Amir Khusrao’s India: ‘Love Of Motherland Is A Part Of True Faith’

Sufi scholar Amir Khusrao thought of India as heaven on earth & preferred ‘Hind’ over Rum, Iraq, Khurasan, Qandhar.

6 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

It appears that by the thirteenth century, the concept of India as a distinct geographical entity, came into Indo-Persian literature along with an understanding of a composite culture, and, also with it, a sense of love of the country. The most prominent examples of such patriotism and ideas of a common heritage appear in the writings of Amir Khusrau, the poet-laureate of the Delhi Sultanate.

Amir Khusrau was born at Patiali in the modern district of Etah in Uttar Pradesh in 1253. His father, Amir Saifuddin Mahmud was a Turk who had migrated to India during the reign of Iltutmish, some years prior to Khusrau’s birth, from the city of Kush (now known as Shahr-i Sabz) in Uzbekistan. His mother was the daughter of Imadul Mulk, a noble from Delhi.

Khusrau was a prolific writer and has left behind important works like Qirānu-s Sa’dain, Miftahu-l Futuh, Shirin wa Khusrau, Hasht Bihisht, Masnavi Dewal Rani wa Khizr Khan, Matlau’l Anwar, I’jaz-i KhusravI, Khazainu-l Futuh and Nuh Sipihr.

How Amir Khusrao Could ‘Prove’ That Hind Was The Best

Although in almost all these works Khusrau has left behind statements which help us understand his vision and concept of India, the Nuh Sipihr appears to be the most prolific in the outflow of patriotic statements.

The Nuh Sipihr is a masnawi which was completed by Khusrau in 1318 and eulogises Mubarak Shah Khalji. It appears to reflect most perfectly the ideas of Khusrau about India which he had tried to develop in his earlier works.

This work is divided into nine chapters which correspond to the nine skies or spheres (sipihr) of the heavens. It is in the third chapter of this work that we find a long and detailed eulogy of India. Amir Khusrau proudly asserts:

“If my adversary taunts me as to why I prefer (tarjīh) Hind over other lands.”

“(I would say:) There are two reasons for this assertion (hujjat):”

“The first reason is that this land since time immemorial (has been destined)”

“To be the place of my birth (maulūd), abode (māwa) and motherland (watan)”

He further justifies the praise and precedence which his motherland deserves by citing a well known tradition of the Prophet:

“The love of motherland is an essential part of the true faith (hub al-watan min al-īmān).”

He asserts that this is an essential part of his creed (dīn).

In the introductory section of this chapter Khusrau clarifies that the praise of India was reserved in this section as the presiding planet of both, the seventh sky (to which this chapter corresponds) and India was zuhl (Saturn). He claims that although ‘Rum (Greece), Khurasan (Iran) and Khotan (China)’ allege (ta’na) their superiority, he had knowledge of the efficacy of this country’s magic and thus could prove that Hind is better than any other country. For:

“If the Creator bestows upon me the gift (So that) my easy flowing pen (kilk) may be empowered to express qualities to perfection, I aspire not to leave the greatness of this land on earth (concealed). But raise it to the sky upto the (height) of the heaven (khuld-i barīn).”

‘India Is Earth’s Paradise’

Khusrau then goes on to enumerate seven rational (aqli) proofs (asbāt) of the assertion (hujjat) that India was the earth’s Paradise. The first argument is that after being thrown out from heaven Adam found refuge in this country. According to him, “As Hind was just like heaven (khuld nishān), Adam could descend here and find repose”.

Secondly, India was the land of the peacock, a heavenly bird.

“Had Paradise (firdaus) been in some other country (lit. garden, (bāgh) this bird would have gone thither.”

Thirdly, the serpent, which was a companion of the peacock in heaven, also accompanied it to this land, but as this land was known for its good and beneficial deeds while the serpent had the vice of biting, it was allotted a place below the earth and not above it.

Khusrau puts forward four other arguments, which include the moderate climate of India as compared with the severe climatic conditions of his Central Asian homeland and the tradition of the Prophet that the faithful would receive their reward not in this world but in the heaven while the unbelievers would enjoy here itself:

“Hind was a Paradise for the unbelievers since the advent of Adam till the coming of Islam, Even in recent times, these infidels (gabar) have had every pleasure of heaven like wine and honey.”

After establishing that India was ‘heaven on earth’, Khusrau goes on to discuss the ‘reasons’ of his ‘preference of Hind over Rum, Iraq, Khurasan and Qandhar’ and discourses on the ideal climate of his country, its flowers, and fruits. Discussing the moderate Indian climate Khusrau remarks:

“They (Khurasanians) are deafened (by the excessive cold) and do not listen to the arguments (of India being heaven) (And) instead accuse it of possessing an extremely hot climate. In reply (to this) I cite again what the prophet had said. The hot weather is troublesome and that is all But every one is killed through cold weather.”

Further praising the Indian climate, Khusrau says that it is so moderate that a poor peasant (dahqān) spends the night in the pasture-land grazing his flock with only a single worn-out cloak (kuhn chadaraki) wrapped around him, a Brahman can take his bath in the cold water of the river early in the morning, while a mere branch of a tree is enough to shade the poor of the country.

Prized Gifts of India

There is the spring season (bahār) all the year round in India and thus an abundance of greenery and beautiful fragrant flowers which do not lose their fragrance even after they wilt. Among the juicy fruits of India, Khusrau mentions mangoes (naghzak), bananas (mazi), which are extremely soft; and nabāti bamri (sugarcane). Cardamom (lāchi), camphor (kāfūr) and cloves (qaranfal) are mentioned by him as the dry fruits of India.

Betel- leaf (tanbūl) comes for special mention as a ‘leaf which is eaten like a fruit (mēvā) and there is nothing elsewhere in the world like it.’

He tells us that the betel leaf, presumably an expensive commodity at the time, was something meant for the elite:

“The ordinary people (ahl-i shikam) have no taste (zauq) for it, Only the high (mihtar) and their sons relish it. Its special (preparation) is not for every one Except for the Qutb-i falak (the king).”

Boundaries & Languages Of India

Amir Khusrau’s idea of India and its geographical boundaries, comes out more clearly when he mentions the different languages which the people of this country speak:

“There are different languages in every area (‘arsa) and region (nāhiyat) of this land. Having their own special phraseology and rules which are not transient (‘āriyati) are Sindhi, Lahauri (Punjabi), Kashmiri, Kubri, Dhur-Satnandri (Kannada),Tilangi (Telugu), Gujar (Gujarati), Ma’abari (Tamil), Gauri (dialect of Northern Bengal), Bengali, Awad (Awadhi), Dehli. All around, within the boundaries of this land, are these Hindavi languages since olden times, and all of them are spoken by the people for all purposes.”

It is interesting to note that Marathi and Malayalam are not mentioned by Khusrau. Malayalam had not perhaps separated from Tamil by this time, but the omission of Marathi is difficult to explaine unless it is represented by ‘Kubri’. Dealing with the commonly spoken languages during his time (Hindavi and Persian) and the regional dialects, Khusrau points out:

“Surely! The popularity of Turkish grew similarly. It spread with the Turkish rule on the earth. As it was the language of the prominent people (khāsa). The commoners also adopted it, and it became popular in the world. Hind similarly got its spoken languages. Hindavi is and has been the (spoken language) of India.”

Khusrao’s Patriotism Wasn’t Just In Theory; He Had Mastered Indian Languages

The Ghurids and the Turks came, and Persian was spoken by them. The people when they came into contact with them. By and by (beh wa beh) acquired the knowledge of Persian. The other languages which were there Were constrained to be confined in their own areas.

Khusrau also mentions the linguistic versatility of the Indians. He says that whereas an Indian can fluently converse in any of the foreign languages, people outside India (aqsa-i digar) are unable to speak ‘Indian dialects’ (sukhan-i Hindi).

“The people of Khita, Mongols, Turks and Arabs In (speaking) Indian dialects get sewn lips But we can speak any language of the world As expertly as a shepherd tends his sheep.”

Khusrau’s patriotism was not just theoretical. He claims to have himself mastered the Indian languages:

In most of these people’s languages I have gained knowledge (i.e. learnt) I know them, enquired about them, and can speak them And to an extent, more or less, have been enlightened by them.

(Disclaimer: This piece, in a longer form, was originally published in the author’s personal blog. The Quint has published a shorter version with permission.)

(Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi is the former chairman of Aligarh Muslim University’s Centre of Advanced Studies, History Department. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!