Abul Hasan Yameenuddin Amir Khusro (1253–1325) was a prominent poet, singer, and musician living near Delhi around the fourteenth century. His family had been associated with the royal court for many generations. Amir Khusro himself had seen the rule eight sultans.
Amir Khusro was the first Muslim poet to use Hindi words openly. He was the first person who wrote together in Hindi, Hindavi, and Persian. Amir Khusro invented the Khadi Boli.
He was also a Persian poet. He had the shelter of the Delhi Sultanate. The list of his texts is long and also important for the study of history. People call Amir Khusro, “Parrot Of India”.
Khusro is called as the father of qawwali. He introduced the ghazal style of a song into India. Both qawwali and ghazal still exist widely in India and Pakistan.
Khusro was an expert in many styles of Persian poetry which were developed in medieval Persia, from Khāqānī’s qasidas to Nizami’s khamsa. He used 11 metrical systems with 35 distinct categories. He wrote in many verse forms including ghazal, masnavi, qata, rubai, do-baiti and tarkib-band. His contribution to the evolution of the ghazal was important.
Early Life of Amir Khusro
Amir Khusro was the son of Turk Saifuddin of the Lachan caste of Central Asia. He was born in 1253 AD in the town of Patiali in Etah, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Turks of the Lachan caste settled in India as “refugees” during the reign of Balban suffering from the invasions of Genghis Khan. Khusro’s mother Bibi Daulatnaz was the daughter of war minister Imadutul Mulk and an Indian Muslim woman.
Amir Khusro’s father died at the early age of seven. He started writing poetry and by the age of 20, he became a famous poet. Khusro spent his whole life in royalty.
Khusro also contributed to the field of music. He blended the Indian and Iranian ragas and formed a new raga style Iman, Zilf, Sajgari, etc. Khusro has written many couplets and puzzles in Persian and on the lines of the song including the words of Arabic Ghazal.
Career of Amir Khusro
After the death of Khusro’s grandfather, Khusru joined the army of Malik Chajju, who was the Sultan’s reign, Ghayas Ub-Din Balban. This made his poetry to the attention of the Royal Court of Assembly where he was honored.
Balban’s second son Nasir ud-din Bughra Khan was invited to listen to Khusro. He became a patron of Khusro in 1276. Bughra Kha was appointed as the ruler of Bengal in 1277. Khusro visited him in 1279 while writing his second divan, Wast ul-Hayat (The Middle of Life).
Khusro then returned to Delhi. Balban’s eldest son, Khan Muhammad (who was in Multan), reached Delhi and when he heard about Khusro, he invited him to his court.
Khusru then left for Multan in 1281. At the time, Multan was the gateway to India and was a center of knowledge and learning. Caravans of scholars, tradesmen, and diplomats transited through Multan from Baghdad, Arabia, and Persia on their way to Delhi.
Khusro wrote that:
I tied the belt of service on my waist and put on the cap of companionship for another five years. I imparted lustre to the water of Multan from the ocean of my wits and pleasantries.
On 9 March 1285, Khan Muhammad was killed in battle while fighting Mongols who were attacking the Sultanate. Khusro wrote two songs in the grief of his death.
In 1287, Khusro traveled to Awadh with another of his supporters, Amir Ali Hatim. At the age of eighty, Balban called his second son Bughra Khan back from Bengal, but Bughra Khan refused.
After Balban’s death in 1287, his grandson Muiz ud-Din Qaiqabad, Bughra Khan’s son, was made the Sultan of Delhi at the age of 17. Khusro remained in Qaiqabad’s service for two years, from 1287 to 1288.
In 1288 Khusro completed his first masnavi, Qiran us-Sa’dain (Meeting of the Two Auspicious Stars), which was about Bughra Khan meeting his son Muiz ud-Din Qaiqabad after a long hatred.
After Qaiqabad experienced a stroke in 1290, nobles appointed his three-year-old son Shams ud-Din Kayumars as Sultan. A Turko-Afghan named Jalal ud-Din Firuz Khalji then marched on Delhi, killed Qaiqabad, and became Sultan, thus ending the Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate and starting the Khalji dynasty.
During Jalal Ud-Din Firuz Khalji
Jalal ud-Din Firuz Khalji liked poetry and invited many poets to his court. Khusro was admired in his court and given the title “Amir”.
He was given the job of “Mushaf-dar”. Court life made Khusro focus more on his literary works. Khusro’s ghazals which he wrote in series were set to music and were sung by singing girls every night before the Sultan.
Khusro writes about Jalal ud-Din Firuz:
The King of the world Jalal ud-Din, in reward for my infinite pain which I undertook in composing verses, bestowed upon me an unimaginable treasure of wealth.
In 1290 Khusro completed his second masnavi, Miftah ul-Futuh (Key to the Victories), in praise of Jalal ud-Din Firuz’s victories. In 1294 Khusro completed his third divan, Ghurrat ul-Kamaal (The Prime of Perfection), which consisted of poems written between the ages of 34 and 41.
During Ala Ud-Din Khalji
After Jalal ud-Din Firuz, Ala ud-Din Khalji ascended to the throne of Delhi in 1296. Khusro wrote the Khaza’in ul-Futuh (The Treasures of Victory) showing Ala ud-Din’s construction works, wars, and administrative services.
He then wrote a khamsa (quintet) with five masnavis, known as Khamsa-e-Khusrau (Khamsa of Khusro), completing it in 1298. The khamsa imitated that of the earlier poet of Persian epics, Nizami Ganjavi.
The first masnavi in the khamsa was Matla ul-Anwar (Rising Place of Lights) consisting of 3310 verses (completed in 15 days) with moral and Sufi themes. The second masnavi, Khusrau-Shirin, consisted of 4000 verses. The third masnavi, Laila-Majnun, was a romance. The fourth voluminous masnavi was Aina-e-Sikandari, which narrated the brave deeds of Alexander the Great in 4500 verses. The fifth masnavi was Hasht-Bihisht, which was based on legends about Bahram V, the fifteenth king of the Sasanian Empire.
All these works made Khusro a leading star in the world of poetry. Ala ud-Din Khalji was highly pleased with his work and rewarded him generously.
When Ala ud-Din’s son and future successor Qutb ud-Din Mubarak Shah Khalji was born. Khusro made the horoscope of Mubarak Shah Khalji in which certain predictions were made. This horoscope is included in the masnavi Saqiana.
During Qutb Ud-Din Mubarak Shah Khalji
After Ala ud-Din Khalji’s death in 1316, his son Qutb ud-Din Mubarak Shah Khalji became the Sultan of Delhi.
Khusro composed a masnavi on Mubarak Shah Khalji called Nuh Sipihr (Nine Skies), which explained the events of Mubarak Shah Khalji’s reign.
He classified his poetry into nine chapters, each part of which is deemed a “sky”. In the third chapter, he wrote a lively account of India and its environment, seasons, flora and fauna, cultures, scholars, etc.
He wrote another book during Mubarak Shah Khalji’s reign by name of Ijaz-e-Khusravi (The Miracles of Khusro), which consisted of five volumes. In 1317 Khusro compiled Baqia-Naqia (Remnants of Purity). In 1319 he wrote Afzal ul-Fawaid (Greatest of Blessings), a work of prose that contained the teachings of Nizamuddin Auliya.
After Mubarak Shah Khalji
In 1320 Mubarak Shah Khalji was killed by Khusro Khan, who thus ended the Khalji dynasty and briefly became the Sultan of Delhi.
Within the same year, Khusro Khan was captured and beheaded by Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq, who became Sultan and thus began the Tughlaq dynasty. In 1321 Khusro began to write a historic masnavi named Tughlaq Nama (Book of the Tughlaqs) about the reign of Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq and that of other Tughlaq rulers.
Death of Amir Khusro
Khusro died in October 1325, six months after the death of Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusro’s tomb is next to that of his religious leader in the Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi. Nihayat ul-Kamaal (The Zenith of Perfection) was compiled probably a few weeks before his death.
Contributions to Hindustani Music
Khusro is attributed to mixing the Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Indian singing traditions in the late 13th century to create qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional song. A well-punctuated song featuring the theme and devotional music linked with a lead singer using an elegant style of fast taans and difficult swara combinations are the different components of a qawwali.
Khusro’s followers who practiced in Qawwali singing were later classified as Qawwals (they sang only Muslim devotional songs) and Kalawants (they sang mundane songs in the Qawwali style).
Tarana and Trivat
Tarana and Trivat are also credited to Khusro. Musicologist and philosopher Jaidev Singh has said:
[Tarana] was entirely an invention of Khusro. Tarana is a Persian word meaning a song. Tillana is a corrupt form of this word. True, Khusro had before him the example of Nirgit songs using śuṣk-akṣaras (meaningless words) and pāṭ-akṣaras (mnemonic syllables of the mridang). Such songs were in vogue at least from the time of Bharat. But generally speaking, the Nirgit used hard consonants. Khusro introduced two innovations in this form of vocal music. Firstly, he introduced mostly Persian words with soft consonants. Secondly, he so arranged these words that they bore some sense. He also introduced a few Hindi words to complete the sense…. It was only Khusro’s genius that could arrange these words in such a way to yield some meaning. Composers after him could not succeed in doing so, and the tarana became as meaningless as the ancient Nirgit.
It is thought that Khusro composed the tarana style during his effort to reproduce Gopal Naik’s exposition in raag Kadambak. Khusro hid and listened to Gopal Naik for six days, and on the seventh day, he reproduced Naik’s performance using meaningless words (mridang bols) thus creating the tarana style.
Modern scholars, however, are quick to dismiss this story as an urban story. One reason for this is that the Raga Kadambak is such a complex composition that understanding its difficulties solely by listening is virtually impossible.
Khusro is credited for the invention of the sitar. At the time, there were many versions of the Veena in India. He rechristened the 3 stringed Tritantri Veena as a Sehtaar (Persian for 3 strung), which ultimately became known as the sitar.