Above the inner corner arches of the Diwan-e Khas on the north and south is inscribed the oft-quoted golden couplet:

Agar firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast 
Hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast
If there is heaven on earth 
It is this, it is this, it is this!

A reference in Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb by Begley and Desai says that when Shah Jahan made his first state entry into the newly completed fort, and as a sign of royal approval, the couplet was ordered to be inscribed on the interior of the Hall of Private Audience. It was after all conceived as a heaven on earth with its paradisiacal char-bagh garden scheme and the Nahr-e Bahisht flowing through the palace and fort buildings.

There are many versions as to who is the poet, the most popular choice being Amir Khusrau.

However, Prof Sunil Sharma, an authority on Hazrat Amir Khusrau, said no diwan or masnawi of Hazrat Amir Khusrau includes it. Since the conclusive proof regarding authorship of a verse is its presence in his collected works – was it his or not?

This led me to research the verse, including spending a good few hours searching the Black Pavilion in Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, Kashmir as there is a common perception that the original verse was inscribed in the Black Pavilion built during the early part of Emperor Jahangir’s reign (1569-1627) on the top terrace of Shalimar Bagh. Emperor Jahangir was a connoisseur of beauty so it was entirely possible that he should have it inscribed.

However, I hunted high and low and could not find it – either physically present on the Black or any other pavilion of the Shalimar gardens, or any reference to it in any book on the gardens.

Where I did find it was in Bashiruddin Ahmad Dehlvi’s Waqiaat-e-Darul Hukumat Dehli in which he says this is Sa’adullah Khan’s famous inscription and it was inscribed on marble slabs below the cornice of this hall by the famous calligrapher of the time, named Rashid.

This made me read about Sa’adullah Khan.

According to Begley and Desai, Allami Sa’adullah Khan, prime minister to Emperor Shah Jahan, was in charge of checking the manuscript of Abdul Hamid Lahori’s Padshahnama, a dazzling performance of literary standards. So, Sa’adullah Khan was indeed a proficient poet and writer himself.

Since Sa’adullah Khan has written beautiful verses on the arches of the khwabgah, and is possibly the author of the rubai in the Musamman Burj, I felt inclined to believe Bashiruddin Ahmad Dehlvi that the writer of this verse is indeed Sa’adullah Khan. After all he was only the second person after Allami Abul Fazl to be given the title of Allami (very learned man).

For me this was an exciting chase and one, which I wanted to resolve. This led me to Prof SH Qasemi, a Persian scholar and the one who translated Sair-ul Manazil [possibly the first description of monuments of Delhi written in first half of nineteenth century] from Persian to Urdu. His mastery over Persian and monuments of Delhi is undisputed.

He claimed to have seen the verse once in the diwan of the poet Mirza Muhammad Tahir “Aashna” (AD 1628–71), entitled Inayat Khan, son of Zafar Khan, the governor of Kashmir. Mirza Muhammad Tahir “Aashna” was a historian who wrote the Shahjahannama (Mulakkhas-e Shah Jahan). This was an abridgement (mulakkhas) of the three volumes of Abdul Hamid Lahori’s Padshahnama, which was commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan.

He was the son of Zafar Khan, who held the post of governor of Kashmir, twice under Emperor Shah Jahan. Zafar Khan was also a poet who wrote under the nom de plume of Ahsan. He was a patron of poets and painters and constructed a beautiful garden called Bagh Zafarabad in Kashmir.

Mirza Muhammad Tahir’s mother was the daughter of Buzurg Khanum, daughter of Malika Banu who was the elder sister of Mumtaz Mahal Begum. Mirza Muhammad Tahir was not only Emperor Shah Jahan’s nephew but also a very close friend and his librarian. He once also served as Deputy Governor of Kashmir in the absence of his father.

Prof SH Qasemi further said that this diwan was present in the National Museum, New Delhi. He referred me to Prof Jameel-ur Rahman, Persian Dept, Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi. Prof Rahman obviously said that we must go and look it up in the museum before coming to any conclusion. He had edited the Mulakhkhas-e Shahjahan-Nameh (abridged Shahjahan-nameh) compiled by Mirza Muhammad Tahir Khan Aashna entitled Inayat Khan and was very well acquainted with his work. Even Prof Rahman was quite clear on the fact that it was not in Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s Diwan.

I was enjoying this research into something that is such an important part of our cultural heritage.

There is a reference that poets had gathered and had written couplets and chronograms in praise of the occasion of the inaugural ceremony of the Qila on 18 April 1648. So, it was entirely possible that the verse inscribed on the walls of Diwan-e Khas could be from one of those poets especially one who was a close friend.

But before we could set off for the museum we had to find out the accession number of the manuscript. Here the Director General and Mr Khatibur Rahman, Assistant Curator (Arabic Manuscripts), National Museum, New Delhi, were of immense help.

Once again, Prof Rahman came to my help and accompanied me to the National Museum. He went through each and every page of the fragile manuscript (accession number 62.999) titled Diwan-e Aashna, paying special attention to the verses on Kashmir but he drew a blank. Looking at my disappointed face he said, that I shouldn’t worry as this was just a first look and such manuscripts needed detailed study.

He went back to the section named Masnawi-ye Saqi Nama, while I kept looking on with expectation. Suddenly, he put his finger on a line and softly said, “Here it is!” On page 88 of the diwan in a long nazm (poem) were the lines we were looking for:

Gar firdaus bar ru-e zamin ast 
Hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast

And at that moment if there was a heaven on earth for me it was that small office in the National Museum where we were viewing this precious manuscript.

In our excitement we only saw that line written there. We realised later that the preceding line says:

Since Khusrau composed meaningful verses,
You’d say he wrote this [verse] for here [this garden],
If there is a paradise on earth...

Aashna quotes these lines that he attributes to Hazrat Amir Khusrau in his masnawi on the Qila e Mubarak (Shahjahanabad) and its gardens.

Prof Jameel-ur Rahman went through all the official biographies of Emperor Shah Jahan and he finally found it in the Shahjahannama of Mohammad Salih Kamboh (d. AD 1675), Emperor Shah Jahan’s official biographer. In the third volume where he is waxing eloquent on the Qila-e Mubarak he talks of its beauty, gardens, the smiling buds, the fragrance and goes on to say its beauty is such that it makes the wise and learned minds go insane; he declares that its beauty matches that of paradise, or rather its even more heavenly than the gardens of the seven heavens.

A mere gaze and the eyes of the insightful can visualise the meaning of Hazrat Amir Khusrau’s couplet, a more inquisitive glance can rob all sanity from the already intoxicated head. From the moon to the fish [metaphorically it means each and everything, whether in the sea or sky] and from dust particles to the sun [here it means that everything no matter how great or insignificant in stature] swear by this meaning:

Agar firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast 
Hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast

If there is Paradise on earth
It is this, it is this, it is this

Though we should never under estimate him, in whose hue the entire city of Delhi is dyed: Delhi’s beloved poet saint Hazrat Amir Khusrau, even in the seventeenth century, many verses were attributed to him since he was a great classical poet. Also, since he had praised Delhi in his works, it would have been the natural thing to do.

Why is it not in his diwan and in what context were the lines written is still a question in the mind of scholars of Hazrat Amir Khusrau. One thing is certain that it was not written for Kashmir as Hazrat Amir Khusrau never visited it. Did he then write it for Delhi?

Excerpted with permission from Shahjahanabad: The Living City of Old Delhi, Rana Safvi, HarperCollins India.