Saturday, May 9, 2015

River of the Virtuous People - Qasida by Amir Khusrau

Recently while browsing through my copy of Life, Times and Works of Amir Khusrau, I came across a short essay on a qasida titled Bahr-ul-Abrar.  This was one of Khusaru's well-known qasidas and it invited both the approbation and the envy of his peers and successors.  Among the poets who praised it was Nur ad-din Jami who composed a qaseeda in its imitation titled Lujjat-ul-Asrar (depth of the mysteries).

Khusrau said about Bahr-ul-Abrar:  If my works were to be totally lost except this qasida, it will hardly worry me, because whoever reads it will appreciate my value and my talent in the intellectual community.

The author of the above-mentioned essay, Professor Khalilullah Khalili (1907–1987), introduces the qasida thus:

"I prefer to know Khusaru through only one of his works, rather than all his works, because it will require a long time ... to study his works and trace their characteristics.... In Bahr-ul-Abrar he has described the primary duties and functions of a human being. He emphasizes that if human beings are seduced and misled they tend to be the worst of creatures; otherwise they are the gems of the crown of creation. In Bahr-ul-Abrar he is not only a person attached to the threshold of Khwaja Nizamuddin but he is a teacher who with a far reaching voice is the harbinger of discipline, equality, relation of man with man and universal brotherhood."

He goes on to make an interesting observation about Ameer Khusrau's use of imagery of empire and power in the beginning of the qasida: Even though Khusrau was intimately connected with the courts of several kings and princes, in his poetry he regarded wordily power as worthless.

The qasida is a collection of twenty-five standalone couplets, each encapsulating a deep spiritual insight into some aspect of life. Notwithstanding that we don't have music to accompany it, I thought it would be apt to share parts of the qasida here. — Bohotkhoob.

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قصیدهٔ بحر ابرار
 این تلخ می که هست دل مرده را حیات
زهر است در دهان حریفان بد فعال

The River of Virtuous People 
It is the bitter wine that will give life to the dead soul
and will act like poison in the mouth of the viscous rival
Qasida by Hazrat Amir Khursau

کوس شه خالی و بانک غلغلش درد سر است
هر که قانع شد به خشک و ترشهٔ بحر وبر است

The Drum of the King is Empty and causes Headache when Struck
Who is Content with the Dry (Bread) and the Wet (Water) Rules the Sea and the Land

تا ز هر بادی به جنبی ، پا به دامن کش چو کوه
کادمی مشتی غبار و عمر باد صرصر است

The Wind may not Always Blow Tenderly, You Must Stand on Your Feet as Firm as a Mountain
For Man is but a Handful of Dust and Life is like a Boisterous Wind 

دولت آن نبود که سلطان را پرستی چون سگان
خدمت درویش کن کاین مایه فراذ فرتر است

You Cannot Earn Wealth and Status by Worshiping the King like a Dog
Be at the Service of a Dervish for This is a More Respectable Way of Reaching Glory

مرد بینا در گلیم و پادشاه عالم است
تیغ خفته در نیام و پاسبان کشور است

A Man with Insight Even if he is Covered in Rugs Rules the World
The Sword may be Sheathed and Yet it Protects the Country

پیر ار از نامردای رگ چو پیدا شد ز پوست
بهر تعلیم مریدان، راستی را مسطر است

If the Veins become Visible on the Thin Body of the Old Teacher
They Serve the Purpose of a Lined Table for Teaching Truth to the Disciples

جعفر آن باشد که طیار ازفلک بیرون پرد
نی کسی کاو بال را طیار سازد جعفر است

Jafar Must Fly Beyond the Wordly Sky
None can be Jafar Simply by Preparing Wings to Glide Away

نفس خاک تست هر گه نور بر تو تافتست
سایه زیر پابود هر گه که برتارک خور است

The Nafs (Ego) eats Dust when the Radiance sheds Lustre on it
The Shadow Falls under the Feet when the Sun Shines over the Head

در تصوف ، رسم جستن، خنده کردن بر خود است
در تیمم مسح کردن خاک کردن برسر است

By Becoming a Ritualist in the Mystic Way of Life One Ridicules Oneself
Masah on the Head while doing Tayammum is like Putting Dust on One's Head

رخش همت را فگن بر گستوان از دلق فقر
نقش محراب بکن کاینجا جهاد اکبر است

Armour the Horse of Resolution with the Patched Cloak of "Faqr"
Humble it at the Altar for it is the Waging of holy war against one's Lusts

احتراق مفلسی مصباح راه ظلمت است
ذوالفقار حیدری مفتاح به آب خیبر است

The Fire of Poverty Kindles the Path of Darkness
The Zulfiqar of Haider was the Key to Khayber

هر که خواند علم شرع آنهم نه از بهر خداست
از پی تعظیم میرد اعتقاد داور است

The People Learn the Law of Shariat not for God's Sake
But for Showing their Respect to the Nobles and their Faith in the Rulers 

معنی خسرو موثر ناید اندر مردگان
هیچگه دیدی که مستی در سبو و ساغر است

The Utterances of Khusrau Have no Effect on the Dead Souls
Has One Ever Witnessed Intoxication in Ewer and Goblet?

یاربم تو فیق ده کارم به جانا وقت مرگ
آنچه فرمان خدا و سنت پیغمبر است

O God, Bestow Your Favour on me till I Die
To Enable me to Perform my Duties Towards God and the Prophet

Image credits: Superluminal and LACMA


Maazoor said...

Thank you for this and all the other posts - this is definitely a must-read for anyone with any kind of interest in South Asian music. One request - would you be able to leave a transliteration of the original text as the persian script is not something that everyone can read easily.

bohotkhoob said...

Hi Maazoor,

Appreciate it. RE your suggestion for a transliteration, I fear I might end up making a boondoggle of it if I tried it. This kalam is too sacred :)