Can you find an Indian who has never sung “Sare Jahan Achcha Hindostaan Hamara”, the most popular patriotic song ever written in India? It is common knowledge that this poem was written by acclaimed Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal. However not many know the reason for him to write it. The man who asked, or maybe you can say inspired, him to write it was Lala Hardayal.
In 1904, Muhammad Iqbal was teaching at the Government College, Lahore, where Hardayal was pursuing M.A. Lahore had a youth club called Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) of which 20-year-old Hardayal was also a member. He soon realised that Indians should have a club separate from the European-led YMCA. Hardayal formed the Young Men’s Indian Association (YMIA) to inculcate patriotism among Indian students.
Hardayal was 7 years younger than Iqbal and yet both were friends. At that time Iqbal was not as well-known an Urdu poet as he became eventually. Hardayal invited Iqbal to preside over the inaugural meeting of YMIA. When Iqbal was invited he had a few hours to prepare his speech. He was anxious and nervous.
Syed Zafar Hashmi wrote the account of Noor Elahi, who was also present at the YMIA meeting. “When Hardayal convened the inaugural meeting of the club, he extended an invitation to Iqbal to preside over the function. The meeting was scheduled for 3 p.m. but it actually began at 6 p.m. When the meeting started, Iqbal recited his national song Säre Jahan Se Achchha Hindustan Hamārā instead of delivering his presidential address. The audience was spellbound.”
The poem was later published in the Urdu weekly Ittihad with a note that “A club (YMIA) has been established, the most important function of which is to promote harmony among all the communities of India so that they all become unanimously attracted towards the development and welfare of the country. In this function, Punjab’s famous and soft-minded poet Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal read a short and passionate poem, which won the hearts of the audience and on everyone’s request, it was also recited at the beginning and end of the function. Since this poem has achieved success in the cause of unity, we are publishing it in ‘Ittehad’ while thanking our old friend and Maulvi Muhammad Iqbal…”
Next year, in 1905, Hardayal and Iqbal both left India for Europe. Iqbal returned after three years to establish himself as an Urdu poet and ideological figure for the Muslim League and Hardayal became a nationalist revolutionary.
Hardayal was granted a scholarship to study in England even though there were several intelligence reports of his anti-British activities. Once in England, he became associated with the India House of Shyamji Krishna Varma. He worked with revolutionaries like Savarkar, Acharya, and others. Later, he moved to the USA and played an important role in the founding of the Ghadar Movement.