Hazrat Amir Khusro
by Jyoti Nair
This article is a tribute to the colossal presence of Hazrat Amir Khusro, who, though he lived over 800 years ago, still remains today a cultural icon of India. Through his contributions in the fields of Indian Classical music, Sufism, Qawwali and Persian literature, he brought about a synthesis of Muslim and Hindu elements. As a writer, Sufi poet, composer, and musician, he is the most popular figure from medieval India. He lived through the reigns of four Sultans of Delhi and was hailed as the “Parrot of India.” For his steadfast devotion to Islam he was referred to as the “Turk of India.”
Alongside other classical poets such as Nizami Sa’di and Hafiz, Hazrat Amir Khusro finds a distinguished place in the Indo-Persian canon of literature. He wrote poetry in Hindavi—an amalgam of Hindi and Urdu—and went on to invent many musical instruments.
Hazrat Amir Khusro’s life was shrouded in mystery. His overwhelming personality has been draped with layers of cultural myth and legend over the centuries. There are apocryphal anecdotes about his life, especially connected to his relationship with his spiritual master, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, and to his undying wish that he be buried alongside Auliya if laws permitted.
A Ghazal by Amir Khusro captures the essence of Sufism:
“I have become you, you have become me.
I have become life, you have become body.
From now on, let no one say that
I am other and you are another.”
In the whole of South Asia Hazrat Amir Khusro is revered for his compositions in vernacular Sufi, which make use of folk literature from North India. These have become part of a living and dynamic tradition. To the ethnomusicologists and Islamists he is a mystic whose Persian and Hindavi verses form the core of Qawwali performance. To the storytellers his narrative tales, Khamsah, survive in a richly illustrated manuscript tradition that extends throughout the Persianate world.
Amir Khusro was familiar with both Persian and Indian Musical systems of his day.
He introduced variations of melody and tempo and invented new modes in Indian music, such as sazgiri and zilaf. The introduction of the Khayal genre is also attributed either to him or to the 5th century Sultan Husayn Sharqi of Jaunpur. In addition, Hazrat Amir Khusro also authored the Tarana composition—an onomatopoeic string of meaningless syllables interspersed with other bits of poetic lines and sung in a raga. His greatest innovations are said to be the development of the Sitar and Tabla, and composition of ragas like Hamir, Ushaak, Yaman, Sarang, etc.
Hazrat Amir Khusro is a dynamic part of the living music tradition not only to north Indian classical music, but also to the universally popular form of Qawwali. Music is an essential component of Qawwali with its ecstatic and hypnotic performance of Sufi verses. The word is derived from the Arabic Qawl, which means “utterance or speech,” mixed with the Persian word Ghazal.This utterance is attributed to being the message of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). Listening to music and getting raks spiritual ecstasy (sama) is part of the spiritual exercises of the Sufis and is especially upheld by the Chishtis. Today it is fostered at shrines in Delhi, Azmer, Lucknow and Lahore.
Poetry, music, and religion become synonymous with each other and each is an expression of the other. However, Hazrat laments over the fate of human beings who make cultural barricades:
“Sab ne usko jana hai par ek nahin pehchanhe hai.”
“Everyone knows of Him, yet no one recognizes Him.”
Credits: Tashree-o- Bayane ILmo fun by Ustad Muhammad Abdul Bakhy.
Makers of the Muslim World Amir Khusraw The Poet of Sultans and Sufis by Sunil Sharma.
Acknowledgments: Munna Shaokath Ali, Irshad Ahmed.