Sunday, February 1, 2009

Definition Of GHazal

I had posted this article on in or around 1993. It has been copied and pasted on many blogs, sites. It was originally archived here and also some other web pages that may not be alive anymore. It was used as a reference here. On other pages, most of the times, due credit was given. But if you search for "Classical Definition Of Ghazal" on Google then you will find some sites that have the text verbatim without any credit.

As I have written in the article, it is based on the essay in the book "Aaina-e-ghazal", so I am not claiming any credit for that part. But I did make is accessible for average readers with examples from Hindi movie songs. What I did add on my own was "What is NOT GHazal".

What is GHazal ?


After my article on Madanmohan and Khaiyyam, some nettors asked me to clearly say, which poem can be called Ghazal. And also because of some statements I made in that article, I think it's my duty to give the 'definition' of Ghazal. Although, many would be knowing this, for some this information can be new, for some this will mean precise description of some general terms. This article has become "technical", but I hope it's not boring. And I also hope, this is helpful for the Ghazal fans.

Instead of giving my personal views, I thought of quoting somebody who is an authority. There is book/dictionary/colection of Sher's titled "Aaina-e-ghazal", which IMHO is a treasure for every Ghazal fan. In this there is a long essay - "Ghazal kya hai ?" by Dr.Arshad Jamaal.

The essay is written in Hindi, and is about History of Ghazal, its development, its milestones, important Shayar's etc. One part of it describes the definition of Ghazal. The following is loosely based on that. The essay talks only about what IS a Ghazal. To that I have added in the following, what is NOT a Ghazal. So any mistakes in these parts, are mine. [ These are enclosed in square brackets like this. ]

Also one thing should be kept in mind that, this is not mathematics. So "preciseness" of the "definition" should not be questioned.


Classical Definition of Ghazal

Ghazal in short, is a collection of Sher's which follow the rules of 'Matla', 'Maqta', 'Beher', 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif'. So to know what Ghazal is, it's necessary to know what these terms mean.

To understand these terms easily , we will take an example.

1. koi ummid bar nahin aati
koi surat nazar nahin aati
2. aage aati thi haale dil par hasi
ab kisi baat par nahin aati
3. hum wahan hain, jahan se humko bhi
kucch hamaari khabar nahin aati
4. kaabaa kis muh se jaaoge 'Ghalib'
sharm tumko magar nahin aati

What is a Sher ?
It's a poem of two lines. This definition is deceptively simple. Please note that, every Sher is a poem in itself ! A Sher does not need, anything around it, to convey the message. All the 4 stanzas in our example are independent poems, Sher's.

So Ghazal is necessarily a collection of two-line-poems called Sher. [ So the Rafi solo "rang aur noor ki baaraat kise pesh karu" is NOT a Ghazal, as every stanza is of 3 lines, and not 2. ]

What are other restrictions ? Many, and important ones.
[ Any collection of Sher's is not Ghazal. Some good examples are ; the famous Mukesh song from Yehoodi, "yeh mera deewaanaapan hai" ; and the title song of "dil apana aur preet parayi". Each stanza in these songs can be considered as an independent Sher, but they are NOT Ghazal's. To understand, why, we have to wait till 'Qaafiyaa, 'Radif'. ]

What is 'Beher' ?
'Beher' is the 'meter' of the Sher's. It can be considered as the length of the Sher. Both the lines in the Sher *MUST* be of same 'Beher'. And all the Sher's in one Ghazal *MUST* be of the same 'Beher'. There are 19 (!!) kinds of 'Beher'. But in simple terms, 'Beher' is categorized in 3 classes. Short, medium, long. [ The examples in [] are my additions, from Hindi Films. ]

Small :
ahale dairo-haram reh gaye
tere deewane kam reh gaye
[ Also Talat song, "dil-e-nadan tuze hua kya hai" ]

Medium :
umr jalwo me basar ho, ye zaruri to nahin
har shab-e-gam ki seher ho, ye zaruri to nahin
[ And by Gulzar, "ruke ruke se kadam, ruk ke baar baar chale" ]

Long :
ai mere humnashin, chal kahin aur chal, is chaman me ab apanaa guzaaraa nahin
baat hoti gulon ki, to seh lete hum, ab to kaaton pe bhi haq hamaaraa nahin
[ The filmfare winner, "Manzile apani jagah hai" !! Yes ! It IS a Ghazal. And the Shayar is Prakash Mehra !! surprise , surprise !! ]

So Ghazal is a collection of Sher's of SAME 'Beher'.

What is 'Radif' ?
In a Ghazal, second line of all the Sher's *MUST* end with the *SAME* word/s. This repeating common words is the 'Radif' of the Ghazal.

In our example, the 'Radif' is "nahin aati".

[ Sometimes, the Ghazal becomes known by its 'Radif'. eg. "zaraa aahista chal" sung by Pankaj Udhas. On RMIM we all know one Ghazal by the 'Radif' as "aahista aahista", don't we ? or is it 2 or 3 ? :-) ]

What is 'Qaafiyaa' ?
'Qaafiyaa' is the rhyming pattern which all the words before 'Radif' *MUST* have.

In our example the 'Qaafiyaa' is "bar", "nazar", "par", "magar" etc. This is a necessary requirement. Something which is followed even in the exceptions to all these rules.

So Ghazal is a collection of Sher's of same 'Beher', ending in same 'Radif' and having same 'Qaafiyaa'.
[ That's the reason, why "yeh mera diwanapan hai" etc. are NOT Ghazals. There is no common thing which can be called 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif'. ]

What is 'Matla' ?
The first Sher in the Ghazal *MUST* have 'Radif' in its both lines. This Sher is called 'Matla' of the Ghazal and the Ghazal is usually known after its 'Matla'. There can be more than one 'Matla' in a Ghazal. In such a case the second one is called 'Matla-e-saani' or 'Husn-e-matla'. In our example, the first Sher is the 'Matla'.

What is 'Maqta' ?
A Shayar usually has an alias ie. 'takhallus' eg. Mirza Asadullakhan used 'Ghalib' as his 'takhallus' and is known by that. Other examples are 'Daagg' Dehlvi, 'Mir' Taqi Mir, Said 'Rahi', Ahmed 'Faraz' etc. There is a Sher in a Ghazal, the last one, which has the Shayar's 'takhallus' in it.
[ A Shayar, can use the 'Maqta' very intelligently. He can "talk to himself" like one in our example. I have lots of favourite Sher's which are 'Maqta' of some Ghazal. Some gems are
koi nam-o-nishan puchhe to ai kaasid bataa denaa,
takhallus 'Daag' hai, aur aahiqon ke dil me rehte hai
jab bhi milte hain, to kehte hain ke, "kaise ho 'Shakil'",
iske aage to koi baat nahin hoti hai
The first one uses the meaning of the 'takhallus' to create the magic, and the second one is just simple, simply beautiful. ]

To summarize, Ghazal is a collection of Sher's (independent two-line poems), in which there is at least one 'Matla', one 'Maqta' and all the Sher's are of same 'Beher' and have the same 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif'.


1. Ghazal is just a form. It is independent of any language. eg. in Marathi also, there can be (and there are) good Ghazals.

2. Some Ghazal's do NOT have any 'Radif'. Rarely. Such Ghazal's are called "ghair-muraddaf" Ghazal.

3. Although, every Sher, should be an independent poem in itself, it is possible, that all the Sher's are on the same theme. What famous example can be other than "chupke chupke raat din aasun bahaanaa yaad hai".

4. In modern Urdu poetry, there are lots of Ghazal's which do NOT follow the restriction of same 'Beher' on both the lines of Sher. But even in these Ghazal's, 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif' are present.

5. The restriction of 'Maqta' is really very loose. Many many Ghazal's do NOT have any 'Maqta'. [ I think 'Maqta' was used in the earlier times, as a way to keep the credit. But since this is traditional, many Ghazal's do have a 'Maqta' just for the sake of it. Sometimes the name of the Shayar comes unnaturally in the last Sher of the Ghazal. ]

6. (UPDATE) I forgot to add that it was a custom to have odd number of shers in the GHazal, with at least 7 shers. But it is very common to see this custom NOT being followed.


So that's my long essay on Ghazal :-) I hope it helps in clearing some doubts, and I also hope that atleast for some, the information was interesting and new.

- Abhay.
Ghazal rudaad hai naakaamiyon ki,
Ghazal mehrumiyon ki daastaan hai |
Ghazal riste hue zakhmon ka marham,
Ghazal ek chaaraa-e-dard-e-nihan hai |
Ghazal ka husn hi hai, husn-e-aalam,
Ghazal ka noor hi noor-e-jahan hai |

- Jagdish Bhatnagar 'Hayaat'

1 comment:

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