He who has seen my Mother

by Nazrul Islam

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott
Original Language Bengali

He who has seen my Mother
can he hate his brother?
She loves everyone in the three worlds;
her heart cries for all.
With her there's no difference of caste,
no distinction between high and low;
all are the same.
If she sees a Candala
like Rama with Guhak
she clasps him to her breast.
Ma is our Great Illusion, highest Nature, and
Father our highest Self;
     that's why one feels love for all
     we feel love for all.
If you worship the Mother
hating her children
she won't accept your puja;
the Ten-Armed One will not.
The day we forget the knowledge of difference
          on that day only
          will Ma come home to us.

-- from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This Sunday is Mother's Day in the US, Canada, and many other countries. My own mother died a few years ago, so her birthday, which was May 3rd, followed closely by Mother's Day, has a particular resonance for me. I think about my mother, who she was, what she meant to me, but I also notice a softening of the once hard edges of my memory of her. The mother I remember is a specific woman with whom I share life history, but my memory of her expands, becomes more universal. In her I sometimes see the woman who was my mother, and sometimes I find myself relating to an archetypal idea of Mother.

So I thought this poem addressed to the Great Mother by Nazrul Islam might be a good one to contemplate today...


The Great Mother is my mother, yet the mother of all. She is the mother of the people, the mother of the world, the bringer into being of all that is. Through the one universal Mother, we are all brothers and sisters.

He who has seen my Mother
can he hate his brother?


All faiths recognize a universal brotherhood of humanity, but too often it feels like a vague philosophical concept or merely a pleasant statement. But when we bring an image of the Divine Feminine into our sense of sacred reality, whether as one of the other great Hindu goddesses, Mother Mary, Sophia, one of the pre-Christian goddesses of Europe, even a revered female saint, the universal family of life becomes a more tangible, felt reality to us. That touch of the Mother frees our philosophies from the head and brings them into the heart and into the belly, and we experience the interconnectedness of things in a more visceral, immediate way. Brotherhood ceases to be a nice idea and becomes the simple and obvious reality.

In the Mother/Father dichotomy, the Divine Father is often seen as the embodiment of the pure essence of being, while the Divine Mother is the power of creation... and her will to create comes from Love. So she is also Love. Every being is her child whom she loves.

She loves everyone in the three worlds;
her heart cries for all.


And she loves all her children equally.

With her there's no difference of caste,
no distinction between high and low;
all are the same.


And they don't often mention this in greeting cards, but Mother's Day was started as a peace movement. The idea behind it was that, if we remember and honor our own mothers, we will remember that every person has a mother who loved them, which turns war into a terrible farce. Mother's day is a day of family love and world peace.

How can we say we worship the Most Loving One yet harbor hate in our hearts? Can we divide ourselves from our brothers and sisters and still think ourselves worthy of the Universal Mother?

If you worship the Mother
hating her children
she won't accept your puja [worship]



I should point out that this poem may have been written with an important, but somewhat less elevated intention behind it. Nazrul Islam, as his name implies, was Muslim, yet some of his poetry is addressed to Kali, the Mother Goddess of Bengali Hindus -- though he often refers to her more generically as Mother or Ma. Nazrul Islam composed his poetry during the time of British control of India and, in Bengal, the Mother Goddess came to be viewed as a personification of Mother India and the determination to be free of foreign domination. So, rather than a poem of universal brotherhood, this might be read as a poem to awaken national unity between the Indian Muslims and Hindus while striving to free themselves from the British imperial yoke.

That perspective transforms the final lines--

The day we forget the knowledge of difference
          on that day only
          will Ma come home to us.


--into the practical insight that only when they work together will they succeed in re-establishing an independent Indian nation.

The Mother, it seems, is both a peace activist and an independence fighter. In the immensity of her being, the Mother integrates and embodies both.


Happy Mother's Day!



Recommended Books: Nazrul Islam

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal





He who has seen my