At 72, the maker of Hindustani classical music lost interest in the world. Poet Amir Khusro, the 14th century courtier to seven kings, was in mourning after the death of his spiritual mentor, Delhi’s sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusro gave away his wealth, retired to Nizamuddin’s tomb, died six months later, and was buried in the shrine’s courtyard. This Sunday, Delhi will celebrate his 706th urs, the death anniversary.
Perhaps it’s all a legend. How could one person single-handedly invent the tabla and sitar, produce the first raga and create the sufi music of qawwali? Most likely, Hindustani classical music came out of a civilisation, but Khusro’s poetic genius gave that civilisation its Hindustani-ness.
Folksy and immediate, his language — a mix of Persian and Brij Bhasha — merged the ruling-class Muslim sophistication and the earthy sensibilities of the masses. His love poems for God shaped the idea of India: Hindus and Muslims could co-exist and celebrate each other’s cultures. Today, the soul of the subcontinent’s sufi shrines lie in Khusro’s qawwalis. His verses steer many to spirituality, love and, occasionally, ecstasy.
The film song, Zihal-e-miskin mukun baranjish (lyricist Gulzar, film Ghulami), was inspired from Khusro’s poem, which had alternate lines in Persian and Brij: Zihaal-e-miskeen mukon taghaful (Persian) doraaye nainaan banaye batyaan (Brij) (Do not overlook my misery by blandishing your eyes and weaving tales; My patience has over-brimmed). Another popular Khusro song, Chhap Tilak, is written completely in Brij: Chhap tilak sab cheeni ray mosay naina milaikay (You’ve taken away my looks, my identity, by just a glance).
This playful duality defined Khusro. Devoted to a sufi who disliked emperors, he himself made his living by serving in their courts. It was a fine balance of sense and sensibility: day job in the court, evening spirituality in the shrine.
Born in Patiali, a village in the present day Etah district of Uttar Pradesh, Khusro’s Turk father, Saifudin Mahmud, died when his son was eight. The mother was of Indian blood. The boy grew in Delhi with maternal grandfather Imad ul Mulk, who took him regularly to literary soirees. As a court poet, Khusro’s works include Mathnawi Miftah ul Futuh, Ghurrat ul Kamal, Khaza in ul Futuh, Ashiqa, Baqiya Naqiya and Khamsa. The voluminous Ijaz e Khusrawi is vivid, with details of everyday life in 14th century Delhi. Khusro also compiled a Hindi-Persian dictionary and composed several pahelis, or wordplay riddles.
The tradition at Nizamuddin dargah, central Delhi, is to first pray at Khusro’s tomb, though he did not inherit Nizamuddin’s spiritual mantle, which went to Hazrat Naseeruddin Chiragh Dilli. The poet’s special status in the sufi order is linked to his creation of an extraordinary idiom, which millions have used to articulate their passion for the divine. Above all, he was loved by Nizamuddin, who occasionally wrote letters, calling him Turkullah, God’s Turk. Those letters were buried with Khusro. The inner walls of his tomb are inscribed with verses that were composed when he first met his beloved saint.
To celebrate the 706th death anniversary of Hazrat Amir Khusro, there will be night-long qawwali sessions in Nizamuddin dargah from September 26 to 30. On 28, a poetry session dedicated to Khusro’s verses will also take place in Urs Mahal, Nizamuddin Basti.