Monday, 22 December 2008

Amir Khusro and Indian Classical Music - III

[Continued from Part II]

7. Khayal and Tarana

The word ‘khayal’ literally means ‘thought’ or ‘imagination’. Ejaz-e-Khusravi contains several references to this term. However, little inference can be made as to how such Khayals were performed in that era. Certainly, it cannot bear a close resemblance to today’s iteration. The noted Persian scholar Shahab Sarmadee has put forward the conjecture that Khusro used the term in a more general sense, that is to say, in its literal meaning rather than as a reference to a musical form. (quoted in Miner 1993: 19) Others have speculated that in Khusro’s time Khayals and Qawwalis used to be sung together, and only later did Khayals acquire the status of classical music.

Nevertheless, several musicians sing Khayal compositions whose words as well as music they attribute to Khusro. A prominent example is 'Piya Navelara Paya', a composition in Raga Poorvi.

Amir Khusro’s putative associations with the Tarana run much deeper. One of the most persistent legends of Hindustani music relates to the encounter between Amir Khusro, who was then associated with the court of emperor Allauddin Khilji, and Gopal Nayak, court-musician to the king of Devagiri. Allauddin commanded Gopal Nayak to present the Raga Kadambak for six evenings running. During the entire performance, Khusro lay concealed under the emperor’s throne, and stealthily absorbed all that the Nayak had sung. On the seventh day, he astonished everyone present in the court by reproducing all that Gopal Nayak had presented. However, since he couldn’t follow the Nayak’s language, he substituted the text of the compositions with meaningless syllables. And that is how the Tarana was born! (Willard 1834: 121)

Modern scholars, however, are quick to dismiss this story as an urban legend. One reason for this is that the Raga Kadambak is such a complex composition that assimilating its intricacies merely by listening is virtually impossible. (Mishra 1990: 16-17) At the same time, especially given the significance of such apparently meaningless syllables to Sufi practices, and given also the structure of the Qaul and the Qalbana, we may safely contend that Khusro did indeed play a significant role in the ultimate emergence of the Tarana as we know it.

8. Khusro's Influence on Contemporary Musicians

The last eight hundred years have done much to erode Amir Khusro’s contributions to music. This is so much so that today we have no way of distinguishing his own work from later interpolations in his name. Hence, unlike in the field of literature, for instance, as a musician Khusro continues to remain an indistinct, even legendary figure.

Nevertheless, throughout these years, he has been a source of inspiration to musicians. Many have attributed their own creations to him. Some have sought to revive obscure Ragas traditionally ascribed to him. Then again, the manner in which people have sought to incorporate his poetry into contemporary musical forms makes for a fascinating study.

The composition Hazrat Khwaja Sang Kheliye Dhamaal is a classic example. For centuries, Qawwali and Khayal exponents have presented this in their own respective styles. Traditionally, it is associated with Raga Bahar.

Rubaaidar Taranas are a special type of Tarana, where the second stanza incorporates a Persian couplet or quatrain instead of the usual mystical syllables. Some feature a few lines of Urdu, Hindi or even Sanskrit. Many musicians of the present era, notably Ustad Amir Khan, have used Khusro’s Persian poetry for their Rubaaidar Taranas.

Consider the Ghazal ‘Khabaram Raseeda Imshab, Ke Nigaar Khwaahi Aamad’. Within it, we find this quatrain:
Ba labam raseeda jaanam / Tu biya ke zinda maanam
Pas azaan ke man na maanam / Ba chekaar khwaahi aamad

(My life hangs on my lips, come so that I may live again
For if you arrive after I am dead, your coming shall be pointless.)
Several clips exist of this composition presented as a Qawwali. First, a rendition by Javed Taufiq Niazi Qawwal, who presents it set to Raga Bageshree (the quatrain occurs at around 4.15).
- Javed Taufiq Niazi: Khabaram Raseeda Imshab

Similarly, Ghouse Muhammad Nasir of Pakistan, who derives his musical lineage from the Atrauli Gharana of Alladiya Khan (quatrain at 5.48).
- Ghouse Muhammad Nasir: Khabaram Raseeda Imshab

Ghazal singers, now. First, the great Mehdi Hassan (quatrain: 5.01):
- Mehdi Hassan: Khabaram Raseeda Imshab

The much younger Massoud Wafa and Zaaher Hovaydaa present the same composition in a contemporary, upbeat style (strangely, both seem to have omitted the quatrain):
- Massoud Wafa: Khabaram Raseeda Imshab
- Zaaher Hovaydaa: Khabaram Raseeda Imshab

We have already seen how Ustad Amir Khan incorporated the quatrain within his own Tarana in Raga Darbari. The following is a link to the rest of his rendition:
- Amir Khan: Darbari (contd.)

Others have sung this composition. Here we have Ustad Mohammad Hussain Sarahang of Afghanistan, who studied under Ashiq Ali Khan of Patiala. Look out for the quatrain at 3.28:
- Mohammad Hussain Sarahang: Darbari

This beautifully demonstrates the manner in which the same lyric has been interpreted in so many different manners, indeed genres. It also illustrates how Amir Khusro has influenced creativity cutting across stylistic lines.

Ustad Amir Khan has used several other quatrains of Khusro’s in his Tarana compositions. The following composition in Chandrakauns is one of his most beautiful. It is sourced from Patrick Moutal's page on Hindustani Music.
- Amir Khan: Chandrakauns

It features the quatrain Khansahib mentions in his 1956 article:
Su-e Man Aa Ki Tura / Yar-e-wafadar manum.
Har Cheh Dari 8aman awar / Ki Kharidar manum.

(Come to me O love, for I love thee true.
To achieve thee is my aim, no matter what be the price.)
9. Bibliography
  1. ‘Early Sufis in the Chishti Order’, available online at:
  2. ‘Khwaja Gharib Nawaz’, available online at:
  3. ‘Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti’, available online at:
  4. Anwar, Khwaja Khurshid (1976) A Gift to Posterity, (originally published in The Pakistan Times), available online at:
  5. Baba, Gudri Shah, ‘Hazrat Nizamuddin Awlia, r.a.’, available online at:
  6. Bhatkhande, VN (1990 reprint) Leading Music Sytems of the 15th, 16th, 17th, & 18th Centuries, Delhi.
  7. Das, RK (2004) Ameer Khusro – the Great Indian, Delhi.
  8. Khan, Amir (1966) ‘The Tarana Style of Singing’, available online at:
  9. Miner, Allyn (1993) Sitar and Sarod in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Delhi.
  10. Mishra, Susheela (1990) Some Immortals of Hindustani Music, Delhi.
  11. Saeed, Yousuf (2001) 'Excerpts from Khusrau's Persian Poetry', available online at:
  12. Saeed, Yousuf (2001) 'Some Anecdotes from Amir Khusrau's Life', available online at:
  13. Saeed, Yousuf (2001) 'Some Qawwalies and Folk Songs of Khusrau Tradition', available online at:
  14. Willard, NA (1834) A Treatise on the Music of Hindoostan, Calcutta.


Anonymous said...

The link to the first part is missing. Pl rectify this.

Abhik Majumdar said...

You can access the first part either by going to the second part, or by clicking on the masthead and going to the blog 'home page'. Many of our article series run to upwards of five parts, so it is not practical to provide in every post links to all parts. We hope you will bear with us for the inconvenience caused.

Saqib said...

Abhik mian,

Just rediscovered this wonderful blog.

Interesting article on Hazrat Amir Khusrau. Can you give further details of the author?

It is quite unfortunate that in the age of technology and dependence on 'solid evidence', Khusrau's contributions are being relegated to 'legend'. Main problem concerns the lack of references in Khusrau's work crediting himself for many inventions attributed to him. From the number of his volumes, only Ejaz-e-Khusravi covers music.
I think the earliest treatise crediting Khusrau for many of the creations associated with him today(sitar, tabla, taals, raags etc) was Munshi Karam Imam's 'Madan-ul-Mausiqui'. Further confusion arises with Acharaya Brahspati's book "Musalaman aur Barr-e-Sagheer Ki Mausiqui" in which a Khusrau Khan, brother (or nephew) of Sadarang is mentioned and is said to have been the actual creator of the tabla and sitar.

Very few scholars have actually focussed on Khusrau's contribution towards music, Shahab Samardee, Zoe Ansari, Acharaya Brahspati and Rasheed Malik being the exceptions.

Keep up the great work


A. said...

Strictly speaking, the lines,
Ba labam raseeda jaanam / Tu biya ke zinda maanam
Pas azaan ke man na maanam / Ba chekaar khwaahi aamad

do not constitute a quatrain (qita or ruba'i), but are two hemistiches of the one couplet or bayt/sher. The internal rhyme at the half way and end points of the meter do suggest a quatrain-like form with a rhyme scheme XXXA, and is a feature used by many classical poets within the overall AA, BA, CA, etc, rhyming couplets of the ghazal. Here, for example, is two such couplets consecutively arranged in a ghazal of Mawlana Jalaluddin Balkhi (Rumi):

baagh shudam ze ward e O daagh shudam ze gard e O
zaagh shudam ze dard e O man na manam na man manam
aab guzasht az saram bakht beraft az baram
maah bereikht akhtaram man na manam na man manam


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bohotkhoob said...

Gopal Nayak, according to one tradition, presented the Geet Govind. Khusrau prepared his response in the form of Qaul Qalbana which he did not present himself, but through 12 young students, the original Qawwal Bachche.

Here Munshi Raziuddin presents both the Geet Govind and the Qaul Qalbana: