as fearlessly and openly as Sayeed Ibrahim loves the merchant's son." The other snorted in dismissal and Ibrahim sprang at them in fury with his sword. But they quavered staunchly, "If you loved God as do you do that boy, you would be a liberated person."

Intrigued, he went with them to Vrindavan, found Krishna and wrote such heartfelt poetry that a Ras Khan artsfest would be a nice way indeed for Delhi to celebrate when the Yamuna is cleaned up.

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