Amir Khusrow

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Amir Khusrow
Amir Khusro.jpg
Amir Khusrow teaching his disciples in a miniature from a manuscript of Majlis al-Ushshaq by Husayn Bayqarah.
Background information
Birth name Ab'ul Hasan Yamīn ud-Dīn K͟husrau
Born 1253
Patiyali, Delhi Sultanate
Died October 1325
Delhi, Delhi Sultanate
Genres Ghazal, Khayal, Qawwali, Ruba'i, Tarana
Occupation(s) mystic, musician, poet, composer, author, scholar

Ab'ul Hasan Yamīn ud-Dīn Khusrau (1253–1325 CE) (Urdu: ابوالحسن یمین‌الدین خسرو‎, Hindi:अमीर ख़ुसरो), better known as Amīr Khusrow, was a Sufi musician, poet and scholar. He was an iconic figure in the cultural history of the Indian subcontinent. He was a mystic and a spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, and is reputed to have invented certain musical instruments like the sitar and tabla. He wrote poetry primarily in Persian, but also in Hindavi. A vocabulary in verse, the Ḳhāliq Bārī, containing Arabic, Persian, and Hindavi terms is often attributed to him.[1] Khusrow is sometimes referred to as the "parrot of India".[2]

Khusrow is regarded as the "father of qawwali" (a devotional music form of the Sufis in the Indian subcontinent), and introduced the ghazal style of song into India, both of which still exist widely in India and Pakistan.[3][4] He is also credited with introducing Persian, Arabic and Turkish elements into Indian classical music and was the originator of the khayal and tarana styles of music.[citation needed].

Khusrow 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 schemes with 35 distinct divisions. He wrote in many verse forms including ghazal, masnavi, qata, rubai, do-baiti and tarkib-band. His contribution to the development of the ghazal was significant.[5]

Alexander Visits the Sage Plato, from the Khamsa of Amir Khusrow

Early life and background[edit]

Amīr Khusrow was born in Patiyali in the Delhi Sultanate (in modern day Uttar Pradesh, India). His father, Amīr Saif ud-Dīn Mahmūd, was a Turkic officer and a member of the Lachin tribe of Transoxania, themselves belonging to the Kara-Khitais.[5][6][7] During Genghis Khan's invasion of Central Asia, Amir Saif ud-Din migrated from his hometown of Kesh, near Samarkand, to Balkh, where he was the chieftain of the Hazara. Shams ud-Din Iltutmish, the Sultan of Delhi at the time, welcomed them to the Delhi Sultanate. He provided shelter to the exiled princes, artisans, scholars and rich nobles. In 1230, Amir Saif ud-Din was granted a fief in the district of Patiyali.

Amir Saif ud-Din married Bibi Daulatnaz, the daughter of Rawat Arz, who was the famous war minister of Ghiyas ud-Din Balban, the ninth Sultan of Delhi. Daulatnaz's family belonged to the Rajput tribes of Uttar Pradesh.[7][8] They had four children, three sons and a daughter. Amir Khusrow was one among them born in the year 1253 in Patiyali. His father Amir Saif ud-Din Mahmud died in 1260.

Khusrow was an intelligent child. He started learning and writing poetry at the age of eight. After the death of his father, his mother brought him up and traveled with him to Delhi to his maternal grandfather Imadul Mulk's house. In 1271, when Khusrow was 20 years old, his grandfather, who was reportedly 113 years old, died.


After Khusrow's grandfather's death, Khusrow joined the army of Malik Chajju, a nephew of the reigning Sultan, Ghiyas ud-Din Balban. This brought his poetry to the attention of the Assembly of the Royal Court where he was honored.

When Khusrow was forty seven years old, his mother and brother died. He wrote these lines in their honour:

A double radiance left my star this year
Gone are my brother and my mother,
My two full moons have set and ceased to Shine
In one short week through this ill-luck of mine.

Khusrow's homage to his mother on her death was:

Where ever the dust of your (mother) feet is found it is like a relic of Paradise for me.

Nasir ud-Din Bughra Khan, the second son of Balban, was invited to listen to Khusrow. He was impressed and became Khusrow's patron. In 1277 Bughra Khan was then appointed ruler of Bengal, but Khusrow decided to return to Delhi. Balban's eldest son, Khan Muhammad (who was in Multan), arrived in Delhi, and when he heard about Khusrow he invited him to his court. Khusrow then accompanied him to Multan in 1279. Multan at the time was the gateway to India and was a center of knowledge and learning. Caravans of scholars, tradesmen and emissaries transited through Multan from Baghdad, Arabia and Iran on their way to Delhi. Khusrow 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.

In the year 1283, Khan Muhammad was killed in battle while fighting Mongols who were invading the Sultanate. Khusrow wrote two elegies in grief of his death. At the age of eighty, Balban called his Bughra Khan back from Bengal, but he 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. Khusrow remained in Qaiqabad's service for two years (1287 to 1288). After Qaiqabad suffered a stroke in 1290, nobles appointed his three year old son Shams ud-Din Kayumars as Sultan. A Turk named Jalal ud-Din Firuz Khilji then marched on Delhi, killed Qaiqabad and became Sultan, thus ending the Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate and starting the Khilji dynasty.

Jalal ud-Din Firuz Khilji appreciated poetry and invited many poets to his court. Khusrow was honoured and respected in his court and was given the title "Amir". He was given the job of "Mushaf-dar". Court life made Khusrow focus more on his literary works. Khusrow's ghazals which he composed in quick succession were set to music and were sung by singing girls every night before the Sultan. Khusrow 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.

After Jalal ud-Din, Ala ud-Din Khilji ascended to the throne of Delhi in 1295. Khusrow wrote the "Khaza'in ul-Futuh" (The Treasures of Victory) recording Ala ud-Din's construction works, wars and administrative services. He then composed a quintet (khamsa) with five masnavis. The first was "Matla ul-Anwar" (Rising Place of Lights) consisting of 3310 verses (completed in 15 days) with ethical and Sufi themes. The second masnavi, "Khusrow and Shirin" consisted of 4000 verses. The third masnavi "Laila Majnun" was a romance. The fourth voluminous masnavi was "Aina-e-Sikandari" in 4500 verses narrating the heroic deeds of Alexander the Great. The fifth masnavi was "Hasht Bihisht" related to the events of Bahram Gur. All these works made Khusrow a leading luminary in the world of poetry. Ala ud-Din Khilji was highly pleased by his work and rewarded him handsomely. When Ala ud-Din Khilji's son and future successor Qutb ud-Din Mubarak Shah Khilji was born, Khusrow prepared the horoscope of Mubarak Shah Khilji in which certain predictions were made. This horoscope is included in the masnavi "Saqiana".[9]

After Ala ud-Din Khilji's death in 1316, his son Qutb ud-Din Mubarak Shah Khilji became the Sultan of Delhi. Khusrow wrote a masnavi on Mubarak Shah Khilji called "Nuh Sipihr" (Nine Skies), which described the events of Mubarak Shah Khilji's reign. He classified his poetry in nine chapters, each part of which is considered a "sky". In the third chapter he wrote a vivid account of India and its environment, seasons, flora and fauna, cultures, scholars, etc. He wrote another book during Mubarak Shah Khilji's reign by name of "Ijaz-e-Khusravi" consisting of five volumes.

In 1320 Mubarak Shah Khilji was killed by Khusro Khan, who thus ended the Khilji dynasty and briefly became 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. Khusrow wrote a historic masnavi named "Tughlaq Nama" about the reign of Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq and that of other Tughlaq rulers.

Khusrow died in October 1325, six months after the death of Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusrow's tomb is next to that of his spiritual master in the Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi.[10]

Major Life Events[edit]

  1. 1253 Khusrow was born in Patiyali.
  2. 1260 After the death of his father, Khusrow went to Delhi with his mother.
  3. 1271 Khusrow compiled his first divan of poetry, "Tuhfat-us-Sighr".
  4. 1272 Khusrow got his first job as court poet with Balban's nephew Malik Chhajju.
  5. 1276 Khusrow started working as a poet with Bughra Khan.
  6. 1279 While writing his second divan, "Wast-ul-Hayat", Khusrow visited Bengal.
  7. 1281 Khusrow was employed by Muhammad Khan and went to Multan with him.
  8. 1285 Khusrow participated as a soldier in the war against invading Mongols. He was taken prisoner, but escaped.
  9. 1287 Khusrow went to Awadh with Amir Ali Hatim (another patron).
  10. 1288 His first masnavi, "Qiran-us-Sa'dain", was completed.
  11. 1290 Khusrow's completed his second masnavi, "Miftahul Futooh".
  12. 1294 Khusrow's third divan "Ghurrat-ul-Kamal" was complete.
    The Nizamuddin Dargah, with Khusrow's tomb on the left
  13. 1298 Khusrow completed his "Khamsa".
  14. 1310 Khusrow became close to Nizamuddin Auliya, and completed Khazain-ul-Futuh".
  15. 1315 Khusrow completed the romantic masnavi "Duval Rani-Khizr Khan".
  16. 1316 Khusrow completed his fourth historical masnavi, "Nuh Sipihr".
  17. 1321 Khusrow began to write the "Tughlaq Nama".
  18. 1325 Nizamuddin Auliya died, and six months later so did Khusrow.


An illustrated manuscript of one of Amir Khusrow's poems.

Khusrow was a prolific classical poet associated with the royal courts of more than seven rulers of the Delhi Sultanate.[11] He wrote many playful riddles, songs and legends which have become a part of popular culture in South Asia. His riddles are one of the most popular forms of Hindavi poetry today.[12] It is a genre that involves double entendre or wordplay.[12] Innumerable riddles by the poet have been passed through oral tradition over the last seven centuries.[12] Through his literary output, Khusrau represents one of the first (recorded) Indian personages with a true multicultural or pluralistic identity.

Development of Hindavi[edit]

Amir Khusrow was the author of a Khamsa which emulated that of the earlier poet of Persian epics, Nizami Ganjavi. His work was considered to be one of the great classics of Persian poetry during later centuries.

Khusrow wrote primarily in Persian. Many Hindustani verses are attributed to him, although there is no evidence for their composition by Khusrow before 18th century.[13][14] The language of the Hindustani verses appear to be relatively modern. He also wrote a war ballad in Punjabi.[15] In addition, he spoke Arabic and Sanskrit.[7][16][17][18][19][20][21] His poetry is still sung today at Sufi shrines throughout Pakistan and India.

Contributions to music[edit]

Khusrow is credited for the invention of the tabla, a musical instrument popular in South Asia. The term "tabla" is derived from an Arabic word, "tabl", which means "drum".[22][23][24]

The development of the tabla originated from the need to have a drum that could be played from the top in the sitting position to enable more complex rhythm structures that were required for the new Indian Sufi vocal style of singing/chanting and zikr and to complement the complex early sitar melodies that Khusrow was composing. The tabla uses a "complex finger tip and hand percussive" technique played from the top, unlike the pakhawaj (an old Dholak-like instrument) and the mridangam which mainly use the full palm and are sideways in motion and are more limited in terms of sound complexity.

700th Birth Anniversary[edit]

In 1976, renowned Pakistani musician Khurshid Anwar played a key role in observing the 700th birth anniversary of Amir Khusrow. Since he was also a musicologist, he wrote one of his rare music articles on Amir Khusrow, "A gift to posterity". In addition, he actively planned music events and activities throughout 1976. In Pakistan, Khurshid Anwar had also been praised for his efforts to keep alive classical music not only through his many film compositions in Pakistan, but also through his unique collection of classical music performances recorded by EMI Pakistan, known as "Aahang-e-Khusravi" in two parts in 1978. The second part of "Aahang-e-Khusravi" recordings was "Gharanon Ki Gaiyki" on 20 audio cassettes, which consists of audio recordings of representatives of the main gharanas of classical singers in Pakistan. All this was meant to be a tribute to Amir Khusrow.[25]

Shalimar Bagh Mughal Inscription[edit]

Inscribed in the top terrace of the Shalimar Bagh, Srinagar, are some famous phrases in Persian, which are sometimes attributed to Khusrow, although are not found in any of his written works:

Agar Firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast,
Hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast.

In English: "If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this."[26][27][28] This verse is also found on several Mughal structures,[29] supposedly in reference to Kashmir.


Mughal illustrated page from the Hasht-Bihisht, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Tuhfat-us-Sighr (The Gift of Childhood) his first divan, contains poems composed between the age of 16 and 19
  • Wast-ul-Hayat (The Middle of Life) his second divan
  • Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal (The Prime of Perfection) poems composed between the age of 34 and 43
  • Baqia-Naqia (The Rest/The Miscellany) compiled at the age of 64
  • Nihayatul-Kamaal (The Zenith of the Perfection) compiled probably a few weeks before his death.
  • Qiran-us-Sa’dain (Meeting of the Two Auspicious Stars) masnavi about the historic meeting of Bughra Khan and his son Muiz ud-Din Qaiqabad after a long enmity (1289).
  • Miftah-ul-Futuh (Key to the Victories) in praise of the victories of Jalal ud-Din Firuz Khilji (1291).
  • Ishqia/Masnavi Duval Rani-Khizr Khan (Romance of Duval Rani and Khizr Khan) a tragic love poem about Gujarat's princess Duval and Ala ud-Din Khilji's son Khizr (1316).
  • Nuh Sipihr (Nine Skies) masnavi on Khusrow's perceptions of India and its culture (1318).
  • Tughlaq Nama (Book of the Tughlaqs) a history of the reign of the Tughlaq dynasty (1320).
  • Khamsa (Khamsa-e-Khusrau) five classical romances: Hasht-Bahisht, Matlaul-Anwar, Sheerin-Khusrau, Majnun-Laila and Aaina-Sikandari.
  • Ijaz-e-Khusravi (The Miracles of Khusrau) an assortment of prose.
  • Khazain-ul-Futuh (The Treasures of Victories).
  • Qissa Chahar Darvesh The Tale of the Four Dervishes.
  • Afzal-ul-Fawaid utterances of Nizamuddin Auliya.
  • Ḳhāliq Bārī a versified glossary of Persian, Arabic, and Hindavi words and phrases often attributed to Amir Khusrow. Ḥāfiz Maḥmūd Shīrānī argued that it was completed in 1622 in Gwalior by Ẓiyā ud-Dīn Ḳhusrau.[30]
  • Jawahir-e Khusrovi often dubbed as the Hindawi divan of Khusrow.
  • Tarikh-i-Alai (Times of Ala ud-Din).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rashid, Omar (23 July 2012). "Chasing Khusro". Chennai, India: The Hindu. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Latif, Syed Abdulla (1979) [1958]. An Outline of the Cultural History of India. Institute of Indo-Middle East Cultural Studies (reprinted by Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers). p. 334. ISBN 81-7069-085-4. 
  4. ^ Regula Burckhardt Qureshi, Harold S. Powers. Sufi Music of India. Sound, Context and Meaning in Qawwali. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 109, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec. 1989), pp. 702–705. doi:10.2307/604123.
  5. ^ a b Schimmel, A. "Amīr Ḵosrow Dehlavī". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Eisenbrauns Inc. Retrieved 14 May 2016. 
  6. ^ "Амир Хосров Дехлеви", Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Moscow, 1970 Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ a b c Dr. Iraj Bashiri. "Amir Khusrau Dihlavi". 2001
  8. ^ Islamic Culture, by the Islamic Cultural Board, Muhammad Asad, Academic and Cultural Publications Charitable Trust (Hyderabad, India), Marmaduke William Pickthall, 1927, p. 219
  9. ^
  10. ^ Nizamuddin Auliya
  11. ^ Delhi Sultanate
  12. ^ a b c Sharma, Sunil (2005). Amir Khusraw : the poet of Sufis and sultans. Oxford: Oneworld. p. 79. ISBN 1851683623. 
  13. ^ In the Bazaar of Love: The Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau, Paul E Losensky, Penguin UK, 2013
  14. ^ Khusrau's Hindvi Poetry, An Academic Riddle? Yousuf Saeed, 2003
  15. ^ Tariq, Rahman. "Punjabi Language during British Rule" (PDF). JPS. 14 (1). 
  16. ^ Mohammad Habib. Hazrat Amir Khusrau of Delhi, 1979, p. 4
  17. ^ Islamic Cultural Board. Islamic Culture, 1927, p. 219
  18. ^ Amir Khusrau: Memorial Volume, by Amir Khusraw Dihlavi, 1975, p. 98
  19. ^ Amir Khusrau: Memorial Volume, by Amir Khusraw Dihlavi, 1975, p. 1
  20. ^ G. N. Devy. Indian Literary Criticism: Theory and Interpretation, Orient Longman, Published 2002
  21. ^ Amir Khusrau: Memorial Volume, by Amir Khusraw Dihlavi, 1975, p. 1
  22. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  23. ^ Richard Emmert; Yuki Minegishi (1980). Musical voices of Asia: report of (Asian Traditional Performing Arts 1978). Heibonsha. p. 266. Retrieved 25 December 2012. 
  24. ^ Sitar#World music influence
  25. ^, Pakistani musician Khurshid Anwar's tribute to Amir Khusrow in 1976 on his 700th Birth Anniversary, Retrieved 18 Jan 2017
  26. ^ Rajan, Anjana (29 April 2011). "Window to Persia". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Zubin Mehta's concert mesmerizes Kashmir - The Times of India". The Times Of India. 
  29. ^ Shahjahanabad: The Sovereign City in Mughal India 1639-1739, Volume 49 of Cambridge South Asian Studies, Stephen P. Blake, Cambridge University Press, 2002 pp. 44
  30. ^ Shīrānī, Ḥāfiż Mahmūd. "Dībācha-ye duvum [Second Preface]." In Ḥifż ’al-Lisān (a.k.a. Ḳhāliq Bārī), edited by Ḥāfiż Mahmūd Shīrānī. Delhi: Anjumman-e Taraqqi-e Urdū, 1944.

Further reading[edit]

  • E.G. Browne. Literary History of Persia. (Four volumes, 2,256 pages, and twenty-five years in the writing). 1998. ISBN 0-7007-0406-X
  • Jan Rypka, History of Iranian Literature. Reidel Publishing Company. ASIN B-000-6BXVT-K
  • R.M. Chopra, "The Rise, Growth And Decline of Indo-Persian Literature", Iran Culture House New Delhi and Iran Society, Kolkata, 2nd Ed. 2013.
  • Sunil Sharma, Amir Khusraw: Poets of Sultans and Sufis. Oxford: Oneworld Press, 2005.
  • Paul Losensky and Sunil Sharma, In the Bazaar of Love: Selected Poetry of Amir Khusrau. New Delhi: Penguin, 2011.
  • R.M. Chopra, "Great Poets of Classical Persian", Sparrow Publication, Kolkata, 2014, ISBN 978-81-89140-75-5

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]