City Faith – Hazrat Amir Khusro’s 718th Urs, Hazrat Nizamuddin Sufi Shrine
Commemorating a legend.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This should start with one of his paheliyan, or riddles.
“Invisible, but they call it tender
Feels bad, but it evokes laughter”
Today is the 718th Urs — or death anniversary — of genius, fervent and playful poet Amir Khusro. In Sufism, a death anniversary is celebrated, not mourned, and the celebrations began last night in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, where Khusro’s grave lies. A special prayer is to be offered at the shrine’s courtyard at 11 am today.
Belonging to 14th century Delhi, Khusro died at 72, shortly after his beloved mentor Nizamuddin’s passing. He was buried across the courtyard from the Sufi mystic’s grave. Today, the dargah’s tradition expects a pilgrim to first pay respects at Khusro’s grave before heading a few steps away to Nizamuddin’s tomb.
Khusro isn’t only celebrated for his verses. He is considered the founder of Hindustani classical music, though many inventions associated with him might be a legend. How could one person singlehandedly have invented the tabla and sitar, produced ragas and created the sufi music of qawwali? The Hindustani classical music was borne out of a civilization, but Khusro’s multifarious influences perhaps helped it acquire its Hindustani character, containing many ways of experiencing the world.
Folksy as well as literary, Khusro’s language – a seamless blend of the courtly Persian and the colloquial Brij Bhasha – merged the ruling-class sophistry to the earthier sensibilities of the people. Such duality also defined other aspects of his life. Devoted to a Sufi who was disdainful of emperors, Khusro himself made his living by serving in their courts. The day in the durbar was offset by the evening in the dargah.
Born in present-day UP, Khusro grew up in Delhi with his literary minded nana. His works include Khamsa—a watercolour painting titled “Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi” is in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Khusro also compiled a Hindi-Persian dictionary and composed several wordplay riddles.
The conventional way of commemorating the poet’s Urs is by offering rose petals at his grave. The other way is to settle down at the courtyard there and watch the dargah qawwals render his poems with a vigour so fresh that it feels like Khusro just wrote them. Indeed, tonight at 10, not far from Khusro’s grave, at the Urs Mahal in Nizamuddin Basti, a poetry soirée, or mushaira, will be held with recitations by poets such as Afzal Manglori, Matin Amrohavi, Raaz Sikandrabadi and Iliyas Amarpuri. The dargah too will host qawwals throughout the day, and also late into the night on Saturday.
PS: The riddle is excerpted from Ankit Chadha’s book Amir Khusrau: The Man in Riddles.