Prose works of Amir Khusrau

Prose works of Amir Khusrau
by Prof. Iqtidar Hussain Siddiqui

Amir Khusrau, India’s legendary poet is credited for his substantial contribution to Persian Poetry. Khusrau was known to be a prose writer. Many medieval scholars attach importance to his prose works as their preservation indicates. He invented his own ornate style for prose writing that was appreciated and emulated by many medieval scholars. It is unfortunate that modern scholars have not paid adequate attention to his prose works, inspite of them being important sources of information on the life and culture in the Sultanate of Delhi. This paper will look at Khusrau’s prose works, both genuine and fabricated in particular the ones wrongly attributed to him.

The earliest prose writing from the pen of Khusrau the prefaces (dibachas) of his diwans (collections of poems). The prefaces of the first two diwans entitled ‘Tuhfatul-Sighar’ (gift of young age) and ‘Wastul-Hayat’ (diwan of middle age) are short literary pieces and are not devoid of importance. The preface of ‘Tuhfatul-Sighar’ comprising of eight folios (i.e. sixteen pages) sheds light on Khusrau’s ambition to gain recognition for originalitly in his verses as well as his relation with Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusrau appears to have had an ambition of immortalizing himself as a great poet. It was at the age of twenty when his friends persuaded him to collect all his early verses in the form of a diwan (collection) and publish it. It has been mentioned that Khusrau was reluctant because he was not satisfied with their standards and feared any criticism. His friend, Tajuddin Zahid, however convinced him by saying that there are two types of critics – the knowledgeable and the not so knowledgeable. He explains that those of the first kind would judge making allowance for the poet’s young age, while criticism by the ignorant was not to be taken seriously.

The short preface of ‘Tuhfatul-Sighar’ is important as we find that besides the specimen of Khusrau’s own style in writing Persian prose in the beginning of his literary career, interesting bits are revealed of his early education and relationship with Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya before the completion of this diwan in 1272 A.D. Khusrau calls his preceptor ‘Mazhar-ul-Haque’ (The manifestation of truth), ‘Sheikh-i-Muhaqqiq’ (the confirmed guide), and the refuge of all the high and low to receive spiritual guidance from him. (ef.Tuhfatul-Sighar, manuscript, Habib Ganj Collection, no 50/17, f.2b).

Similarly, the short preface of ‘Wast-ul-Hayaat’ diwan reveals interesting sources of information on culture. Since Persian poetry was popular in Delhi, this diwan proclaims, as stated by Khusrau in his rhetorical style, “in Delhi if a stone is turned, a poet would be found”.

The dibacha of Khusrau’s third diwan ‘Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal’ completed, in 1293 A.D. is lengthy and of immense significance in the history of Persian literature. It consists of two unequal parts. The first part is lengthier and is considered a pioneering piece of work on the science literary criticism in the history of Persian literature. The second part relates to the history of his family, Khusrau’s education and positions held by his maternal grandfathers, and insights in to the elite culture of the Sultanate of Delhi. In view of its historical and literary importance, the dibacha was separated from the diwan and was occasionally printed as a book. The printed text used by the author comprises of one hundred and forty two pages. The first part deals with the merits of poetry, its history, and the role played by leading poets of the past in enhancing the importance of poetry in culture. According to Khusrau, Persian verses were superior to Arabic verses as Persian poetry demonstrates warmth and beauty in its verses. Equally interesting is the insight provided into the literary culture of Khusrau’s time, where Persian ghazals (Love poems) was gaining popularity, yet Khusrau did not attach any importance to it. He states: “I have composed many a fresh ghazals but could not see them worthy of inclusion in the diwan because, anyone who composes a few verses (of a ghazal) would claim to be a poet and compete with me, the king of poetry”. (e.f. Dibacha-i- Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal, ed. Saiyid Haidar, Idara-i-Tahqeiq-i-Arabi and Farsi, Patna, 1988, pp.72-73)

Conscious of his substantial contribution to Persian poetry, Khusrau states that among the famous poets of the past, no one except Masud Saad Salman left more than one diwan. He composed three diwans in three different languages - Persian, Arabic, and Hindi. Khusrau takes credit for completing three diwans in Persian alone. Besides this, he also composed verses in Hindi but for entertainment of his friends and did not consider them worth preserving. (ef. Dibacha-i-Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal, op.cit,11.97,98).

Besides the brief history of Persian literature, Khusrau also glows with pride when he talks about the ability of Indian poets in writing excellent verses in Arabic language. (Loe, cit)

The second part of this dibacha contains biographical details of Khusrau’s father, mother, brothers, and his maternal grandfather - Imadul – Mulk, the Amir-i- ariz (pay master general of the army) of the Sultanate of Delhi. We find here in a verbal picture of life and culture of the ruling elite in different hues and colours. It may however be stated that this dibacha also bears testimony to the fact that Khusrau was original in style in writing his prose, and as a, matter-of-fact was enthusiastic to contribute to prose literature that was directed at intellectuals.


After Dibacha-i-Ghurrat-ul-Kamaal, the Kazain-ul-Futuh appears to have been written by Khusrau. Here, Khusrau writes about the history of Sultan Alauddin Khilji’s regin, which is also written in an ornate and rhetorical prose. This reads like an official history similar to a compilation made by Khusrau’s contemporary writer, Kabiruddin, son of Tajuddin Iraqi. Zia uddin Barani writes about Kabiruddin explaining that he wrote an official history of Alauddin’s reign and achieved admiration in the art of writing (ef. Tarikh-i-Firozshahi, Calcutta, 1862, P.14). This tends to suggest that a master prose writer adopted a style that could be in proportion to the strong personality and grandeur of the court of the hero. To compete with Kabiruddin or rather excel him in prose writing, Khusrau’s style developed further in ‘Khazain-ul-Futuh’, resulting in a sensational piece of work. In this work Khusrau’s approach was characterised by freshness and creative imagination adding significance to it.

The ‘Khazain-ul-Futuh’ begins with the invasion of Deogiri in Maharastra by Alauddin in 1295 A.D, which was during the reign of Sultan Jalauddin Khalji, and the work comes to a close with the account of the year 1312 A.D of the reign of Sultan Alauddin (Khalji). The treacherous murder of Sultan Jalaluddin (Khalji) at the instance of Alauddin has not been mentioned. After the details of the accession of Sultan Alauddin, the important reforms introduced by the new Sultan, the works of public utility established, the construction of new buildings, the repair of old buildings, the suppression of social evils and price control are discussed in this briefly. Probably all these facts were discussed by Kabiruddin in his official history in detail, however, Khusrau summarized this in his writings. Mohammed Habib opines that after the death of Kabiruddin (the official historian), the Sultan might have asked Khusrau to write the history of his reign. However, Khusrau’s introductory remark makes it probable that he wrote the ‘Khazain-ul-Futuh’ on his own initiative and expected the Sultan to accept it as the official account. Since Kabiruddin had discussed the reforms introduced by the Sultan along with other achievements during the early years of his reign, Khusrau rarely summarized them, as he aspired ‘Khazain-ul Futuh’ to be acknowledged individually. The Deccan campaigns led by the army of the Sultan and the military victories that were achieved as a result are described in detail, probably in the manner of the lost history of Kabiruddin. (e.f. M. Habib, Campaigns of Alauddin Khilji Being Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s ‘Khazain-ul-Futiah’, D.B. Taraporewala, sons and co. Bombay, 1931, pp.X-XI)

The Persian text of ‘Khazain-ul-Futuh’ was critically edited by Wahid Mirza and published in Calcutta in 1953.

Ijaz-i-Khusravi, also known as Risala-e-Ifaz

This remarkable prose is divided into five volumes, each dealing with figures of speech in writing on speculative sciences, and other matters that are social and political in nature. Each volume contains epistles and specimen documents where we come across a series of discussions such as popular sciences, astronomy, logic, philosophy, fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), prosody, Nahv (Syntax), and tasawwuf, with the exception of tafsir (exegesis of the Quran) and Tib (Muslim system of medicine). It is worth recalling that Khusrau mentions in the first volume, scholars invented nine styles of Persian prose writing, but he did not follow any of them. Being an individualist, he seeked to adopt a style, which was ornate and grandiose. This as a result demonstrates that Khusrau had acquired good knowledge of the sciences as discussed by him in the ‘Ijaz-i-Khusravi’.

It can also be noted that before the advent of the Khalijs to power in 1290 A.D, Amir Khusrau was deeply concerned with the fate of his own world of the Sultanate of Delhi, which was threatened with the frequent Mongol invasions and strained by the conflict between the centre of power and the Hindu land chiefs. But the success achieved by Sultan Alauddin Khalji in military as well as socio-economic fields seems to have instilled in Amir Khusrau’s hope and optimism about a bright future. His optimism is reflected in the beginning of the first volume of the ‘Ijaz-i-Khusravi. Khusrau sums up in the introduction of the volume the blessings of Alauddin’s reign.

The acts of kindness of the Sultan and his
concern for the well being of people
ensure food and provision to everyone.
The metropolis of Delhi is more
productive and has attained the
height of its cultural glory. Hordes of
Mongols used to bring every year,
Chains made of iron, in order to take
Indian Captives, but now the
same chains are around their own necks.

The towns and cities depopulated by the Mongol attack have now become affluent and densely populated. In the region from Delhi to the frontier of Khurasan, peace prevails. Justice is ensured to all and people are happy. (ef Ijaz-i-Khusravi, Vol.1, Newal Kishore Press, Lucknow, 1876, pp.15-19)

Some words are in order about the importance of the epistles and specimen documents contained in the volumes of work. As usual, the style of Khusrau is intricate and abundant in artifices, yet the solicit matter contained therein is interesting for the scholars of history, culture, and Persian literature. In writing the documents and epistles Khusrau appears to have given serious thought to the problems faced by the rulers as he also provides solutions to their problems. Therefore, the study of the specimen records, such as fatehnama (victory letter), farmans (royal mandates) and arzdasht (petition), in conjunction with the contemporary historical literature, with the exception of personal letters, suggest that they gave good advice to the Sultans. As a political and social thinker, Khusrau advised how the Sultans should act in particular situations. For example, how provincial governors should perform their functions, what treatment should be meted out to the traders, and what the strategies should be adopted for the defence of the north-western frontier of the Sultanate against the Mongol invaders from central Asia. It is also noteworthy that the specimen documents and epistles in the ‘Ijaz-i-Khusravi’ rest on sound theoretical foundations. For example, the arzdasht (petition) said to have been written by Badr Hajib (certainly a fictitious person) to the crown prince Khizr Khan (son of Sultan Alauddin) is suggestive. In this arzdasht (petition) Khusrau describes the occupation by the Sultan of Delhi’s army of the city of Ghazni, although it never took place. As a matter of fact, Khusrau being confident of the invincibility of Delhi’s army, suggests through this arzdasht that the conquest and annexation of the territory of Ghazni was essential for the successful defence of the country. (et ‘Ijaz-i-Khusravi, Vol.4, pp.144-56)

In an epistle relating to fiqh (jurisprudence) we come across information about the concepts of political economy and public welfare among the elite of the Sultanate. Praising Sultan Alauddin Khalji for successfully implementing the market control, Khusrau uses the term ‘Ilm-i-m’aishat’ (science of economics) and gives credit to the Sultan in the field of m’ashat (economic field). Also interesting is the criticism of Sultana Alauddin’s state policy regarding the appointment of people on important positions in the administration, on the basis of personal merit and regardless of aristocratic birth. Khusrau like Ziauddin Barani considered the aristocratic birth as the requisite qualification for appointment on important positions in the administration or the army. In short, the ‘Ijaz-i-Khusravi’ is not only a mine of information on the life and culture of the Sultanate of Delhi, this also reveals Khusrau’s command over Persian language both as a poet and prose writer of distinction.

The Fabricated Prose works attributed to Khusrau

The first fabricated work to be discussed is the ‘Afzal-ul-Fawaid’, the so called collection of the utterances of Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya, said to have been compiled by Amir Khusrau. Strangely enough, no medieval writer, neither a sufi nor a historian mentions this work while the collection of the Sheikh’s utterances compiled by Hasan Sijzi is referred to in the tazkiras and histories. However, the publication of ‘Afzalul-Fawaid’ by Matba-i-Rizvi, Delhi in 1304 AH. (1886 A.D.) made it available to modern scholars. In 1927, Muhammad Habib incidentally mentioned the malfuzats compiled by Hasan Sijzi and Khusrau led Wahid Mirza to take Afzalul-Fawaid as from Khusravi’s Pen. It may also be stated that Habib does not include it in the discussion of Khusrau’s prose works (ef. Mohammad Habib, Hazrat Amir Khusrau of Delhi in ‘Collected Works of Mohammad Habib, Vol.1, pp.309-10, 346-355; Wahid Mirza, Life and Works of Amir Khusrau, Calcutta, 1935, p.145).

Again in 1950, Mohammad Habib published an article in which the early chishti records have been assessed. Each record have been critically assessed and differentiated from the fabricated ones. He found the Afzalul-Fawaid a forgery. Not much of the contents of the work are found at variance with what Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya expounds in the Fawaidul-Faud. Moreover, the episodes and historical events copied from the Fawaidul-Fuad contain changed names, besides factual errors. For example, Shaikhul-Islam Najmuddin Sughra died during the reign of Sultan Iltutmish before the birth of Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya but is mentioned in the Afzalul Fawaid as the contemporary of the latter. Habib also refers to Khusrau’s statement quoted by Mir Khurd in the Siyar ul-Auliya that Khusrau was prepared to exchange all his works for the Fawaidul-Faud of Hasan Sijzi (ef. M. Habib, Chisti mystic records of the Sultanate period in the works of Professor Mohammed Habib, op cit. pp.421-22).

It is also worth recalling that neither any contemporary writer of Khusrau nor any tazkira writer of the sixteenth century mentions the title of Afzalul-Fawaid, let alone its authorship. Barani mentions Fawaidul-Fuad along with a number of other books on mysticism but no reference is made to any collection of Malfuzat ever compiled by his friend Khusrau. Sheikh Abdul Haque Muhadis of Delhi, the compiler of Akhbar ul-Akhiyar and Muhammad Ghausi Shattari, the compiler of the Gulzar-i-Abrar included the biographical notices of Khusrau and Hasan Sifzi in their tazkiras where mention is made of Fawaid ul-Fuad alone.

Not with standing Muhammad Habib’s convincing argument, Bruce Lawrence presented a paper on this work entitled, Afzal ul-Fawaid: a reassessment in an international seminar held in Delhi in connection with Khusrau’s seven centenary birth celebrations in 1974. Bruce Lawrence concedes that the work is a forgery but contains crystals mixed with Pebbles. He also states that this work was authored between 1325 A.D. and 1357 A.D., but cities no source in his support. According to him, the Fawaid ul-Faud was compiled for the perusal of intellectuals while Afzal ul-Fawaid touches the heart of the commoners. This is not acceptable because such fabricated works are misleading. (ef. Bruce Lawrence, in Amir Khusravi Dehlavi, ed. Zoe Ansari, Delhi reprint 1991, pp.124-125)

Likewise, another work, ‘Qissa-i-Chahardarwesh is wrongly attributed to Khusrau. It is Mir Aman of Delhi who called his work Bagh-o-Bahar as the urdu translation of Amir Khusrau’s Qissa-i-Chahar Darwesh. Maulvi Abedut Haque, popularly known as Baba-i-urdu established the fact that Qissa-i-Chahar Darwesh was written by another person who mentions his pseudonym as safi in the Hamd (praise of God). Convinced by Baba-i-urdu’s research, Wahid Mirza also calls it a work wrongly attributed to Khusrau. Further he points out the words and terms that got currency during the Mughal period. (ef. Life and works of Amir Khusravi, p.150).

Lastly, a word may be added about Khusrau’s in prose writing. In 1927, Muhammad Habib called Khusrau’s style artificial in his work on Amir Khusrau. He writes: “Poetry was Amir Khusrau’s mother-tongue; prose he wrote with difficulty and effort…”. Impressed by Habib’s remark, all the modern writers, including Wahid Mirza hold that Khusrau had no special aptitude for this branch of literature. This is not correct, in fact, in Khusrau’s age to write in a florid and rhetoric style was considered the proof of its writer’s command over the language. It was regarded an exercise into intellectualism. Being an individualist and literary genius, Khusrau could not imitate any other writer’s style, but invented his own style that become more and more pompous since 1272, when he wrote the preface of his first diwan ‘Tuhfat ul-Sighar’. This style fascinated the later writers who compiled the history of the great rulers. In Iran, Wassaf wrote the history of the successors of Chengis khan in the same florid style. In India, Abul Fazl and Alidual Hamid Lahori compiled the history of Emperor Akbar and Emperor Shah Jahan respectively in an ornate style. This style is considered insipid by modern scholars.