Amir Khusrau Dehlvi


One of the iconic figures of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, Amir Khusrau Dehlvi was born in Mominabad, which was later named as Patyali, the suburban area of Shanbal in 1253. His father Saifuddin was a nobleman from Balakh. He migrated to India as the invasion of the Mongols was imminent. Saifuddin joined the court of Sultan Iltutmish and married the daughter of Imad-ul-Mulk in 1253 at Patiali. His grand father, Rawat ‘Ard had been in charge of the War Office for more than half a century under different kings. Amir Khusrau himself had lived under seven monarchs. He went to war under several Delhi rulers during 1272 to 1325. He started his career as a courtier of Malik Chajju ‘Ala-ud-din Khan. Later he joined the court of Balban’s elder son Prince Mohammad in Multan and served him for five years who later was killed by the Mongols. Thereafter Amir Khusrau moved to Delhi. His longest association was with the royal court of Ala-ud-din Khalji.

He was a man of great talent and learning. He was prolific and staggering writer both in both poetry and prose. He wrote 92 books including Taj-ul-fatah, Tughluq namah, Sheerin Khusrau and Laila majnoon. He was skillful, amazing and outstanding as an intellectual, poet, historian, biographer, courtier, mystic and musician par excellence. He was highly broad-minded with a new vision that artistically enriched a novel pattern of culture and humanistic values. Khusrau wrote Hindi poetry replete with simplicity and spontaneity. He is so refreshing and stimulating that the marital songs he wrote five centuries ago are still sung with engrossing interest on the eve of marriage ceremonies. By the end of this period he had compiled two collections of poems, his first diwan, Tuhfatu’s Sighar (gifts of childhood) was written in1272-73. In his Persian work Nuh Sipihr, he gives an account of Qutb-ud-din Mubarak Shah’s reign and eloquently raises Indian sciences, religion and other products of the Indian genius. In this book he challenges the Persian poets and sings of his native land with its hoary past. Apart from lyrics qasidahs that he completed in three years, in Qiran al-Sa’dain he gives an account of the historic meeting of Bughra Khan and Kaiqubad on the bank of the river Sarju, and contains an interesting description of Delhi of those days. In his Miftah-ul-Futuh, we find a versified account of the exploits of Jalal-ud-din Firuz Khalji. His Ashiqah is an excellent narration of the romance of the Gujarati princess, Dewal Devi and Prince Khizr Khan, son of Ala-ud-din Khalji. In Khaza’in-ul-Futuh we find the conquests of Ala-ud-din Khalji in ornate prose. Tughlaq Nama describes the successful expedition of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq against the usurper Khusrau Khan. Khusraw was prompted to write historical works in order to comply with requests from his patrons, but in reality he was not interested in historiography.

He would sit and compose poems and riddles on the spur of the moment with words thrown in from listeners. Once, while walking on a road, he felt thirsty and asked the women filling pots at a well to give him water. They refused until he composed a poem for them with words given by them – kheer (milk sweetmeat), diya (lamp), kutta (dog) and dhol (drum). He replied, “kheer pakaai jatan say, charkha diya jalaa. Aaya kutta khagaya, tu baithi dhol bajaa.” (You made the sweetmeat with care by burning the charkha but the dog came and ate it while you were busy in playing the drum.) Simple words having clear meaning and placement of words, is the mark of his poems, except the ones found in Persian that need to be translated to Hindi/English to understand them completely.

Music formed a major part of his life. Nothing in music could be named and not found connected to Khusrau, not even the mystical dance performed by the Sufis (also known as whirling Dervishes). During the sama mehfils (music session) at the khanqah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, dancing was not allowed. But during one such performance, Khusrau stood up to dance. Hazrat said to him: “Dance in such a way that your hands are raised to the sky as if calling to God, and your feet should hit the earth as if denouncing it.” And thus in this way the sufis raise their arms and twirl while stamping their feet on the ground. Popular Indian melodies such as Qaul are undoubtedly the invention of Amir Khusraw. They were designed to produce novelty in Sufi sama rituals in which he himself participated.

His profound association with music opened a new era in Indo-Muslim music when with the conquest of Hindu states of the Deccan, a number of Hindu musicians moved to the north to seek patronage of Muslim kings and nobles. Khusrau created Indian ragas, blended Arabic and Iranian usuls and maqaans imaginatively. He is credited with fashioning tabla as a split version of the traditional Indian drum, the pakhawaj. He invented sitar (Persian se-seven and tar-wires) as well and introduced so adeptly into Indian music nearly a dozen Perso-Arabic airs like aiman, ghara, sanam, ghaman, sazgari, firudasi, zilaf, ush-shaq, mawafiq sarparda, etc. He also created musical forms like tarana, qawwali, and gul. Hindus gave the title of Nayak (one who is proficient in the art of music both in theory and practice) to none other but to Amir Khusrau, not even to Tan Sen who was only a Gandharb (one who is proficient in the practice of music). His contribution to the Indian music is so prominent that he has been justly called by Dr. Mukerjee as the Leonardo de Vinci of India. He wrote and sang so many beautiful songs in different tunes that he is also known as Tuti-i-Hind (Songbird of India).

He was among the most favorite disciples of Sheikh-ul-Mashaikh Nizam-ud-din Auliya. To him kaleidoscopic changes in the political world were merely manifestations of the divine will. He believed that earthly love can lead one to divine love. He was a nadeem (a boon companion of a number of kings) but his dedication was held in reserve for Sufi movement. On the completion of his official duties he would rush to Sheikh Nizam-ud-din Auliya’s khanqah. When Sheikh died in 1325, he was with Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq on his Bengal expedition. He was so overwhelmed with grief at hearing the death of his spiritual mentor that he left for his heavenly abode within six months in 1325 (18 Shawwal 725/27 A.H). He is buried very close to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia on a raised platform surrounded by jalis (screens) in red sandstone called chabootra-e-yaar (niche of a friend).

This article was last updated on Monday, Jan 03, 2005