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Khusrau, then and now

through time and spacePrayers at the Nizammuddin Dargah where Khusrau and Nizamuddin Auliya lie buriedPhoto: V. Sudershan  

While Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya gave Amir Khusrau the title of Turkullah (The Turk or Soldier of God), Khusrau was also known as Tuti-i-Hind, the Parrot of India. Sowing the seeds of the Indo-Persian culture in the country of his love, India, he declared, “I am an Indian Turk and can answer you in Hindi…” (preface, “Diwan, Ghurrat-ul-Kamal”)

Khusrau’s paternal ancestors belonged to the nomadic tribe of Hazaras from Transoxiana, who crossed the river Indus and migrated to India in the 13th Century. His father served the Sultan of Delhi, Shamsuddin Iltutmish, in a high position, and gave his sons the benefit of education in theology, Persian and the Quran. From his mother and maternal grandfather, who had a Hindustani origin, he acquired both, an intimacy with the local languages and a rooting in the immediate cultural ambience. He said once, “…when my milk-teeth were falling, I composed verses that dropped from my mouth like pearls!”

And this is what continued to happen, verse after verse, pearl after pearl, all his life. To him the sun, for instance, would be – the galloping deer, streams of fire, darts in the sky, washing agent for water and earth, and so on.

With his second collection of verses, “Wast-ul-Hayat”, Amir Khusrau’s name spread from house to house, wide and far, and he came to be known in Persia as well. The famous poet of Persia, Sa’di, sent him compliments. In “Ghurrat-ul-Kamal” (1293), Khusrau’s third collection of verses, the poet gives a lively discourse on the art of versification. He defines the master poet and establishes the difference between a mystic and a poet, and a moralist and a poet. It was however, with his long, unique poem, “Qiran-us-Sa’dain”, written with ceaseless labour of six months, at the age of 36, that Khusrau became the poet-laureate of King Kaiqobad at Delhi. This poem got named as “Mathnavi dar Sifat-I-Delhi” because it is embellished with rich and poetic descriptions of Delhi that was the Garden of Eden for Khusrau. Drawing a pen picture of the reservoir, Khaza’inu’l-Futuh, he talks of the building in the middle as a bubble and the dome as an ostrich egg peeping from the sea! The poem is soaked in his love for Delhi; he also writes on the mutual love between Hindus and Muslims here.

He remained the court poet for Khilji kings and produced many ghazals which were sung and lauded in the court. In “Nuh Sipihr” (1318), Khusrau’s fascination with India’s birds and animals, flowers and trees, its languages and people finds an impassioned expression. It was indeed due to his Sufi orientation, acquired mainly from his spiritual mentor, Nizamuddin Auliya, that he chose to appreciate some aspects of the Hindu religion and customs in “Nuh Sipihr”.

In fact, through an anecdote in “Hasht-Bihisht”, he preaches religious toleration by narrating a dialogue between a Muslim Haji going to Makkah and a Brahmin pilgrim going to Somnath. Khusrau’s poetry offers a powerful metaphor for secular thinking and living.

The most productive period for Khusrau was Alauddin Khilji’s 20 years of reign during which time, amongst many other long poems, came “Majnun-o-Leyla”. When Khusrau heard about the demise of his master Nizammuddin Auliya, he tore his clothes, blackened his face and went to his master’s grave. In a few months’ time, in 1325 A.D., Khusrau too passed away and was buried near that grave as desired by the master. These graves are a place of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Muslims to the present day.

Khusrau was greatly involved in the realm of music too. He invented the sitar and many other instruments in addition to melodies such as tarana and khayal compositions. People congregate even today, to sing qawwalis, another form of singing practised by Khusrau, at the Nizamuddin Dargah where the master and the student lie in peace in their graves. In music too, the Persian and the Indian systems come together in Khusrau. His enduring fame in India also rests on the riddles, quibbles and songs written by him. Moreover, Khusrau was the first one to use a simple form of Hindi language which later developed into Hindustani.

Khusrau sang, he poeticised extensively, and created teasers for generations to be entertained and amused. His words reverberate through time and space and have the power to melt frozen hearts into wakefulness even today.