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रविवार, 3 जुलाई 2011

GHAZAL : most popular form of urdu poetry -- Dr. M. C. Gupta ‘Khalish’

GHAZAL : most popular form of urdu poetry 

-- Dr. M. C. Gupta ‘Khalish’1--


The Ghazal developed in Persia in the 10th century AD. It was brought to India with the Mogul invasion in the 12th century. The Ghazal tradition is currently practiced in Iran (Persian), Pakistan (Urdu) and India (Mainly Urdu and Hindi, but also other languages such as Marathi, Gujarati, Malayalam etc.). In India, especially in Northern India, there are many people who may not know the Urdu script but can speak and understand a good amount of Urdu and can read and write the same in Hindi script.

Ghazals have been written in English also, but only sporadically. Often, these don’t follow the strict traditional form. Adrienne Rich, W.S. Merwin and William Matthews, among others, have written ghazals in English.


a—General: A ghazal is a piece of poetic composition comprising of two line couplets, usually 4-10 in number. However, it is rare to write a ghazal with less than 5 couplets. Each couplet is called a sher/sheyr. The plural of sher in urdu is ash-aar. As per the basic concept of ghazal writing, each sher or couplet is an independent poem in itself, as explained below. Writing a full and deep poem within the confines of two lines calls for extra-ordinary talent. Hence, for the ordinary writer, it is OK if there is thematic continuity between couplets.

The main common factor between various couplets is the rhyme, which is a series of rhyming words such as blow, crow, grow, know, low, no, show, slow, throw, woe, etc. The rhyming word may occur at the end of a line (end rhyme) or just before the refrain.

It is worth mentioning here two words—kafiya and radeef. Kafiya, pronounced Kaafiyaa is the rhyme. Each of the 6 rhyming words in a 5-couplet ghazal is a kafiya. The art of ghazal writing depends upon choosing and using a kafiya. Radeef is the Urdu word for refrain.

b—Refrain is not a must: Here, it needs to be clarified that in the classical form of ghazal as it originated, there were two essential features in a ghazal—a refrain at the end of a line and a rhyming word just preceding the refrain. Oriental languages are more suitable for this type of arrangement. But even in them, with the passage of time, the refrainless ghazal has become quite common now. For English ghazal writers, I would advise them that if they can manage with a ghazal using both the rhyme and refrain, that’s great. However, a refrainless ghazal might be easier to write and yet be a perfectly valid ghazal in its own right. An example of a refrainless ghazal is {item:1549039}, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL SILKEN HEAD OF HAIR!—a ghazal

c—Thematic ghazal: This has been referred to above. Though different couplets are notionally independent poems that can have very different themes, it is quite common for poets to write a string of couplets on the same continuous theme. The puritans may argue, validly, that these really represent not a ghazal but a nazm (which may be taken to mean, simply, a poem). However, the ghazal scene and terminology in modern times tend to obliterate this fine distinction. A thematic ‘ghazal’ is now no longer frowned at and is commonly referred to as a ghazal.

d—Arrangement of lines with reference to rhyme and refrain: In this discussion, let us denote rhyme as r and refrain as R.  A refrain is a repeated word or phrase, which, naturally, is constant throughout the ghazal. It appears at the end of both lines of the first couplet and at the end of the second line in each succeeding couplet. The word before the refrain has to be the rhyme. Thus, typically, a 5 couplet ghazal will have 10 lines; one refrain occurring 6 times and 6 rhyme words, each preceding the refrain.

e—Syllabic scheme—A ghazal is always written in meter. The main drawback, as I see it, in ghazals written by many British or American writers has  been their disregard for meter. As a matter of fact, I would rather say that a poem that is not in meter can never be a ghazal. In Urdu ghazal, as also adopted in Hindi, there are elaborate rules about arrangement of words within a line depending upon number of syllables in a word and whether they are accented or unaccented syllables. Even good poets often find it difficult to understand and follow these rules, yet are able to write good ghazals on the whole. In view of this, I would suggest a simple guideline for English ghazal writers: ensure that each line of the ghazal has the same constant syllabic count and that on reciting it loudly, it should flow out, pronunciationally, as a smooth song. The number of syllables per line may be chosen by the writer himself. Common counts may be 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 or 13 per line. Personally, I feel more comfortable with 7, 8 and 10.

f—First couplet— The first couplet has a special name, Matla, an Urdu word pronounced as Matlaa. It defines and sets the mood for the whole ghazal. It has rhyme (and refrain, where applicable) in both the lines. It defines the structure of the ghazal in the sense that the two rhyme words used in it must be followed in the rest of the ghazal as follows:
i)—If the two rhyme words are perfect rhymes, then a similar perfect rhyme must be used in all other couplets, as in the ghazal “MEMORIES—a ghazal” given below where the rhyming words are block, lock, clock, walk etc.
ii)-- If the two rhyme words are imperfect rhymes, such as flame and name, then it is permissible to use imperfect rhyme words in various couplets of the ghazal. An example is the ghazal “Stain of love”, —{item:1689801}, where the first couplet has imperfect rhymes pain and blame. This allows the subsequent rhyme words to be: claim, defame, drain, name, maim, inflaim, shame, restrain, rein and stain.

g--The last couplet is called makta, pronounced maktaa. The poet may use the last couplet as a signature couplet, using his or her name (in first, second or third person), and giving a more direct declaration of thought or feeling to the reader. The name is often a pen name. In my case, I have adopted the pen name Khalish, which literally, in Urdu, means a pain or prick or ache.


There must be some reasons why ghazal as a form of poetry has not developed in English. While the main reason is probably simply a part of the general tendency on the part of the West to ignore or to not take seriously or to not feel the need for or not to try to exert to understand the oriental knowledge and culture, another reason can be traced to certain language characteristics that differentiate English from Hindi, Urdu etc., languages with a rich tradition of ghazal.

In Hindi-Urdu, the sentence often ends with a verb that is split in two words:

I think मैं सोचता हूं

I sink मैं डूबता हूं

Please note that the second part of the verb is the verb-ending that depends upon the person and is, hence, relatively constant. As is evident from the above example, this often provides almost an inbuilt system of rhyme and refrain in Hindi/Urdu.

Let us construct  the opening couplet using the above two words, in a way that both lines have the rhyme and refrain:

बारे में उस के मैं जब सोचता हूं
गहरे खयालों में मैं डूबता हूं

The above can be translated as:

Whenever of her I think,
In the deepest thoughts I sink.

But, as is obvious, the rhyme [think, sink] in the above is at the end while the refrain, I, precedes it. As a matter of fact, the refrain should be at the end. This anomaly can be cured by expressing this couplet as:

Whenever, of her, think I,
in the deepest thoughts sink I.

However, such a construction is, obviously, not smooth or natural. The remedy lies in choosing to write this ghazal in refrainless style as:

Whenever of her I think,
In the deepest thoughts I sink


All my English ghazals are in the folder {item:1260803}. A perusal of the same will further clarify any doubts in the mind of the reader. You are welcome to ask me if you need any clarifications or have doubts.


Various practical tips are explained with reference to "MEMORIES--a ghazal", {item:715911}, which is a typical ghazal having a rhyme and a refrain, with nine couplets (an unusually large number. The minimum number is usually five and never less than four. What is more important in a ghazal is quality, not quantity.
This ghazal is reproduced below:

MEMORIES—a ghazal

.My heart is in shock today.
I have mental block today.

Rolled back in the march of time
Is my mental clock today.

In winding memory lane,
I so want to walk today.

Of my gain or loss in life,
Let me check the stock today.

Memories bitter and sweet,
In my mind do flock today.

Bitter, I wish forgotten;
Sweet, in heart, I lock today.

With a pounding throb I heard,
On my door, a knock today

Let me do as bid by heart,
Let my wisdom mock today.

I suffered silence so far,
Why, Khalish, then talk today?


i. Think of a suitable topic and line for the ghazal. This line should be the one that should contain the refrain, the recurring word/s at the end. The usual recurring word is one that can fit in with several other sentences / lines of the poem. Examples are—will, was, is, not, why, at last, care, love, etc. In the above example, I thought of the first line as ‘My heart is in shock today’. The refrain in this line is the word ‘today’. In case the ghazal is without a refrain, you need not bother about it.

ii. Concentrate upon the last word (in case of refrain-less ghazal) or the word that precedes the last or recurring word, the refrain. In the above example, this word is shock. Think of all the words that rhyme with shock. Write them down on paper alphabetically, such as:

block, clock, cock, dock, flock, folk, frock, hock, hollyhock, knock, lock, mock, pock, rock, sock, stock, yolk, walk etc.
Agog, Clog, flog, fog, frog, slog, top, stop, etc.

iii. Think of other lines you can add to the poem, the line ending with the refrain preceded by rhyming word. Thus, think whether you can make a line with the following end words—block today, clock today, dock today, flock today, knock today, lock today, rock today, stock today, stop today etc.

iv. Once you add a suitable line to the opening line, your first couplet is complete! In the example here, the second line is ‘I have mental block today’.

v. Think of using the rhyme-refrain combination [knock today, lock today etc.] in another line and, then, think of a suitable preceding line. Together, these form the second couplet! I chose the words ‘walk today’ to form the second line of the second couplet as ‘I so want to walk today’. This forms a part of the second couplet, which is:

In winding memory lane
I so want to walk today

vi. The rest is easy. Keep on repeating the process till you reach the appropriate number of couplets.

vii. If you wish, you may use your name or your nom-de-plume in the last couplet in a suitable manner. I have used it as:

So far Khalish in silence
Suffered, then, why talk today?

viii. You must take care of the meter and the number of syllables. The poem must be readable as a song. Free verse or blank verse has no place in ghazal writing. My favourite format is 7-7 [each line having 7 syllables], as in the above example. You can choose your own meter and length, but it must be maintained throughout the ghazal.

ix. Each couplet must be a complete grammatical unit in itself.

x. Please keep in mind that a ghazal is NOT "a poem". It is, conceptually, a string of beads, the couplets, in which each bead / couplet is an independent poem in its own right. Thus, one couplet could talk of joy and pleasure, the next of death and sorrow, the major connection between the two being the continuing rhyme and refrain. Beauty of theme and wizardry of words is the essence of ghazal. Sometimes a poet may choose to write a ghazal in which different couplets may have continuity of thought. I often do that. [Note—I have already mentioned above about the common tendency now-a-days to write a ghazal form of poem / nazm around a continuing theme].


ONE-- The above 10 tips may sound too mechanical. They are. But, the mechanics is for the beginner. After writing a large number of ghazals in the manner described, a stage comes when the writer does not have to make a list of the rhyming words in the beginning and the appropriate words suggest themselves as he keeps on writing. This is the stage when the writing becomes spontaneous with a free, yet structured flow. The method of writing down the rhyming words in the beginning may detract from that essential quality of a ghazal called emotional depth. I remember that earlier, I used to make use of a rhyming dictionary for my poetry, whether of ghazal or other types of rhyming verse. I stopped that around 2006. As the experience of writing poems in rhyme and meter accumulates, one develops a “poetic sense” whereby appropriate rhymes suggest themselves, spontaneously and almost subconsciously,  as one is giving vent to one’s natural feeling through the medium of verse. With that hindsight, I can now say with confidence that for a beginner, the ten tips given are quite appropriate. As he advances in his poetic quest, he will himself learn to give up crutches and wander free, yet in the correct direction.

Writing a ghazal is not difficult once one gets the knack of it, after writing a few ghazals. It can even become a craze, like filling a cross-word puzzle! It is both fun and satisfaction.

TWO—I have mentioned above the importance of the opening couplet as the defining couplet that sets the mood of the ghazal. That mood includes the “structural mood” also. Rhyming words may be perfectly rhyming or partly rhyming. In the example given above, the perfect rhyme is illustrated by:
block, clock, cock, dock, flock, folk, frock, hock, hollyhock, knock, lock, mock, pock, rock, sock, stock, yolk, walk etc.

On the other hand, imperfect rhyme is illustrated by:
Agog, Clog, flog, fog, frog, slog, top, stop, etc.

Restricting a ghazal to perfect rhyme words would limit the expressional freedom of the writer unduly. Hence imperfect rhymes can also be used, but with an important prerequisite: this must be indicated in the opening couplet itself by having an imperfect rhyming pair of words. Let me illustrate this by altering the ghazal example above as follows:

MEMORIES—a ghazal

.My heart is in shock today.
I’ve a mental clog today.

Rolled back in the march of time
Is my mental clock today.

My thoughts are all jumbled up
My mind is in fog today.

In winding memory lane,
I so want to walk today.

Let the old memories come
Let them never stop today.

Memories bitter and sweet,
In my mind do flock today.

Bitter, I wish forgotten;
Sweet, in heart, I lock today.

Of my gain or loss in life,
Let me check the stock today.

With a pounding throb I heard,
On my door, a knock today

Let me do as bid by heart,
Let my wisdom mock today.

I suffered silence so far,
Why, Khalish, then talk today?



i. http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~navin/india/songs/ghalib/ghazal.def.html

ii. http://www.baymoon.com/~ariadne/form/ghazal.htm
“The Ghazal Verse Form by Len Anderson”


A ghazal sometimes raises doubts in the mind of the reader who is not familiar with this type of poetry. The following actual questions and answers illustrate this.


ONE: FIRST QUERY .—[Regarding "MEMORIES--a ghazal", {item:715911}.
“it sounded great!

i find not only is it very emotional but extremely original! good job!
My only problem is that i don't quite understand the whole point behind the whole thing, I’m not sure at first i thought it was about a relationship but then i really wasnt sure, did u try to do that on purpose?”


Thanks for the review. I guess you have no problem in getting the meaning of individual couplets, but you have problem in getting the meaning of the whole.

It would help to keep in mind that a ghazal is essentially not a poem but a string of poems. Each couplet of the ghazal is a complete poem in itself. It may be compared to a string of haikus. The essential commonality between various couplets of the ghazal lies in the monorhyme and the refrain.

Within the above paradigm, it is entirely possible for the poet to talk of the ecstasy of love, remorse of death, valour of a warrior and beauty of nature in different couplets of a ghazal. With the passage of time, there is a growing tendency to write ghazals on a particular theme. However, the basic characteristics of a ghazal remain as described.

In this ghazal, the first four couplets talk of the lost love. In the next three, the poet promises to do all that he can for his love, irrespective of what the world might say. In the last couplet, which is the signature couplet, the poet reflects that he has suffered silently in love so far, hence, why start complaining to the lover now!


TWO: SECOND QUERY:—[Regarding "LONELY LIFE—a ghazal", {item:717107}

A beautiful ghazal. Thematic, it seems. Is there a formula for the naming of a ghazal? Is punctuation optional, or should it follow usual grammar rules?


Modern trend is to have thematic ghazals, though, classically, each couplet is deemed to be an independent poem.

Your query about naming of a ghazal is very much to the point. It is obvious that you have some experience with ghazals. Since each couplet is supposed to be an independent poem, to the extent that one couplet may be tragedy and the next a comedy, the Urdu ghazals written by classical ghazal writers DO NOT have a title. Very often, the first line itself might serve as the title. I have given titles to my English ghazals on this site, as in case of other poems. However, in my own collection of my Hindi-Urdu ghazals, I simply identify the ghazals by their first line. I found it very confusing and impractical to give them a specific title.

In classical Urdu-Hindi ghazal, punctuation is sparingly used. Ghazal is not indigenous to English. So, for sake of avoiding confusion, I think it is better to use punctuation.


THREE: THIRD QUERY-- I am working on my first ghazal. I've chosen skies blue for the first line and eyes blue for the second line of the first couplet. Now I am working in the other lines and have singular variations of words, like sigh, die, lie, which
can be also be sighs, dies, lies, or can they be past tense versions, like
sighed, died, lied, or, can the word simply be words like why, nigh, high? How
restrictive is this rhyme?


Thanks. I am glad you are trying your first ghazal. Looks like you have put a daunting task for yourself in the choice of the rhyme and the refrain. I tried to build a ghazal with these parameters. You can view it at {item:1414193}, BLUE EYES

Regarding word variations [singular/plural; tense etc.], that is not the issue. The word must rhyme with eyes and skies already selected by you. So, other words can be sighs, dies, lies, but not sigh, die, lie or sighed, died, lied, or, why, nigh, high.

On the other hand, if you select eye and sky, then you can use sigh, die, lie or, why, nigh, high.

[This is the correct answer to your query. However, nothing can be binding on a writer, especially a poet, when it is all a matter of expressing feelings through words. Words should help, not stifle expression. So, the poet himself or herself must choose the optimal balance].

FOUR: FOURTH QUERY —What are your comments on my ghazal,given below?

My wife's love, wrenched from my once blissful heart,
by claws of sin from her unfaithful heart.

Her heaving breasts and passionate moanings,
opened the floodgates of my tearful heart.

Seeing my confidante's wine reddened eyes,
kindled rage in my now resentful heart.

Their sweating bodies and odors of lust,
I unsheath my sword with a hateful heart.

The glint of the blade in the moon's full light,
startled, they see eyes of a vengeful heart.

They beg for forgiveness in sheer of fright,
hiding nakedness with a fearful heart.

I spare them, for pain more than the sword's edge,
is the guilt carried in one's shameful heart...


It is not a ghazal for the simple reason that it does not have the essential characteristic of rhyme or kafiya, [pronounced—Kaafiyaa]


This is a 7 couplet poem. There would have been a need for 7 rhyming words,  two for the opening couplet and one for each of the remaining  couplets.

For example, suppose the first couplet is –

I thought that my wife had a tender heart
She had a virulent, not slender heart.

Here heart is the refrain and tender, gender are rhymes. You have to use other rhyming words like—

Gender, mender, bender, sender, fender, lender.

Really speaking, in the above example,

Refrain = “er heart”

Rhymes = gend, mend, bend, send, fend, lend etc.

In your poem—

Refrain = “ful heart”

Preceding words =bliss, unfaith, tear, resent, hate, venge, fear, shame. These don’t rhyme at all.

FIVE:  COMMENTS-- A participant sent the following ghazal in my contest, {item:1482622}

They’re all doing the waltz

Outside they’re all doing the waltz to Nero’s playing ragtime 
Somebody already gave the cue, Nero’s playing ragtime 

Can’t sleep for the racket on my roof
Don’t blame him - no- I blame you, Nero’s playing ragtime

Wave the flag, the sticks, the axe
Starting to think that we are through, Nero’s playing Ragtime

Think he could play a more fitting tune
Of course we’ll never tell the truth, Nero’s playing ragtime

I’ll make up words, make it a song 
The old is burning, light the new, Nero’s playing ragtime

MY RESPONSE—Though it appears to be a ghazal at first sight, it has the following weak areas:

a. The main problem is that there is no connect between the refrain and the rhyme. The refrain must connect to the rhyme in a natural or grammatical manner. It cannot be a mere adjunct or meaningless adornment. Sometimes it may be in the nature of a repetitive appendage, for example, when the refrain consists of the word “Lord”, in a ghazal written as a devotional supplication. But, in that case, each couplet, minus the refrain, would still be a complete statement in itself. In your ghazal, the refrain is “Nero’s playing ragtime”. In most couplets, it does not connect with the content of the couplet and, so to say, hangs loose and superfluous.

b. Besides, there are other issues. The syllabic length in both lines of the couplet in a ghazal should be the same and should be constant throughout. It is not so here.

c. Lastly, the ghazal must convey a message and leave some emotional impact upon the reader. This is difficult to discern in your ghazal.

(Ex)Prof. M C Gupta
MD (Medicine), MPH, LL.M.,
Advocate & Medico-legal Consultant
                                                                  courtsey: Hindienglishpoetry@yahoogroups.com

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