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Khusrau, Amir

Category: Mystic

 

Ab'ul Hasan Yamīn ud-Dīn Khusrow (1253–1325 CE) Hindi अमीर ख़ुसरौ, (Urdu: ابوالحسن یمین‌الدین خسرو‎), better known as Amīr Khusraw (also Khusrow, Hazrat Khusrow, Ameer Khusru) Dehlawī (meaning Amir Khusrau of Delhi) (امیر خسرو دہلوی) was a Sufi musician, poet, mystic and scholar and the spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi.

 

In the Bazaar of Love – The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau – translated by Paul E Losensky and Sunil Sharma

Amir Khusrau (1253-7325) was one of the greatest poets of medieval India, …,. Known as Tuti-yi Hind (Parrot of India) for his poetic eloquence and fluency in Persian, Amir Khusrau has stood as a major cultural icon in the history of Indian civilization for almost seven hundred years. He is especially remembered as the founder of the 'Ganga-Jamni' Hindustani culture which is a synthesis of Muslim and Hindu elements. He helped to give a distinctive character to Indian Islamic cultural traditions through his  contributions to the fields of Indian classical music, Islamic mysticism (Sufism), South Asian Sufi music (qawwali), and Persian literature. Significantly, he also contributed to the development of Hindavi, in which both modern Hindi and Urdu have their roots. Positioned at the juncture of two cultures, Amir Khusrau's prodigious talents and prolific literary output make him one of the outstanding figures in Islamic, Indian, and indeed world cultural history.

Poetry and music

Srinigar, Kashmir

Amīr Khusraw wrote poetry primarily in Persian, the courtly language of Muslims of the sultanate period, and Hindavi, the vernacular language of the Delhi area.  He developed the devotional music form of the Sufis known as Qawwali and introduced the ghazal style of song into India, both of which still exist widely in India and Pakistan.  He is also credited with introducing Persian, Arabic and Turkish elements into Indian classical music and was the originator of the khayal and tarana styles of music.  Khusrau deeply influenced the practice of Sufism through his emphasis on the mystical performance of music and dance, and the poetic language in which it was expressed.

Khusrau was an expert in many styles of poetry from Khāqānī's qasidas to Nizami's khamsa. with many verse forms including ghazal, masnavi, qata, rubai, do-baiti and tarkib-band. He wrote what is called ‘macaronic poetry’, mixing Persian with local languages.

Many of Amir Khusrau's large body of ghazals are on the theme of love, and like many mystic poets one can read these poems in two ways.  As a simple declaration of the love of  a man for a woman, or in the mystic sense as the mystic’s love for his ‘God’, his Higher spirit and the spiritual world at large.

In the Bazaar of Love – The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau – translated by Paul E Losensky and Sunil Sharma

Amir Khusrau's legacy is far more widespread than people realize, from his vast corpus of Persian poetry that continues to be read in the modern Persian-speaking world (Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan) to this day, to the devotional qawwalis that are performed and listened to in India, Pakistan, and beyond. He is rightly acknowledged as the best Indian poet to have written in Persian, and his influence on later Persian and Urdu literature was immense. In South Asia, he is revered for his contributions to music and mysticism, but most people are familiar with only a small portion of his immense body of poetry and prose in Persian, or have no access to these works due to the language barrier……….  However, Amir Khusrau's Hindavi poetry and Persian poetry on Sufi themes are still part of a living and dynamic tradition.

Life

In the Bazaar of Love – The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau – translated by Paul E Losensky and Sunil Sharma

Amir Khusrau's personality is shrouded in mystery and attempts to piece together his biography can be frustrating. ….. Fortunately for us, there is quite a bit of biographical information in Amir Khusrau's own writings and in numerous poetic and Sufi biographical narratives from throughout the medieval period. Although the information is not always reliable and the resulting picture of the poet seems one-dimensional or larger than life, it is more than we have for most other pre-modern poets. ………….

 

Amīr Khusrau was born in Patiyali in Kasganj, Uttar Pradesh. His father, Amīr Saif-ud-Dīn Mahmūd [Saifuddin Shamsi], was Turkish and a member of the Lachin tribe of Transoxania, Central Asia.  After the invasion by Genghis Khan, Saifuddin migrated from his hometown Kesh, near Samarkand, to Balkh.

Kashmir

Amir Saifuddin married Bibi Daulatnaz, who was the daughter of Rawat Arz, the famous war minister of Balban, and belonged to the Rajput tribes of Uttar Pradesh. They had four children, three sons and a daughter. Amir Khusro was born in the year 1252-53 CE in Patiyali.

Khusrau's father died in battle when the poet was eight.  After the death of his father, in 1260, Khusrau went to Delhi with his mother. The boys were raised by their maternal uncles and maternal grandfather, Imadul Mulk, a powerful nobleman who had been in service at court for over eighty years in Delhi. Khusrau writes with great fondness about his grandfather who was the most influential figure in his life during his formative years. Khusrau started learning and writing poetry at the age of eight. In 1271 CE, when Khusrau was 20 years old, his grandfather who was 113 years old died.

In the Bazaar of Love – The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau – translated by Paul E Losensky and Sunil Sharma

It was at his grandfather's house that Amir Khusrau met the young Sufi Nizamuddin Auliya, who had just moved to Delhi for his education, and who would later become one of the most renowned spiritual men connected to the city and the most important person in the poet's life. Khusrau's other closest intimate was the court poet and fellow Sufi Hasan Sijzi (d. 1,337), whose life revolved around the same institutions and personalities as Khusrau's. Though Hasan and Khusrau were both honoured with the title of Amir [Prince] for their prowess in the art of poetry, Hasan is today better known for his work Faua'id al-fu'ad (Morals of the Heart), in which he recorded the discourses of Nizamuddin Auliya.

 

Kashmir

Khusrau's career as a professional poet began in earnest when he was twenty, also the time when his grandfather passed away. Under the mentorship of senior poets at the sultan's court, Khusrau began composing verses in praise of his patrons. For the next fifty years, until his death in 1325, Khusrau was a courtier and poet, initially in the service of princes and nobles, then permanently at the court of the sultan of Delhi. Serving five rulers and witnessing the rule of several more, he managed to survive the numerous political intrigues and deaths of the various patrons for whom he worked.

There seems to be every indication that the only reason he managed to survive was his faith.  In much the same way that the painters and poets in Italy during the Medici days managed to rise above the politics and power struggles via their faith and their art, Khusrau and his fellow Sufis managed to do the same.

And the power struggles and politics at the time were indeed pretty brutal, as brutal as in the European medieval courts.

In 1272, Khusrau got his first job as court poet with King Balban's nephew Malik Chhajju.  Then in 1276,  Khusrau started working as a poet with Bughra Khan (Balban's son).  When he was appointed ruler of Bengal, Amir Khusrau decided to return to Delhi.

In the Bazaar of Love – The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau – translated by Paul E Losensky and Sunil Sharma
Bughra Khan was a connoisseur of music and the arts, but the poet soon left his service and returned to Delhi because he missed the city and his family. He often spoke candidly of his deep attachment to the city, which he considered his home. In one of his poems, written when he was absent from Delhi, he says:
My home was the Dome of Islam.
It was the qibla for kings of the seven climes.
Delhi is the twin of pure paradise,
a prototype of the heavenly throne on an earthly scroll.

near Srinigar, Kashmir

Khan Muhammad was his next patron. Khusrau accompanied him to Multan in 679 A.H/1279 A.D. Multan at that period was the gateway to India and a place of knowledge and learning. The caravans of scholars, tradesmen and emissaries transited from Baghdad, Arabia, Iran to Delhi via Multan.

Muhammad, who was by all accounts a warm, generous and charming individual, was fond of poetry and gathered the best poets around him. His court at Multan was a significant cultural centre that rivalled even Delhi for a time. Multan was home to the suhravardi Sufi order and Khusrau had contacts with the Sufis based there.  Khusrau's friend Hasan accompanied him to Multan in the service of Prince Muhammad.  Amir Khusrau's sojourn in Multan lasted five seemingly happy years.

It all came to an abrupt end in 1285 when Timur Khan Tatar led a Mongol foray into the Punjab. In the ensuing battle, Prince Muhammad was killed and Khusrau taken captive. The poet spent a short time as a prisoner, a horrifying experience that he later described in graphic detail.

Khusrau was grief stricken at the death of Prince Muhammad.  He and Hasan both wrote moving elegies on the death of their beloved patron.  The powerful elegy by Amir Khusrau in eleven stanzas reveals the depth of his grief:

People shed so many tears in all directions
that five other rivers have appeared in Multan.

 

After returning to Delhi, Amir Khusrau kept a low profile, spending time with his family. Scattered references in Khusrau's works testify to his deep and sincere attachment to his family. His mother, to whom he was especially close, is mentioned a few times.  His elegy on her death in 1299 - which occurred the same year that he lost one of his two brothers - speaks of his sense of deep personal loss. As for other family members, there is no mention of his wife anywhere in his works, but there are references to his children. He appears to have had at least two daughters - Mastura and Afifa – and four sons.  One son Khizr, is mentioned in Mainun Laila. Two sons, Muhammad and Haiji, died during the poet's lifetime while another, Malik Ahmad, was known to have been active as a court poet under Sultan Firuzshah Tughlaq (r. 1351-75).

Each time he had to go away to earn a living or to escape the instability in Delhi, he mourns for his family far away.  When Khusrau went east to Avadh for a brief stint to escape the instability, he celebrated his homecoming to Delhi in 1289, with a joyful poem

Delhi:
Refuge of religion!
Refuge and paradise of justice!
Long may it endure!
Since it is a heavenly paradise
in every essential quality.
may God keep it free from calamity.

 

King Balban’s grandson Kaikubad was made the ruler of Delhi at the age of 17 and Khusrau remained in his service for two years (686 A.H to 687 A.H/1286 to 1287 A.D.).  Sultan Kaiqubad did not survive long and died at the age of twenty-two in 1290.

One year later, Amir Khusrau joined the court of the new sultan, Jalaluddin Khalji (r. 1290-96), and from then until his death he was continuously connected with the court of Delhi, having progressed from serving provincial officials to being the chief poet at the imperial court.  Under Jalaluddin Khalji and Alauddin Khaljt (r. 1296-1316), both of whom were of Afghan background, Khusrau was at his peak as a poet.

Court life enabled Amir Khusrau to  focus more on his literary works. Khusrau’s ghazals which he composed in quick succession were set to music and were sung every night before the king. Khusrauw writes about him:

The King of the world Jalaluddin, in reward for my infinite pain which I undertook in composing verses, bestowed upon me an unimaginable treasure of wealth.

Srinigar

After Jalaluddin, Alauddin Khilji ascended to the throne of Delhi on 22nd Zilhaj 695 A.H/1295 A.D.  The reign of 'Alauddin Khalji, Jalaluddin's nephew and successor, witnessed a cultural renaissance, exceeding even the standards of other Delhi sultans for patronage of literature and the arts. Architecture and building activities flourished and all sorts of historical, poetic and scientific works were written in Persian.

In between the poetry which earned him his place in court, Khusrau was able to compose mystical Sufi poetry.

One example is his "Matla-ul-Anwar" (Rising place of Light) consisting of 3310 verses (completed in 15 days).  The presence of his patrons, the income he received and the relative safety of the court [for a poet anyway], gave him the opportunity to create mystic poetry.  Although great poetry has been written by the starving frightened poets, it is often greater poetry that is written by the less frightened ones.

 

It is noticeable that although Khusrau had half a dozen different patrons, the longest service to any one was that of ʿAlā al-Dīn Ḫaljī, under whose reign (695/1295 to 715/1315), he was his most prolific, rather indicating that Khusrau actually thrived on stability not insecurity.

After Alauddin Khilji's death, in 1315, his son Qutubuddin Mubarak Shah became the king. In the last decade of his life, Amir Khusrau served the new sultan, Mubarak Shah (r. 1316-20), the young and handsome son of 'Alauddin Khalji, who had come to the throne as the result of a bloody coup. Mubarak Shah was not well disposed towards NizAmuddin Auliya because his brother Khizr Khan, whom he had killed in his bid for the throne, had been a disciple of the pir.

In the Bazaar of Love – The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau – translated by Paul E Losensky and Sunil Sharma

What followed was a particularly turbulent period of history, and it must have taken all of Khusrau's diplomatic skills and spiritual fortitude to maintain a presence at court and celebrate the deeds of his patrons. Mubarak Shah became slavishly attached to his male lover, Khusrau Khan, a recent convert to Islam who eventually usurped the throne after having had Mubarak Shah murdered. A few months later, the usurper was removed by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq lr. 1320-25). The events of this period have all the drama, debauchery and violence of ancient Rome in its period of decline, and it was up to the poet to spin all this into an epic.

 

Amir Khusrau wrote a masnavi on Mubarak Shah as "Nuh Sipihr" (Nine Skies).  In the third chapter he wrote a vivid account of India and its environment, seasons, flora and fauna, cultures, scholars, etc. Rather intriguingly, when Qutubuddin Mubarak Shah’s son was born, he prepared the horoscope of the child.  This horoscope is included in the masnavi "Saqiana".

In 1325, Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq came to power.  Khusrau's last patron was Muhammad Shah (r. 1325-51), the son and successor of Ghiyasuddin.

On 3 April 1325, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Khusrau’s beloved mentor, friend and master died.  Six months later Khusrow himself died. Khusrau's tomb is next to that of his spiritual master in the Nizamuddin Dargah of Delhi.

There is much debate about whether a person so involved in war, in fighting, in political intrigue, in court patronage and in life itself, could truly be called a mystic.  But a mystic is not someone who closets themselves away clothed in rags, fasting and denying the world.  Mystics – true mystics - are often forced into the world head on with a destiny which seems all too brutal to them.  Mystics are those who know.  Who are able, despite all this, to write the sort of poetry that Amir Khusrau wrote.  In effect, a mystic is able to rise above all that surrounds them and to show others a better world, a world to aspire to, they are the Light amidst the Darkness.

 

References

The selection of poems we have chosen come from a splendid anthology from Penguin classics.  Translating any mystic work is fraught with problems because of the symbolism and subtlety used in mysticism.  It is made even more difficult by the fact that:

Khusrau maintained an immense talent for philology and his knowledge of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hindi, allowed him to produce exotic puns, wordplays, and stunning literary tricks.

But the translators seem to have done a good job.  

Major works

  • Tuhfat-us-Sighr (Offering of a Minor) his first divan, contains poems composed between the age of 16 and 19
  • Wast-ul-Hayat (The Middle of Life) his second divan
  • Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal (The Prime of Perfection) poems composed between the age of 34 and 43
  • Baqia-Naqia (The Rest/The Miscellany) compiled at the age of 64
  • Nihayatul-Kamaal (The Height of Wonders) compiled probably a few weeks before his death.
  • Qiran-us-Sa’dain (Meeting of the Two Auspicious Stars) Mathnavi about the historic meeting of Bughra Khan and his son Kikabad after long enmity (1289)
  • Miftah-ul-Futuh (Key to the Victories) in praise of the victories of Jalal ud din Firuz Khilji (1291)
  • Ishqia/Masnavi Duval Rani-Khizr Khan (Romance of Duval Rani and Khizr Khan) a tragic love poem about Gujarat’s princess Duval and Alauddin’s son Khizr (1316)
  • Nuh Sipihr (Masnavi of the Nine Skies) Khusrau’s perceptions of India and its culture (1318)
  • Tughluq Nama (Book of the Tughluqs) a history of the reign on Tughlaq dynasty (1320)
  • Khamsa (Khamsa-e-Khusrau) five classical romances: Hasht-Bahisht, Matlaul-Anwar, Sheerin-Khusrau, Majnun-Laila and Aaina-Sikandari
  • Ijaz-e-Khusravi (The Miracles of Khusrau) an assortment of prose
  • Khazain-ul-Futuh (The Treasures of Victories)

The photos

There is a verse supposedly uttered by Khusrau about Kashmir, not found in any of his written works.

"Agar firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast,
Hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast "

"If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this."

The photos are of Kashmir in the 1970s

 

Observations

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