Abu’l Hasan Yaminuddin Khusro, better known as Amir Khusro (also Khusrau, Khusrow) Dehlavi, was the poet laureate of the Indian subcontinent and enjoys ever-lasting fame as one of the most versatile poets and prolific prose-writers of the 13th and 14th centuries.
He is traditionally considered to be the founder of qawwali and lyrical poetry in Hindustani (Urdu), credited with enriching Hindustani classical music by introducing Persian and Arabic elements in it. The invention of the sitar and the musical styles known as khyal and tarana are also attributed to him. His poetical composition, the amalgamation of Persian and Hindi in particular, was aimed at cementing the bonds of culture and friendship between the Hindus and Muslims of India.
He was an intellectual giant of many languages, with knowledge of Turkish, Arabic, Persian and the vernaculars of northern India – the Khariboli, (Urdu and Hindi both being developed forms of it), Braj Bhasha and Awadhi. It was during his stay in Awadh, Delhi and Punjab that he learned these northern languages. He also learned Sanskrit which he placed before all other languages, except Arabic, the language of his religion.
Above all, he was a most dutiful and devoted mureed of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, the spiritual monarch of his day in the subcontinent.
Early Life & Family
Hazrat Amir Khusro’s was born in 651 AH/1253-4 AD in Patiyali in Uttar Pradesh, India and was named Abul Hasan Yaminuddin. His father, Amir Saifuddin Mahmud who, before coming to India, was the chief of a clan called “Lachin” in Turkistan during the rule of Changez Khan. After immigrating to India, he was assigned as a high official at the court of Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish.
It is related that his father Amir Saifuddin Mahmood took the infant, wrapped in a cloth, to a Sufi of high spiritual standing. The Sufi cast his eyes upon the child and remarked, “This child will be God-inspired and unique in his age. His name will last till doomsday and surpass Khaqani.” After four years, his father took him from Patiyali to Delhi and made the best arrangements for his education and moral training.
His mother was an Indian Rajput family, the daughter of the famous war minister of Balban, Nawab Imadul Mulk (Rawat Arz). He also had two brothers called Aizazuddin Ali Shah and Husamuddin.
His loving father passed away when he was nine years old and Hazrat Amir Khusro expressed his sadness with the following couplet:
After the demise of his father, Hazrat Amir Khusro was brought up by his maternal grandfather, Nawab Imadul Mulk, in affluence. He became learned in the arts and literature as well as Fiqh, astronomy, grammar, philosophy, logic, religion, mysticism and history. He developed a taste for poetry at an early age and began composing verse at the age of twelve. He himself writes in the introduction to his diwan Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal, “At an age when children shed their teeth, I wrote poetry and my compositions rivalled gems.”
Besides mastering the Turkish, Persian and Arabic languages, he acquired proficiency in various Indian dialects in the multi-ethnic environment of Delhi.
Initiation into the Sufi Order
Hazrat Amir Khusro inherited from his father not only an honourable place in the society of the day and a high status at the royal court but also the tradition of respect for Sufis and men of piety.
When he was eight years old, his father took him to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. As his father was entering the door of the great Saint’s Khanqah, the young Hazrat Khusro audaciously said that it was up to him and not his father to choose his Pir. His father left him outside the door and went in alone to talk to the saint. In the meantime, Hazrat Amir Khusro composed the a quatrain in Persian in order to test the spiritual capabilities of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Hazrat Amir Khusro affirmed to himself that he would only become a mureed of Hazrat Nizamuddin if a satisfactory answer was provided to the following quatrain:
Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya immediately replied and sent the following reply to Hazrat Amir Khusro in the same form as the initial quatrain:
When Hazrat Khusro heard the quatrain, which to him was a perfect reply, he entered the room and became a mureed of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya — faithfully serving his master throughout his life.
Love for his Pir
A unique story illustrates Hazrat Amir Khusro’s unbounded devotion and love for his Pir. Once a poor man, having heard of the reputation of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s munificence, came to Delhi from a distant part of India in the hope of getting assistance from him to solve his financial problems. Incidentally, the saint had nothing to offer him that day except a pair of his old shoes. Greatly disappointed the poor man nevertheless thanked the saint and left to return to his village.
On his return journey, he stayed at an inn for the night. Coincidentally, the same night Hazrat Amir Khusro, who was returning to Delhi from a business trip in Bengal, was also staying in the same inn. Hazrat Amir Khusro at the time traded in jewellery and precious stones and was considered to be one of the most wealthy citizens of Delhi. The next morning, when Hazrat Amir Khusro got up, he remarked: “Boo-e-Sheikh mee ayad” (I smell my Pir’s fragrance here).
After finding the source of the scent, he found the man and asked him if he had been to see Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya during his stay in Delhi. The man replied in the affirmative and told Hazrat Amir Khusro the story of his meeting with Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, whilst holding up the pair of shoes to show how old and of little value they were.
Hazrat Amir Khusro at once asked the man to give him the shoes in exchange for his entire wealth to which the man duly obliged. Overjoyed at this totally unexpected good fortune, the poor man thanked Hazrat Amir Khusro profusely and went away rejoicing. Amir Khusro eventually reached his Master and placed the pair of shoes at his feet. After explaining that he exchanged his entire wealth for the pair of shoes, Hazrat Nizamuddin remarked “Khusro, Bisyaar arzaan kharidi” (Khusro, you got them very cheap).
Most of the compositions of Hazrat Khusro, particularly his masnavis are full of praise of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. This is demonstrated by the following couplets:
His Pir’s Love for him
About his love for Amir Khusro, Hazrat Nizamuddin used to say: “If Shariat permitted, I would have preferred to rest with Khusro in one and the same grave.” So great was the attachment of the Pir to his mureed, he expressed in a Persian verse:
When Hazrat Amir Khusro was not in Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya would write to him. Such letters expressive of the Sufi master’s affection and love for his favourite disciple, who was addressed therein as Turkullah (God’s Turk), were preserved by Hazrat Amir Khusro with great care. In accordance with the will of Hazrat Amir Khusro, the letters are said to have been buried along with him after his death.
When Hazrat Amir Khusro attached himself to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, he renounced whatever he possessed of worldly things. The master was so deeply attached to his mureed that he often prayed “O God, forgive me for the sake of the fire of love burning in the heart of this Turk.”
Hazrat Amir Khusro was a devout Muslim, a profound expounder of ethics and strict observant of Sharia. Hazrat Ziyauddin Barani draws a vivid picture of his friend, Hazrat Amir, in these words:
Amir Khwurd says that Hazrat Amir Khusro, after having offered tahajjud (late night) prayers, would recite seven chapters of the Holy Qur’an everyday. “Tell me O Turk”, Nizamuddin Auliya once asked him, “how did you find your devotion?” “Sir, it so happens that I bitterly weep late in the night”, Hazrat Amir Khusro submitted. “Praise be to Allah, now some signs have begun to emerge.”
Association with Kings
Hazrat Amir Khusro enjoyed the title of Nayak (a perfect master of music). With this poetic talent and comprehensive knowledge, combined with a mastery in prose, Hazrat Amir Khusro at first found his way to the court of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban who ascended the Delhi throne in 664 AH (1265 AD). There he was patronised by Malik Chajju Kishli Khan, a cousin of the Sultan.
Hazrat Amir Khusro saw the rise and fall of several kingdoms, in Delhi, yet he maintained his association with each successive monarch and tried to win his favour through his eulogies. Thus we see that he sang the praises of Alauddin Khalji (695-715 AH / 1295-1315 AD), Qutubuddin Mubarakshah (715-720 AH / 1315- 1320 AD) and Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (720-725 AH / 1320-1324 AD). These rulers, on their part, treated Hazrat Amir Khusro with respect and honoured him, taking pride in him for his scholarly achievements, intelligence, wisdom and above all, his piety and purity of heart. He thus earned the title of Tut-i Hind (Parrot of India).
Alauddin Khalji gave him 100 tanka (gold coins) annually, and Hazrat Khusro, as a token of acknowledgement, recorded all the conquests of the king in beautiful masnavi called “Khazain-ul-Futuh” Another masnavi “Taj-ul-Futuh” commemorates the victories of Jalaluddin Firuzshah in 718AH (1318 AD). Hazrat Amir Khusro also dedicated his masnavi “Nuh-Sipihr” to Qutubuddin Mubarakshah.
Bughra Khan, son of Ghiyasuddin Balban and the ruler of Samana (in Panjab) always favoured the poet. When Bughra Khan’s war against his son Kaiqubad resulted in peace, He asked Hazrat Amir Khusro to write a full-length masnavi to commemorate the happy reunion of father and son. Hazrat Khusro thus composed “Qiranu’s-Sadain” in 688 AH (1289 AD) in six months.
Capture by Mongol army
Hazrat Khusro also became close to Malik Muhammad Khan, the elder son of Sultan Ghiyasuddin. The prince was a man of culture and learning. When the prince was sent to Multan as the governor of that province, he took Hazrat Khusro and Hazrat Amir Hasan Sanjari, a fellow disciple and poet, along with him. Multan in those days was threatened by the Mongol hordes. Timur Khan, a Mongol general attacked Multan but he was defeated by the Delhi army.
After some time they mounted another attack. In the second battle, the prince was wounded by an arrow and later died. His army was defeated and a number of nobles including Hazrat Khusro and Hazrat Hasan Dehlavi were captured. They were taken to Balkh and it was only after two years that they were released.
After returning to Delhi, Hazrat Khusro comforted the prince’s bereaved father, Ghiyasuddin Balban who later died in 686 AH (1287 AD).
Demise of his Mother and Brother
Hazrat Khusro then remained in the company of Khan Jahan with whom he went to Awadh, staying there for two years. However, he had to rush to Delhi as his mother had been taken seriously ill. She later passed away in 698 AH (1298 AD) and the same year also saw the demise of his brother, Husamuddin.
Hazrat Khusro was deeply grieved at the double tragedy, as is evident from the elegy he wrote in his masnavi Laila Majnun:
The last king to be praised by Hazrat Khusro was Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, who came to power after overthrowing the Khiljis in 720 AH (1320 AD) and ruled up to 725 AH (1324 AD). Hazrat Khusro composed the Tughlaq Namah to commemorate his era. He accompanied Tughlaq to Bengal where he stayed for some time but when he heard the sad news of the death of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, his spiritual guide, he came back to Delhi.
Hazrat Khusro had a son by the name of Malik Muhammad. His son, like his father had an aptitude for poetry and was gifted with the faculty of critical appreciation. He had also a daughter called Afifa. She was seven years old when Hazrat Khusro was composing the Hasht Bihisht in which he dedicated a few couplets to her in this masnavi.
At the time of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s death, Hazrat Amir Khusro was with Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughluq on his Bengal expedition. The news of his murshid’s death came as exteme shock to him and he returned to Delhi as soon as possible, distributing all that he had amongst the poor during the journey. Upon reaching the tomb, clad in black clothes, he embraced the grave and shed abundant tears in distress. Afterwards he said to those present: “Who am I to wail for this monarch? I lament my own fate, because I will not survive him much longer.”
He began to spend most of his time at the grave of his spiritual guide in total renunciation of the world. He lived in this manner for about six months and could bear no further separation. He breathed his last on 18 Shawwal in 725 AH and was buried a small distance away from the resting place of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.
Hazrat Amir Khusro’s Tomb
Writing in his publication, Shir al-Ajam, Allama Shibli Nomani, the famous theologian and historian of Islam in India, eulogises Hazrat Amir Khusro’s genius and illuminating contributions to the oriental literature in his following paragraphs:
Hazrat Amir Khusro has authored over 90 books. His famous book entitled Rahat-ul-Mohibbeen encompasses the discourses of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Amongst his other books the most prominent are:
- Dewan Tuhfat-us-Saghir (Offering of a Minor) his first divan, contains poems composed between the age of 16 and 19
- Dewan Wast-ul-Hayat (The Middle of Life) his second divan, contains poems composed at the peak of his poetic career
- Dewan Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal (The Prime of Perfection) poems composed between the age of 34 and 43
- Baqia-Naqia (The Rest/The Miscellany) compiled at the age of 64
- Qissa Chahar Darvesh (The Tale of the Four Dervishes)
- Nihayatul-Kamaal (The Height of Wonders) compiled probably a few weeks before his death.
- Qiran-us-Saadain (Meeting of the Two Auspicious Stars) Masnavi about the historic meeting of Bughra Khan and his son Kyqbad after long enmity (1289)
- Miftah-ul-Futooh (Key to the Victories) in praise of the victories of Jalaluddin Firuz Khilji (1291)
- Masnavi Noh Sipahr (Masnavi of the Nine Skies) Hazrat Amir Khusro’s perceptions of India and its culture (1318)
- Tarikh-i-Alai (‘Times of Alai’- Alauddin Khilji)
- Tughluq Nama (Book of the Tughluqs) in prose (1320)
- Ejaaz-e-Khusrovi (The Miracles of Khusro) an assortment of prose compiled by himself
- Khazain-ul-Futooh (The Treasures of Victories) one of his more controversial books, in prose (1311–12)
- Afzal-ul-Fawaid utterances of Nizamuddin Auliya
- Jawahar-e-Khusrovi often dubbed as the Hindawi divan of Amir Khusro
Allama Shibli Nomani declares in Shir al-Ajam that Hazrat Amir Khusro, while improving the old tunes and rhythms, invented many new ones by blending Persian and Hindi rhyme and rhythm in such a fine way that they revolutionised the entire world of music. The art reached such a height of perfection that even after the lapse of seven hundred years, it could not be excelled.
Pioneer of Urdu
In a country like India where each province has a different language and peculiar dialect of its own, a common and easy medium for communication was desperately needed to preserve unity. With this objective in view, he composed a large number of couplets and verses with mixed vocabularies of Turkic, Arabic, Persian and Braj Bhasha (a dialect closely related to Hindi) which laid foundations for the inception of a new language – Urdu.
Over subsequent generations, the language was further developed and refined. It is now spoken by over four hundred million people in the world and is the official language of Pakistan.