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Ghazals: A love language in itself

Also known as the language of the heart, Ghazals have a rich history in music culture and have evolved over the years in a way that attracts people of all age groups. It is raw in its writing, directly hitting one with a wave of emotions. It is influenced by a variety of different cultures and has contributions from some very respectful and eminent writers. One thing that I find very interesting in this art form is the manners and the respect given while writing about your lover or addressing anyone . The humble Urdu language is considered to have a lot of ‘Adab’ and ‘Tehzeeb’ meaning ‘manners’ and ‘respect’, even while spoken generally, it addresses people with authority like ‘Janab’, ‘Miya’ etc.

Looking back, one may eminently notice that Ghazals have passed through several stages of development in its content, form and language. In India, the ghazal was first sighted in the Deccan and subsequently branched out in various directions of India. Ghazal had a vast presence in prominent literary centres like the Deccan, Delhi and Lucknow and it also faced a little cold competition to develop fully however it did fan out through the country finding its different style in each culture.

Urdu poetic tradition was enabled rapidly to emerge in a fully-fledged form in the eighteenth-century courts of Delhi and Lucknow in the work of such masters as Mir Taqi Mir (d. 1810). It is Ghalib (d. 1869) who is now regarded as the greatest of all classical Urdu poets, although he professed to set greater store by his more abundant compositions in Persian.


Ghazal generally revolves around a theme, it could be sorrow, agony, intimacy, love or something that is concerning the writer and the list goes on. The opening couplet of the Ghazal is always a representative couplet: it sets the mood and tone of the poem and prepares us for its proper appreciation. The last couplet of the Ghazal called 'Maqta' often includes the pen name of the poet and is more personal than general in its tone and intent.

Ghazal includes both the written and the delivering part of it. The poet introduces a personal reference into the poem speaking either to himself or about himself in the third person. The motive used in a maḵlaṣ could be the identification of the poet with the lover who is speaking in the text, but also the boast of the poet’s literary skill, the latter echoing a convention of panegyric poetry.

Most Mushairahs were based on a well-known 'pattern' line (or verse) announced in advance, so that everybody's ghazals composed in this pattern were formally identical (sharing meter, rhyme, and refrain). Poets could recite in a plain style (taht ul-lafz), or sing in a popular style called tarannum.

Urdu - The ‘Humble Language’

The ghazal came to India with the establishment of Mughal rule in Delhi by Babur in 1526. Babur stationed his Persian army in the capital and this is said to have given rise to a mixed dialect in the military encampment, out of the local dialect spoken by the people and the Persian used by the soldiers. Gradually, this mixed dialect became the language of the larger group of people and was called Urdu, literally meaning the language of the military camp. Eventually, Urdu remained no longer a spoken language alone and Revisiting the Canon through the Ghazal in English 185 was written, borrowing largely from the Persian court vocabulary and using Persianized Arabic script. Finally, Urdu replaced Persian as the court language of the later Mughal period. With this change, the ghazal also became a popular form. Three main strands of the Urdu language, past its stage as Hindavi, determined by geographical and demographical factors at its earliest stage of development, can be observed: Dakhani (of the Deccan), Dehlavi (of Delhi) and Lakhnavi (of Lucknow).

The Great Poets -

Mirza Ghalib, a great contributor to this literary form. He was a powerful, eloquent writer who studied human life and wrote about its experience with some witty dark humour. His poems are far too advanced for his time and he never did appreciate his lifetime or work. Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, his honorific work include Dabir-ul-Mulk, Najm-ud-Daula. One of his poems translated where he has longed for freedom from his loneliness.

In the lonely night because of the anguish

of the fire in my heart

the shadow slipped from me like smoke

(WS Merwin)

— 'Ghazals of Ghalib' (1969)

Other prominent ghazal writers who made it popular form today include: Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, and a few more.

The ghazal form became quickly accepted in the languages allied to Urdu such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Saraiki and Baluchi and a neighbouring language like Kashmiri, a form in which many modern-day poets such as Sunita Raina Pandit are specialising; it has greatly influenced Indian languages such as Bengali, Gujarati, Odia, Telugu and Kannada. H.S. Shivaprakash and a few other Kannada poets are known for their ghazals in that language. Poets writing ghazals in the English language ranging from Agha Shahid Ali, to young ones such as Maaz Bin Bilal have enriched the genre.

Brief History of Ghazals -

Ghazal in Persian translates to - ‘Sukhan Az ZananaGuftaz’ meaning talking to a woman or talking about a woman. The soul of ghazal lies in expressing your love or describing your lover. However ‘Ghazal’ word originated from the desserts of Arabs, the Arabian art form has an interesting story behind its origination. The Arabs in ancient times lived in tribes also known as ‘Qabilas’ and each tribe had its leader (‘Sardar’) and to sing in praise of this leader the members of the tribes used poetry in the form of sher-or-shayari. Now in the evening, all the members used to come together to form a gathering ‘Mehfil’ to sing shayaris and express their emotions. The starting two lines of each sher was then joined by another forming a poem which is known as ‘Qasidas.’ Because of its comparative brevity and concentration, its thematic variety and rich suggestiveness, the Ghazal soon eclipsed the Qasida and became the most popular form of poetry. In the early medieval period, the most prestigious form of courtly Persian poetry was the qasida, a lengthy formal ode taken over from Arabic. The ghazal thus seems first to have been seriously cultivated not in the courts of the sultans but at the centres of the Sufis, and one of the first and greatest collections (divan) of mystical ghazals was that composed by Jalal al-Din Rumi.

The ghazal is thus itself one of the most striking examples of those successful cultural artefacts, consisting of a seemingly infinitely adaptable combination of essentially simple elements, which are so characteristic of the Persianate civilization of the eastern Islamic world. Immensely popular over many centuries and across a huge geographical area, the ghazal was cultivated over the whole of this world, at least from quite early in the second millennium CE.

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