By Nasrin Askari


Amīr Khusraw, Dīvān-i Ghurrat al-kamāl. Double-page illumination, ff. 1b-2a. MS Elliott 79, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Read the full working paper here.

Nicknamed as the “Parrot of India” for his exceptional eloquence, Amīr Khusraw of Delhi (1253–1325) wrote elaborate prose introductions to all his dīvāns, but the one he wrote to his Ghurrat al-kamāl (The Full Moon of Perfection) — compiled around 1293–94, at the approximate age of 43 — is particularly important because of his critique of Arabic and Persian poetry in general, and the critique of his own writing in particular. As a literary critique by an author of Turko-Indian background, who emulated the styles of various great Persian poets from Ghazni (in modern-day Afghanistan) to Shiraz and Isfahan (in modern-day Iran), to Ganja (in modern-day Azerbaijan), Amīr Khusraw’s work would provide valuable insights into the literary sphere of the medieval Persianate world. The present paper summarizes the author’s first part of the introduction to his third dīvānGhurrat al-kamāl (The Full Moon of Perfection), followed by an English translation of the section where he critiques his own poetry and prose.

Amīr Khusraw was a well-known poet, author, literary critic, and musician, who was born in India to a Turkic military officer and an Indian mother. In 1272–73, he became a disciple of the prominent Sufi master of Delhi, Niẓām al-Dīn Awliyā of the Chishtī order and maintained the relationship until his master passed away in 1324. Amīr Khusraw served different royal courts in India, but he wrote most of his works under the patronage of sultans Jalāl-al-Dīn Khaljī (1290–96) and ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Khaljī (1296–1315). He was a prolific writer in both poetry and prose, and his ability to write in Arabic, Persian, and pre-modern Indian vernaculars set him apart from other Persian-speaking poets of the time. His five dīvāns (poetry collections) contain poems in a variety of forms, but, along with his friend and rival Amīr Ḥasan Dihlavī (1253–1328), he is particularly associated with the Indian ghazal (lyric poem).

Typical of Amīr Khusraw’s style of writing, the title Ghurrat al-kamāl, conveys several meanings. Ghurrat is an Arabic term, which refers to a number of related concepts: the new moon, the beginning of the lunar month, the beginning of a book, the beauty (i.e., whiteness) of the face, the brightness of the face of the faithful on the day of judgement, a white spot on the forehead of a horse, the most excellent item in a category or group, a noble person, and anything that is brilliantly outstanding. Kamāl is also an Arabic term, which means “perfection.” In view of Amīr Khusraw’s particular way of choosing titles for his works, and the opening verse of the work under discussion, “The Full Moon of Perfection” would seem to reflect the author’s first intended meaning best.

The titles Amīr Khusraw chose for his five dīvāns allude to the different stages of his life and career. He entitled his first dīvānTuḥfat al-ṣighār (A Gift from the Novice), his second dīvān is entitled Vasaṭ al-ḥayāt (The Middle of Life), the Ghurrat al-kamāl (The Full Moon of Perfection) is his third dīvān, his fourth dīvān is entitled Baqiyat al-naqiya (The Remainder of the Exquisite), and his fifth dīvān, which he compiled just before his death, is entitled Nihāyat al-kamāl (The Utmost Perfection). Since the title of the fifth work suggests that he considered his utmost perfection to have taken place toward the end of his life, the title Ghurrat al-kamāl can also be translated as the Rising Moon of Perfection, that is, the beginning of an illustrious career. If ghurrat is taken to mean the introduction to a book, the title can also mean The Preface to the Book of Perfection, that is, the book of Amīr Khusraw’s illustrious career. And, referring to the glorious status he had achieved when he completed his Ghrrat al-kamāl, the title can also mean The Illustrious Perfection.

However, since short vowels are not shown in the original script, ghurrat can also be read as ghirrat, meaning “promise,” “deception,” and “imperfect.” In this reading, the title would mean “The Promise of Perfection,” “Deceptive Perfection,” and “Imperfect Perfection.” As explained below, Amīr Khusraw considered himself a master in certain areas of writing and novice in others and thus called himself a “half-complete” master. This view of his own writing skills is brilliantly reflected in the title he chose for this work and the paradoxical meanings it conveys.