Amir Khusraw and his Adaptability – J. Dadademery

It is rare that a man excels in more than one facet of life.   Yet when he does, he leaves an indelible mark in the history of his country and often in the annals of the world. It is about one such towering personality that in my humble way I wish to speak today to highlight and show his adaptability to the various phases of life, not only as a literary man but also as a courtier, philosopher, linguist and as a true disciple. This man is none other than Abdul Hasan Yaminuddin Khusraw, better known as Amir Khusraw.   To understand Khusraw one has to know the then prevailing current at the courts of the various patrons he served.

 Amir Khusraw’s father, Amir Saifuddin Mahmood, was a Turkish noble and belonged to the Hazra Tribe. When the Mongols devastated the Islamic world and dealt a fatal blow to the Abbasid dynasty, he like many others, was rendered homeless and was without an asylum. At such a time India was considered to be a country where people could live in peace. (The truth of this opinion in   the thirteenth century still holds good in the twentieth century) Amir  Saifuddin came to India and when Shamsuddin settled down in Delhi at a time soon Iltutmish was on the throne of Delhi. He soon found access to Shamsuddin’s Court. He later married the daughter of Imad-ul-Mulk. Though unlettered, he was a pious and kind-hearted man.Of this marriage there were  three sons and Khusraw was the second son.

 Amir Khusraw was born in the year 1253 A. D. at Mominipur (Patiali) in the district of Etah (U. P.) during the period of the Slave kings. There is no doubt of his being an Indian for he himself has said of India. “This is my birth place, my shelter, my homeland.”

 Amir Khusraw’s father belonged to a martial race and was himself illiterate. It was not expected that he would have his son educated. Yet he seems to have paid special attention to his son’s education; he committed his son to the fostering  care of Khwaja Saduddin, who taught him calligraphy.

 Poetry began to cast its spell on Khusraw when he was still a child. This aptitude was encouraged when he came in contact with Khawja Asil Kotwal who, realising his genius, encouraged him and advised him to compose poems under the pseudonym “Sultani” since he was associated with the royal court through his father. At a tender age  when he had hardly made his mark, he lost his father, who was killed in a campaign against the Mongols. He expressed his  grief later by stating: “Saif passed away  from over my head and my   heart remained cut in two.   My river flowed out, and the pearl remained single, and alone.”

 At this stage   his maternal grandfather, Imad-ul-Mulk, looked after Khusraw with love and affection and afforded him an opportunity to make his own way in the path of the muse. He lost his grandfather when he was twenty years old and mourned his death.

 By this time Khusraw had achieved reputation as a poet and had risen to prominence. As a poet with a bright future he had, in the time honoured manner, to explore avenues and   find a patron. Bread had to be earned.

 In Alauddin Kishli Khan, popularly known as Malik Chajju, the nephew of Ghyasuddin Balban and his Chief Chamberlain, Khusraw found his first patron. A reckless liberality that took no thought of the morrow was the one  redeeming virtue of the Turkish nobility of the day, and Khusraw too was as large hearted as any of them.

 He became a courtier as he was disgusted at the idea of becoming rich through slow and persistent labour. The statesmen   of those times patronised poets as their modern counterparts patronise the press. Since Allauddin’s influence was immense, Khusraw thought he could flourish under him.   His genius to turn the situation to his advantage could be seen in these lines :-

 “I asked the Dawn where is thy Sun? Heaven showed the face of Malik Chajju.”

 He remained in Malik Chajju’s service for two years and adapted himself to singing the praise of Kishli Khan.

 The parting of the ways came when Bughra Khan, the younger son of King Balban, visited Kishli Khan along with his confidants, Shamsuddin Dabis and Qazi Athur, both good scholars.

 As is natural in a poet, Khusraw showed to Bughra Khan a few lines of what he had composed in his honour.  It suited the taste of Bughra Khan so well that he rewarded him generously. This brought about the jealousy of Kishli Khan, who began harassing Khusraw. Due to the Khan’s anger Khusraw   went  to Samana and Bughra Khan’s protection. It was only sought natural that he should now sing the praise of Bughra Khan. Khusraw would have stayed with Bughra Khan if the latter had not accompanied  his father to Laknauti on an expedition. Khusraw did not  like the place. Finally he came back to Delhi when Balban returned.

 Amir Khusraw was so obsessed with Delhi that wherever he went he was never unmindful of this beautiful city.   He  thought that Delhi, due to its good qualities and its merits, was like the garden of Paradise. In this city of sunshine and  shadow Amir Khusraw’s genius found a natural home. It had much to teach him and he was eager to learn.

 Having heard of his father’s victory, Prince Mohammad Khan, the eldest son of the King and Governor of Multan, came to pay his homage. Khusraw describes his meeting with the Prince thus :

 “………………As my fortune was fated to be linked up with his, he was pleased to ask about the ripe fruit of my speech  (i. e. poetry). I took to him a few verses that happened to be ready. The Prince appreciated them very much and rewarded me with a robe of honour and cap.”

 Khusraw  rose to  unparalleled heights while staying with Prince Mohammad. He now adapted himself to a life of pleasure and comfort, for wealth was just flowing in. Yet his nostalgic memories of his beloved Delhi continued to torment him.

 As an officer in the army Amir Khusraw accompanied Prince Mohammad, who went to fight the Mongols. The Prince met with an untimely death and Khusraw was captured by the   Mongols.   His escape from captivity has been graphically described by him in the “Dibacha” of Ghurrat-ul-Kamal Like a homing pigeon, Khusraw winged his way back to Delhi.

 The shock of the death of his beloved son was too much for Balban. He knew that his end was near and sought an heir to follow him. As Prince Bughra Khan of Laknauti would not accept the offer, he turned to Kai-khusraw, the  son of Prince Mohammed. This did not suit the views of the Kotwal-Malik-ul Umara. He finally prevailed upon Balban to declare Muizuddin Kaiqobad as his heir apparent.

 The traces of surveillance are thrown overboard when it is followed by freedom. So was the case with Kaiqobad, Life danced before him in all its naked splendour and tempa tion, and wine and women became the order of the day.   The inevitable result was chaos, confusion, social and moral degeneration throughout the land. Kaiqobad’s father, Bughra Khan, sought to put an end to this.   Father and son confronted each other on the battlefield.

 Amir Khusraw, who formed a part of Bughra Khon’s retinue, keenly observed these developments. The clash was averted by well – intentioned   people, who brought about reconciliation between father and son. Khusraw composed a  “qasida” on the occasion and offered it to Bughra Khan.

Later, at Kaiqobad’s desire, he composed a Mathnavi “Qiran-us-Sadain” commemorating the   event.   Even in this he could not resist the urge to sing the praise of the beauty of Delhi

 “Oh Delhi and its young beauties with turbans placed roguishly awry on their heads… wherever they stroll the path blooms forth with moving flowers… They stroll along, while in their wake follow their lovers with bloody tears flowing from their eyes.These saucy young Hindus have made the Muslamans sun-worshippers.”

 Kaiqobad’s reign was a short one lasting only for 3 years. He was assassinated. With his passing away the rule of the Slave dynasty came to an end. The reins of power passed  into the hands of the Khiljis.

 Jalal-ud-Din Khilji was 70 years old when he became  the King of Delhi as the first of Khilji Kings. He patronised literature and poetry.  It was only natural that Khusraw found the atmosphere of his court congenial for the display of his undisputed talents. He bloomed forth giving full rein to his genius. His “gazals” once again showed his adaptability. They were sung by the court dancers and musicians. Zaiuddin Barni, a contemporary historian of repute, speaking  of that period, said:

 “While the sakis offered the frothing cups  and the beautiful   damsels danced and sang, the ghazals of Amir Khusraw were recited, and in that assembly which could scarcely be considered as of this earth, the lifeless ones got fresh life and the sad hearts gladdened.”

 History repeats itself. After 6 years’ rule during which he faced a number of plots to overthrow him, Jalauddin was murdered at the instance of his own nephew and son-in-law, Alauddin Khilji.

 Once again Amir Khusraw was faced with a new master, a murderer! But did he lament the end   of Jalaluddin or decry Alauddin, the murderer ? He once again adapted himself to the new circumstances and instead of condemning, sang the praises of Aladdin, the King.

 In one of his mathnavis addressed to Alauddin   Khilji, he refers in these words to the first shower of praise:

 “Was not I the first man to shower pearls out of my ocean like nature on the auspicious occasion of thy accession to the throne? Mark my happy words that fetched thee the royal throne in Delhi.”

 From his intoxicated dream of building a world Empire, Alauddin caused   his title to be engraved on coins and inscriptions reading ‘The second Alexander’. From this Utopia he was brought to earth by a learned man who counselled him to settle his domestic affairs first. He did this with a heavy hand.

 Once again our poet, Amir Khusraw, had to adapt himself to living under a king who did not encourage the arts. Yet, ironic as it may seem, there was a large number of scholars, saints and poets in his reign notwithstanding his indifference   to them.

 Not that Alauddin did not recognise Amir Khusraw as a poet, but the high position which Khusraw had held in the past   was denied to him. The most productive years of Amir Khusraw were the 21 years of Aladdin’s reign. During this period he completed the “Panj Ganj” comprising “Matla-ul-Anwar’, “Sheerin-Khusraw”,   “A’ ina-e-Sikandari”,   “Laila Majnu” and “Hasht Bahisht.” These works are dedicated to Sultan Aladdin Khilji and generally speaking contain his  praises. But therein he has also dealt out sermons and advice to one who brooked no opposition. In the “Hasht Bahisht” he advises the King:

 “When God hath given thee this throne of kingship and has conferred upon thee a kingdom extending from the Heavens to the Hades, endeavour to satisfy the people.  Do justice to the persecuted and chastise the persecutor…  while obliging the chosen few and showering thine kindness  upon   them remember that starving beggar who falls asleep  hungry in a corner at   night.”

 This shows his moral courage.   Some of his works during this period were “Khazain-ul-Futuh”. “Deval Rani-Khidr Khan”, “Ejaz-e-Khusrawi”. Khusraw’s descriptions of Sultan Aladdin’s reign may sound exaggerated, but he once   again had adjusted himself to the whims and fancies of his monarch. He was a seasoned courtier.

 In the court intrigues   towards the end of Sultan  Alauddin’s reign, his whole family was destroyed and the retribution 1316 A. D., that fell upon it had no parallel. He died in and Mubarak Shah Khilji, his only surviving son,  who had escaped alive, was enthroned. The royal court became a tavern. His favourite, Khusraw Khan, ruled the country.

 After 4 years of such rule Mubarak was murdered by his favourite. Amir Khusraw, except for a brief spell, appears to have confined himself to his scholarly pursuits. He was a silent witness to the desecration of the Holy Quran, and the King’s evil ways and his dispute with Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Amir Khusraw had great  reverence for Hazrat  Nizamuddin Auliya, who was his guide to the mysterious world of the soul from the tender  age of 8 years. Yet his adaptability made him maintain   good relations with both these antagonists.   He composed his Mathnavi “Nuh-Siphir” as a  history of his reign.  His lines “O King, generous and benevolent, O appraiser of values and crown of poesy! The reward I have received from a gem like thee, I rarely obtained from former kings.  Now it is   necessary for the wizard of a poet like me to sing thy praise in proportion to what I have received”.   All this gives an indication of the reward he received. With the demise of Mubarak ended the Khilji dynasty.

 At the age of 70 years Amir Khusraw witnessed in his lifetime the third dynasty occupying the throne of Delhi, when on the death of Mubarak Shah, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq  succeeded him.   Once again he hails a new monarch by singing his praises

 “The planets revolved  a number   of years, then was  born a supporter of Islam, Tughlaq Shah,   the guardian of religion.”

 Though the Sultan was on good terms with Amir Khusraw,  he was   not satisfied with the activities of  Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulya. In a bitter tirade against him Tughlaq ordered him to leave Delhi before he returned from Lakhnauti. He never reached Delhi, as he died before reaching   Delhi in 1325 A. D.

 The same year   saw the demise of Hazrat Nizamuddin at Delhi at the ripe age of 95. Amir Khusraw. who was at Laknauti with Tughlaq Shah, knew about the Hazrat’s passing away only after his return.

 When he went near the grave of the great saint, with irrepressible grief in his heart, the following Hindi Doha fell from his lips :-

 “Gori Sowe Sej par, mukh par dare kes,

 Chal Khusraw ghar apne. rain bhai sab des.”  

 (The fair one lies on the couch with her black tresses scattered on her face

 O Khusraw, come home now, for night has fallen all over the world).

 It was then that he knew that he would not survive Hazrat Nizamuddin for long. He died in 1325 A. D. at the age of 71 years.

 Thus came to a   close the eventful life of a great  personality, attractive and brilliant in wit and conversation. He was unequalled for the volume and originality of his works.   It was his principle to swim with the cuirent. But once the heat of youth  was over, he settled down to a pious life.

 Besides possessing a profound knowledge of Persian and Arabic, Amir Khusraw also knew Hindi and some of the dialects and spoken languages of India. That he was not an isolated figure is evident from his numerous works.   He was as much a favourite with the common man as with his many patrons.   Amir Khusraw was aware that in order to maintain contact with the ordinary man and people at large he had to master their language, customs and rituals. He had a good knowledge of Hindi and could read, write and speak it fluently as is evident from the above-mentioned Doha. He even experimented writing in a mixture of Persian and Hindi. He enriched our composite culture.

So far as religion went, Hindus, in his opinion, were not as religious as the Muslims but there were so many values common to both. He studied every aspect of Indian  culture and loved his country.  This is the reason why even after the lapse of seven hundred years Amir Khusraw is still remembered today.

 Ref:   1.   “Amir Khusraw” by Sayid Ghulam Samani.

 2.   “Hazrat   Amir Khusraw of Delhi” by  Mohammed Habib.

Twitter Feeds

Facebook Feeds