Technicalities of Ghazal II – Weighing your words!

Click to read the previous article in this series:  Part I

Part II of the series: We will talk about what do we mean when we discuss the weight of a word in Urdu poetry.

Before we begin, let me clarify something, I have no pure technical knowledge of how the meter works in Urdu poetry, but I understand the basics of it and that has been more than enough for me to write poetry. Of course, I consider myself to be a student of Urdu poetry and hence my knowledge of meter is always growing and for that, I participated in discussions, kept my eyes on a lot of them to soak in as much as I could while the learned Urdu poetry folks discussed among each other and here, I will present what I think of the Urdu meter in the simplest terms possible. If anybody who knows a lot about Urdu meters reads this article and needs me to correct some things, I invite you please to email me or simply reply to the article here.

The art of meter in Urdu poetry, as far as I know, is known as “ilm-e-arooz“. Purely technical discussions on ilm-e-arooz tend to be very dry (and really complicated and boring in my humble opinion) and hence I will not be touching this art from a purely technical point of view. At the same time, do note that the art of “arooz” is extremely rich and a lot of people specialize in it and their knowledge is something that I am always in awe of.

There was a series of articles written by Sarwar Raz ‘sarwar’ sahib on ilm-e-arooz. The series was called “nikaat-e-sukhan” and can be found at his website www.sarwarraz.com and you can also find an article written by Irfan ‘abid’ Alvi sahib on the meter entitled “Behr – The backbone of Urdu poetry” at www.urdupoetry.com. Without repeating much of the information found in these articles (it will happen, I can’t help it), let me try to explain the meter as I see it and after reading my series here, if you wish to learn more about this and get purely technical, I invite you to visit Sarwar Sahib’s website and read his articles and don’t miss out on Abid sahib’s article as well.

Once again, please note that what I am about to describe in these articles is what I have learned, please do let me know if I make any mistakes at all. I know I might be offending a lot of purists and people who are students of ilm-e-arooz by my over-simplification of the process, but I feel it is better to have the knowledge of how to write in rhythm then to be bogged down by the over-technicalities and over-complicated art of ilm-e-arooz and its nomenclature etc and then give up on good Urdu poetry techniques and not write in meter at all.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, lets move on. The most important thing to remember is that Urdu meter works on sounds. What do I mean by that? Lets compare this with “syllables” as they exist in English. Take the word “remember” for example. A syllabic breakdown of the word would be “re-mem-ber”, right? Think about this in terms of sounds now, the word remember is made of three distinct sounds that can’t be broken down any further and these are exactly as the syllabic breakdown of the word is: “ree-mem-bur”. Similary, lets take a Urdu/Hindi word: “urdu”. The breakdown of this word is “ur-du”. You will agree when I say that this word can not be broken down into any further sounds or syllables, the sound “ur” comes out first and the sound “du” comes out. So far so good? All we are really talking about here is the fact that each word is made of syllables or sounds (and it would be preferred that you start thinking about words in terms of “sounds” instead of “syllables” and you will see later why this is important).

What’s next? Well lets’ assign a “weight” to each word based on its breakdown in sounds. Lets look at this urdu word: “vazn”. The word can be broken in two sounds, and you will see as you pronounce the word that there are two distinct sounds in the word: “vaz” – “n”. If you were to say “va-za-n” and pronounce each sound seperately, you will notice that you are not able to pronounce the word properly, hence the proper pronounciation of the word depends on you uttering out these two sounds distinctly, that is “vaz-n”. Incidently, this proper pronouncation of the word is known as ‘talaffuz’ in Urdu, a word you may encounter in your studies of the Urdu Meter. Getting back to “vazn” which means weight (by the way), now that we know it is made of two distinct sounds and if we say these sounds, then the “talaffuz” of the word is proper and accepted, what about these sounds? Can we quantify them? Sure we can. There are two type of sounds, a long sound and a short sound. In general (and you will see this pattern a lot), a short sound is simply a consonant with perhaps a vowel sound while a long sound is two consonents bound together with a vowel. In our case, “vaz-n” has one long sound (vaz) and one short sound (n). This generalizes a lot of things but if we were to assign a quantity to the long and short sound, lets give 2 to long and 1 to short and now look at the weight of Vazn or basically the vazn of vazn, it becomes: 2-1

As an exercise now, lets see a few different words in Urdu and look at their weight or vazn.

Word (Breakdown) -> Weight

  • vazn (vaz-n) -> 2-1
  • dil (dil) -> 2
  • ham (ham ) -> 2
  • suniye (su-ni-ye) -> 1-1-2
  • saajan (saa-jan) -> 2-2
  • jaanam (jaa-nam) -> 2-2
  • zindagi (zin-da-gi) -> 2-1-2
  • maut (mau-t) -> 2-1

Try breaking these words down on your own. Remember to pronounce the word with its proper pronounciation and then see how many distinct sounds are in the word. I am trying the best to transliterate these words in a way that is as phonetic as possible. I’ll post the answers in a later post.

  • duniyaa
  • mausam
  • fazaa
  • gardish
  • khoobsoorat

Next part will talk about how the weight of the word fits in Urdu meter.

Edit: (2010/Feb/2nd):  It should be noted that there’s another pronounciation for “vazn” that is also common and it’s “vazan”.  The latter pronounciation (or talaffuz) is incorrect and would translate into a weight of 1-2, or va-zan.  If you were to use this word as “va-zan” and with a weight of “1-2″, you would be making a mistake.  This shows how important it is to get the correct pronounciation of a word when trying to figure out what the weight of that word is.

Click to read the next article in this series:  Part III

6 thoughts on “Technicalities of Ghazal II – Weighing your words!

  1. ye jo Tanhaa hai ise kuch na kaho
    Khud ko jaane ye samajhtaa kyaa hai :-)

    Great to find your blog, Amit saahab. Nice series you have on technicalities of Ghazals, I look forward to more such posts.

    Let me try to guess weights for the words you mention:

    duniyaa: 2-2 (or 1-1-2?)
    mausam: 2-2
    fazaa: 1-2
    gardish: 2-2
    khoobsoorat: 2-1-2-2

  2. aray waah Mohib bhai! Glad to see you here, I was wondering if anybody was actually reading these articles. By the way, this exercise is not for poets like you :-P Someone who can write this:

    aarzoo dil meiN jal rahii hogi
    hijr ki raat Dhal rahii hogii
    maiN sitaare bhi gin chuka huuNga
    subah wo aaNkh mal rahii hogi!

    can not participate in beginners exercises such as this one.

    Jokes aside, you are on the ball!
    dunyaa is indeed 2-2 and not 1-1-2 though I wonder (and I’m so not sure about this one) whether this talaffuz “duniyaa” is an accepted one. The other words are just fine. Next installment of the series is ready, I’ll be posting it later today or over the weekend. Thank you for visiting it and commenting on it.

  3. Very good and no jokes about it – you dont know how much I need these notes. Plz dont mind my copying them.

  4. I really don’t mind Anwar sahib if you are taking these articles for your own purposes, as long as a proper link-back or proper credit is given. My idea in preparing them was just to help people understand the technicalities involved behind ghazals and other types of Urdu poetry.

    Amit Malhotra

  5. Pingback: Technicalities of Ghazal I | tanhaaiyaaN

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

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