Friday, April 09, 2010

Allama Iqbal in Heidelberg

For a few years now I have worked for a European company headquartered near Heidelberg in Germany so I have had an opportunity to visit this lovely, historic city several times. Heidelberg is a beautiful town located on the banks of the river Neckar which originates in the Black Forest and flows into the river Rhine only 12 miles northwest of the city.

But before I had ever been to Heidelberg, the city was associated in my mind with the great poet-philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal left Bombay for London by ship in September 1905 to attend Cambridge University. He enrolled at Trinity College and eventually received a B.A degree. From Cambridge, Iqbal went to Germany to pursue a Ph.D in Philosophy and studied in Heidelberg and Munich. It seems amazing but the exact chronology of Iqbal's stay in Germany has not been established. Most likely he was in Germany during 1906 and 1907. Sometime in 1907, under the supervision of Professor Dr. Friedrich Hommel, Iqbal submitted his Ph.D thesis titled "The Development of Metaphysics in Persia" to the Ludwig Maximilians University at Munich and was granted a doctorate.

There is a fascinating piece written by M.A.H. Hobohm called "Muhammad Iqbal and Germany" in which he provides some wonderful details of Iqbal's stay in Heidelberg. This essay is worth reading in its entirety. Iqbal stayed for some time in the "Pension Scherer" which was a boarding house for foreign students. At this boarding house Miss Emma Wegenast was Iqbal's German language tutor. Iqbal corresponded with Fraulein Wegenast for several years after returning to Lahore. Hobohm has copies of 27 such letters which includes 2 postcards and this collection reveals Iqbal's fondness for his former tutor but also his love for German literary culture and his affection for Heidelberg. Hobohm provides some wonderful quotes from the letters:

"Here it is: Fraulein Wegenast, that is Goethe, Heine, Kant and Schopenhauer, it is Heidelberg, the Neckar, Germany —it is those happy days!"

"It is impossible for me to forget your beautiful country where I have learned so much. My stay in Heidelberg is nothing now but a beautiful dream. How I’d wish I could repeat it!"

"I’d wish I could see you once more at Heidelberg or Heilbronn whence we shall together make a pilgrimage to the sacred grave of the great master Goethe."

This brings me back to my own visits to Heidelberg where I have occasionally tried to retrace Iqbal's steps. I have wandered the halls of the philosophy department at the University of Heidelberg where he studied. Normally I stay at the Marriott Hotel in Heidelberg and "Iqbal Ufer", the street honoring the great poet, is right across from that hotel and a constant reminder of the philosopher-poet's years of association with this city. "Ufer" means river bank in German and this location is right on the river Neckar. All Things Pakistan has done a post about this location in the past. However a colleague of mine, knowing my interest in Iqbal, just sent me a couple of rare photographs of the house where Iqbal lived in Heidelberg and where a sandstone plaque from 1966 acknowledges the historic landmark.

The plaque reads:

Mohammad Iqbal
1877 – 1938
National Philosopher, Poet
and Spiritual Father of Pakistan
lived here in the year 1907.

This honorary plaque was displayed on September 16th, 1966 by the minister of cultural affairs of the state of Baden Wuerttemberg Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Hahn in the presence of His Excellency the Ambassador of Pakistan Abdurrahman Khan and the 1st mayor of the city of Heidelberg, Georg Klemm.

Picture of the house with the plaque on the brick wall

As with all great literary voices it is always most fitting to end with their own words. After my first visit to Heidelberg I searched Kuliyat-e-Iqbal to see if there was any lasting trace of Heidelberg in Iqbal's poetry. I found the nazm "Aik Shaam" in "Bang-e-Dara". The sub-heading says, "Darya-e-Neckar (Heidelberg) ke kinare par". This is a poem of ambience and conjures a lovely atmosphere in which the poet standing at the edge of the river at night experiences a calm and peaceful communion with nature. It is not until the powerful last verse when an inner turmoil and sadness is suddenly hinted at, revealing the heart of the poet at odds with his serene surroundings.

Aik Shaam
(Darya-e-Neckar (Heidelberg) ke kinare par)

Khamosh hai chandni qamar ki
ShaakheiN haiN khmosh har shajar ki

Waadi ke nawa farosh khamosh
Kohsaar ke sabz posh khamosh

Fitrat behosh ho gai hai
Aaghosh maiN shab ke so gayee hai

Kuch aisa sakoot ka fasooN hai
Neckar ka kharam bhi sakooN hai

TaaroN ka khmosh kaarvaaN hai
Yeh kafila be dara rawaN hai

Khamosh haiN koh-o-dasht-o-darya
Qudrat hai muraqbe maiN goya

Aye dil! tu bhi khmosh ho ja
Aaghosh maiN gham ko lay ke so ja

Update: September 20th, 2012:

Much to my delight I found a beautifully done video on YouTube by Dr. Homayun Shirzadeh reciting "Aik Shaam". The video has lovely images of Heidelberg evoking Iqbal's poetic imagery and includes English and German ("Ein Abend") translations of the poem. Here it is:


readerswords said...

Superb ! One has always known about the impact of German philosophy on Iqbal's poetry, but this gives a very human touch to his association with Germany. Thanks for this post.

Fawad Zakariya said...

Bhupinder, thanks for both visiting and appreciating the piece.

Anonymous said...

I loved this piece especially your ending with that poem. Good work!

Fawad Zakariya said...

Hello sabizak. Glad you liked the piece. Thanks.

Wasiq said...


Very engaging and well written, gives a new connection to Iqbal's life, and his poetry. I wonder what Iqbal was thinking about in the last verse...

Fawad Zakariya said...

Wasiq, thanks.

As to what he was thinking, of course, who can know for sure! In my mind's eye I like to imagine the 30 year old poet experiencing loneliness in a foreign even if stimulating land and a longing for Lahore, his home and surroundings in Bhati darwaza, the meetings of the Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam and the halls of Government College.

Majid Ur Rehman said...

This topic forced me search more on net and I found your article. Very good post and plaque pictures. Thanks.

Peazeful said...

I have always felt like Iqbal reg. Germany :)

Germany was a kind of second home to my spirit. I learned much and I thought much in that country. The home of Goethe has found a permanent place in my soul.’
- Iqbal

Anonymous said...

Address of the house? Anyone?

Syeda Rafiya Shehnaz Urdu High school Daulatabad said...

" Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal, commonly known as allama Iqbal is my inspiration, he was really a genius, he had the forsight non other muslim has the same in the present era.

my salute to this great man!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a wonderful post. I wish you have also taken a picture of that huge stone having the poem of Iqbal. One can find this stone somewhere close to Iqbal Ufer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a wonderful post. I wish you have also taken a picture of that huge stone having the poem of Iqbal. One can find this stone somewhere close to Iqbal Ufer.

Saadia Khan

Unknown said...

Dear Fawad,
A great tribute paid by you to the Poet / Scholar, Sir Dr. Muhammad Iqbal being recognized world over. Last year, during my visit to Germany, I specially went to Heidelberg to see how the great nations recognize the great personalities irrespective of their Race or Region.

Unknown said...

Beautiful.I have a photo of the Stone.How do I post it on the blog.

Anonymous said...

Babar Sahib, you can email me the photos and I can post them on the site and give your credit as the source of the photos.

عاطف بٹ said...

Very interesting and wonderful piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Needless to mention that I'd to search the poem video on Google because of the YouTube ban.

Anonymous said...

And these days, the Pakistani government wants to abolish the national holiday on 9th November which is the great poets birthday. said...

Thanks a lot for writing this article, can I include a part from it in my book about Iqbal?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Inspiration.Wonderfully written. Thanks for posting this.
P.s Iqbal made a second and third visit to Europe as well. Did he visit Heidelberg again? Did he meet his teacher Emma? Asking as a student.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Fawad. This is very inspirational post. it reminded me of evening of November 1995 when I had a day trip from Frankfurt to Heidelberg specially to see Ufer Iqbal and University of Heidelberg. Those were the days when I was working with German Chemical Company Hoeachst. Thanks for reminding of the day.

genius786 said...

I would like to share Allama Iqbal Essay which is for good students.

Jawad Zakariya said...

Here you go. It’s easy to find and is right across Iqbal Ufer on the other side of the river.

Neuenheimer Landstraße 58, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Irfan Ahmad said...

Assalam O Alaikum Simply Brilliant

Unknown said...

Hi.. Can anyone take me around in Heidelberg to see these places where Respective Sir. ALLAMA IQBAL LIVED😇THANKYOU.

Unknown said...

This morning I picked up an old copy of Bangay dara which I had gifted to my late father about thirty years ago. I had marked the page for 'aik shaam' as my sisters married boys from Heidelberg and as a young man I had sat at the edge of the Neckar many times in quiet. contemplation. I lived in England since I was 4 years old and was never tought Urdu. I could only just speak it with my parents but eventually we all resorted to English for the sake of easier communication. As a young man, during my many family visits to Heidelberg I would often take the opportunity to walk alongside the river Nekar but I had no idea that there would be a link with the great poet/philosopher. Although my parents and I am from Lahore my first language is English and I struggle immensely with written Urdu. So today dear friends as I sit quietly in my home in Cyprus reading aik shaam in broken Urdu with help of the transliteration I am able to pick up the jist of this piece thanks to your blog. Peace and Love to you and everyone that has commented on this site. By the way, I have written my own autobiography. It is on Amazon entitled'Look What Happened' by Maz Ghauri. This is not in any way a plug for the book as I am truly grateful for the opportunity to connect and learn with this blog.