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Soul music

“Music is the fire that burns the heart and the soul” has rightly been interpreted by Amir Khusrau.




In his entire career, Amir Khusrau wrote a staggering 92 books including Taj-ul-fatah, Tughlak namah, Sheerin Khusrau and Laila majnoon. He served as a court poet and went to war under several Delhi rulers during 1272 to 1325. His works were recited across the country in the courts of many rulers.

In simple Hindi doshukhna (two liners) to sophisticated Persian, he also created Indian ragaas, blended Arabic and Iranian usuls and maqaans imaginatively, wrote poems, ghazals and books. A proponent of khayal and raag yemen, he was also the inventor of the Sitar (Persian se-seven and tar-wires) and the dholak. His greatest contributions to Indian music have been the instruments and ragas, which today make it to every music session big or small. He also created musical forms like qaul, tarana, qawwali, naqsh and gul. 

It was Khusrau who made ghazal famous, Prolific, he wrote one everyday. The basis of ghazal lies in Persian poetry, though the language was changed to Urdu and Hindavi during the 13th century, when it became the accepted language of the courts.

He would sit and compose poems and riddles on the spur of the moment with words thrown in from listeners. Once, while walking on a road, he felt thirsty and asked the women filling pots at a well to give him water. They refused until he composed a poem for them with words given by them – kheer (milk sweetmeat), diya (lamp), kutta (dog) and dhol (drum). He replied, “kheer pakaai jatan say, charkha diya jalaa. Aaya kutta khagaya, tu baithi dhol bajaa.” – You made the sweetmeat with care by burning the charkha, the dog came and ate it when you were playing the drum. Simple words having clear meaning and placement of words, is the mark of his poems, except the ones found in Persian that need to be translated to Hindi/English to understand them completely.

He also tapped sounds of everyday work in the streets by hammer and tongs, the cotton carder, pulling water from a well etc. With a knack for picking sounds and rhythms, Khusrau could create a tune from anything; for instance, he did so with this taal (tune ) of the dhunia (cotton carder) cleaning cotton. A tune that is used to this day by the tabla players of Hindustani music and it goes something like this – jaanhum raft, jaanhum raft, aanhum raft, aanhum raft - words mimicking a sound, but the literal translation of which would make no sense.

Music formed a major part of his life and his biography. Nothing in music could be named and not found connected to Khusrau, not even the mystical dance performed by the Sufis (also known as whirling Dervishes). During the sama mehfils (music session) at the khanqah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, dancing was not allowed. But during one such performance, Khusrau stood up to dance. Hazrat requested him: “Dance in such a way that your hands are raised to the sky as if calling to God, and your feet should hit the earth as if denouncing it.” And it is so, they raise their arms and twirl while stamping their feet on the ground.

Each line is covered in layers and layers of meaning which could apply to people across age groups and from all walks of life. But these works have to be read keeping Khusrau in mind and the role he played during composing each - that of a follower, a supplicant, a beloved and a friend to the one he loved and revered most - his God and his teacher.

The Sufi 

Sufi poetry is the result of a spirit of defiance and self-sacrifice. The transformation of secular (majazi) into divine (haqiqi) love is already present in India through Amir Khusrau’s works. The seeker's attitude towards God and the elimination (fana) of the self for merger (wisal) in God is the aim and object of this love. The imagery of its love belonged to earlier, purely secular, Persian poetry. Naturally, then, in all Sufi poetry, the central theme is love: it overrides all other reasons why God should be obeyed. 
The tradition of Sufi music also traces its roots back to Amir Khusrau, which became linked to the various traditions of Sufi movement in Punjab, Braj and Awadh. Although some Sufi orders objected to sama (music), for others, it was a means to achieve mystic ecstasy. To understand the words that are spoken, the underlying reference has to be understood. Love for God and his teacher who taught him to walk on this path of selfless love for the almighty. 

Through seven centuries, his name has been kept alive in the form of oral traditions sung by qawwals, poets and general people alike- 

Kaahay ko biyaahi bides, ray, lakhi baabul moray, Kaahay ko biyaahi bides........, bhayiyon ko diye babul mehlay do-mehlay, Hum ko diya pardes, ray, lakhi babul...... 

Why did you part me from yourself, dear father, why? You’ve given houses with two storeys to my brothers, And to me, a foreign land? Why dear father, why? A song still rendered today during the bidaai (goodbye) ceremony of a bride from her maternal home - still relevant 800 years later.

The greatest influence in his life was his Pir (spiritual teacher) Hazrat Nizamuddin, who died in 1325 AD and grieving for him, Amir Khusrau also left for his heavenly abode within six months. He is buried very close to Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia on a raised platform surrounded by jalis (screens) in red sandstone called chabootra-e-yaar (niche of a friend). 

If you ever visit his tomb, you are likely to hear this anecdote that surrounds it and many will tell you that it is true. Any individual with a love for music, knowledge and poetry can take a thread from Khusrau’s dargah (tomb) and tie it to his/her right wrist making Amir Khusrau his/her spiritual teacher – he will surely find success. 

Let me quote him for all who wish to understand the Sufi – Khusrau and the musician in him : The sea of love is very different, the one who swims through it, sinks, and the one who sinks, reaches the shore. Khusrau darya prem ka Ulti waki dhaar, Jo ubhra so doob gaya, Jo dooba so paar! An apt description. Written by Amir Khusrau or Amir-Ul-Shaura Hazrat Khawaja Abul Hasan Amir Khusrau Dehlavi also known as Tuti-i-Hind (song bird of India, for he wrote and sang many songs in different tunes) – a master poet, mystic and musician par excellence. 

Born to Amir Saifuddin, Khusrau’s father was a nobleman from Balakh. He migrated to India as the invasion of the Mongols was imminent. Saifuddin joined the court of Sultan Iltutmish and married the daughter of Imad-ul-Mulk in 1253 AD at Patiali in Uttar Pradesh.

Amir Khusrau was successfully tutored by his maternal grandfather after his father’s death and throughout his career he was regarded as a scholar, intellectual, poet, a singer and a prose writer all at once. Khusrau became skilled in Persian, Arabic, Hindi and Sanskrit languages and in other subjects at a very young age. 

It was at the age of eight that his mother took him to the khanqah (school, residence) of Hazrat Nizamuddin to be inducted into his spiritual group. Khusrau refused to enter and preferred to sit outside and compose a question for Hazrat and to gauge his greatness, in the form of a poem asking whether he should enter or return home. Hazrat sent a servant and requested him to recite a couplet to Khusrau: “If you are the man of reality, come inside; if the one who enters is foolish, then he should return the way he came.” Khusrau decided this was the right place for him and entered. Happy and ecstatic, he sang – there is colour today, mother, for I have found my love and my teacher - Aaj rung hai hey maan rung hai ri, Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri, Mohay pir paayo Nijamudin aulia. The search for an ideal Sufi master had ended successfully.



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