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Ghazal

As a form of Urdu poetry in the Asian subcontinent

Niranjan Sarkar

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The history of ghazal is already published in a wonderful essay by David Jalajel, here . It traces the very beginning of the ghazal as an Arabic form and then subsequent "Persianisation". In this article, I present a short sketch of the ghazal as it developed in the Indian Subcontinent (now comprising the nations of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan) during the Islamic Mughal rule till the contemporary times of the present generation.

Ghazal arrived in the subcontinent from the Persian influence of the Mughal rulers, around 12th century A.D. Ghazal in India is said to be pioneered by Ameer Khusro (around 1200 A.D.).

One of his most popular ghazals is as follows:

Zeehaal-e miskeen makun taghaful,
duraye naina banaye batiyan;
ki taab-e hijran nadaram ay jaan,
na leho kaahe lagaye chhatiyan.

Shaban-e hijran daraz chun zulf
wa roz-e waslat cho umr kotah;
Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhun
to kaise kaatun andheri ratiyan.

This ghazal is written in a mixture of Persian and "Brij Bhasa" (the local dialect of the north of India, at that time). One popular translation in English of the lines above is as follows:

Do not overlook my misery by blandishing your eyes,
and weaving tales; My patience has over-brimmed,
O sweetheart, why do you not take me to your bosom.

Long like curls in the night of separation,
short like life on the day of our union;
My dear, how will I pass the dark dungeon night
without your face before.

Notice, that the above ghazal is a "ghair muraddaff" ghazal (one that has only Kafiyaa and no Radif), so flexibility was only a matter of choice even then. It is performed by Ghulam Ali in a video clip at the end of the companion essay, "Ghazal as a form of music in the Asian Subcontinent."

The Persian language soon gave way to Urdu as the language of the Mughal rule. Interestingly, it was in the Deccan region of India (now areas near Hyderabad, South of India) that ghazal in Urdu was nursed initially. The earliest poets of ghazal of this period were Mohd. Quli Qutab Shah and Wali Dakhini (around 1600-1700 A.D.).

A ghazal by Wali, goes as:

Kiyaa mujh ishq ne zaalim ko aab aahistaa aahistaa,
Ke aatish gul ko karati hai gulaab aahistaa aahistaa.

Mere dil ko kiyaa bekhud teri ankhiyan ne aaKhir ko,
Ke jiyon behosh karati hai sharaab aahistaa aahistaa.

"Wali" mujh dil mein aataa hai Khayaal-e-yaar-e-beparavaah,
Ke jiyon ankhiyan mein aataa hai Khwaab aahistaa aahistaa.

This ghazal, is more in the traditional format, that we are aware of these days. It is complete with a Kafiyaa, Radif, Matla and a Maqta. Readers not familiar with urdu/hindi, can still notice that the Kafiyaa is "-aab" and the Radif is "aahistaa aahistaa" (slowly, slowly). On further analysis one can also ascertain that Wali has maintained a perfect beher (or meter) for this ghazal as per the laws of Urdu prosody.

A rough translation of the above lines are as follows:

Love has turned a hard-hearted man like me as plain water slowly slowly,
The way the Sun makes the rose bud to become a rose flower slowly slowly.

My heart has been intoxicated by your eyes fully,
The way wine makes people lose their senses slowly slowly.

"Wali" in my heart comes the thought of my beloved so casually,
The way dreams come into the eyes slowly slowly.

It is said that Wali visited Delhi (North of India), and this opened a new dimension for the poets of the north. The mixture of the thoughts and the beauty and the ease of Urdu, allowed rapid popularisation of the ghazal as a form of Urdu poetry from here on.

The next ghazal poet of mention is Meer Taqi Meer (1723 – 1810 A.D., years are approximate only). He is still considered to be the "Ustaadon ke Sardaar" (the chief of the masters) in Urdu poetry. His father was a Sufi and a very religious person. Meer had to face many hardships in life, it is reflected in his poetry too. A ghazal, whose matla is very popular to this date is as follows:

Ibtidaa-e-ishq hai rotaa hai kyaa,
Aage aage dekhiye hotaa hai kyaa.

Ye nishaan-e-ishq hain jaate nahin,
Daagh chhaati ke abas dhotaa hai kyaa.

Ghairat-e-yusuf hai ye vaqt-e-aziiz,
'Meer' is ko raayegaan khotaa hai kyaa.

Again all the parameters of a traditional ghazal are present here. The Kafiya is "-otaa" and the Radif is "hai Kya". A rough translation follows:

It is the just the initial phase of love, and you are crying now,
Wait and see, what more happens as you proceed further with it.

These are signs of love, they will not go,
Useless it is to wash the marks on your chest.

In the honour of Yusuf , this time is precious,
'Meer' why do you lose it as a waste?

(Yusuf is the islamic version of Joseph)

The period between late 1700 to mid 1800 A.D. was the golden period for ghazals. There were many famous poets in this duration, apart from Meer. I mention a few of them in this article: Khwaaja Haider Ali 'Aatish', Mhd. Ibrahim Khan 'Zauq', Momin khan 'Momin', Mirza Asadullah Khan 'Ghalib', 'Ameer' Minai, 'Daagh' Dehlvi and Bahadur Shah 'Zafar'.

Ustad 'Zauq' was the poet laureate of the Mughal court till his death. A son of a low ranked soldier in the army, he had very elementary education in childhood and suffered from illness. He became so famous in his younger days with his poetry, that his 'ustad' (teacher) refused to accept him as his disciple! Zauq was partronised by the last mughal ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was himself a poet of repute. Most of Zauq's work got lost due to the 1857 mutiny against the British rule in India, but some work was later re-compiled and published.

No article on Urdu poetry of ghazals can be complete without mentioning the name of Mirza Asaddullah Khan, better known as 'Ghalib'. He actually used two 'takhallus', 'Asad' in the beginning and then later on 'Ghalib'. Mirza hailed from the famous city of Agra, better known for the 'Taj Mahal'. He was born and brought up by his uncle in Delhi. He wrote in Persian as well, but is known mostly for his ghazals in Urdu. He never wrote for earning money and was a true poet in that sense. His ghazals are filled with philosophy of life in every aspect. Here are three couplets in that flavour:

Maharabaan ho ke bulaa lo mujhe chaaho jis waqt,
Main gayaa waqt nahin huun ke phir aa bhii na sakuun.

Zauf mein taanaa-e-aghayaar ka shikwaa kyaa hai,
Baat kuch sar to nahin hai ke uthaa bhi na sakuun.

Zahar milataa hi nahin mujhko sitamgar warnaa,
Kyaa qasam hai tere milane ki ke khaa bhii na sakuun.

Translation follows:

With kindness call me any time you wish,
I am not like the time gone by, that I cannot come back again.

In defeat, how do the tantrums of my adversary matter?
His words are not heavier than my head that I would not able to lift/bear them.

(bowed down by the weight of shame in defeat)

I am not able to lay my hands on poison, otherwise my cruel beloved,
Nothing would stop me from consuming it, if I ever meet you again.

'Ghalib' influences many many poets till date and his legacy would continue for time immemorial.

From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s A.D. poets started to deviate from the traditional love-struck themes of the ghazal to situation-based, philosophy-based ghazals. The ghazal still retained the traditional 'mai'(wine) and 'shabaab'(glamour) themes, but also started to touch the freedom struggle of India and the topics on life in general. Some of the poets of this era are as follows: Muhammad 'Iqbal', 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri, 'Hasrat' Mohani, 'Jigar' Moradabadi, 'Josh' Malihabadi, 'Majaz' Asrar ul Haq and 'Makhdum' Moinuddin.

'Firaq' and 'Jigar' are very popular poets and their ghazals have been sung by many ghazal singers. Here is a ghazal by 'Majaz', urging the women of India, to get involved in the freedom struggle:

Hijaab-e-fitna parwar ab utha leti to achha thaa,
Khud apne husn ko parda bana leti to achha thaa.

Teri neechi nazar khud teri ismat ki muhafiz hai,
Tu is nashtar ki tezi aazma leti to achha thaa.

Teri maathe pe ye aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin,
Tu is aaNchal se ik parcham bana leti to achha thaa.

Translation is as follows:

If you now raise the veil of revolt, it would be good,
And instead make your beauty a veil, it would be good.

Your lowered gaze is itself a protector of your purity,
If you now raise your eyes and test the sharpness of it, it would be good.

The cloth covering your head is no doubt a good thing,
But if you make a flag out of it, it would be good.

From the mid 1900s, I will pick it up till the cotemporary times. After this time, as India got split into India and Pakistan, so the poets got split too. Pakistan adopted 'Urdu' as the official language, while it is also a listed language in India. Both nations continue to have poets, but in India, due to presence of number of regional languages, ghazals have been started to be written in these languages too. Notably, ghazals have been written successfully in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujrati and Bangla. Hindi and Urdu differ in the source of their vocabulary (Urdu derives it from Persian and Hindi from Sanskrit) and both the languages can be interchangeably written in Arabic and the Devanagri scripts, barring a few minor sounds. So apart from Urdu, ghazals in Hindi are most correct as per the traditional definition of ghazals.

Amongst the poets of the 20th century, Faiz Ahmed 'Faiz' (Pakistan), is considered to be the greatest of Urdu poets of the times. He was very well educated, and obtained a Master of Arts, in English Literature from Lahore. He was editor of The Pakistan Times and was a distinguished journalist. He was a fierce communist. He faced imprisonment for some time, for alleged complicity in the coup against Liaquat Ali Khan. It was in the prison that two of his most famous works were published, 'Dast-e-Saba' and 'Zindan-Nama'. He was awarded the "Lenin Peace Prize" and was also nominated for the Nobel Prize.

A very famous ghazal by him:

Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye,
Uske baad aaye jo azaab aaye.

Kar raha tha gham-e-jaahan ka hisaab,
Aaj tum yaad be-hisaab aaye.

'Faiz' thi raah sar basar manzil,
Hum jaahan pahuche kaamayaab aaye.

A rough translation follows:

Let clouds gather and some wine flow,
After that, let there be agony and anguish.

I was calculating the sorrows in this world,
Today you came in my thoughts infinte times.

'Faiz' the target was in all ways reacheable,
Wherever I go, I return victorious.

Other contemporaries of his time include, Ali Sardar Jafri (Ind), Ahmed Nadeem 'Qasmi' (Pakistan), Kaifi Azmi (Ind) and 'Qateel' Shifai (Pak). There are many more poets of this time, I have named just a few here.

In the modern times of today, Ahmed 'Faraz' (Pakistan), is considered to be the greatest Urdu poet of the 21st century. He inspires many Urdu loving people. His real name is Syed Ahmed Shah. He studied in Peshawar University and later taught here. He was born in the year 1931, and therefore age has taken its toll on him. As on date he is undergoing medical treatment in Chicago, and is stable. He has a simplistic style of presenting his thoughts in ghazal, and even common man can understand the feelings of his ghazals. During his college days in Peshawar, 'Faiz' and Ali Sardar Jafri were at their peak and he considered them as his masters. He was very outspoken about military rulership in Pakistan and went into self exile during the regime of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. Ahmed 'Faraz' left for the heavenly adobe on August 25, 2008 in Islamabad, Pakistan.

One of his ghazals is as follows:

Silsile toD gayaa vo sabhi jaate jaate,
Warnaa itne to maraasim the ke aate jaate.

Jashn-e-maqtal hi na barpa hua warnaa ham bhi,
Paa-bajolaan hi sahi naachte gaate jaate.

Uski vo jaane usse paas-e-wafaa tha ke na tha,
Tum "Faraz" apni taraf se to nibhaate jaate.

Translation follows:

All relations she broke off while leaving me,
Though we had a relationship that would let us meet now and then.

The celebrating crowd at the gallows was not under the influence of wine, otherwise even I would,
Even though chained fully, I would have gone to the gallows, singing and dancing.

She would know if she was committed towards our love or not,
'Faraz', you should have continued to render your part in the relationship.

'Faraz' also has a number of 'nazm's to his credit and they are very popular in 'mushaira's (a poetic meet) and evokes a huge response from the crowds. One of his famous nazm is "Mahasara".

I name a few contemporary poets, Parveen Shakir (Pak), Ghulam Muhammad Qasir (Pak), Nida Fazli (Ind), 'Waseem' Barelvi (Ind), Bashir Badr (Ind), Noshi Gilani (Pak), Muzzaffar Warsi (Ind) and the tradition goes on.

To conclude, I would like to present a short clip, of Waseem Barelvi reciting a ghazal in a 'mushaira' (poetry meet). He presents this ghazal in 'tarannum', a rythm which helps keep the poet in the meter of the ghazal. Notice the 'daad's (the wah-wahs..) as he completes each sher. This is a typical setup where poets gather to present their works to each other and the public in general. The ghazal is translated hard-coded in the video, so it should not be a problem for viewers not familiar with the language.