Amir Khusrau is one of those historical figures credited with all manner of inventions, inspirations and the beginning of many movements and trends. Most famously, he is identified in the South Asian popular imagination, as the spiritual father of Indian (in the non-geographic sense of the word) music. His admirers and exponents claim that he invented the sitar and tabla. That he created new forms of music including qawwali, tarana and even the classical khyal.
Like most hoary figures of the past, it is not entirely possible to say precisely exactly what Khusrau’s contribution to Indian music was. But historians are in general agreement that he was a heavily influential figure, and akin to what the modern age has termed a Renaissance Man. Poetry, mystical reflection, music, art, social comment and history, as well as foreign languages were all fields of the great man’s accomplishment. And the very fact that so many branches of subcontinental culture trace their origins to this medieval genius suggests that he was indeed, a Spirit to contend with.
Though born in a northern part of India now known as Uttar Pradesh, his father was a Turkic member of the upper classes of Central Asia who fled to India to escape the horrible, sweeping invasions of the Mongol hordes. Ab’ul Hasan Yamin al-Din Khusrow, who later became known as Amir Khusrau, was a boy of prodigious intellect and intellectual curiosity. Fluent in several languages, including Persian and Arabic, he seemed to have been born with an innate understanding of poetry. Indeed, his Persian compositions are considered some of the greatest literary works in that language. In modern Iran, Khusrau, is regarded as one of the most brilliant exponents of the Persian language, not very far below Hafiz and Sa’adi.
As a young man he met and became a disciple of the patron saint of Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Separated by only a few years they two men became very close associates and companions. Of all his many disciples, the great Sufi, considered Khusrau to be his dearest and most loved. Famously, he requested to for the two to share the same grave! While this, of course, did not happen, Amir Khusrau died several month after this Spiritual mentor and is buried next to him at a shrine that is one of Delhi’s most revered. One of many tales told of the men’s mutual affection and respect is included below:
Khusrau and Nizamuddin
Nizamuddin Auliya had thousands of disciples. Out of them, 22 were totally devoted disciples who considered him as God Incarnate.
Once, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya thought of putting them to a test. He roamed around with his disciples for the whole day in the market of Delhi. As night fell, he went to a brothel. The prostitute led him upstairs with great respect and courtesy. All the disciples were waiting downstairs in anticipation, ‘Guruji should be coming down soon…he should be coming soon.’
The prostitute was immensely pleased and wondered as to what stroke of fortune had brought this saintly person to her place. She said to Auliyaji, “I have been blessed by your presence here. In what way, may I render service to you?”
Auliya told her, “Instruct your maid to bring food on a platter along with water in a liquor bottle, in such a manner that my disciples get the impression that I have asked for food and liquor.”
The prostitute had but to obey the command. She instructed her maid accordingly.
After a little while, the maid carried the food and the liquor bottle upstairs as per the instructions. Some of the disciples contemplated, ‘We were under a mistaken impression…Guruji is not what we have been thinking all along. He has asked for liquor!’ Thinking thus, some of the disciples ran away
As the night progressed, more and more of his disciples left one by one. Finally, it was dawn, and Auliya came downstairs.
He saw only Amir Khusro waiting for him. Feigning ignorance, he enquired, “Where have the others gone?”
Amir Khusro replied, “All have left.”
Auliya asked, “Why did you not leave? Didn’t you notice that I had asked for liquor, and spent the whole night with the prostitute.
Amir Khusro replied, “O Master! I might have left, but where could I have gone except towards your lotus feet?”
Benign Grace poured out of Nizamuddin Auliya’s heart, and he said, “Your wait is now over. You are accomplished.”
Such was the single pointed faith of Amir Khusro. Even to this day, the shrine of Amir Khusro beside that of Nizamuddin Auliya reminds us of a sincere disciple’s devotion to Guru, a disciple’s unshakable faith in Guru.
Click here for a lovely article on the relationship between these two mighty men of the middle ages by the poet, Aparna Chatterjee.
Today’s selection is a brilliant 3 CD collection of Amir Khusrau’s music and poetry produced by EMI. All performances are by Pakistani artists, some internationally renown (Sabri Brothers, Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan), some less so (Bilqees Khanum, Ishrat Jehan, Ijaz Hussain Hazravi). All of the material is fantastic and I especially like the several tunes by Mehnaaz and the Bilqees Khanum/Ishrat Jehan combo. This is indeed, a fine tribute to the man who called himself, the Parrot of India (Toot al Hindi).
Track Listing (1)
01 Chhaap Tilak Sab Chheeni[Sabri Brothers]
02 Khabram Raseedah [Iqbal Bano]
03 Sakal Ban Phool Rahi Sarson [Bilqees Khanum and Ishrat Jehan]
04 Beshagufta Gul [Ghulam Ali]
05 Man Kunto Maula [Sabri Brothers]
06 Achchhe Banne Mehndi Laawan De [Bilqees Khanum and Ishrat Jehan]
07 Ek Sajan Mere Man Ko Bhaawe [Arifa Siddiqui]
08 Mara Dosh Goyi [Mehdi Hassan]
09 Har Shab Manam [Ijaz Hussain Hazravi]
10 Sajan Yeh Mat Jaaniyo [Nasima Shaheen and Nighat Seema]
11 Hare Hare Baans [Bilqees Khanum and Ishrat Jehan]
Track Listing (2)
01 Nami Danam [Sabri Brothers]
02 Jaan Ze Tan [Ghulam Ali]
03 Mohe Rakh Le Tu Aaj Ka Din [Bilqees Khanum and Ishrat Jehan]
04 Mai To Piya Se Naina Laga Aayi Re [Arifa Siddiqui]
05 Man Banda [Mehdi Hassan]
06 Abr Mere Bar Doman [Iqbal Bano]
07 Ae Chehra [Ijaz Hussain Hazravi]
08 Ambwa Tale Dola Rakh De [Bilqees Khanum and Ishrat Jehan]
09 Goondho Re Maalan Phoolon Ka Sehra [Mehnaaz]
10 Khabram Raseedah [Sabri Brothers]
Track Listing (3)
01 Aaj Rang Hai [Sabri Brothers]
02 Chali Re Nayi Naar [Mehnaaz]
03 Amma Mere Baba Ko Bhejo [Bilqees Khanum and ishrat Jehan]
04 Kahe Ko [Sabri Brothers]
05 Aaj To Na Mai Aisi Banaungi [Nahid Akhtar]
06 Chhaap Tilak Sab Chheeni [Bilqees Khanum and Ishrat Jehan]
07 Kahe Ko Byaahe Bides [Nasima Shaheen and Nighat Seema]
08 Zehaal-E-Miskin [Sabri Brothers]
09 Daiya Re Mohe Bhejo [Bilqees Khanum and ishrat Jehan]
10 Aaj Ye Kaun Sa Mehmaan Aaya [Hamid Ali Khan]