Amir Khusrau: The Sufi with a difference
Amir Khusrau teaching his disciples; miniature from a manuscript of Majlis Al-Usshak by Husyn Bayqarah. Courtsey: Wikipedia
Remembered more as a musician and a poet than a Sufi, this versatile genius, who is also considered to be among the first Muslim musicologist of India, was born in 1234, in Patiali near Etah district of north India. His original name was Yamin- ud-Din Muhammad Hasan but he is commonly known as Amir Khusrau (d.1325). He was of Turkish origin and a murid of the great Nizamuddin Awliya and his world vieiw, like his master’s, was humane, tolerant and intrinsically simple. He was not just a ‘Jack of all arts’ but master of all. A scholar, poet, musician, Sufi and and a skilled courtier who served the Slav, Khilji and Tuglaq kings of Delhi Sultanate. Music and poetry were his twin passions and he learnt Arabic, Persian and Indian music. According to him ‘Indian music is the fire that burns the heart and the soul and is superior to the music of any country’. He invented his own genre of music by adding Persian and Arabic elements to Indian music. He is also credited with the modification and improvement of the veena. He is also believed to have invented the tabla.
Khusrau not only helped in developing the ğazal, until then little used in India, but also in the historical epic as a new genre of poetry. He created new ragas such as Sarfarda and Zilaph. He also invented the Qawwali form of devotional singing and is the originator of the Taraana sytle of vocal music. In this style of singing, apparently meaningless syllables are used to create mystical ecstasy. The syllables when pieced together form Persian words that possess mystical symbolism.
After being initiated into Sufism by his master Nizammudin Awliya, Amir Khusrau is believed to have retired from worldly life. Hoevere he continued to write poetry and is known to have written over four lakh couplets. Of these over 300 consist of riddles, some using bilingual pun of Hindvi and Persian, word play and litrary tricks .
He lived up to the age of ninety and during his long life attained legendary fame. The historians of his time appear to have credited him with much more than he had actually done. However, his literary genius is without doubt unmatched in its ability to seamlessly weave two diverse cultures and faiths together. His compositions have now become of part of folk culture of north India, especially Uttar Pradesh. His geets and ghazals have inspired and continue to inspire generations of Hindi movie songs. It is noteworthy that Khusrau’s compostions have proved to be a gold mine for Bollywood music directore and lyric writers .
‘Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar,
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar’
(The river of love flows upsteam
Those who enter to swim will drown
Only those who enter to drown will cross it)
Note: For more compositions by Amir Khusrau see the post on ‘Sufi Poetry and Music in Popular Culture”.