Amir Khusro is often considered the first Urdu poet. He lived from 1263 to 1325 CE and was a Sufi poet, musician, and scholar and worked in the royals courts of various kings and sultans. He is also credited with inventing the sitar and transforming the Indian drum mridangam into the tabla as well as creating the North Indian style of music. Although these claims are probably exaggerated, Khusro did develop many of the ragas used by Indian musicians of the Hindustani style today.
He was the master of many languages and is reputed to have written 99 books and over half a million verses. Whatever the accuracy of these numbers is, he did write profusely in Persian and is considered the foremost Indian poet writing in Persian, nicknamed “Tuti-e-Hind” or the “Parakeet of India.” 22 of his Persian books have made it through the ages. He wrote an Arabic-Persian-Hindi dictionary in verse which is probably the world’s oldest print dictionary, “Khaliq e Bari.” He also wrote poetry and literary riddles a language called Hindvi, Khari Boli, or Rekhta, a precursor of modern Urdu. Khusro was very proud of his Indian heritage, but unfortunately only a very small collection of his Hindvi writings have survived into the present day.
One of his most famous poems is “Bahut Kathin.”This poem is so popular and well known that it frequently appears in Bollywood songs such as Sahir Ludhianvi’s “Na to Karwan ki Talash Hai.” At the end of this song from the 1960 film “Barsaat kii Raat,” Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics are clearly borrowed from Amir Khusro’s poem, “Bahut Kathin.” You can listen to a performance of the poem, a qawwali interspersed with shots of Amir Khusro’s shrine in Delhi, and follow along with the poem.
خسرو دریا پریم کا الٹی وا کی دھار
جو اترا سو ڈوب گیا جو ڈوبا سو پار
بہت کٹھن ہے ڈگر پنگھٹ کی
کیسے میں بھر لائوں مدھوا سے مٹکی
پنیاں بھرن کو میں جو گئی تھی
دوڑ جھپٹ موری مٹکی پھٹکی
خسرو نظام کے بل بل جائیے/ نظام الدین اولیا میں تورے بلیہاری
لاج رکھو مورے گھونگھٹ پٹ کی/ لاج رکھو تم ہمرے گھونگھٹ کی
khusro daryaa prem kaa ultii vaa kii dhaar
jo utra so duub gayaa jo duubaa so paar
bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki,
kaisay main bhar laaun madhva say matki
paniyaa bharan ko main jo gayi thi,
dauR jhapaT morii maTkii phaTkii.
khusro nizam kay bal bal jaiye/ nizamuddin auliya main tore balihaarii
laaj rakho moray ghoonghat pat ki/ laaj rakho tum hamre ghoonghat ki
Oh Khusro, the river of love, its current flows opposite
He who gets out drowns and he who drowns crosses safely
The path to the well is very difficult
How might I fill my earthen jug with wine
Quickly my earthen jug was smashed
Khusro gave his life for Nizamuddin Auliya/ Nizamuddin Auliya, I sacrifice my life for you
Oh veil of my honor, protect my modesty/ You my veil, protect my honor
The first couplet, or doha, emphasizes the Sufi precept of all-consuming love. Sufism also known as tasawwuf is the mystical branch of Islam and developed as a reaction to Muslim orthodoxy. Sufis aim to drown themselves in love for God and live in this state of ecstatic love. Through drowning imagery, Khusro declares that the only way to find God is to kill your ego by drowning it in love for God.
The rest of the poem refers to a folk theme of women going to gather water from a river and being tormented by a playful man or god which appears in many different stories and myths. The most famous example would be a gopi or cow herder woman going to get water from the Yamuna River and being teased by Lord Krishna. Already you can see in this short poem of just four dohas or couplets a lot is going on, probably why it has inspired art in South Asia for almost a thousand years.