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Some Legends of Amir Khusrau

Click here for enlargment of this miniature painting

The words legend and Amir Khusrau always go together. If one were to collect various mythical stories and anecdotes related to Khusrau's personality, these will constitute a much larger volume than all his authentic works of poetry and prose put together. Though most of these legends are about his passionate association with Nizamuddin Aulia, there are some about his prodigious creativity in poetry and music too. Following anecdotes have been collected from mainly oral traditions and some accounts of saints (malfuzat).

Khusrau's first meeting with Nizamuddin Aulia

It is said that Khusrau, at the age of eight years, was coerced by his mother to visit the saint's khaneqah (monastary) for the first time. When he reached there, he didn't enter at once - he wanted to test him out. He sat down at the gate and composed the following lines in his heart :

Tu aan shahi ke ber aiwan-e qasrat
Kabutar gar nasheenad, baaz gardad
Ghareeb-e mustamand-e ber der aamed
Be-yaayad andaroon, ya baaz gardad

(You are a king at the gate of whose palace / even a pigeon becomes a hawk. / A poor traveller has come to your gate, / should he enter, or should he return?)

It is said that Nizamuddin Aulia at once asked one of his servants to go out at the gate and narrate the following lines to a boy who is sitting there :

Be-yaayad andaroon mard-e haqeeqat
Ke ba ma yek nafas hamraaz gardad
Agar abla buvad aan mard-e naadan
Azaan raah-e ke aamad baaz gardad

(Oh you the man of reality, come inside / so you become for a while my confidant / but if the one who enters is foolish / then he should return the way he came.)

Hearing this Khusrau decided that he has come to the right place and entered.

The Crooked Cap

Nizamuddin Aulia and Khusrau sat one morning on the banks of river Yamuna looking at the people bathing and worshipping. Nizamuddin Aulia drew Khusrau's attention to them saying :

Har qaum raast raahay, deenay wa qibla gaahay
(Every sect has a faith, a qibla which they turn to.)

Incidently Nizamuddin Aulia wore his cap in a slightly crooked way, to which Khusrau pointed and said :

Men qibla raast kardam, ber terf-e kajkulaahay.
(I have straightened my qibla in the direction of this crooked cap)

Har qaum raast raahey...

Dhunia's Rhythms

Khusrau was walking in a market-place with some of his music shaagirds (disciples), when they came across a shop where a Dhunia (a cotton-carder) was carding cotton with his traditional dhunki (a large, crude wire contraption that is plucked and sounds more like a modern-day cello). Khusrau and his disciples were very fascinated with the sounds this instument created and stood there for a while listening to its rhythmic melody. One of Khusrau's shaagirds wondered, "How would it be, Sir, if we were to convert these sounds into words?" Khusrau responded quickly by imitating the Dhunki sounds into the following track in Persian :

Darpai-jana jaanhum raft, jaanhum raft, jaanhum raft.
Raft raft jaanhum raft, aihum raft-o aanhum raft, aanhum raft, aanhum raft
Aihum aanhum, aihum aanhum aanhum raft, raftan raftan raftan dah
etc. etc.

(A literal translation of this into English wouldn't make much sense except something like this : At the feet the beloved, he went, he went, he went; went, went, he went; went there, went here, went. Here, there, there, here etc. etc. One would enjoy the original persian track better if one listens to the sounds of a dhunki, which incidently can be found being used in much of Indian sub-continent even today, including for instance in the city of Delhi. Interestingly, according to some traditional musicians, the above track is also the basis of a specific taal (rhythm) of the tabla ascribed to Amir Khusrau in Hindustani classical music).

The Four Word Riddle

Khusrau was walking on the road one morning when he felt thirsty, and saw a few young women filling their pots on a well. He approached the well and asked the women if they could give him some water. One of the girls recognized him and told others that this is Khusrau who composes riddles and songs. All four women decided to some fun. They refused to give water to Khusrau unless he composes a new riddle for them. Khurso said, "Ok. I'll make you a riddle, but what should it be about?" The women started thinking and each one came up with her own option - one said kheer (rice pudding), the second one demanded diya (lamp), the third one asked for kutta (dog) and the fourth one's choice was dhol (drum). Khusrau is supposed to have told them the following verse :

Kheer pakaai jatan say, charkha diya jalaa;
Aaya kutta khagaya, tu baithi dhol bajaa.

Kheer pakai jatan se....

You prepared the kheer (rice pudding) with much hardword, and lit up the lamp;
There came the dog, and ate it all, now sit and play the drum.

The Sweetness of Verse

Khusrau once read out a ghazal which so pleased his pir Nizamuddin Aulia that the latter asked him if he had any wish to be fulfilled. Khusrau said he wished his verse be filled with sweetness. To which Nizamuddin Aulia said, "Ok, Go get that tray from beneath my cot". He pointed.

Khusrau brought the tray which had some suger in it. Nizamuddin Aulia asked him to eat some and also pour some on his head. Khusrau obeyed him, and claimed that he has attained the sweetness in his poetry ever since.

The Bargain

A poor man came to Nizamuddin Aulia asking for alms at a time when there was nothing left in the khaneqah to be given. The saint expressed his helplessness, but pointed to a torn and tattered pair of sandals that belonged to him, saying if those could be of any help to the poor man, he could take them. The faqir, having no choice, decided to take them any way, and left. When he was on his way to some other city, he met Amir Khusrau who was returning from his royal journey with camels and horses loaded with wealth. Khusrau sensed something odd as he met this man, and told him "Bu-e Shaikh mi aayad, Bu-e Shaikh mi aayad". (I smell my master, I smell my master). This man dejectedly told him the story about how he could only get these sandals from Nizamuddin Aulia.

It is said that Khusrau after seeing his pir's belongings decided to trade his entire entourage of wealth for this pair of sandals, placed them on his head and came rushing to see Nizamuddin Aulia. His pir saw the sandals and asked Khusrau how he found them. When Khusrau told him about the price he has paid for them, Nizamuddin Aulia said, "Arzaan khareedi". (Well, you 've got them quite cheap).

Dance to denounce the world

It is said that Amir Khusrau was once present in a mehfil of Sam’a (Assembly of music-listening) at the khaneqah of Nizamuddin Aulia, when he got so ecstatic with the music that he stood up and almost started dancing. Nizamuddin Aulia waved at him to sit down, and said “you shouldn’t dance, you are a worldly man.” He further added : “If you must dance, then do it in such a way that your hands are raised to the sky as if calling out to God, and your feet should hit the earth as if denouncing it.”


Risking the Faith

Sultan Jalaluddin Khalaji once expressed to Khusrau his desire to meet Nizamuddin Aulia but asked him not to disclose his plan to the saint. Khusrau was perplexed in the beginning, but finally couldn’t keep his promise and told Nizamuddin Aulia about Sultan’s desire. His pir who did not wish to meet the king left the Khaneqah for a far away place on the fixed day. When the Sultan came to know about this, he asked Khusrau why he betrayed him. Khusrau replied that in betraying the king he risked only his life in this world, but in betraying his spiritual king he would be risking his Iman (faith), and his afterlife. The Sultan was left speechless.

Yousuf Saeed, 1998-2003 -- Contribute for our Cause