About 16 days after Id-ul-fitr, many Muslims and some non-Muslims in and around Delhi take part in another festive occasion they call the Satrahvin Sharif - literally Holy Seventeenth. This is the Urs or death anniversary of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the favorite companion of 12th century Saint Nizamuddin Aulia. Thousands of people throng the twin Dargah (tomb) and offer their nazrana (of flowers, chaadar and sweets), say the fatehas (oblation), tie threads of mannat (vow) on the tomb's jali, or just sit there listening to ecstatic qawwalis. There is also Charaghan (illumination with lamps) inside the tomb, and outside, everyone makes merry in a colourful fete, which goes on for three to four days.
One might ask as to why someone's death is celebrated and not mourned. According to Khwaja Hasan Sani of Dargah Nizamuddin, the death for common people could be a sad, mournful affair, but for a Sufi it is only a transition - the final step to the soul's communion with God, a milan or wedding with the divine which the Sufi had been aspiring his/her entire life - hence the celebration. In fact the Arabic word Uroos from which Urs is taken, literally means a wedding.
There may be thousands of saints in the Indian subcontinent whose tombs become centre of such occasions at least once every year, yet the legend of Amir Khusrau and Nizamuddin Aulia is something special in the history of Indian Sufism. Amir Khusrau, according to the popular belief, was a steadfast Sufi and the most favourite disciple of Nizamuddin Aulia. However, the contemporary scholars of History and Persian language know him as a court poet who successfully managed to appease more than seven rulers of Delhi Sultanate with his charming poetry that can still be considered some of the best literature produced in the entire Persian world, apart from being a mine of source-material for historians.
Hazrat Amir Khusrau (rahmatullahi alaihi), the legendary poet, composer, inventor, linguist, historian and scholar, one of the intellectual giants of Indian history, was Nizamuddin Aulia's most loved and devoted mureed. As an Amir (noble) in the court, Khusrau may have indulged in all sorts of material pursuits, but only in his pir's Khaneqah he found the real love and an atmosphere for the evolution of his creative and spiritual faculties.
Khusrau who had an Indo-Turkish parentage was introduced to Khwaja Nizamuddin at an early age. There are endless anecdotes - in oral tradition as well as documented history - as to how passionately the two loved each other, right from their first meeting till the moment of their death. Nizamuddin Aulia who was visited in his monastery by thousands of people every day, used to say that he often gets fed up with every one including sometimes himself - but with Khusrau, Never ! He also wished if his religion allowed, he would have Khusrau and himself buried in the same grave after their death.
The death of the two men was also an unusual event which highlighted that Khusrau's love and respect for Hazrat had reached its Zenith. When Nizamuddin Aulia breathed his last, Khusrau was away at Lakhnawati in Bengal on Mohammad Tughlaq's royal mission. When he heard the sad news, he couldn't control himself, and rushed back to Delhi. On seeing his pir's grave, he blackened his face and rolled over in dust in utter grief, tearing his garments, reciting the following Hindi doha impromptu:
Gori sovay sej par,
Mukh par daray kes;
Chal Khusrau ghar aapnay,
saanjh bhaee chahu des.
The fair maiden rests
On a bed of roses,
Her face covered
With a lock of hair;
Let us oh Khusrau, return home now,
the dark dusk settles in four corners of the world.
After this, it is said, Khusrau's condition started deteriorating and within exactly 6 months of his master's death, he too expired, or rather his love met with the ultimate consummation on Friday 29th Ziq'ad 725AH/1325. This incident and the above couplet is remembered as the highest point in Khusrau's relationship with Nizamuddin and also probably the reason for their becoming a combined legend.
For more than 7 centuries, every year the Urs of both saints is celebrated with a gap of exactly 6 months - Nizamuddin Aulia's Urs too being called the Satrahvin Sharif. And on both occasions, qawwals begin by reciting the above Doha, before singing any other qawwali.
Following are some interesting Anecdotes in the life and times of Amir Khusrau and his spiritual master, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia :
Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia (1238-1325), affectionately known as Mehboob-i Elahi or "Beloved of God," was born in Badayun, India, east of Delhi. His grandparents had migrated there from Bokhara. When he was a boy of five, his father died.
As a teenagar, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia distinguished himself as a scholar, a debater, and a student of the Koran. But he increasingly was drawn to the inner life of the mystic.
When he was eighteen, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia encountered a group of Qawwalis (Sufi singers and musicians) who introduced him to the Chishti Sufi order and the teachings of Baba Farid, and soon became a disciple of the group in Delhi.
Hazrat Nizamuddin quickly showed profound spiritual realization and was named a leader of the Chishti order. He soon decided to withdraw from the crowds of Delhi and retired with a group of followers to a small village outside Delhi named Ghiyaspur where he lived for 60 years.
Rivers of wealth flowed daily into the khaneqah, and there were huge donations to the poor and the needy, but the attire of Nizamudeen Auliya (rahmatullahi alaihi) consisted of a cloak and some badly torn clothes. Banquets were held every day, but Nizamudeen Auliya (rahmatullahi alaihi) subsisted on a piece of barley bread and some water for sehri - and sometimes he would not even eat that much, thinking of all the needy who could not even afford this. He loved even his most staunch enemies; once when they scattered thorns in his path, he walked over them uncaringly. Then, with his bare feet bleeding, he prayed that every thorn that had pierced him might become a rose in the grave of the thrower.
He used to recite 300 rakats of nafil salaah in 24 hours, used to fast every day, and spend the entire night in worship. His mujaheda only increased with age; at eighty years, his only rest would be the nap that is sunnah for a short while after zuhr. Even so, he used to instruct his mureeds that should anyone come to see him during this time, he should be woken immediately.
Nizamuddin taught that three essential elements were necessary for the Sufi dervish: Love, Wisdom and Gnosis (Mystical Knowledge).
Khusrau's first meeting with Nizamuddin Aulia
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 8 years, that his mother took him to the khaneqah (monastery) of Hazrat Nizamuddin to be inducted into his spiritual group. When he reached there, he didn't enter at once - he wanted to test him out. He 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. He sat down at the gate and composed the following lines in his heart :
Tu aan shahi ke ber aiwan-e qasrat
Kabutar gar nasheenad, baaz gardad
Ghareeb-e mustamand-e ber der aamed
Be-yaayad andaroon, ya baaz gardad
(You are a king at the gate of whose palace
Even a pigeon becomes a hawk.
A poor traveller has come to your gate,
Should he enter, or should he return?)
It is said that Nizamuddin Aulia who was then 23 yrs of age, at once asked one of his servants to go out at the gate and narrate the following lines to a boy who is sitting there :
Be-yaayad andaroon mard-e haqeeqat
Ke ba ma yek nafas hamraaz gardad
Agar abla buvad aan mard-e naadan
Azaan raah-e ke aamad baaz gardad
(Oh you the man of reality, come inside
So you become for a while my confidant
But if the one who enters is foolish
Then he should return the way he came.)
Hearing this Khusrau decided that this was the right place for him and entered. Happy and ecstatic, he sang - there is color today, mother, for I have found my love and my teacher - Aaj rung hai hey maa rung hai ri, Moray mehboob kay ghar rang hai ri, Mohay pir paayo Nizamudin Aulia. The search for an ideal Sufi master had ended successfully.
The Crooked Cap
Nizamuddin Aulia and Khusrau sat one morning on the banks of river Yamuna looking at the people bathing and worshipping. Nizamuddin Aulia drew Khusrau's attention to them saying :
Har qaum raast raahay, deenay wa qibla gaahay
(Every sect has a faith, a qibla which they turn to.)
Incidently Nizamuddin Aulia wore his cap in a slightly crooked way, to which Khusrau pointed and said :
Men qibla raast kardam, ber terf-e kajkulaahay.
(I have straightened my qibla in the direction of this crooked cap)
The Sweetness of Verse
Khusrau once read out a ghazal which so pleased his pir Nizamuddin Aulia that the latter asked him if he had any wish to be fulfilled. Khusrau said he wished his verse be filled with sweetness. To which Nizamuddin Aulia said, "Ok, Go get that tray from beneath my cot". He pointed.
Khusrau brought the tray which had some suger in it. Nizamuddin Aulia asked him to eat some and also pour some on his head. Khusrau obeyed him, and claimed that he has attained the sweetness in his poetry ever since.
A poor man came to Nizamuddin Aulia asking for alms at a time when there was nothing left in the khaneqah to be given. The saint expressed his helplessness, but pointed to a torn and tattered pair of sandals that belonged to him, saying if those could be of any help to the poor man, he could take them. The faqir, having no choice, decided to take them any way, and left. When he was on his way to some other city, he met Amir Khusrau who was returning from his royal journey with camels and horses loaded with wealth. Khusrau sensed something odd as he met this man, and told him "Bu-e Shaikh mi aayad, Bu-e Shaikh mi aayad". (I smell my master, I smell my master). This man dejectedly told him the story about how he could only get these sandals from Nizamuddin Aulia.
It is said that Khusrau after seeing his pir's belongings decided to trade his entire entourage of wealth for this pair of sandals, placed them on his head and came rushing to see Nizamuddin Aulia. His pir saw the sandals and asked Khusrau how he found them. When Khusrau told him about the price he has paid for them, Nizamuddin Aulia said, "Arzaan khareedi". (Well, you 've got them quite cheap).
Dance to denounce the world
During the sama mehfils (music sessions) at the khaneqah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, dancing was not allowed. But during one such performance, Khusrau got so ecstatic that he started to dance. Nizamuddin Aulia waved at him to sit down, and said "you shouldn't dance, you are a worldly man." But seeing his ecstatic frenzy, Hazrat mellowed down and requested him: "Dance in such a way that your hands are raised to the sky as if calling out to God, and your feet should hit the earth as if denouncing it." And thus it became a practice that the Sufi Saints sing and dance, raising their arms and twirling while stamping their feet on the ground.
Risking the Faith
Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji once expressed to Khusrau his desire to meet Nizamuddin Aulia but asked him not to disclose his plan to the saint. Khusrau was perplexed in the beginning, but finally couldn't keep his promise and told Nizamuddin Aulia about Sultan's desire. His Pir who did not wish to meet the king left the Khaneqah for a far away place on the day of the proposed meeting. When the Sultan came to know about this, he asked Khusrau why he betrayed him. Khusrau replied that in betraying the king he risked only his life in this world, but in betraying his spiritual king he would be risking his Iman (faith), and his afterlife. The Sultan was left speechless.
The Washerman's Son
One day Hazrat Nizamuddin Awlia was listening to Qawwali and in ecstasy, waving his handkerchief, said: "We regret, we have not become equal to the washerman's son even." At that moment no one dared to ask what he meant, but some days afterwards he was asked about it by Hazrat Amir Khusrau. The explanation of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awlia was like this: "The son of the washerman of the king, without seeing the princess, was in love with her. He used to wash her clothes with utmost care, and even mended and improved them by various means. Without seeing her, he used to moan and weep in the memory of her beauty. His parents became very worried. To speak about it is a problem and not to speak about it is a problem. We are washers and she is a princess. How can the dust of the earth be compared with the sky?
So they tricked him in order to try and change their son's ideas. One day his mother came to him with a grief-stricken face. He asked what was the matter with her.
Then she explained "Today was the soyam (the third day after the death) of the princess whose clothes you used to wash. The boy three times asked: "Has she died?" -- and then with a shriek died.
On the fourth day, the washerwoman brought the clothes back to the princess. She asked: "Who has washed these clothes today? They do not look as clean as they used to be. Their neatness used to look as if love has been involved." Hearing this, the washerwoman became sad and started weeping. On being forced by the princess, she explained everything. The princess then wished to visit his grave. At once, when she was there, the grave cracked and the princess said: "It cracked at places. Ah! Whose grave is this? Probably a restless heart is buried in it." Then the princess fell down and expired.
The above legends and anecdotes compiled from oral traditions and accounts of saints (Malfuzat) elucidate the intensely passionate association that Amir Khusrau shared with his Friend-Philosopher-Guide Nizamuddin Aulia. Amir Khusrau was truly a prodigious sufi poet and a god-gifted man of divine musical talent.
Born in Delhi (India) in 1253 AD, Amir Khusrau served 7 kings and 3 princes from the times of Sultan Balban to Mohammad Bin Tughlaq. His passion for his birthplace Delhi was so intense that when he was posted in Patiali, he not only lamented but completed a masanwi under the title 'Shikayatnamah-e-Patiali'. Condemning Patiali and recalling the beauty and pleasure of his hometown Delhi, he compares himself with Joseph, who in separation from his home town Kan'an, feeling himself distressed, always pined for it.
In his lifetime, Amir Khusrau wrote a staggering 92 books including Taj-ul-fatah, Tughlak namah, Sheerin Khusrau and Laila majnoon. He served as a court poet 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 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.
"Music is the fire that burns the heart and the soul" has rightly been interpreted by Amir Khusrau. 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. Music formed a major part of his life and his biography. Nothing in music could be named and not found related to Khusrau, not even the mystical dance performed by the Sufis (also known as whirling Dervishes).
Sufi poetry resonates a spirit of defiance and self-sacrifice. The transformation of secular (majazi) into divine (haqiqi) love and the seeker's attitude towards God and the elimination (fanaa) of the self for merger (wisaal) with God is the aim and object of this love. In all Sufi poetry, the central theme is Love: it overrides all other reasons why God should be obeyed. 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.
For more than 7 centuries, Amir Khusrau's name has remained unforgettable through oral traditions sung by qawwals, poets and also the common man in Indian Society.
Kaahay ko biyaahi bides, ray, lakhi babul 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 (farewell) ceremony of a bride from her maternal home - still relevant 800 years later.
Hum to hain babul teray khoontay ki gayyan,
Jid haankay hank jaayen, ray, lakhi babul......
Hum to hain babul teray belay ki kaliyan,
Ghar ghar maangi jaayen, ray lakhi babul......
We (daughters) are just cows tied to your peg,
Will move on to where ever you drive us to, dear father.
We are just flower-buds of your garden,
And are asked for, in every household, dear father.
Hum to hain babul teray pinjray ki chidiyan,
Bhor bhaye ud jaayen, ray, lakhi babul......
Taaqon bhari mainay gudiyan jo chhodeen
Choota sahelin ka saath, ray lakhi babul......
We are just birds from your cage,
Will fly off when its dawn again, dear father.
I've left at home, alcoves full of dolls;
And parted from my buddies too, dear father.
Kothay talay say palakiya jo nikli,
Beeran nay khaayi pachhad, ray, lakhi babul.....
Dolee ka parda uthakar jo dekha,
Aaya piya ka des, ray, lakhi babul moray.
Kaahay ko biyaahi bides, ray, lakhi baabul moray.
When my palanquin passed beneath the terrace,
My brother fainted and fell, dear father.
As I remove the curtain from the palanquin,
I see we've reached the beloved's house, dear father.
Why did you part me from yourself, dear father, why?
The above Bidaai song was also immortalized in the Indian Movie : Umrao Jaan (1981) sung beautifully by Jagjit Kaur.
The greatest influence in Khusrau's 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 jaalis (screens) in red sandstone called chabootra-e-yaar (terrace 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.
Amir Khusrau, his full name being, Amir-Ul-Shaura Hazrat Khawaja Abul Hasan Amir Khusrau Dehlavi, also self-proclaimed himself as Tota-e-Hind (parrot of India) because he had written and composed many songs and musical tunes, propagating the beauty of truth in sublime verses.
His poem, Kaliq Bari is a lexicon composed of synonymous words, from 4 languages - Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hindwi.
Khusrau's death is not a 'death' in the literal sense of the word for, he would always remain one of the very few unforgettable legends in the world of literature.
In the hearts of his admirers, he will always be a literary genius, a master poet, a spiritual mystic with a unified secular view of society and a musician par excellence.
Sufis in the Dargah enjoy songs like this to their own end. Imagining themselves as dulhan (the bride), they interpret Babul ghar (father's home) as the material world and pi (beloved) as God or sometimes the spiritual master - the Sasural being the final abode where they have to go alone - a true wedding with the divine.
Bahut rahi babul ghar dulhan chal tere pi ne bulaee
Khusrau chali sasurari sajni, sang nahin koi jaee
( You have stayed in your father's home too long;
come, your beloved calls for you;
dear Khusrau, you have to go to your in-law's alone;
no friends will accompany you now).