I learnt about Amir Khusrau when I was very young.
During my childhood, we used to live in Old Delhi and our house was almost sandwiched between an ancient mosque and a “mazaar” (Mausoleum). At the Mazaar, every Thursday, a few of the good musicians assembled and played devotional music, which I came to know later on was called “Sufiyana Kalaam” and it was performed as homage to the father of “Qawwalis”, Hazrat Amir Khusrau and his Master, Hazrat Nizammudin Aulia.
Since I was fond of music, I found this kind of music very fascinating and depending on the homework prescribed by my school teachers, I used to attend the Thursday “Qawwali” session sometime. Seeing my enthusiasm, one Muslim gentleman, fondly called “Haji ji”, who lived in our neighborhood, told me a few interesting facts about Amir Khusrau.
Years passed by and when I was old enough to move around the city by myself, I was introduced to the annual “Urs” at the mausoleum of Amir Khusrau located at a distance of 200 yards from Humayun’s Tomb, close to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station.
Last week a friend from England, also an admirer of Amir Khusrau came to Delhi and wished to pay obeisance to him at the mausoleum. That’s how our visit to the edifice was planned.
Before taking you to the “Dargah”, I would like to add a few words about this great scholar, musician and statesman.
Ab’ul Hasan Yamin al-Din Khusrau, more popularly known as Amir Khusrau Dehalvi. Amir, which literally means noble, was the title bestowed upon him by the then ruler. Khusrau was his “Takhallus” (alias). He was born in 1253 at Patiali, near Itawah (though some historians trace his birth to Delhi).
He lost his father at the age of seven and moved to Delhi along with his mother, to her parental home. Brilliant as he was, he completed the compilation of his first “Divan” (collection of ghazals) at the age of seventeen and within a year was appointed as the court poet with King Balban’s nephew Mallik Chhajju.
Over the years, Khusrau served as many as seven kings, including Jalaluddin Khilji, Alauddin Khilji, Qutab Ud Din Mubarak, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, Sultan Mohammed Bin Tughlaq and others.
He has been called the “father of the qawwali” (the devotional music of the Indian Sufis). He is also accredited with enriching Hindustani classical music by introducing Persian and Arabic elements into it. Moreover, he was the originator of the khayal and the tarana style of music. The invention of the Indian tabla is also traditionally attributed to Amir Khusrau.
He used only 11 metrical notes with 35 distinct divisions. He has written Ghazals, Masnavis, Qatas, Rubais, Do-Betis and Tarkibhands. It is also believed that he made significant contributions to the development of the then existing sitar, the grand Indian lute. He also composed many “ragas”, the most prominent being – Saazgiri, Bakharaj, Ussaq, Muwafiq and Gaman.
Amir Khusrau was as prolific in writing tender lyrics as he was in highly involved prose and could easily emulate all styles of poetry which had been developed in medieval Persia. He was a forerunner to the introduction of dohas and ghazals to the medieval literature. Thus, his contribution to the development of the ghazal and Dohas is particularly significant.
” Khusrau baazi prem Ki, main kheli pi ke sang,
Jeet gayi To Piya Mere, Haari To Pi Ke sang”
(Khusrau says I am playing the game of love with my beloved. If I win he is mine, if I lose I am with him, anyway).
It is believed that Khusrau had immense love for children and composed many “pahelis” (riddles) for their entertainment.
Not only was he a great scholar and a musician, he also was known for his bravery on the battlefield. He fought many a battle along with his masters including the one against the Mongols, in which he was captured. However by using his wits he managed to escape.
Khusrau who had Indo-Turkish parentage was introduced to Khwaja Nizamuddin at an early age. In 1310, he became closer to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and became his dearest disciple. There are endless anecdotes – in oral tradition as well as in documented history about their close and passionate attachment to each other, from their first meeting till the moment of their death.
The popular belief is that Hazrat Nizamuddin on his death bed told his close devotees not to allow Khusrau to come near his grave. He feared that because of his love for Khusrau, the grave might burst open and Khusrau would also sacrifice his life at the grave. Amir Khusrau was, therefore, stopped from entering that mausoleum. He obeyed his master’s orders and did not go inside. However, his master’s death affected him deeply and he sacrificed his life outside the mausoleum because of the grief over his master’s demise.
The death of the master and that of his disciple was also unusual event. It is said that when Nizamuddin Aulia breathed his last, Khusrau was away 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, this great exponent of the “Khari Boli” of Avadh (or Hindavi), is supposed to have read the following Hindavi doha (couplet) impromptu:
(The fair maiden rests on a bed of roses,
Her face covered with a lock of hair;
Oh Khusrau, let’s return home now,
the dark dusk settles in the four corners of the world).
After this, it is said, Khusrau’s condition started deteriorating and within exactly six months he breathed his last. This episode and the couplet quoted is probably the highest point in Khusrau’s relationship with Hazrat Nizamuddin and also probably the reason for their becoming a combined legend. For the last seven centuries, every year the Urs of both the saints is celebrated within a gap of six months of each other – Nizamuddin Aulia’a Urs too is called the Satrahvin Sharif (Seventeenth day). On both occasions qawwals begin by reciting the above doha, before singing any other qawwali.
After sifting through the myths and authentic historical facts, it can be assumed that Khusrau must have made an impact on those around then by using his creative genius in not only bridging a gap between the court and Nizamuddin Aulia, but also in making a number of innovations in poetry and music – an impact so immense that it has made his name immortal along with Nizamuddin Aulia.
Tour of the Dargah
The entry point to Nizamuddin area is marked by a traffic island with a blue-domed tomb known as Sabz Burj (sabz, green; burj, dome). The blue tiles are reportedly a recent restoration effort, but some of the original green, yellow and blue tiles can still be seen on the walls.
It has high recessed arches on all sides and a double dome covered with coloured tiles which gives it its name. Architecturally, the building probably belongs to the early Mughal period. Reportedly, the British used this building as a police station for many years till the beginning of the last century.
Even though it is right in the heart of Delhi, you can easily miss the little alley in the Nizamuddin area, closer to Humayun’s Tomb, where the mausoleums of Hazrat Nizammudin Auliya and his dearest disciple Amir Khusrau are located.
We reached Mathura Road and headed for the street leading to the dargah at around 10.00 A.M. On a working day, the usual throng of visitors was missing. I had arranged with a friend, Shamshad, who lives in the area, to use his contacts so that we could gather the maximum possible information about the shrines.
We entered the street leading to the dargah area from New Delhi’s Mathura Road and found a distinctly medieval ambience: labyrinthine alleys, street-vendors, bazaars with cheap eateries, people selling caps, rosaries and religious posters.
Passing by the Ghalib Academy, Urs Mahal and the tomb of one of the greatest Urdu poets of our times, Mirza Asadulla Khan Ghalib, we reached the dargah complex via a very dingy street.
As the street narrowed, we were confronted by flower-sellers who politely urged us to buy a tray of flowers, sweets, or a chadar (cloth) to offer at the dargahs of Nizamuddin Aulia and Amir Khusrau. Before entering the dargah premises, we were required to remove our shoes and cover the head. A medieval archway led us to a veranda that faces the tomb of Amir Khusrau.
The complex houses six important monuments:
1. The dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya
2. The tomb of Ataga Khan
3. The tomb of Maham Anga, the wet Nurse of King Akbar
4. The tomb of Amir Khusrau
5. The tomb of Jahanara
6. The Jamaat Khana Mosque.
(It would be fair to dedicate a complete post to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, one of the greatest sufi saints of all the times, which I will endeavour to do very shortly. I will restrict this post to Hazrat Amir Khusrau).
On the northern edge of Nizamuddin village outside the dargah complex, is Ataga Khan’s tomb. It is an impressive structure in red sandstone thickly inlaid with marble and coloured tiles. We stopped at this beautifully carved, though slightly unkempt edifice and took a few pictures and proceeded to the mausoleum of Amir Khusrau.
Shamshad introduced us to Khwaja Naved Pasha Nizami, who was a well informed person since seven generations of his family have been in the service of the Dargah. The soft spoken, Nizami Sahib told us the history of the Dargah. Some parts of his narratives have been included earlier.
Amir Khusrau’s domed marble tomb was constructed in 1605. Intricate filigreed screens (jali) surround the small room that has a tall tombstone constructed in 1496 by Mehdi Khwaja, a courtier of Emperor Babur. We were told that the screens were originally in red sandstone but were now unfortunately, covered with years and years of paint and whitewash. It is believed that in the early twentieth century, Hasan Nizami, a keeper of the dargah, accidentally scratched the paint in one portion and discovered versified dates in Persian etched on the sandstone. We were told that the effort by the authorities to clean the screen at that time was abandoned because of strong objections from the community. Devotees now tie colourful threads to this screen. Men and women can always be seen sitting around the screen either reading the Quran, or simply praying in silence.
Across the entrance to Amir Khusrau’s tomb is a heavy wooden door leading to an ancient room, claimed to have been constructed in the fourteenth century. The room is usually locked, except for the exclusive special gatherings of the Sufis.
A wall outside this room has a poem written in calligraphy which has been composed in praise of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia by the Urdu poet Allama Iqbal. Thanks to the kindness of Khwaja Nizami, who very kindly opened the heavy door to this edifice and we were able to see this room.
Just outside the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, a solitary singer, playing harmonium was reciting the popular composition of Amir Khusrau “Chaap Tilak Sab Cheeni re mose naina milayke”. (You have taken away all my looks, my identity, by just a glance)
The constant crowd of devotees outside Hazrat Nizamuddin’s dargah is testimony to the devotion that the saint still commands amongst his admirers. We were told that every Thursday, after sunset, qawwals sing the compositions of Amir Khusrau.
While Khwaja Nizami was talking about the unbounded love of the disciple for his Master, I recalled the immortal sequence filmed by one of the best film directors of our times, Gulzar in his TV serial on “Mirza Ghalib”. In the serial, Nawab Jaan comes to Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya to pray for the success of her beloved poet, Mirza Ghalib. Coincidentally, he too had come to the Dargah at the same time to seek the saint’s blessings for his unborn child. Guljar masterly crafted the filming of the ghazal by Ghalib ” Ishq Mujhko Nahin Wahshat hi sahi”.
Khwaja Nizami told us that Shaikh Nizamuddin died in 1325, and his original tomb does not exist any longer. Faridun Khan, a nobleman, built the present structure in 1562-63 during the reign of Emperor Akbar. The area around the tomb of the saint has many large and small tombs that have been built over the centuries since it is considered auspicious to be buried near a saint’s grave.
Very close to the tomb of Amir Khusrau, are two marble screened tombs one of Jahanara, the dutiful daughter of Emperor Shahjahan and the the other of the late Mughal emperor, Muhammad Shah Rangila (1719-48). Princess Jahanara’s grave is covered with grass in accordance with the inscription on it, which says ‘let naught cover my grave save the green grass: for grass well suffices as a covering for the grave of the lowly’.
To the west of Shaikh Nizamuddin’s tomb lies Jamaat Khana Masjid, built of red sandstone. It has three bays, each topped with a low dome. Its arches are fringed with lotus bud carvings as in the arches of the Alai Darwaza in the Qutab Complex. The mosque was built by a son of Sultan Alauddin Khalji and is said to be the oldest structure within the complex.
We took leave of Khwaja Nizami and headed for the northern gate of the dargah complex to have a look at the large baoli (pond), the water of which is believed to have healing powers. Shamshad told us an interesting legend associated with the dargah concerning the skirmish between the saint and the first Tughluq king, Ghiyasuddin. Hazrat Nizamuddin was getting the baoli constructed at about the same time as the king was engaged in building his fortress at Tughluqabad. The king forbade his construction workers to work elsewhere, and so they decided to work for the saint at night. This made Ghiyasuddin prohibit the sale of oil to Hazrat Nizamuddin, but the workers found that their lamps could be lit with the water of the baoli!
We then proceeded to the Urs Mahal, where the scholars from all over the country assemble and pay tributes to Hazrat Nizamuddin and his admirable disciple, Amir Khusrau.
The tomb of Mirza Aziz Kokiltash, Ataga Khan’s son, built in 1623, is known as Chaunsath Khamba, because, as its name implies, it has sixty-four pillars supporting the roof. You enter through a lofty, arched gateway adjacent to the Ghalib Academy. The Chaunsth Khamba complex located by the side of the Urs Mahal also houses the tombs of some of the eminent personalities of the yester years.
Before calling it a day, we passed by the tomb of Mirza Ghalib, the famous nineteenth century Urdu poet. Mirza Ghalib’s tomb, covered by a small marble structure, is kept locked within the precincts of the Ghalib Academy. The Ghalib Academy has a large library, a book shop, an interesting museum and also has some of the ancient paintings.
Thank you for being with me on this journey through the mystic alleys of Delhi.