Technicalities of Ghazal I

While there are several good articles out on the internet about the technicalities of ghazals and how to ensure that you are writing in meter, I thought I might as well add something myself as despite sending a lot of friends to those links, I find that people understand better when I explain it to them and therefore the need to write an article about it. So here goes nothing, hopefully, this will be first part followed by other parts in future as well.

Why Learn Meter?

Are you wondering why you would want to learn meter? Are you thinking that if I started writing poetry and started thinking about technicalities and the fact that I need to adhere to them, is this going to kill my creativity? Will I be looking at my verses with a critical eye in terms of technicalities only and not in terms of creativity or the poetry that it contains? Let me be frank, I never had that doubt when I decided to learn about meters. I look at the poetry that has been written in Urdu poetry in the past and see the fact that a plethora of poets managed to express themselves and God did they ever do it so beautifully while respecting the technicalities of Ghazal. In my experience, it becomes second nature after a while and you don’t really need to worry about writing in meter, it just happens. The initial learning curve may require some work, but its really worth it.
Now addressing the question, why would you want to learn meter? Well if you are a writer, a poet that is, you will be able to write beautiful Urdu poetry or even Hindi poetry in a very rhythmic manner and it will be extremely pleasant to the listners (remember, Indian poetry is traditionally recited and the more rhythmic it is, the more pleasant it is, that is just my personal opinion and you obviously may differ from it). And if you are not a writer but an avid reader of Urdu poetry, knowing the meter enhances your reading experience tremendously (in my opinion yet again) and it also enhances your retention of the poems that you read because of the inherent musicallity within it (at least I felt that).

Urdu Ghazal – some basics

Fundamentally speaking, a Ghazal is composed of ash’aar (plural of sh’er – meaning couplet) and each couplet may be completely independent of the other. Traditionally, Ghazals usually don’t have less than 6-7 couplets and can be quite long sometimes (I haven’t read anywhere about an exact length or accepted norms of Ghazal length so can’t be of any help here).

The anatomy of a couplet is different depending on where the couplet is. The first couplet of a Ghazal has a rhyming pattern A-A (always) and is called a “matlaa” or “matlaa-e-oola“. This couplet may be followed by another couplet with the rhyming pattern A-A and that couplet will be called “matlaa-e-saani“. Normally there is only one matlaa in a Ghazal but sometimes you see two as well and sometimes you see more than two as well. The couplet following the matlaa (after the last matlaa in the ghazal and hence if there is only one matlaa then the second sh’er is the one we will talk about next) is a normal couplet and has the rhyming pattern B-A and subsequent couplets can have any rhyming pattern as long as “A” rhyme is repeated in the second line of the couplet. Here’s an example of rhyming pattern in a ghazal:

1. A-A
2. A-A
3. B-A
4. C-A
5. D-A
6. X-A
7. X-A

and so on and so forth…

The final couplet of the Ghazal is called a “maqtaa” and it has the “takhallus” of the poet or what is called the “pseudonyme” of the poet embedded within it. The final couplet is only called a “maqtaa” in my experience when it has the “takhallus“. If it doesn’t have the “takhallus” people refer to it as “the last couplet” or “aakhiri sh’er“.

Rhymes: There are two rhymes in a Ghazal that each couplet must respect. In our above example what we used as “A” has two parts: -Radeef -Qaafiya.

Basically, qaafiya is the rhyming pattern and radeef is a sentence, a word, anything that is repeated exactly as it is. For Example, in the following two couplets by Ghalib:

dil-e-naadaaN tujhe huaa kyaa hai
aaKhir is dard kii davaa kyaa hai

ham haiN mushtaaq aur vo bezaar
yaa ilaahee! ye maajraa kyaa hai

In these two couplets the qaafiyaa is “huaa – davaa – maajraa” basically, the “aa” sound that ends these words is the qaafiyaa. Notice that each word rhymes. And the radeef is the repeated part in the couplets. “kyaa hai“. The first couplet, the matlaa of the ghazal has the “A-A” rhyming pattern where the qaafiya and the radeef is repeated in both the lines while the second couplet has the qaafiya and the radeef being present only in the second line of the couplet (hence a X-A rhyming pattern).

Lets take another example of rhyming patterns to accentuate the way rhymes work in a Ghazal. Here are a few couplets written by Raj Kumar ‘Qais’ Pathria:

kis saleeqe se shab-e-hijraaN sajaa lete haiN ham
tu nahiiN to terii yaadoN ko bulaa lete haiN ham

dard-e-dil soz-e-jigar uftaadagi-e-jism-o-jaaN
bojh bhaari hai magar phir bhi uThaa lete haiN ham

haal-e-dil apnaa kisi par kyaa khule kaise khule
ik haNsii ki aaR meiN sau Gham chhupaa lete haiN ham

saaz ke taaroN se ham ne kuchh to seekhaa hai sabaq
choT jab lagti hai dil pe muskuraa lete haiN ham

zindagii bhar ‘qais’ terii raah meiN haa’il rahaa
aaj teri raah se is ko haTaa lete haiN ham

Lets analyze this selection of couplets from Qais sahib’s Ghazal. The first couplet is the matlaa as it has A-A rhyming pattern. The qaafiyaa being “sajaa-bulaa-uThaa-chhupaa-muskuraa-haTaa“, basically the “aa” sound at the end of the words is the qaafiyaa and the radeef being “lete haiN ham“. So the first couplet, the matlaa has the qaafiyaa and the radeef in both the lines while the rest of the couplets have the radeef and the qaafiyaa in only the second line of each couplet and follow the “X-A” rhyming pattern where “X” can be anything that the line ends with. The final couplet, the maqtaa has the pseudonyme or the ‘takhallus‘ of the poet, in this case, “qais”.

There are Ghazals that don’t have any radeef and they are known as “ghair-muraddaf Ghazal” basically, a Ghazal without a radeef. These Ghazals always have the qaafiyaa present and the qaafiya is the only rhyme that it respects and contains.

Here are a couple of ash’aar from Raj Kumar ‘qais’ sahib that shows a ghair-muraddaf ghazal in action:

sunte haiN k saihraa meiN phir baad-e-bahaar aa’ii
aaNkhoN meiN shifaa laa’ii, hoNToN pe du’aa laa’ii

kuchh ham se “ilaaqa” thaa? yaa yooN hii bhaTaktii thii?
tujh ko to Khabar hogii, “ai laala-e-saihraa’ii”!

As you can see, there are not repeating lines or repeating words at the end of the lines present in these two couplets but only the qaafiya is present, that is “aaii-laaii-saihraaii“, so basically, the “ii” sound at the end of the words is the qaafiyaa, but there is no radeef.

Here’s another sh’er from the same ghazal to show the lack of radeef:

yeh kaun si duniyaa hai? aavaaz na aavaaze!
jab dekhiye Khaamoshii, jab dekhiye tanhaa’ii!

So that concludes the basic construction of Ghazal. Terms to remember:

  • qaafiyaa : The rhyme
  • radeef : part of the rhyme but repeats as is in each couplet
  • matlaa : first sh’er of the ghazal, always has A-A rhyming pattern
  • maqtaa: last sh’er of the ghazal, always has the pseudonyme of the poet
  • ash’aar: plural of sh’er (couplet)
  • ghair-muraddaf ghazal: a ghazal with no radeef
  • misraa: each line in a couplet is referred as misraa. The first misraa is called “misraa-e-oolaa” and the second is called “misraa-e-saani”
  • matlaa-e-saani: the second matlaa in a ghazal if present
  • matlaa-e-oolaa: the first matlaa in a ghazal
  • takhallus: the pseudonym a poet uses in the last sh’er of the ghazal example: “ghalib”, “meer”, “firaaq”

Next part — light discussion about “be’hr” or the meter of a ghazal.

Click to read the next articles in this series: PartIIPart III

4 thoughts on “Technicalities of Ghazal I

  1. Pingback: Mehfil-e-Sukhan

  2. very useful and informative. thank u. I hope u continue the good work. what good is knowledge if u cant share it.

  3. Shukriya Anwar sahib. I’m glad someone found it useful :)

    Regards,
    Amit Malhotra

  4. Pingback: Technicalities of Ghazal III – Digging Deeper | tanhaaiyaaN

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