Amir Khusrau, the poet of the nation: Singing of a divine beloved and homeland

The season of love, beauty and poetry is upon us, and the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is vibrant with the 714th Urs (death anniversary) celebrations of Hz Amir Khusrau. Anyone planning to visit the dargah this week will be witness to light, love and lyric as qawwals from across the country will be paying their musical tributes at the shrine of the great guardian of the qawwali.

His poems, lyrics, ghazals and sayings have attained anecdotal status and form the bedrock of the musical-literary repertoire of the Chishtiya Sufi sect of South Asia, which as a musical tradition has consequently found its way into Bollywood and global music cultures. The abundantly expressed literary and spiritual merit of Khusrau, none of which is less than true, tends to describe him as a quasi-mythical saint-like figure who mediated amorous quatrains in the fragrant dialects of Persian and Urdu. It is also embedded in common knowledge that the “love” or ishq of Khusrau, which inspired his poetry and music, was chiefly the love of a disciple for his pir/teacher Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, exalted into an ecstatic realisation of the divine. But love is of many kinds and many hues, and Khusrau’s love was equally dynamic. Though mystical love and the quest for divine union are the core of his Sufi poetry, it was no less enriched by gratitude and a deep affection for the land where his love prospered, the land of his birth — India. Therefore a divine beloved and a beloved homeland become simultaneously helpful in interpreting the essence of the spiritual-aesthetic erudition of Hz Amir Khusrau.

 Amir Khusrau, the poet of the nation: Singing of a divine beloved and homeland

The tomb of Amir Khusrau. All photographs taken by the author

His poetry is lush with ideas of the ideal—of love and beauty, both of which he found envisaged in his pir/guide Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya; while the idea of the ideal nation is encoded in Khusrau’s perception of India. His understanding of an ideal nation is most succinct in Nur Sipihr (Nine Skies, 1318) a masnawi eulogising Mubarak Shah Khalji, but a text which also becomes his most evocative tribute to India. Nur Sipihr celebrates the magic of Hind (India) as paradise on earth and glorifies it above the majesty of Rum (Greece), Khurasan (Iran) and Khotan (China). Nur Sipihr is exemplary in understanding a Khusrowian India which is idealised and adored as the ideal. The text thrives on interchangeable concepts of love—where loves for the divine and the quest for mystical ecstasy is entwined with love for a homeland that is India. Furthermore, love for the nation also helps to fulfill a Prophetic tradition whereby love for the “homeland was an integral part of faith” (hub al-watan min al-iman)

Khusrau was a second-generation migrant who was born to a Turk father and Indian mother in Etah, Uttar Pradesh in 1253. His father, Amir Saifuddin Mahmud, fleeing the ravages of Chengis Khan, migrated from Uzbekistan and found refuge in India during the reign of Iltutmish. He went on to gain the fiefdom of Patiyali and married Bibi Daulatnaz, the daughter of an Indian noble. Following the death of his father, Khusrau along with his mother, travelled to his maternal grandfather Rawat Arz’s home in Delhi and was deeply influenced by Indian cultural and linguistic traditions in his formative years. He mastered Hindavi, Braj, Farsi and Urdu and created an unparalleled system of music and poetry in South Asia while also crafting the literary and aesthetic core of the Chishtiya Sufi silsila.

The third chapter of Nur Sipihr is most crucial in understanding the Khusrowian idea of India, where the spiritual becomes a template for decoding the patriotic and his love for India is most profoundly expressed. For many who were victims of ruthless carnage in their native lands migrated to India, which became a favored destination and most sought after refuge for many Muslims who faced persecution by foreign invasion in their motherlands. The idea of India as an ideal home and refuge dominates this chapter of Nur Sipihr, where Khusrau equates India with paradise on Earth — the land of the ethereal peacock — a place which he believed could adequately shelter many more Adams lest they be exiled from their divine realms.

Qawwali outside Khusrau's tomb

Qawwali outside Khusrau's tomb

Khusrau goes on to enumerate seven reasons as to why India for him was the land of the ideal, with its temperate climate and tolerant milieu, a land that presented one with the opportunity to fulfill one’s deen (faith). In expounding upon the moderate climate of India, he puts forth, for instance, how regions with deathly cold and freezing climates seal the ear to arguments and opinions. He lauds the temperate and heavenly climate of India, which could nourish everything and everyone — a fertile ground for diverse ideas and imaginations, a land which embraced foreigners and natives alike, adopted their language and culture and made it all her own, where Sanskrit comingled with Persian and Turkish, a land which welcomed and sustained refugees and migrants like Khusrau’s family. This was the land where even the bare minimum ensured comfort and happiness, where the single branch of a tree could shade the poor, the cool water of the spring could clean the Brahman and a single shroud could clothe the peasant. In India trees never lost their vitality, flowers never lost their fragrance, fruits were luscious and soft and every day was basant/Spring.

This was the India which Khusrau loved and lauded in his uncountable Hindavi, Braj, Urdu and Farsi poetry, where he lauded the intellect and wisdom of the land. He praised the quiet intellectuals, ceaseless in their pursuit of knowledge and reservoirs of unparalleled erudition, evident in the combined Indian heritage of arts, sciences and culture.

"Poets, composers and singers rise from this land
As abundantly and as naturally as the grass
How great is this land which produces men
Who deserve to be called men!
Intelligence is the natural gift of this land,
Even the unread are as good as scholars
There cannot be a better teacher than the way of life of the people
It is this which enlightens the masses. It is a gift of the Almighty!
This is very rare in other countries
It is the effect of the cultural environment of this land…
If perchance any Iranian, Greek, or Arab comes by
He will not have to ask for anything
Because they will treat him as their own.
They will play an excellent host and win his heart!
Even if they indulge in humour with him
They also know how to smile like a flower."

(Translated by Syed Nadim Ali Rezavi)

The spirituality of Khusrau, which flourished under the magnanimous spirituality of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and the larger ambit of the Chishtiya spiritual sect, was rooted in and nourished by this welcoming Indian climate of perpetual spring which sheltered all seekers of peace and nurtured ideals of love, oneness and beauty. Khusrau’s love for the nation, which sheltered his family and gave them a life of dignity and peace, was his belief in India as an ideal refuge—a land of multiple languages and ideas, a sanctuary of multiple religions and cultural traditions, and most importantly, a land which gave him his art and poetry; his spiritual master; which gave him love, and fulfilled his faith.

Shahwar Kibria is a PhD scholar at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her research interests include Sufism and contemporary film, media and contemporary post-digital audio-visual cultures

Updated Date: Jul 10, 2018 16:12:15 IST