I am enslaved by the face on one’s allowed to see, driven mad by ringlets no one’s allowed to touch. A thirsty flame licks my breast, and displayed in the distance a refreshing drink no one’s allowed to taste.
I vow to die that you might look my way. See how many have died like me in the bazaar of love.
Amir Khusrau—poet, courtier, mystic, musician— straddled the worlds of politics and religion and helped forge a distinctive synthesis of Muslim and Hindu cultures. His poetry in Persian appealed equally to the Delhi sultans and to his Sufi sheikh, Nizamuddin Auliya. It was appreciated nor only in India, where his Hindavi poetry has survived through a lively oral tradition, but also across a cosmopolitan Persianate world that stretched from Turkey to Bengal.
Khusrau’s poetry has thrived for centuries and continues to he read and recited to this day. But despite his vast literary output, there is a dearth of translations of his work. In the Bazaar of Love offers new translations of Khusrau’s poems in Persian and Hindavi, many of which are being translated into English for the first time. Paul Losensky’s translations of Khusrau’s ghazals, including his mystical and romantic poems, comprise fresh renditions of old favourites while also bringing to light several little-known works. Sunil Sharma brings us many of Khusrau’s short poems, including those belonging to the qawwali repertoire, as well as a mixed prose-and-verse narration ‘The Romance of Duval Rani and Khizr Khan’.
The first comprehensive selection of Amir Khusrau’s poetry, In the Bazaar of Love covers a wide range of genres and forms, evoking the magic of one of the best-loved poets of the Indian subcontinent.
Paul Losensky is associate professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he teaches translation studies, and Persian language and literature.
Sunil Sharma teaches Persian and Indian literatures at Boston University. He is the author of two books on Indo-Persian poetry.
Amir Khusrau (1253—1325)—often also written as Khusraw or Khusro—was one of the greatest poets of medieval India, writing in both Persian, the courtly language of Muslims of the sultanate period, and Hindavi, the vernacular language of the Delhi area. Known as Tuti-yi Hind (Parrot of India) for his poetic eloquence and fluency in Persian, Amir Khusrau has stood as a major cultural icon in the history of Indian civilization for almost seven hundred years. He is especially remembered as the founder of the ‘Ganga—Jamni’ Hindustani culture which is a synthesis of Muslim and Hindu elements. He helped to give a distinctive character to Indian Islamic cultural traditions through his contributions to the fields of Indian classical music, Islamic mysticism (Sufism), South Asian Sufi music (qawwali), and Persian literature Significantly, he also contributed to the development of Hindavi, in which both modem Hindi and Urdu have their roots. Positioned at the juncture of two cultures, Amir Khusrau’s prodigious talents and prolific literary output make him one of the outstanding figures in Islamic, Indian, and indeed world cultural history.
Amir Khusrau’s legacy is far more widespread than people realize, from his vast corpus of Persian poetry that continues to be read in the modern Persian-speaking world (Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan) to this day, to the devotional qawwalis that are performed and listened to in India, Pakistan, and beyond. He is rightly acknowledged as the best Indian poet to have written in Persian, and his influence on later Persian and Urdu literature was immense. In South Asia, he is revered for his contributions to music and mysticism but most people are familiar with only a small portion of his immense body of poetry and prose in Persian, or have no access to these works due to the language harrier.
This has nor been Amir Khusrau’s fate alone. The Persianate world in which he lived, the entire area from Anatolia (now Turkey) to India, no longer exists as a cultural continuum. Though the ruling elite of these lands was mainly Turkish by ethnicity, the language of high culture was Persian, with Arabic serving as the sacred language of religion. But Persian ceased to be a language of learning in the Indian subcontinent during the British colonial period, and with the fragmentation of the Persianate world by the forces of modern nationalism, many poets who form part of the Indian Persian heritage have suffered a similar fate, including the nineteenth- century Chalib, who wrote prodigiously in Persian as well as in Urdu. However, Amir Khusrau’s Hindavi poetry and Persian poetry on Su13 themes are still part of a living and dynamic tradition.
Amir Khusrau’s personality is shrouded in mystery and attempts to piece together his biography can be frustrating. Modern biographers have difficulty resolving the apparent conflict between his professional life as a courtier and his spiritual life as a mystic. As a courtier Khusrau would have had to overlook many morally dubious actions and practices on the part of his patrons, fur which he must have suffered some ethical conflict. Furthermore, while tradition credits Khusrau with a body of Hindavi poetry and the invention of several musical instruments, there is no written, documentary evidence to support this claim. Fortunately for us, there is quite a bit of biographical information in Amir Khusrau’s own writings and in numerous poetic and Sufi biographical narratives from throughout the medieval period. Although the information is not always reliable and the resulting picture of the poet seems one-dimensional or larger than life, it is more than we have for most other pre-modern poets. Getting to the ‘real’ Amir Khusrau challenges us to sort through an overwhelming number and variety of original sources, many unpublished, and to unravel the layers of cultural myth and legend that have shrouded his personality over the centuries.
There are some remarkable parallels between Amir Khusrau’s life and that of the renowned Sufi poet, Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273), who lived a generation or two before him. As a result of the Mongol incursion into Central Asia Rumi fled westwards with his family and ended up in Konya, in what is now Turkey. Similarly, a couple of decades later, Khusrau’s family moved eastwards and ended up in India. Both poets had their origins in the region of Balkh in present-day Afghanistan. There are some salient differences in their biographies: Khusrau was born in India, to a Turkish father and Indian mother, and identified himself as an Indian; Rumi, ethnically Iranian, was horn near Balkh, far from Konya, the city where he was to settle. Also, Khusrau was deeply involved in court life, and most of his Persian writing, whether poetry or prose, is of a panegyric or historical nature, whereas Rumi was not a court poet and his output is entirely mystical. Thus, it is appropriate that Khusrau is honored with the title Amir (Prince) and Rumi with Mau1an7 (Our Master). Nevertheless, just as Rumi had a deep attachment to his spiritual companion Shams, Khusrau was devoted to Nizamuddin Auliya.
In poem 35 in our collection, Khusrau uses Rumi’s characteristic closing signature ‘Silence’, as he rues his failure to turn fully to a life of religious devotion, Most importantly, both were poets of Central Asian origin who deeply influenced the practice of Sufism in their respective parts of the world through their emphasis on the mystical performance of music and dance, and the poetic language in which it was expressed. Both were immersed in the local cultures and wrote macaroni poetry, mixing Persian with local languages (Persian, Turkish, Greek and Arabic in Rumi’s ease; Persian and Hindavi in Amir Khusrau’s). Since both chose to write their poetry in Persian and authored a large body of ghazals on themes of love, there are many points of comparison from a literary point of view as well, although one must be sensitive to the different historical and social contexts in which they were active as poets.
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