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Celebratory notes

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 | Prerna Sharma

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Yousuf Saeed, director of the documentary Heritage of Amir Khusrau, spoke to Prerna Sharma about the musical legacy of the famous poet

Ek thaal motiyon se bhara, sab ke sir par ondha dhara, Chaaron or woh thaali phiray, moti us say ek na girey

The verses by Amir Khusrau Dehlavi describe the beautiful sky. Such works by the famous poet, writer, singer and musician have inspired many. Aga Khan Trust for Culture has organised a festival — Jashn-e-Khusrau from February15 to March 27, to celebrate the life of the legend and his works. A documentary named Heritage of Amir Khusrau by Yousuf Saeed and Iffat Fatima was screened at Casurina, Indian Habitat Centre recently as part of the festival.

The documentary which was made 15 years back for Doordarshan, was cut short to the duration of one hour 15 minutes for the festival. Yousuf said they have showed living history of Khusrau as described by different scholars, poets and musicians.

Talking about the making of the documentary, Yousuf said, “When we planned to make the documentary, some 15 years ago, there was hardly any information about him on the Internet.

His biography was in Persian, and though I don’t know any Persian, we had to take the help of the translators. We visited numerous libraries in Delhi and other states to know more about him. There is no one who has thorough knowledge about him, every thing about the legend is now only in books and his collection of work.”

A Sufi mystic and a spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, Amir Khusrau was not only a notable poet but also a prolific and influential musician. He wrote poetry primarily in Persian, but also in Hindavi. He compiled the oldest known printed dictionary (Khaliq-e-bari) in 1320 which mainly dealt with Hindvi and Persian words.

Ghulam Muhammad Saaznawaz and his troupe from Srinagar sang a Persian ghazal in the Kashmiri Sufiana style saying that his popularity was not confined to only Delhi or South Asia. His heritage travelled far to places like Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, where he sung and is still appreciated.

According to a lot of musicians, he invented music. Many said his new tunes in sarod and sitar are still used in the fast tempo of Sadarang. Yousuf shared, “Khusrau’s contribution to the Indian music is legendary. From khayal to sitar, and qawwali to jhoola geet, the traditional musicians credit him with many ‘inventions.’ Many musicologists, however, may differ with these beliefs —as many of these claims are not validated by an authentic source.”

Khusrao was associated with royal courts of more than seven rulers of Delhi Sultanate. The documentary also talked about his collection of poems — Tuhfa-tus-Sighr, which means gift of a child, which he compiled between the age of 16-19. “He started to write early. I think, he was born to write,” commented Yousuf.

The documentary also included performances by Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan who belongs to the Rampur-Seheswan gharana and sang a classical composition by Amir Khusrau and qawwal Hayat Nizami rehearsing a Qalbana song, near the tomb of Hazrat Amir Khusrau in the city.

Many Urdu scholars like Gopichand Narang and Tanveer Alvi, also talked about his poems, that are still recited in  gatherings dedicated to God.

On can find Khusrau’s works in Braj, Haryanvi and khadi boli. Speaking on his work in Hindavi, which is still deabated, Yousuf said, “Whether Khusrau composed any poetry in Hindi or not, and whether the riddles and other dohas attributed to him are his or not, is a question that may raised in the 19th century, when scholars started collecting and compiling Khusrau’s poetry. So far no authentic document containing Khusrau’s Hindvi poetry has been found, which would date back to18th century AD. Interestingly, Khusrau himself mentioned at many places in his Persian books that he loves writing in Hindavi.”

He added, “People know Khusrau, but they don’t have  knowledge about his history or any of his works. Still most of his writings are in Persian, Arabic or Sanskrit. You will hardly find a script in English, because of which, even if people want to know about him, they can’t. This festival helps in taking the information to the masses.”

At the screening, a group of people came with suggestions to make changes in the documentary. Yousuf said, “This documentary is about people’s knowledge about Khusrau, according to what they have read and learnt. Unless some scholar, who has an extensive knowledge about him, would not ask me to make changes about some relevant facts, I will not.”