Quli Qutub Shah: The Sultan who was a sensitive poet

History Contributor
Reading Corner
Quli Qutub Shah
This is the Tomb of Muhammed Quli Qutub Shah, He was the founder of hyderabad , he was the fifth sultan of Qutub shahi dynasty. Photo Salman Masood - Dreamstime.com

Sultans come and go, and cities are founded, perhaps, to be destroyed someday in history. But poetry nestles in hearts across ages. And that is where Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah desired to live, an atypical breed among the general non-nonsense, down-to-earth personalities that sultans and emperors generally tend to be, in keeping with the burden of administration they have to bear on their shoulders.

A successful king in history has rarely been a sensitive poet. Qutub Shah was one of those rare human beings, who could wield his scepter as comfortably as fluently flowed the ink of his quill: Without the beloved the cup can’t be drunk from / Without the beloved life not a moment is worth living. / They say, without the beloved have patience / So easy to say, but it doesn’t work that way. / O Qutub Shah don’t preach to a mad lover like me / Preaching doesn’t work with mad lovers. This rough translation carries the meaning alright, but is lightyears afar from the beauty of Qutub Shah’s poetic use of the language: the earliest form of Urdu.

Quli Qutub Shah’s love for Urdu

Urdu, arguably the sweetest language of the Indian subcontinent, is one of the many amazing results of the Indo-Islamic cultural amalgam. This beautiful language is said to have started taking shape from the late 11th century, during the Delhi Sultanate period. And five hundred years down the line a poet from the Maharashtra and Gujarat region is considered to be the first Ghazal composer in Urdu. But he didn’t emerge from nothing.

Among the brightest harbingers of Urdu poetry was Sultan Shah. “His distinction lay in his being the first Urdu poet whose complete works were published in a book form in one volume—a diwan,” writes Narendra Luther in his book Prince, Poet, Lover, Builder: Mohd. Quli Qutb Shah-The founder of Hyderabad. And the Sultan was not only a poet but a prolific one, whose published poetry “exceed 100,000 lines,” according to Luther.

His immortal works

Standing in front of the grand edifice of the Charminar, the unmistakable landmark in the city of Hyderabad, Telengana, one couldn’t but hum:

Piya baaj pyala piya jaye na

Piya baaj yak til jiya jaye na

Kahit hi piya bin suburi karun

Kahiya jaaye amma kiya jane na…

Qutub Shah na de muj diwane ko pand

Diwane kuun kuch pand diya jaye na.

These fragrant lines immortalize a man, primarily remembered as the founder of the city of Hyderabad, and the fifth Sultan of the Qutub shahi dynasty. A snatch from one of his numerous Ghazals. Quli Qutub Shah: the last couplet, the Maqta, gives away the poet’s name. And it is curious that Sultan Shah in his poetry never addresses himself as a royalty, but insists being remembered as the proverbial ‘diwana’, the mad lover!

Qutub Shahi Dynasty

Qutub Shah was born to Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah Wali and Bhaghirathi in 1565. And before he passed away in 1612, establishing himself as the most able ruler of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, the Sultan had penned a Kulliyat, collected works, running into over 1800 pages, experimenting with various forms of poetry including the Ghazal, of course, and also the Masnavi and the Marsiya.

To those who can’t imagine Islamic rule in the Indian subcontinent beyond the din of battle cries, I suggest, for once try the poetry of this extraordinarily talented Sultan: it’s easily available on the net. It’s intoxicating:

Choli mast khuli mast kamal mast bhanvar mast

Qtub mast kari mast yuvan mast pari mast

(Drunk the bodice, drunk open, drunk the lotus, drunk the whirl

Drunk is Qutub, drunk the roof, drunken youth, drunken fairy).


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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