Amir Khusrau and his Masnawi


Amir Khusrau and his Masnawi writings
by Prof. Chandra Shekhar

Amir Khusrau (1252-1325AD was an epoch for his imponderable contribution to the foundation of the Persian literature and the socio-politico history of Delhi Sultanate. In a period of incognizance, he brought out the works with utmost care and served diplomatically the different royal courts. In fact, his works are the eye-witness account of almost half a century covering concluding era of Balban’s stern rule, the king having liking for Sasanid court culture, to the Khalji’s far reaching domain and unending thrust of imperialistic expansion, specially Sultan Alauddin Khalji, on whose demise, Khusrau laments in an elegy: “Why should be conquered the country and the city when thou will not be given just a four square yard land only” and then remains a mock witness to the events occurred in the post Alauddin Khalji’s court at the hand of Malik Kafur and Khusrau Khan. But again the loyalty to the throne brought back the new regime with name of Tughlaqs, another house of Turk Amirs who staged the supremacy over the local chiefs in chivalry and court politics.

Amir Khusrau swayed away between the two poles of power i.e. imperial and spritiual, never to give up any, even till the demise of his Murshid Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. Perhaps it is also a strange combination one may find as well as surprise how he maintained the balance between the both. Even in a situation where, his Murshid was almost prosecuted by the clergy class during the rule of Sultan Alauddin Khalji. May be, as we witness in Tarikh-e- Firoz Shahi, the neutral role of the Sultan who almost sided with the great saint and it was sensed by Khusrau how to be on both the tracks in one time. However, it is an interesting aspect of Khusrau’s life.

Amir Khusrau is usually presented as a pioneer Ghazal writer of the Indo-Persian literature. He is called Tuti-e-Hind for his ghazal Serai. But his masnawis bear the contents which divulge his multifaceted and dignified virtuosity in other fields as well as in literature.

The masnawis of Amir Khusrau can be divided into two major sections: Khamsa -e-Khusrau ( in imitation to Nizami's one) and masnawis of Historical and cultural vistas. These masnawis may have some aspects in common too particularly in regard of some cultural vistas Amir Khusrau brought forth in his masnawis. This innovation can be synthesized into two perspectives: highlighting Indian culture and new literary subjects as fresh subjects to highlight in his poetry which were still virgin in those days as it was more a Dar- ul harb though declared by Khusrau as Dar-ul aman ( see Qiranus S’adain). In the case of Khamsa, there may one find various lacunas but it is a fact that he became the pioneer in emulation or in other words imitation of Nizami's Khamsa and paved the way for Khamsa writings in response to Nizami’s one. Despite all the literary shortcomings, it is still regarded as the second to Nizami's quintet. Amongst the illustrated manuscripts, Khamsa and the masnwais of Amir Khusrau is the best chosen subject for visual depiction.

No man has a better eye for what was germane to or repugnant from his own thought since he had the flashes of insight. Khusrau has always been generous in his self-appraisal of the poems to unfurl the discrepancies of anatomical structure. He elaborately elucidated his own merits and demerits, one may find in the ending part of each masnawi. In fact, this self analysis provides a clue to construct the chronological structure of poetic criticism in Indo-Persian literature which further flourished during the time of Muhgals. Though it is also a fact that poetic egoistic approach Khusrau rarely allowed him to yield down, rather he sharply lamented his contemporaries for their criticism on his work (except) the ‘experienced’ critics who evaluated and corrected his drafts of masnawis. He acclaimed his superiority amongst the contemporary men of letters and called others inferior.

It is believed that the poets are by no means the best equipped to appreciate the poetry of others since they cannot realize the problem of others, but Khusrau’s self-appreciation leapt into the exaggeration to some extent. However, the poet explicated the narration and description simultaneously in his masnawis with the varied aims of entertainment, preaching and palatable reporting of the events, happened in his time, at the instance of his patrons. But he kept visible the identity of each element of anatomical structure along with the ontology of the subjects mentioned. His masnawis Qiranus-S’adain, Dewal Rani-wa-Khizr Khan and Nuh-Sipihr undoubtedly may be synthesized in this parameter. However, the identical subjects can always be pointed out in these narrations but will be found in blissful elucidation. For example, the third chapter of Nuh-Sipihr is an enlargement of what was described precisely in Qiranus-S’adain. Even one may say that Khusrau enlarged the draft plan of Masaud S’ad Salman especially about the depiction of court culture, as stated above too. This particular enlargement may be analyzed with other perspectives also. The poet was criticized for his innovation of a new style in masnawi for incorporating the united subjects. Even the modern critics opined that Khusrau could gain more fame through his conventional outlines. But Khusrau’s own narration divulges resistant acceptance of the pointed out discrepancies of his innovation. Thereafter he employed the same anatomy in Nuh-Sipihr after a gap of thirty years. But this time he had fully asserted him and didn’t allow his skill to be called promiscuous. Moreover, he also disallowed any check on his freedom of thought.

For his many other innovations in the anatomical structure or the desired reforms in the society and religion, he should not be called a rebel but a reformer.

Miftah-ul-Futuh figures as the imponderable source material to weave the tenured history of the mentioned period. These works, along with the others, reveal the Socio-politico and economic aspects prevailed in the society of the Delhi Sultanate. In his narration, the poet keeps aloof the palatable information of socio-historic significance from the amalgamation into the poetic riddles and descriptions. But on some instance, he may be noticed avoiding discretely the mention of some events like the assassination of Sultan Jalalud-din Tughlaq. Sometimes he presented the events in the poetic riddles too as the fate of Dewal Rani. Since these description could hamper his interests in that period of topsy-turvy. But he registered his deep concern on the instability even on the defeat of Khusrau Khan whom he exorted bitterly in Tughlaq Namah.

His masnawis are the ample profiles to unfurl the statecraft and the political thoughts of Delhi Sultanate. These works reveal the concept of kingship in its realistic form. Sultan Kaiqubad and Sultan Mubarak Shah Khalji’s utterance implicated their decent to yield before the right of inheritance; the poet is usually found apprising the kings of their eminent and prime duties towards the state and subjects. In his opinion the raison de’ tre for kingship was maintenance of peace and dispensation of justice. The racial discrimination has been the universal phenomenon. This aspect may be gleaned into the upsurges of Malik Chajju and Ghazi Malik (Sultan Ghiyasud-din Tughlaq) as described by the poet. A profile of the different segments may also be completed through shifting the details provided by the poet. The analysis of the mentioned aspect reveals the pattern of obedience and affiliation of the governing class changed from dynasty to dynasty depending on political situation and the personal preference of a ruler and rarely the fear of central authority can be gauged.

Hardy criticized Khusrau on several bases and described him a sign of Muslim phraseology and melodrama, who never looked beyond the Islamic revelation for an explanation of the meaning of life. But these comments should not be perceived in the background of present circumstances. Moreover, Khusrau was the only matchless poet of his time who highlighted the virtues of the rituals and traditions of Hindus. It is quite obvious that the poet cut across the stream under the sway of religion, an imponderable element of human nature, and lamented the same religion that he eulogized through his expression of deep personal convictions in the former works. Secondly, for some reasons it may be wrong to apply of a parameter of historiography on the works of Amir Khusrau since his avowed métier in life was poetry. He wished to arouse the sense of verbal subtlety titillated and elicit the appreciation for his literary skills and artifices.

But the most important fact is that poet never claimed to be a historian. He accumulated the significant information at the instances of different royal personages, and composed the masnawis to attain popularity amongst the men of letters only. He even admitted that he always loved to compose ghazal. The poet mentioned that ghazal is the popular form of Persian poetry in his period. He did not highlight the eminent poets of masnawi and other genres but of the famous ghazal writers of his time. Though, along with this description, he described also his own accomplishments in other genres as well as in the ghazal. Perhaps, on the basis of these inner evidences along with the study of his ghazals, Prof. Nur-ul-Hasan Ansari, my revered teacher who suggested to work passionately on the works of the great man, emphatically stated in his book, Ahwal-o-Asar-e- Amir Khusrau “had he just composed ghazal instead of meddling into all the genres of poetry, he would have excelled much more than what he gained the fame from all these”. Khusrau, probably, incorporated the ghazals in his masnawis to pacify his throbbing heart for his passion for ghazal apart from the aim of innovation.

However, these works preponderate for multifaceted perspective, including the literary fancies and artifices, of the Indo-Persian literature. His assimilation of Hindavi words and phrases, enumerated in the study of each masnawi, enabled the linguists to augur his works to crave the evaluation and the history of the said language.

The poet also highlighted his acquaintance with the music of Hindustan and Asia and presented an outline structure of vocal and instrumental music of his time with their anatomical details and other characteristics. He also indicated about the Indian and Iranian dancing girls of bewitching beauty.

Many salient features also ensue from the Khamsa of Khusrau. The poet reopened the doors of masnawi writing closed by Nizami for the succeeding poets. Nizami completed his quintet in 597 A.H. (1197 A.D.) while for a good long gap of hundred years none could dare to compose a remarkable masnawi on the lines of Nizami. Khusrau wrote after his model and his efforts encouraged at least seventy poets to show their skills in this task including the noted poets like Jami, Hatifi, Maktabi Shiraji, Faizi, etc. In other words, Khusrau who exposed his mastery through lyrical poems also revived the convention of masnawi writing after Nizami.

Poetical works or any written document can provide the inner and outer vision of it’s writer and his observations about the society he is living in. The period of ‘Alaud-din Khalji, in spite of its political stability, was a time of upheaval. The eulogies, addressed to the Sultan, reveal the oppression of the subjects. Though the poet lived in the royal palace, his soul was always with the people. He urged the Sultan to share sorrow of the people and take care of them and did not approve exclusive attention of the Sultan towards the elites.

Though the deaths of the mother and bother bereaved Khusrau during the composition of Majnun-wa-Laila. But he did not allow pause due to the sad happenings. He endeavored to create many innovations through the creation of various perceptions, and illustrated his qualitative inborn gifts of imagery in the episodes unattended by Nizami. But the repetition of ethical themes, on the guidelines of epistles of Plato and Al -Ghazali could not equate him with originality and naturalness of Nizami. Shibli Nomani too opined about its pitfalls.

Hasht Bihisht, the fifth and the last masnawi of the Khamsa was produced with much labour in a span of two year’s time. It was perhaps the longest period, Khusrau devoted to a masnawi. He did not want; it seemed, to leave the last work as an impression of dejection. He originated his own plot on the source material of Indian soil, and Haft Paiker provided him such liberty. He moved ahead from the plot of his model and extended it according to his choice.

Dr. Wahid Mirza found this masnawi as the finest poem of the Khamsa and Khusrau has proved himself to be as great a student of the psychology of love and emotion as any eight episodes instead of seven. His skill, ability and talent in various spheres, particularly music and magic are evinced in this work. Moreover, it was scrutinized by his friend and critic Ali and later on by Maulana Shihab apart from other poems of the Khamsa. The poet himself remarked about his pains and efforts to bring out the best work. Amongst the modern critics, Dr. Muhammad Habib says: The Hasht Bihisth, in which Khusrau allowed himself to incorporate a number of Indian stories, is the best of his romances. Shibli described that Khusrau attained his maturity in poetic skill through this poem and the episodes were narrated with all its objects and parts. According to Syed Sulaiman Ashraf no masnawi can be equated with this poem in Persian poetry. Dr. Mahjoob, in his comparative study of Haft Paiker and Hasht Bihisht found among the plebeians, when the fornicators and imposters were in dominance Khusrau illustrates such deterioration of the society in the couplets of this narrative poetry on many occasion.

The inner evidences of the masnawis reveal that he could not keep himself aloof of lasciviousness. He also did not appreciate that art of poetry which was adopted as a means of earning the money. He asked his sons to avoid this profession, and called poetic task a work of idles. He admonished himself for such task. In spite of his firm belief in Sufi life, a life he wished to live, the attraction and charm of materialistic world trapped him. The family life forced him to continue to compose the couplets to provide his wards a livelihood. The life he never advised to be led by his off-spring.

Though he denounced a poetry written for lascivious purposes and needs, but at the same time he never suggested denouncing the world and adopting a life of seclusion and solitude bereft of domestic responsibilities. Moreover, he wanted a man to act according to the need of the time and environment, as has been mentioned in Aina-e-Sikandari.

A number of such couplets show that the poet always insisted to act according to the time, and this aspect of his life made him a man of success. Even if his inner conscience did not allow him for certain actions, he acted due to the circumstances. In other words, he was a great diplomat of his time.

Apart from it, there are illustrations of social formations of the society, where evils were narrated in ethical narrations. A beautiful description of the woman’s status in the time of Khusrau is portrayed in the twentieth maqala of Matla’ul-Anwar. Though at present voices of anguish may be heard against the custom of ‘Sati’ but Khusrau, though being a Muslim, appreciated such a custom.

The fame and popularity of Khusrau’s Khamsa may be observed and evaluated from a number of commentaries, written on them. Amongst these, Sharah-e-Matla’ul-Anwar, Qissa-e-Behram Gaur are worth mention.

In short, the Khamsa is not a mere imitation. Its stories depict the cultural heritage of India. The presentation of the poet is surcharged with new influences flowing from Central Asia. Khusrau incorporated the indigenous cultural trend to the taste of people with whom he lived. The masnawis were a means to express his feelings and emotions along with creative skill. For him the Khamsa of Nizami was a source of inspiration in the true meaning of imitation, which may be put very well in the words of John Dryden “ Those great men whom we propose to ourselves as patterns of our imitation, serve as a torch, which is lifted up before us, to illumine our passage and often elevate our thoughts as high as the conception we have of our author’s genius.”