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Amir Khusro and the myth of composite culture

By: Saurav Basu
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Amir Khusro, has been eulogized ad nauseum as the shining example of India"s composite culture. Rajendra Prasad, India"s first president wrote: "The beginning of India"s composite culture can be traced to Amir Khusro"s efforts.Our history bears testimony to the fact that it was the result of Amir Khusro"s preachings of other Sufis and saints that the basis and shape of the government of the Sultanate became broader in the 14th century and thereafter. It is not surprising, therefore, that we find among his admirers both Hindus and Muslims" [Rajendra Prasad Correspondence, Volume 20, Page 262]

Today, Khusro"s anecdotes have become almost compulsory inclusions in any standard text on medieval Indian History. TaraChand was the progenitor of this theory in his "Islamic influence on Indian culture"; J L Nehru, a non historian wholesomely appropriated it in his Discovery of India. Nurul Hassan and Athar Ali, self righteous Islamic supremacists have also ingrained the idea of composite culture in their works. For such historians, composite culture became the prime instrument of inverting the so called communal construction of history. But at least the communal construction of history was always based on hard facts - unlike the secularist group that parrots away the meager instances of counter culture, in any case coupled with severe bowdlerizations, text torturing, suppression and even destruction of contrary evidence. They call themselves social scientists, but their dogmas in preventing any criticism of Islamic intolerance would even put Galileo"s persecutors to shame. Since these groups, profoundly influenced by Marxist and postmodern ideas, deny any objective history, and rely exclusively on subjective viewpoints one should have expected them to accept alternative interpretations of the right based on the same resources. But no, to these secularist Marxists and pomos, their subjectivity canvasses all objectivity - and anyone deviating from their exclusive path are to be defamed and crippled with academic apartheid. The proletarian readers are warned not to exercise their own minds in the interpretation of history based on their own understanding of the sources - for history is too technical and scientific a subject to be grasped by the untrained mind. Exactly the manner in which Christianity burnt alive the heretics like Bruno who chose to visualize the world from an independent secular worldview. This comes from those who seek inspiration from D D Kosambi, a statistician with not even a degree in history and yet ironically the father of Indian Marxist historiography, and J L Nehru, again an amateur whose academic credentials and achievements were at best second rate.

The above may sound like a discursive dialogue but it allows a platform to lay bare facts on the outrage against history. For the communal vision of this great man could be acceptable, but not this intense distrust and hatred for the Hindu. Consider his opinion on Hindu temples:

There were many capitals of Devs where satanism had prospered from the earliest times and where far from the pale of Islam The devil in the course of time had hatched his eggs and made his worship compulsory on the followers of the idols but now with a sincere attempt the Emperor removed these symbols of infidelity...to dispel the contamination of false beliefs from those places through the muezzin"s call and the establishment of prayers. [Quoted by Carl W Ernst, in Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History, and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center, Suny Press]

In another case, his contempt for the phallus worshiping Hindu women is brought to fore during his poetic hysteria while describing the siege of Chidambaram

The stone idols called Ling Mahadeo which had been established a long time at the place and on which the women of the infidels (Hindus) rubbed their vaginas for (sexual) satisfaction. These, up to this time, the kick of the horse of Islam had not attempted to break. The Musalmans destroyed all the lingas, and Deo Narain fell down and the other gods who had fixed their seats there raised their feet, and jumped so high, that at one leap they reached the fort of Lanka, and in that affright the lings themselves would have fled had they any legs to stand on. [Quoted by Sita Ram Goyal in Hindu Temples What Happened to them, Volume II - The Islamic Evidence, 2nd edition, Chapter 8, Voice of India]

Here, he triumphantly gloats at the subjugation of the Hindus

The Whole country, by means of the sword of our holy warriors, has become like a forest denuded of its thorns by fire. The land has been saturated with the water of the sword, and the vapours of infidelity have been dispersed. The strong men of India have been trodden under foot, and all are ready to pay tribute. Islam is triumphant, idolatry is subdued. Had not the law granted exemption from death by payment of poll-tax the very name of Hind, root and branch, would have extinguished. [Amir Khusrau, Mathnawiyy-i-Dawal ani Khizir Khan, Rashid Ahmad Salim Ansari, ed., Aligarh, 1917, P. 46]

And finally, the relationship between the Muslim and the Hindu - verily master and a slave

"Thanks to the perennial well established convention of the world, the Hindu has all along been a game of the Turks. The relationship between the Turk and the Hindu cannot be described better than that the Turk is like a tiger and the Hindu a deer. It has been a long established rule of the whirling sky that the Hindus exist for the sake of the Turk. Being triumphant over them, whenever the Turk chooses to make an inroad upon them, he catches them, buys them and sells them at will. Since, the Hindu happens to be a slave in all respects, none needs exercise force on his slave. It does not become one to scowl at a goat which is being reared for one"s meals. Why should one wield a sharp sword for one who will die by just a fierce look?" [Amir Khusrau, Mathnawiyy-I Nuh Sipihr, Wahid Mirza, ed., Calcutta 1948, Sipihr II, P. 89, 130-131]

Can this Khusrau, who spewed venom on every aspect of Hindu identity, be considered as the harbinger of composite culture in India? True, he used multiple languages for expressing his ideas, and celebrated the geography and natural beauty of the nation. But can they by any stretch of imagination be used to excuse his vulgar portrayal of Hindu gods, temples, architecture, women, culture and attitudes. This is what perplexed R C Majumdar as to how could an enlightened Muslim like Khusro who was definitely not a Jehadi entertain such ideas about Hindus despite 500 years of Muslim presence in India predating him. Why could not Khusro sympathise with the defeated Hindus. Why could he not appreciate their architectural marvels? Why could he not tolerate, let alone accept, Hindu religious idiosyncrasies. Khusro"s literary archive is not surprisingly barren of any Hindu poetry, puranic lores, bhakti ideals, upanishadic mysticism - without which composite identity remains a myth!

Even Al Beruni, the 11th century Muslim foreigner on Indian shores, centuries before Khusro made the humanitarian gesture in expressing remorse for the Hindu genocide committed by his master, the Mahmud of Ghazni. He laments "This prince chose the holy war as his calling, and therefore called himself Al-ghdzi (i.e. warring on the road of Allah). Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims." This assertion comes from a man who had no agenda in pushing concepts of shared identities and openly expresses his disdain for several Hindu practices which he found irrational or superstitious including the monstrous Hindu perversity in using numbers beyond the fourth decimal! For Beruni, hailed as the greatest intellectual of the early medieval age by none other than Romila Thapar there was no hope of any composite culture in India "since everything in India is the reverse of what it is in Islam and if ever a custom of theirs resembles one of ours, it has certainly just the opposite meaning. For the reader must always bear in mind that the Hindus entirely differ from us Muslims in every respect, many a subject appearing intricate and obscure which would be perfectly clear if there were more connection between us." Surely, a lesson our "secular" historians could have learnt and profited from, if only they had the magnanimity in accepting the wisdom of history, despite it being 1000 years old.

Saurav Basu

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