Khusraw, Amīr

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KHUSRAW, AMĪR (ah 651?725?/1254?1325? ce), was a distinguished Indo-Persian poet, musician, and panegyrist. His father, Sayf al-Dīn Shamsī, was most probably a slave-officer in the court of the Delhi sultan Iltutmish (r. 12111236). Orphaned at an early age, Khusraw was brought up in the household of his maternal grandfather, ʿImād al-Mulk, another high-ranking nobleman and a former Hindu Rajput who must have converted to Islam following the establishment of Turkish rule in India in the early thirteenth century.

Almost every aspect of Khusraw's life and work has been mythologized to the point where it is difficult to separate the true historical personage from his current popular image. He is today hailed as a great patriot and is counted among the foremost ūfīs of India. Credited with the composition of many lyrics used for qawwālīs, a genre of ūfī devotional music, as well as numerous works in Hindi, he is also renowned as a creator of ragas and inventor of musical instruments, including the sitar. Popularly referred to as az̤rat Amīr Khusraw, he is accorded an honorific title raising him to the stature of a saint. His ʿurs (lit., "wedding," the anniversary of a saint's death) is celebrated with tremendous enthusiasm and devotion. He is also known as Turk Allah ("God's Turk") and Tutī-yi Hind ("the parrot of India").

Khusraw displayed his precocious poetic talents at an early age. Seeking his livelihood in the only way open to poets of his time, in the service of rich patrons, he finally found a position at the royal court and had no scruples about flattering a series of royal masters, one of whom had acquired the throne after murdering his former benefactors. Khusraw was first employed by Sultan Kayqubād (12871290), at whose request he wrote a long poem, Qirān al-saʿdayn (The conjunction of the two auspicious stars). He continued in the service of the next ruler, Jalāl al-Dīn Khiljī (12901296), whose achievements he lauded in his Miftā al-futū (The key to victories). The reign of ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Khiljī (12961316) saw Khusraw at his most prolific, with Khazāʾin al-futū (The treasury of victories) and ʿshiqah (the love story of Khir Khān and Dewal Rani). He also paid eloquent poetic tributes to the next ruler, Mubārak Shāh Khiljī (13161320), who was by all accounts vain and debauched, in Nuh sipihr (The nine skies). When the Tughlaqs replaced the Khiljīs, Khusraw continued in the service of Ghiyāth al-Dīn Tughlaq (13201325), the history of whose reign he encapsulated in the Tughlaq-nāmah.

Khusraw was the first poet in India to compose war and court epics in Persian. As a prose writer he was remarkably eloquent; as a poet he was the master of all forms of verse: rubāʿī s ("quatrains"), qaīdah s ("odes"), and ghazal s ("lyrics"). A superb lyricist, Khusraw confidently mixed Persian and Hindi metaphors with striking results.

But it was his association with Shaykh Niām al-Dīn Awliyā ʾ (d. 1325), a saint of the Chishtī order, that is responsible for Khusraw's present stature. The Chishtīyah, a ūfī order that flourished only in India, were at the height of their popularity during the spiritual reign of Shaykh Niām al-Dīn. As liberal interpreters of Islam, they provided an effective counterpoint to the orthodox version of Islam as propounded by the court-associated ʿulamāʾ. The liberalism of this order was reflected not only in their attitude toward non-Muslims but also in their patronage of cultural activities. As firm believers in the power of music and dance to induce mystical ecstasy, for which they were constantly attacked by the orthodox, they naturally attracted poets and musicians to their hospices (khānagāh s). In fact, almost all literary activity among the Muslims of this period was influenced by the ideology of the Chishtīyah. Among notable contemporaries of Khusraw also associated with the Chishtī khānagāh were Amīr asan Sijzī, the great poet and mystic, and Z̤iyā al-Dīn Baranī, the courtier and historian.

Khusraw came into contact with Shaykh Niām al-Dīn in 1272, and though he was never initiated into the mystic order, his wit and poetical and musical talents endeared him to the saint. Remarks attributed to the shaykh indicate the special fondness that he had for Khusraw.

The atmosphere of Shaykh Niām al-Dīn's khānagāh was particularly conducive to Khusraw's sensibilities. As a crucible where a composite culture was evolving from the interaction between Islamic and Indic elements, it suited the genius of Khusraw, who was by birth the product of a similar fusion. As a poet he thrived on mystic themes and imagery; as a gifted musician he moved the audiences at sessions of devotional music (samāʿ ) to ecstasy, and with his special ear for languages he contributed greatly to the evolution of a lingua franca that made communication possible among the various groups. In brief, Khusraw came to represent almost every aspect of the ūfī tradition in India.

Khusraw also embodies the contradictions arising from his situation. As a courtier dependent on the political survival of the Muslim rulers, he vocalizes an intense and often crude hatred for the Hindus, identifying in them the main threat to his class. But as a poet inspired by the ideology of the Chishtīyah, he displays a touching sensitivity and respect for the religion and culture of India. For this reason Khusraw represents a fine example of the evolving synthesis between the Islamic and the indigenous cultures of the Indian subcontinent.


Although there are many studies on Amīr Khusraw, most of them unfortunately lack critical analysis of the man or his writings. The most adequate work on Khusraw in English continues to be Mohammad Wahid Mirza's The Life and Works of Amir Khusrau (1935; reprint, Lahore, 1962). See Amir Khusrau: Memorial Volume (New Delhi, 1975) for a collection of some erudite articles by experts on various facets of his personality. Mohammad Habib's Hazrat Amir Khusraw of Delhi (Bombay, 1927), also included in Politics and Society during the Early Medieval Period: Collected Works of Professor Mohammad Habib, edited by K. A. Nizami (New Delhi, 1974), is a historical analysis of Khusraw by a leading scholar of medieval Indian history. For a list of Khusraw's works, see C. A. Storey's Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, vol. 2, part 3 (London, 1939).

Saleem Kidwai (1987)