Amir Khusro and the Art of Cryptic Crosswords

Amir Khusro was a genius and a polymath. And arguably a leading cryptic crossword exponent of his time, in the form then known to us. Not only is he credited with inventing the sitar and tabla (both of which I tried to learn for some time), but he also invented the Qawwali and developed the ghazal. He was a poet par excellence, and it was due to his influence that Hindustani classical music today has that Libertarian delicacy and flexibility which makes it far superior in creativity in comparison with the rigidity of Carnatic classical, which refused such advances, and remained strictly Ximenean.

He composed riddles which relied heavily on the cross-nature of words common to Hindi and Persian meaning different things in the two languages. For example, नार means “woman” in Hindi and “fire” in Persian. The juxtaposition of these two ideas is quite poetic, one may say… He was equally fluent in Arabic and Sanskrit. His riddles can be classified as Double definitions, Cryptic definitions and limerick-like puns. Here are some examples (answers at the end):


These are typically double definitions. The answer is a phrase in the form “something was not present” (“उत्तर ना था”) where the उत्तर is a word with double definition with different roots.

  1. A) A) राजा प्यासा क्यूँ? गधा उदासा क्यूँ? (2,1,1)
  2. B) B) अनार क्यूँ ना चखा? वज़ीर क्यूँ ना रखा? (2,1,1) 


These are verses, which will hide the answer a la a telescopic clue, or present the idea as a cryptic definition. Every line is punny, and can be read with a surface reading and a cryptic reading. I will give the surface reading; you can figure out the cryptic reading by solving, or seeing the answer.


एक कहानी मैं कहूँ,

तू सुनले मेरे पूत;

बिना परों के उड़ गयी,

वो बाँध गले में सूत (3)

I tell a tale / O hark my son / She flew sans wings / with her neck in strings


एक गुणी ने यह गुण कीना,

हरियल पिंजरे में दे दीना;

देखो जादूगर का कमाल,

डाले हरा, निकाले लाल (2)

An act of a Sage / Put a parrot in a cage / Then a wonder, it’s said/ Put in green, came out red


एक पुरुख़ है सुंदर मूरत,

जो देखे वो उस की सूरत;

फ़िक्र पहेली पाई ना,

बूझन लागा आई ना? (3)

This man is handsome / Everyone gazes at his face / I was stumped and couldn’t figure out / Began to think but the riddle didn’t reveal herself


सावन भादों बहुत चलत है

माघ पूस में थोड़ी,

आमिर ख़ुसरौ यूँ कहे,

तू बूझ पहेली मोरी (2)

In the monsoon season it runs riots / But much less in winter / Amir Khusro puts it thus / to you to figure out my riddle


This is a “Say-Denial”, typically a conversation between two female-friends. The first three lines are cryptic in nature spoken by the first female. The fourth line is a misleading guess by the second female. The fifth line reveals the answer in a punny manner by the first female again.


रात समय वो मेरे आवे

भोरे भाए वो घर उठी जावे

ये अचरज है सब से न्यारा

तेरा साजन?

ना सखी, तारा! (2)

He comes in the night to me
By morn, he leaves my abode
This irony is indeed cute…
Is it your lover?
No dear, yours!


  1. A) लोटा ना था (There was no “pot” for the king / The donkey couldn’t “roll” in the hay)
  2. B) दाना ना था (There was no “seed” / He was not “wise”)
  3. C) पतंग (CD)
  4. D) पान (CD)
  5. E) आईना (Telescopic)
  6. F) मोरी (Telescopic DD: मोरी means a drainage canal or a moat)
  7. G)  तारा (Star / Your)

Hope you enjoyed these. 🙂

There are very many ones attributed to him, as they were passed on orally, from qawwal to qawwal. Not all of them are authentic. The one’s I’ve shared are the ones most popular in my household.


~ by Bombadil on August 23, 2015.

2 Responses to “Amir Khusro and the Art of Cryptic Crosswords”

  1. Nice Bomb! I took the paan one as chilli… Green chilli ripening and becoming red. But paan is defymore apt

  2. 🙂 Glad to know you found it nice…

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