Both Allama Iqbal and Rabindranath Tagore were the most renowned “Hindustani” poets in the last century. Iqbal was from Punjab and his poetry work would mostly be in Punjabi and the Persian language. Tagore, on the other hand, was Bengali and wrote extensively in his native language.
Tagore was awarded the prestigious Noble Prize for literature in 1913, which left many wondering why Iqbal was overlooked.
This was one of the biggest ambiguities of that time as Allama Iqbal didn’t get the Nobel despite his deep and thoughtful poetry and million of followers mesmerized by his work. Both Iqbal and Tagore were poets of the highest order and were simultaneously writing poetry in the sub-continent. Both were spiritualists and they were profoundly influenced by Persian gurus. While Iqbal was influenced by Rumi and used to call him his spiritual master, Tagore was inspired by another Iranian, Hafiz Shirazi.
Some critics argue that Tagore almost plagiarized Hafiz in some of his poems in Gitanjali while Iqbal’s work was said to be original and unique. Though comparisons are actually unjust; the same critics also argue that Iqbal poetry was relevant to all the age groups while the poetry of Tagore did not have a universal appeal.
Critics supporting Iqbal argue that the reason why Iqbal was overlooked for the noble prize was more political than anything else. Critics allege that Tagore’s family had a good relationship with the high ranking English officials and also Tagore had significant connections with some of the influential English people.
Critics claim that they always wanted to give appreciation to a “Hindu “than to a “Muslim” as Britishers were boiling with anger over the active role of Muslims during the “Mutiny of 1857”. Therefore, Iqbal was overlooked for Tagore.
Experts supporting Tagore state that he modernised the Bengali art by scorning rigid classical forms and defying dialectal structures. His tales, stories, melodies, dramas, and compositions were simply awe-inspiring. Gitanjali, Gora, and Ghare Baire were some of his best-known works.
Experts further argue that Tagore is the only person in the world whose compositions were selected by two countries as national anthems which includes India’s Jana Gana Mana and Bangladesh’s Amar Shonar Bangla. The Sri-Lankan national anthem is also widely believed to have been inspired by Rabindranath Tagore.
Both Allama Iqbal and Rabindranath Tagore were legends; while Iqbal had a strong following in Northern Indian (the Hindi / Urdu Belt), Tagore was an iconic figure in Eastern part of India, including today’s Bangladesh.
However, the tag of Nobel Prize (even if it was biased as critics claim) has given global recognization to both Rabindranath Tagore and India.