Amir Khusrau
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KHAMSAS (QUINTET) 1302 AD


    The 12th century Persian poet, Nizami Ganjavi wrote the Khamsa (Arabic/ Persian, lit. "five") which influenced many artists and poets - Amir Khusrau Dehlavi was one of them. Amir Khusrau set out to write his own version of the Khamsa (c. 1298- 1301AD) in Delhi with a preface (from Matla-un-Anwar) that said his poetry will rock the grave of Nizami- and it did in several ways. It has been lavishly illustrated in the karkhanas of many Sultans and Badshahs 15th century onwards from the Timurids to the Mughals.

    Amir Khusrau’s khamsa contains the five versified narratives in line with Nizami’s work. To distinguish his work he titled them - Matla-ul-Anwar, Shirin-o-Khusrau, Majnun-o-Layla, Aina-e-Sikandari, and Hasht-Bihisht. (Nizami’s Khamsa masnavis were titled - Makhzan-ul- Asrar, Khusrau-o-Shirin, Layla-o-Majnun, Sikandar-Nama and Haft-Paykar.) While Nizami’s work was exquisitely crafted with beautiful language and subtle thoughts over many years, Amir Khusrau’s khamsa was completed within three years - in fast paced narrative and lightheartedness, wordplay and double meaning phrases and words. He himself writes in Aina-i-Sikandari that Ganjavi has - carefully poured out all the clear wine and left only the dregs for all after him- but Amir Khusrau was able to make his stories richer and different with variants where he was able to artistically induce Indian imageries, metaphors, and philosophical insights of his own time and culture. In addition, Amir Khusrau’s khamsa contains eloquent panegyrics dedicated to his patron, Sultan Alauddin Khalji and to his spiritual master, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Through his Khamsa, he established himself as one of the greatest poet and storyteller in the Persianate landscape of then and now.
  1. MATLA-UL-ANWAR (698 AH/1298 AD)


  2. is a response to Nizami Ganjawi’s work Makhzan-ul-Asrar. Khusrau says in Matla-ul-Anwar that if he lives long enough, he would complete five masnavis in a befitting response to Nizami’s khamsa. He began writing the Matla-ul-Anwar at the age of 48 years and completed it within two weeks’ time.

    Matla-ul-Anwar, the first masnavi of the khamsa deals with moral education, scholasticism and mysticism and has been divided into 20 sections. Khusrau excels his predecessor’s depiction by way of the use of similes and metaphors. The work is characterized by a flow and beauty of language that enhances the importance of its composition along with the fact that all sections of the work contain examples explaining the various themes covered. As pointed by Khusrau himself, the total number of verses adds upto 3310.
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    Details of image: “Fratricide witnesses the loyalty of two friends” Folio from masnavi Matla-ul-Anwar, Khamsa Amir Khusrau. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. W624_000096_300
  3. SHIRIN-O-KHUSRAU (698 AH/1298 AD)


  4. The second poem of Khusrau’s Khamsa narrates the romance between Prince Khusrau Parvez, Emperor of Iran, and Princess Shirin. It is composed in the same metre of Nizami’s Khusrau-o-Shirin and has four thousand one hundred and twenty four couplets! However, it is considerably different in details from Nizami’s. Besides the events relating to the hero and the heroine, the capital city of Madain (near Baghdad) has also been described in detail. The details about Khusrau Parvez’s beautiful palaces and gardens add to the importance of the poem. Amir Khusrau describes the love story of Farhad in such a way that the reader finds a lot of suspense in the narrative. Khusrau has succeeded in using new similes and metaphors as well as beautiful phrases revealing new meanings.

    Prince Khusrau Parvez, son of Harmuzd, ascends the throne after his father’s murder. In his travels, he is accompanied by his faithful associate Shapur, who, in order to entertain him, shows Khusrau a portrait of Shirin, the niece of Queen Muhin Bano, the ruler of Arman. Seeing that Khusrau gets captivated by her, Shapur advises him to take the route of Arman as a hunter. By chance, Shirin also comes to the hunting ground and reaches the place where Khusrau had camped. She plays host to him and Queen Muhin Bano  hosts a banquet in his honour. Being drunk, Khusrau makes advances towards Shirin but she does not yield to him. After some time, Khusrau takes leave and goes to meet Qaisar, Emperor of Rome who marries his daughter  Maryam to him and declares him as his heir apparent. With the military help and treasures given to him by his father-in-law, Khusrau attacks Behram Choubin outside the city of Madain defeating him convincingly and becomes the ruler of Madain. However, his constant longing for Shirin pains Queen Maryam and the grief kills her. After her death, Khusrau decides to travel and find Shirin. Shapur tries hard to dissuade Khusrau not to go after Shirin praising the beauty of Princess Shakarmalka of Isfahan. In Isfahan, Khusrau marries Shakarmalka the news of which makes Shirin jealous and she starts to pass her time hunting the game. Once, she goes to a mountain and meets Farhad, a hill digger who falls in love with her at first sight. Shirin asks him to construct a canal of milk so that she may get fresh milk easily and promises to reward him with a meeting again.

    When Khusrau gets news of this entire episode, he becomes jealous of Farhad. He leaves from Isfahan and meets Farhad in disguise advising him to give up thinking about Shirin, but in vain. He then conspires to send news to Farhad that Shirin was no more. No sooner than hearing this, he commits suicide by falling from the mountain. Farhad’s death causes severe grief to Shirin and she has him buried resolving to take revenge from Queen Shakarmalka. She sends an old lady to deceive Shakarmalka and poison her to death. Now, both Khusrau and Shirin repent their respective sins. They meet each other and, after some time, agree to live together. During a banquet the two of them host, Khusrau and Shirin are betrothed. A few years later, the crown Prince Shiroya kills Khusrau and seizes the throne. Hearing this, Shirin comes to Khusrau’s bedside and kills herself with a dagger and both of them are buried in the same grave.
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    Details of image: Khusrau gets a glimpse of Shirin bathing. Manuscript of Amir Khusrau’s Shirin o Khusrau. Collection: National Museum, New Delh
  5. MAJNUN-O- LAYLA (699 AH/1299 AD)


  6. Layla-Majnun tale from Arabia is a legend in the realm of love stories. Hafiz, Shapur Tehrani, Malik Qummi, Urfi Shirazi, Saeb Tarshizi, and Mirza Ghalib have all made references to this legendary tale in their poetry. As far as the comparison between the masnavi Majnun-o-Layla of Nizami Ganjavi and Amir Khusrau is concerned, Khusrau’s verses have greater effect on the senses because of its sensitivity and heightened aesthetics. Both Qais & Layla herd their animals outside the town as children and fall in love with each other. When people begin to talk about their affair, the parents of Layla confine her to the walls of the house. Qais misses her and begins to suffer from the grief caused by separation. The parents of Qais ask the parents of Layla for her hand in marriage with their son but their offer is spurned. It causes so much grief to Qais that he loses patience, goes into the jungle and begins to live in the agony caused by the refusal of Layla’s parents to marry her to Majnun.

    Being a poet, Qais composes couplets during this time which are full of pathos. Qais’ parents are saddened with his condition and take him to the Kaaba and pray to God to cleanse his heart of Layla’s love. Majnun holds the curtain of Kaaba and prays to God, “Oh Lord, never remove the love of Layla from my heart and bless the person who says ‘Amen’ having heard my prayer.” To make matters worse, Layla’s parents marry her to another man. This causes so much grief to Layla that she makes it impossible for her husband to live happily. Majnun often comes in their lane and recites his poems which are so full of pathos that people get disturbed. Layla passes away due to grief and anguish and Majnun, when hearing this, jumps into her grave and dies embracing the body of his beloved, finally united for eternity.
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    Details of image: Layla and Majnun fall in love in school. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. W624_000021_300
  7. AINA-E-SIKANDARI (699 AH/1299 AD)


  8. Aina-e-Sikandari is the fourth masnavi of the Khamsa and is mainly about Alexander - his battles, victories,inventions of his time, interaction with the great Greek philosophers and his journey with Khwaja Khizr across the ocean. Both Nizami and Khusrau have depicted the battles fought between Darius, the emperor of Iran & Alexander, the king of Greece. Amir Khusrau, in order to find justification for the composition of the masnavi, tries to improve the beauty of his verses with the use of new similes and metaphors as well as the flow of the overall poem. Khusrau has changed the story to suit his own purposes and differs considerably from Nizami where he completely leaves out Alexander’s conquest of Persia and the death of Darius.
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    Details of image: The Khaqan of China pays homage to Alexander the Great. The Khaqan of China prostrates himself before Alexander the Great. The gifts offered to the latter are seen in the foreground.Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. W624, fol. 153b,
  9. HASHT-BIHISHT (701 AH/1301 AD)


  10. This is the last of the five masnavis of khamsa and was completed in 701AH/1301AD. Here, he attempts to aspire for the last stage of kamal-e-shayari claiming that his imagination flows to the pinnacle of excellence. Nizami’s Haft Paykar contains a few more chapters compared to Khusrau’s Hasht- Bihisht. Nizami addresses the son whereas Khusrau addresses the daughter. Khusrau’s narration is the outcome of his own imagination while Nizami narrated the stories which had been sent down to him through tradition. Though Khusrau’s stories are fictive, they read like factual ones. In the course of the narrative in Nizami’s masnavi, instructions are interspersed affecting the rhythm of the poem. On the contrary, Khusrau’s narrative flows much more smoothly.
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    Details of image: The princesses of the seven pavilions bow in homage to Bahram Gur. Each of them will lead Bahram on a journey from a pleasureseeking prince to a wise and just king. Hasht Bihisht, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. W624_000036_300.