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Published in the 16-31 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

HERITAGE
Ameer Khusro: a legend remembered

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

History of Muslim India is replete with the luminaries of art and architecture and men of letters and literature. Their untiring endeavors for the amalgamation of culture and civilization are par excellence. Many gifted men migrated to India and laid the foundations of a vigorous culture. The genesis of Indo-Persian literature can be traced during this period.

Yaminuddin Abul Hasan Ameer Khusro’s forefathers also migrated to this part of the world in same age. Born of a Turkish Lajin (Lachin) later Saifuddin Shamsi, Amir Khusro eclipsed all his predecessors. His interests were kaleidoscopic and his genius versatile. But he enjoyed fame in the field of Persian poetry, in which his position is next to Saadi and can favorably be compared with Hafiz in lyrics.

Bahut Kathin hai dagar panghat ki,
Kaisay main bhar laaun madhva say matki?
Paniya bharan ko main jo gayi thi,
Daud jhapat mori matki patki.
Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki.
Khusro Nizam kay bal bal jayyiye
Laaj rakho moray ghoonghat pat ki.
Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki.
The road to the well is much too difficult,
How to get my pot filled?
When I went to fill the water,
In the furore, I broke my pot.
Khusro has given his whole life to you, O Nizam.
Would you please take care of my veil (of self respect),
The road to the well is much too difficult.
Amir Khusro


Born at Delhi in 1253 AD, Amir Khusro served seven kings and three princes from the times of Sultan Balban to Mohammad Bin Tughlaq. His passion for his birthplace Delhi was ripped to the extent that when he was posted in Patiali, he not only lamented but completed a masanwi under the title ‘Shikayatnamah-e-Patiali’. Condemning Patiali and recalling the beauty and pleasure of his hometown Delhi, he compares himself with Joseph, who in separation from his home town Kan’an, feeling himself distressed, always pined for it.

"As Joseph, after having been taken away as a captive from his home town, Kan’an, used to sing the praise of his home town, so is the case with me. Though I happen to be faraway from my home town, yet I always sing of its beauty. My place was Quwat-ul-Islam (a title of Delhi) a qibla of the kings of seven climes (i.e. of the entire world). That place is Delhi, which is a twin sister of the holy paradise and true copy of Arsh (throne of God or a highest heaven) on the page of the earth."

Khusro (right) with Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in a 16th century Mughal miniature

Khusro (right) with Hazrat Nizamuddin 
Aulia in a 16th century Mughal miniature

Poetry was inherent in Ameer Khusro. The day he was born, his father took him to a God absorbed darwesh, who said to his father, "You have brought one who would go two steps a head of khaqani (nightingale)."
In his early childhood, Khusro had developed a putting together in verse form worse of discordant meaning. Up to the age of sixteen, whichever book of verse he happened to lay his hand on, he tried to follow its author in the art of composition.

His adolescence ushered him under the guidance of both Mufti Muizzudin Gharifi and Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, his mentor. Both of them guided him to the path of following the style of Saddi and Kamal Isfahani. Even at that young age, he used to lambaste his contemporaries, including Hasan Dehlavi in qitah (quatrains).

"And occasionally I used to lambaste my contemporary poets, with the sword of my tongue in a qitah form." Ameer Khusro was quite indifferent in politics, he never indulged himself in the intrigues of courtiers. He is considered as the pioneer figure of the Indo-Muslim music. In fact, it was he who started the process of synthesizing Turko-Persian music with Indian music. He has credited three books on music just as three diwans of poetry.

"My verses have so far been collected in three diwans, would you believe, that if there were a system of notation for registering musical compositions, my performance in the field of music too, would have been collected in three registers" He invented number of ragas and raginis which include such novelties as Qaul, Qulbanah, Taranah. He also composed verses in Persian and Hindwi.

On the one hand Sultan Aalauddin, for the sake of righteousness and expediency of empire, stamped out all kinds of intoxicants, the prohibited things, the wherewithals of disobedience, debauchery and wickedness with the use of chastisement and and on the other side Ameer Khusro opened wide the gate of discipleship and accepted all kinds of men as his murids, be they high or low, wealthy or impecunious, noble or faqir, learned or ignorant, high born or low born, urbane or rustic, soldier or warrior.

They all abstained from improper acts and if anyone would commit a sin, he would come and confess his guilt before Khusro and would indeed renew his discipleship. Men and women, young and old, merchants and ordinary men, slaves and servants and even young children began offering prayers regularly including the late morning prayers. Even the royal ameers, the armed acquirers, secretaries, clerks, sepoys and royal slaves, were particular about offering these supererogatory prayers. Owing to Khusro’s barakah (blessings), most people of the area including the high and low and irrespective of cast and creed became involved in prayers, tasawwuf (mysticism) and tark (renunciation) and turned to piety. During the last few years of Sultan Alauddin’s reign no person would talk of liquor, of beloveds, of debauchery and gambling, of obscenities and indecent life and no one would commit usury or usurp others’ rights.

Out of the teachings of Khusro, the shop people gave up lying and cheating and underweighing. Scholars visiting Khusro would talk of books on tasawwuf such as Fawaid-ul-Fuwad, Qut-ul-Qulub, Ihya-ul-Uloom, Kashif-ul-Mahjub, Awarif and Malfuzat of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. People visited the bookshops in search of the books on suluk (deportment and self-control). Owing to the increased demand among the Sufis for lota (water vessel used specially for ritual cleansing) and tasht (basin for washing hands), the prices of these articles had slightly gone up showing that most people bent towards spiritual Sufi lifestyle.

Ameer Khusro served as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity in his time. His Hindu or Hindwi poetry for which he has been so popular among the school-going children as well as elderly generation. In his introduction to Ghurra-ul-Kamal, Khusro writes, "A few poems that I have composed in Hindwi, I have made a gift of them to my friends. I am a Hindustani Turk. I compose verses in Hindwi with the fluency of running water."

It was he, who himself called Tuti-e-Hind’(parrot of India). ‘To speak the truth, I am an Indian Parrot. If you want to listen from me some subtle verses, ask me then to recite some of my Hindwi poems." He himself did not collect and preserve his Hindwi poems but made a gift of them to his friends. His poem, Kaliq Bari is a lexicon composed of synonymous words, from four languages, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hindwi.

Hazrat Ameer Khusro was a devout Muslim. He was a friend and disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. He was a profound expounder of ethics and strict observant of Sharia. Sharia acquires meaning when it maintains a close relation with reality partaking the essence of reality-love of God. If Sharia is lacking in that or in other words if it is without ain (the alphabet meaning the essence of God-love) it becomes shar (evil). Like Shah Waliullah of the subsequent year, his attitude towards the Sufis of hypocrisy was very critical.

"Ah! what a shameful scene this band of the ‘pretenders to abstinence. They wear short sleeves (pose as fakirs) but keep their hands stretched in begging. They pretend abstinence but they are always in pursuit of money. They have commercialized faqiri (begging). How can one love God at the same time? As God’s unity is without any shadow of duality, he does not like dualism in the path of His love.

Hazrat Ameer Khusro’s spiritualism, in fact, consisted in his philosophy of love, which he shared with all the Sufis. The depth of humanism in his poetry springs from that source of ‘Divine love’. He has composed as many as 99 works and four lac lyrics, which cover almost every aspect of life. He was a living legend. He was more of a qalandar (a free soul), though not less of a Sufi, Khusro’s humanism transcended all barriers of cast, colour and creed. In an autocratic age, when the king’s wilful actions were unrestricted, Khusro had the courage and the intrepidity to speak before the king, of the value of the equality of the man.

"Though my value may be, a little less, than that of yours yet, if your veins were to be cut open, our blood will come out of the same colour." Khusro not only upheld the values of equality and dignity of labour but also the principles of social justice. His love and respect for Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia reached the apogee that when he heard about his death at Lakhnawati, he immediately arrived and went to his grave, where he blackened his face and rolled over in dust in utter grief, tearing his garments. Six months after that event, he died on Friday 29th Ziq’ad 725AH/1325. His death is not a death in the literal sense of the world for, he would always remain one of the very few unforgettable legends of literature.
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