Let’s start this time with a poem
I have become you, and you, me”
I am the body, you the soul
So that no one can say hereafter, that you are one person, and I, someone else.
My heart is a wanderer in love, may it ever remain so,
My life’s been rendered miserable in love,
“may it grow more and more miserable
This poem was written by the Amir Khosrau, who we will get to him in a minute.
The Sounds of Unfamiliarity – An Invitation to Stick Around
For many first-timers who come to India, Delhi is perceived no more than a giant big busy hub. Actually, not only for first-timers but also for many second and third-timers too. Booking a flight, a bus, a train or any other mean of transport to get away from the city would be the first thing to do for many people when arriving in Delhi. While doing so you might end up in one of Delhi’s central train station in Nizamuddin neighborhood at south Delhi
This post is an invitation for you to stop before you hop on the train. It’s an invitation for you to re-schedule your travel bookings. It is an invitation to listen closely to some of the most unique and unexpected sounds Delhi has to offer, and to a voice that has played such a significant role in shaping Delhi and India’s culture, especially in music and poetry. This voice can indeed be heard elsewhere in India since it belongs to the century’s long tradition of Sufism, but in Delhi, inside the Nizamuddin Dargah (the Sufi saint’s tomb and shrine), is where we suggest you visit
This is the most appropriate place to listen to the voice of Amir Khosrau
Amir Khusro with his Master Auliya Nizamuddin
!To get into the right mood, listen to one of the videos posted below while you read this post. Enjoy
Amir Khusro was one of the most creative poets who ever lived in India. He was born in 1285 in a small village called Patiyali in Uttar Pradesh, right in the middle of the road connecting Delhi and Lucknow, fairly close to the Ganga river bank. He died in 1325 and was buried in Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi, next to his spiritual mentor -Nizamuddin Auliya.
For Khusro, Nizamuddin Auliya was not just a spiritual mentor, but a direct channel towards God. This deep and devotional relationship between the disciples to their master is the core principle in the Islamic Sufi order, which Khusro belonged to. This, unique pairing, called Pir– Murid (disciple-master) relationship, is a unique bond that stands in the heart of the practices and beliefs of the Sufi. So total and extreme is the devotional attitude held by the disciple that essentially it should lead to the complete elimination of the acknowledgement of their selves. This inner elimination is a source of creation and the highest expression of love
Painful as it may be, it is considered for the Sufi disciples as the ultimate goal of his religious life, his highest wish. Fanna, an Arabic word, is the best term to describe the process of the dissolving ego. The strict boundaries between man and the divine gradually meltdown and unity becomes possible. Love is the fuel for progress. What else can better express the idea of Fanna than the poem above
Amir Khusro wrote his work in Persian and Urdu, but he wasn’t only a craftsman of words, he was an outstanding musician too. This is an artistically lethal combination which aims for the soul, made a great impact on the future generations of India. He is also credited with enriching Hindustani classical music, by introducing various Persian and Arabic elements to the art. Some also claim that the invention of the Tabla (Indian drums) should be attributed to him. Can you imagine the world without the tabla? No matter what your answer, you must go at least once to the Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi where Chishti Sufis gather every Thursday night to sing the songs of Amir Khusro at the tomb.
In the meanwhile check this out this YouTube video with over 3,000,000 views, with a performance by the brilliant Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and listen to the role of Tabla in this wonderful Qawwali
Father of Qawwali
If that wasn’t enough to prove how gifted Amir Khusro was, then you also must know that he was the father of the famous Qawwali music style. The Qawwali parties held in the Nizamuddin Dargah are defiantly something you’d want to stick around for. It happens almost every day as we said but Thursday nights are traditionally dedicated to the songs of Amir Khusro.
What Is Qawwali?
Qawwalis are folk songs mixed with devotional music performed in the Sufi Dargah, as an integral part of the Zikr ceremony. The Qawwali is one of the most popular genres in the Khusrau tradition, and in a way, it kept his fame alive throughout the years.
Qawwali is derived from the Arabic root QAUL, meaning ‘to speak’, which is a prominent feature in the performance that ensures the significance of poetry in the sequence. The Indian style comes with a group of about nine singers and musicians who sett up the rhythm by clapping their hands for the main singer.
The protocols of the Chishti ceremony instructs the listeners to sit still when listening to Qawwali, the same way as a person
would when in the presence of a king
While hearing the words of the music, the audience will find it impossible to sit still, and they are permitted to get up and raise their hands above their heads, moving in a shuffling dance-step. Moving along to the beat of the music can easily get them into haal, another word for ecstasy; however, the listeners must resist the urge of being carried away. This brings up the tensions between formality and spontaneity, sobriety and ecstasy. Isn’t that a familiar conflict? Sticking to a plan that presumes to tell us what is right and what is wrong, what we should or shouldn’t do, or to lose ourselves into the shaky hands of the unexpected?
Should I stay or should I go now?
Back to Khusro and Nizamuddin Dargah
When Nizamuddin Auliya died, Amir Khusrau was not in Delhi. When he arrived back to Delhi and heard the news of his master’s death, he just couldn’t bear it and died just a few months after his teacher. That was in 1325. The only suitable place for Amir Khusro’s burial was near the tomb of his teacher on a slightly raised platform. This platform called is Chabootra-e-Yaran.
As Nizamuddin Auliya, Amir Khusro’s master once said:” “If the Sharī’ah (code of Islamic law) allowed me, I’d have him buried with me in the same grave”. There may be a small distance between the two tombs physically, but it was the closest they could ever have been. In a way, their aspired union had fulfilled itself, and in their death, the mystical journey of the master and his disciple towards God had come to its peak
Quite often, Nizamuddin Auliya would request visitors to his grave to first visit the grave of Amīr Khusro and pay to his beloved murid (follower) the most respect.
Amir Khusro’s domed marble tomb was constructed in 1605. Intricate ornamented filigreed screens surround the small room, creating an elaborately decorated wall. The room contains a tall tombstone constructed in 1496 by Mehdi Khwaja, a courtier of the first Moghal Emperor Babur.
Opposite to the door of Amir Khusrau’s tomb, there is a heavy wooden door leading to an ancient room called Hujra-e-Qadeem usually kept under lock and key, except when Qawwali gatherings are taking place.
Bonus for the Braves
To lighten up the mood and not to finish on such a dramatic note, let’s change subjects to my suggestion for those who want to walk the extra mile, and rebook their train tickets
The area between Nizamuddin Dargah and New Delhi’s Mathura road (as shown on the map) is worth the visit on its own. You will find yourself wandering like Alice in Wonderland, in a distinctly medieval ambience: labyrinthine alleys, crowds of street-vendors, bazaars with cheap food stalls hawking kababs and other delicacies towards the hungry passers-by, and people selling caps, rosaries, religious posters. It is the perfect back setting for Amir Kusro’s poetry
Aside from all this, there is one thing that will raise you so close to the Dargah, that it would be a crime not to go! The well known Mughlai restaurant, Dastarkhawn-e-Kareem, is the ultimate place to finish up your explorations and rest your feet while dining on some of the best food in the area.