Khamsas of Nizami Ganjavi

and Amir Khusrau

Khamsas of Nizami Ganjavi and Amir Khusrau
Prof.Sharif Hussain Qasemi

Hast kaleed-e-dar-e-Hakeem

Khamsa (Quintet) of Nizami of Ganja, now in Azarbaijan and that of Amir Khusrau-i-Dehlavi has been a subject of comparative study for long among the poets and critics of eminence. An attempt in brief is also being undertaken here in this respect.

Nizami Ganjavi (D. 599 A.H.) for the first time in the history of Persian poetry composed a Khamsa, five mathnavi’s in different meters and on different topics. (He has acknowledge that Shahnama of Firdausi and the works of Sanai have served as his models in composing Khamsa). Thus Nizami actually created history in the annals Persian poetry. It was such a tremendously artistic creation that inspite of a number of great and skillfully talented poets like Sa’di, Kamaluddin Isma’il, Human Tabrizi and Auhadi Maraghi who enriched Persian poetry during hundred and fifty years or so just after Nizami, Khamsa remained unchallenged.

Then it was Amir Khusrau-i-Dehlavi (D. 725/1325) the greatest Persian poet of India by all Standards, who dared to embark upon successfully composing a Khamsa after Nizami. This initiative of Khusrau opened the doors for other poets in the Persian world including India to compose Khamsa. Thus a good number of Khamas came into being.

Nizami composed the following five mathnavis for his Khamsa:

  1. Makhzan-e-Asrar, (treasury of mysteries) a didecative poem, is the shortest and earliest of Khasma.
  2. Khusrau Shirin deals with the adventures of the Sessanian King Khusrau. Parvez and especially his love for the beautiful Shirin and the fate of his unhappy rival Farhad.
  3. Laila Majnun, an Arab story, is one of the most popular work since Nizami’s time.
  4. Haft Paikar, seven portraits, is a lengendary history of one of the Sassanian Kings namely Behram Gur.
  5. Iskandar Nama, Alexandar’s book, is divided into two parts. The first one is named Iqbal Nama, book of Alexander’s fortune. Second one is called Khirad Nama. Book of Alexander’s wisdom.

These two parts are also named as Sikandar Name-i-Barri and Sikandar Nama-i-Bahri.

Amir Khusrau’s Khamsa includes the following five mathnavis:

  1. Matla’ul Anwar, in reply to Nizami’s Makhzan-e-Asrar. It practically deals with the same theme. Khsusrau himself has summed up that he would discuss three things in this poem, the law the path and the truth. It was composed within only two weeks time.

  2. Shirin-o-Khusrau is the second mathnavi of Khusrau’s Khamsa. The title of Nizami’s mathnavi is Khusrau Shirin. Khusrau has reversed it to Shirin Khusrau. By doing so, he most probably, has given preference to the female character of the story. The story is almost the same as versified by Nizami. However, Khusrau-i-Dehlavi related the old romance in a highly artistic style. The most authentic and saught after author of Khsurau Dr. Wahit Mirza summs up that, Khusrau proves in this mathnavi to be a greater dramatist and more skillful painter of character than the old master. Similarly the concluding part, where Khusrau questions the great philosopher, Buzurg Ummid about the skies, the stars, the four elements etc. is very original and instructive.

  3. Majnun-o-Laila: Khaurau have also changed the little of this mathnavi from Laila-o-Majnun of Nizami to Manjnun-o-Laila and informs that: I have advanced close in his footsteps as for as I could. I discarded my own style and adopted his. I wrote after the old model and did away with all affectation, ornamenting my ideas with only simplicity and flow of language. Khusrau further claims that no one could imitate Nizami better than this. If he (Nizami) himself had read my poem, he would not have recognized it from his own, and I see no difference between them except that one is the product of his mind and the other of my soul:

Pe bar pe oo chunaan keh daanam
Guftam qadami zadan tawaanam
Az shewa-e-khud rameedah gashtam
Tasleem-e-hamaan jareedah gashtam
Gar khud bazulaal-e-man shudi gharq
Mumkin nashudiyash darmiyaan farq
Zeen besh tafaawuti nadaanam
Kaan az dil-e-oost een zajaanam

We, however, find some variation in details of the story of Laila-o-Majnun as narrated by these two master poets. Nizami refers to the marriage of Ibn-e-Salam and Laila. Khusrau omits it in his version. Similarly Nizami makes no mention of Majnun’s marriage to Naufal’s daughter. Khusrau includes it in his mathnavi. Nizami, moreover introduces another romance in his version, i.e. the love and marriage of Zainab and Zaid which has been ignored by Khusrau.

Majnun-o-Laila is regarded as the finest poem of Khusrau’s Khamsa. It is composed in an elegantly simple and tender style poem of Khusrau, this love had nothing of worldly desire about it. It was a mystery from the treasure house of soul.

Een kaar na shahwat wa hawaai ast
Sirri za khazaana-e- Khudaai ast

  1. A’ina-i-Sikandari

Events narrated by Nizami and Khusrau in their mathnavis are almost the same. Khusrau, however, differs with Nizami in respect of the assertion of Nizami that Sikandar was a Prophet. Khusrau, on the other hand believe that Sikandar was only a saintly person. Similarly, Khusrau’s A’ina-i-Sikandari also differs considerably from Nizami in several details. Khusrau has altogether left out the conquest of Persia and the death of Darius for, perhaps, it was difficult to tell those events better that Nizami has done. Allama Shibli No’mani calls A’ina-i-Sikandari as dul poem. Those who have gone through these two works of Nizami and Khusrau conclude that Khusrau has been less successful here than elsewhere in rising up to the level of the great master. Khusrau’s heroic passages lack that vigour which Nizami’s have so abundantly.

  1. Hasht Bahist (the eight paradises)

It is the best poem of Khsurau’s Khamsa composed in imitation of Nizami’s Haft Paikar. It narrates the romantic life of Bahram Gur, the old Persian King known for his hunting expenditions. Khusrau says about his mathnavi that: The poem is an echo of that old work and contains all the wealth which the old treasure has got. Honey, no doubt, is valuable but vinger also has its purchasers, the pearl is costly, yet amber also possesses some value… And even if there be no real gold in this poem, it has the glitter of gold. A flower seller likes the garden, a wood cutter prefers a of theory trees. The bird of the desert that eats stones considers stones more valuable than pearls:

Een namooneh keh naqsh-e-pur kaar ast
Az taraaz-e- kuhan namoodaar ast
Harcheh dar ganj-e-peesh pinhaa ast
Ham ayyaarash daroon-e-een kaan ast
Garcheh aayad za angbeen kaari
Sar keh raaham buwad khareedaari
Garcheh gohar baqeemat ast azeez
Qeemati hast kuhrabaa raa neez
Een raqm ka-andar wa safaai hast
Garcheh zar neest zar nigaari hast
Khush bood gulfarosh raa bustaan
Khaar kash raa hawaa-e-khaaristaan

It is formed by the seven stories told by the seven princesses all of which are apparently original and entertaining.

This is the real position of Khsmsas of Nizami and Khusrau. Now let me refer to some other points about these two Khamsas which would again help to ascertain the positions of the two. Nizami produced his Khamsa in not less than twenty seven years. He, except this Khamsa, did not leave any other work worth mentionaing.
Khusrau, on the other hand was enormously productive. All of his literary creations are about three times more than that of Nizami. Nizami, as mentioned just now, consumed twenty seven years to compose Khamsa, but Khusrau hastened to complete it only with in the course of a little more that two years (698-701 A.H.). One can not ignore the reason for this haste in composing the Khamsa by Khsurau as given by Dr. Wahid Mirza. He says in this regard:

Khusrau, perhaps, latter on realized the comparative futility of his attempt and getting tired of the monotonous mathnavi verse, hurried through the task as soon as possible.

But most probably, Khusrau as a great poet and a literary critic realized the fact that Nizami’s Khamsa is endowed with original concerts, quaint similes and metaphors, picturesque and inclodious phrases and vigorous expressions. And it is difficult to successfully imitation. And so he got hastily rid of this job. This submission by Khurau also supports this view.

“With this alphabet, which may amuse children, I have written an imitation of the great master’s work. If it is not sweet, there is music in it, if there is no life in it, there is a skeleton. From his birth place Ganja, he scattered out the five treasures and with those five, I want to match my own strength, so that the wise one may say to me: Bravo! Thou worthy pupil of Nizami.

Khusrau has acclaimed the verse of Nizami as like a pearl in its purity and the whole world is full of the pearls scattered by him:

Nazm-e-Nizaami be lataafat choo dur
Wa-za dr-e-oo sar ba-sar aafaaq pur
Pukhta az-o-shud maani tamaam
Khaam bood pukhtan soda-e-khaam

Khusrau also recognizes the light he received from Nizami to traverse the literary path:

Noor  keh az khuwaajah nizaamam raseed
Kaar az aan roo beh nizaamam raseed

This is what Khusrau has judiciously declared about the Khamsa of Nizami and that of his own. There are some poets and scholars who have expressed themselves on this topic.

There was one Ubaid, a poet associated with the court of Mohd. Tughlaq. His remarks about Khamsa of Khusaru that.

Ghalat uftaad Khusrau raa za khaami
Keh sakbaa pukht dar yak deeg-e-Nizaami

(a stew cooked in Nizami’s pot and a foolish self conceit) in nothing but a jealous out cry of a contemporary.

Khusrau was seriously studied at the court of Heart. Mirza Bayasangar (D. 837 A.H.) son of Shah Rukh Mirza and brother of Olugh Begh Timuri was the ruler of Heart. He was a poet himself and had every developed literary taste. He was very much interested in Khusrau’s workd. After ceaseless effort, he succeeded in collecting 120,000 verses of Khsurau. But having subsequently discovered 2000 more from his ghazals, he concluded that it would be difficult for him to collect the complete world of Khsurau and so gave up the idea forever.

Mirza Bayasangar preferred Khamsa of Khusrau’s over Nizami’s. But his brother Olugh Begh did not agree with him.

Just to conclude, there in no other way but to accept Khusrau’s view that, though he has successfully imitated Nizami, yet preference be given to the Nizami’s creation.
I would like to add to it that both in India and Iran, among the numerous Khamsas composed by various poets, the Khamsa of Khusrau is better and far better by all standard.

Bibliography :

  1. The Life & Works of Amir Khusrau! Dr. Wahid Mirza.Dehlavi, Adabiyat-i-Delhi, Delhi, 2012.
  2. Majnun-o-Laila; Amir Khusrau, Lucknow, 1880.
  3. Shekul Ajam; Shibhi Nomai, Azangar, 1942.
  4. Hasht Bahist: Amir Khusaru, Lucknow 1873.
  5. Muntakhabat Tawarikh, Mullaa