Nan-e Badoom inspired by a Sufi hymn of Amir Khusrau


   Life revolves around sustenance and sustenance lies  rooted in bread. Single celled yeasty organisms, continuously  budding, like producing like, as they slowly sustain themselves on the enriched artisan bread flour that I knead along with a dash of yogurt, some milk and ghee, to create a soft dough for preparing Naan.

   Naan means bread in Farsi and is almost universal bread now, for it leaped over political boundaries and found its way to the Indian subcontinent with the Persians, it crossed culinary, class and religious divides, transfixed poets, common folk and royalty  alike. I knead dough determinedly, all the while thinking, listening ……

   There’s a Sufi devotional that has suffused every crack and crevice of my kitchen, the voice of the legendary Sufi mystic singer, Abida Parveen, rises steadily in a Sufiana Kalam. She who once so famously declared, “the concept of being a man or a woman doesn’t cross my mind. I’m neither on stage, I’m a vehicle on stage for passion,” it makes perfect sense therefore that she lends her voice to the Sufi hymn Chaap Tilak, composed by Amir  Khusrau.  This ghazal in Braj bhasha, is so emotive and tender, almost amatory , a  play of devotion and passion of Khusrau for his spiritual mentor, ‘Mehboob-e-Ilahi’, (beloved of God), the  great Sufi saint and mystic of the Chisti Order, Nizamuddin Auliya.

   Kneading dough, listening now to the blooming voice of Abida Parveen and feeling words in a familiar language…….

Chhaap Tilak  چھاپ تلک  All trace of me
Language: Braj Bhasa

I've staked all I have – my wealth, my body, my very soul, And good fortune has showered its blessings on me

Everyone makes a play of devotion

Devotion, Devotion, Devotion

Everyone makes a play of devotion, But true devotion is not achieved

You will know the true meaning of devotion, When you devote yourself to your spiritual master


   Such compositions  carry you to places of wondrous bafflement, like Khusrau’s life as a poet and his devotion to his Master. But then, here I am, I am kneading dough for Naan … The prolific court poet of the Delhi Sultanate who served under five sultans, wrote about the culinary habits of the Mughals as far back as 1300 AD, his notes mentioned that  Indian Naan like Naan-e-tanuk (light bread) and Naan-e-tanuri (cooked in a tandoor oven) were served at that time in the imperial court in Delhi.

   Amīr Khusrau Dehlavi (Also known as ‘Amir Khusro’) was one of the most celebrated poets of medieval India, writing both in Persian, language of the court during the Sultanate period, and Hindavi, the vernacular language of the Delhi area. Also known as ‘Tuti e-Hind’ (Parrot of India) and ‘Turk of India’ for his poetic eloquence and fluency in Persian and Hindavī, Amir Khusrau has been a major cultural icon in the history of Indian Civilisation for almost seven hundred years. The poet who composed volumes of eulogistic poetry for his wealthy patrons, had mastery over many forms of poetry, he innovated in terms of metaphors and similes and was at home creating a variety of music like  bandishes and ghazals. He is credited with the invention of the tabla, the sitar, this Father of Qawwali also created new forms of music like Khayal and Tarana.

   And I am here, seven hundred years later, piecing meaning in familiar sounding words of ecstasy and rapture, the love of a disciple for his Sufi master that appears to transcend known and accepted definitions of love today, a mystic he met when he was but a boy of eight and Nizamuddin Auliya was 23. I am moved by this passionate devotional, kneading dough…

Chaap Tilak in Devanagari followed by translation; Source Wikipedia

 छाप तिलक सब छीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके

बात अगम कह दीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके

प्रेम भटी का मधवा पिलाइके

मतवाली कर लीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके

गोरी गोरी बईयाँ, हरी हरी चूड़ियाँ

बईयाँ पकड़ हर लीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके

बल बल जाऊं मैं तोरे रंग रजवा

अपनी सी रंग दीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके

ख़ुसरो निजाम के बल बल जाए

मोहे सुहागन कीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके

बात अजब कह दीनी रे मोसे नैना मिलाइके

You've taken away my look , my identity , and everything from me by looking into my eyes.

You've said the unsaid (agham = secrets of divine nature), just by a glance.

By making me drink the love of devotion.

You've intoxicated me by just a glance;

My fair, delicate wrists with green bangles on them,

Have been taken off by you with just a glance.

I give my life to you, Oh my cloth-dyer,

You've dyed me like yourself, by just a glance.

I give my whole life to you Oh, Nizam,

You've made me your bride, by just a glance.

You've said the wonder, by just a glance.

   Naan e barbari to Naan e peshawari,  to Naan bya in Burma, to Naan bread in the Americas, such is the nature of bread that it takes on the universal character of wholesomeness, heartiness, where homemakers and bakers alike knead the malleable dough to conjure myriad reasons for families to break bread at a table, sop up a curry or a gosth, and I would like to imagine, possibly listen to mystic Sufi hymns for mindful consumption.

   Khusrau was deeply attached to his Master; besides laudatory verse for his Royal patrons, he began to compose poetry and songs that were spiritually seeking, full of love, longing and rapture. The two were inseparable. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya called his mureed or his seeker,  Miftah-al Sama (the key of religious ecstasy). He asked that he be buried near him in death.

   I scour about in the kitchen cabinets for my cast iron griddle; The word Naan is  cognate with Parthian ngn, Kurdish naan, Balochi nagan, Sogdian nγn-, and Pashto nəγan ‘bread’, but the first time it found mention in English was in the travelogue of William Tooke in 1803 wrote about it. The Persian Naan or bread may have been baked on hot pebbles in ancient Persia and then in Khusrau’s time, in a Tandoor or a clay oven. I will have to make do with a contemporary oven and cast iron for now.

   The recipe for my version of  Naan incorporates an egg to give it the texture and softness of a brioche… so many ingredients, methods, nomenclature, yet, it is as if Khusrau’s Sufi poetry brings all this diversity together, all these disparate parts to yield a unified whole, the bread of life. 

   In his collection of verse,  Bazaar of Love, while comparing discursive learning with poetry, Khusrau is known  to have said, “Knowledge remains veiled by the minutiae of facts, while poetry becomes well known due to the manipulation of facts.”

   Why thus lose oneself in the technicalities of authentic method for authentic Naan, when the manipulation of dough like Khusrau’s very many layers of poetic nuance can create a thing of immense savour and palatability, whether it is something as humble as the Naan or  other things as lofty as love, when veiled in poetry they take on the very meaning of delicious ecstasy.

   A work of patience this is, a couple of hours or more for the dough to rise, for yeasts engaged in mitotic  proliferation , as I expend energy in other things, all the while sufi devotionals trailing me around the house. There I am, sifting sesame and nigella seeds, slicing almonds, cranberries, to create a naan speckled  with hue, Naan-e-Badoom..

IMG_20200412_205919 (1)

Aaj rang hai ri maa, Rang hai ri , More khaajah ke ghar rang hai ri, Aaj rang hai ri maa, Rang hai ri, More khaajah ke ghar rang hai ri
Today there is jubilant colour, O mother! Jubilant colour! At my Khwaja’s home, there is jubilant colour! Today there is jubilant colour, O mother! Jubilant colour!
Khusrau composed the qawwali, Aaj Rang Hai in appreciation of his Sufi mentor, Nizamuddin Auliya. Traditionally it is sung as a closing piece at the end of a Qawwali session. 

    Amir Khusrau began writing poetry from a tender age. His genius, innovative abilities and his industrious temperament, enabled him mastery over all forms of poetry. He had the good fortune of getting generous patrons in nobles, princes and kings. He laboured for six months  to write his long, unique poem, Qiran-us-Sa’dain,  that enabled him to eventually become poet laureate of King Kaiqobad at Delhi at the age of thirty six. This poem also got named as Mathnavi dar Sifat-I-Delhi because of the rich and poetic descriptions of Delhi that it contains, Delhi that was the Garden of Eden for Khusrau. The poem is soaked in his love for the city ; Khusrau’s fascination with India’s birds and animals, flowers and trees, its languages and people finds an impassioned expression in some of his poems. But it is his Sufi orientation, love of his mentor where his poetry pours out his innermost self, where some of the tenets of Sufism, which are openness, exploration, forgiveness and loving the divine, find utterance. To constantly seek inwards the deepest dimensions of the self, that eternal self which is in harmony with all that exists or has ever existed is the unabashed genius of his Sufi hymns. This Sufi appears in his poems to be perpetually in a state of longing and in love.


Source: Wikimedia Commons; Amir Khusrow surrounded by young men. Miniature from a manuscript of Majlis Al-Usshak by Husayn Bayqarah by an anonymous artist from Bokhara, This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art.

   The focus of his devotion had asked that they be buried near each other in death, thus when Nizammudin Auliya passed away Khusrau tore his clothes, blackened his face and mourned at his grave and in a few months’ time, in 1325 A.D., he too passed away and was buried near that grave as desired by the master. These graves are a place of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Muslims to the present day. The dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya is located in Ghyaspur, New Delhi with Khusrau buried at the feet of his master.

   Finally, we sat down to supper, to break bread, Naan- e-badoom as I call it. It is soft and it is perfect; it makes supper seem spiritual and in the words of Khusrau, 

If there is a paradise on earth, It is this, it is this, it is this

ترجمه انگلیسی:

 اگر بهشتی روی زمین است ،

 این است ، این است ، این است
Translated from the Farsi by a Sufi friend.


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