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 Hazrat Nizamuddin’s tomb, died six months later, and was buried in the shrine’s courtyard.
Perhaps it is all a legend. How could one person singularly 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 civilization, but Khusro’s poetic genius gave that civilization its Hindustani-ness.
Folksy and immediate, his language – a mix of Persian and Brij Bhasha – merged the ruling-class Muslim sophistication to the earthy sensibilities of the masses. His love poems for the God shaped the idea of India: Hindus and Muslims could co-exist and celebrate each other’s cultures. Today, the soul of subcontinent’s sufi shrines lie in Khusro’s qawwalis. His verses steer many to spirituality, love and, occasionally, ecstasy.
do not overlook my misery,
by blandishing your eyes and weaving tales,
My patience has over-brimmed, O sweetheart!
why do you not take me to your bosom.
Long like curls in the night of separation
short like life on the day of our union.
My dear, how will I pass the dark dungeon night
without your face before.
Suddenly, using a thousand tricks
the enchanting eyes robbed me of my tranquil mind.
Who would care to go and report
this matter to my darling.
Tossed and bewildered, like a flickering candle,
I roam about in the fire of love.
Sleepless eyes, restless body,
neither comes she, nor any message.
In honour of the day I meet my beloved
who has lured me so long, O Khusro!
I shall keep my heart suppressed
if ever I get a chance to get to her trick.
Born in Patiali, a village in the present day Etah district of Uttar Pradesh, Amir 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, the 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 Hazrat Nizamuddin…