Technicalities of Ghazal III – Digging Deeper

Click on the parts to read the previous articles in this series:  Part I, Part II

Now that we know how to weigh the words according to their sounds, it’s time to move on and see how we can fit these words in a meter.

Lets start off with the answers to the breakdowns of the words posted at the end of the last part (Thanks Mohib for participating and posting answers for those words):

Word (breakdown) -> weight

duniyaa (dun-yaa) -> 2-2 (did you get that right? did you break it down as du-ni-yaa? More on this later)
mausam (mau-sam) -> 2-2
fazaa (fa-zaa) -> 1-2
gardish (gar-dish) -> 2-2
khoobsoorat (khoo-b-soo-rat) -> 2-1-2-2

Note on weights:

All words do not have a fixed weight.  The weight differs according to the way a word is pronounced and this is where the whole point about thinking of words in terms of sounds rather than syllables come in place.  Remember in the previous part, I stressed on the fact that you should start thinking of words in terms of sounds and not syllables? I’ll show you why this is important now by taking simple words as examples.

Take “aur” as our first word to see how sounds make the weight of the word change. Normally speaking, you would pronounce the word as “au-r”, you will see that if you pronounce it slowly and properly, there are two distince sounds in the word “au” and “r”.  Hence the weight of “aur” would be 2-1 but as you will notice when you move further in the studies of meter, the word “aur” is often used in a place where the required weight of the word is only “2”.  Why?  Well its because the word “aur” can also be pronounced differently.  You see, there are two “talaffuz” (or pronounciations) for the word “aur” and they are:

  • – au-r
  • – or (or ur)

When pronounced in the latter way, the word takes the weight 2 only rather than 2-1. Hence depending on how you pronounce the word, you can fit the word in two different places with two different weight requirements.  If you are confused at the moment, this will all become clear later on when we jump deeper in the world of Urdu meter but I’m sure that for now, it is clear as to why we should think of the weight of these words in terms of sounds and pronounciations rather than syllables as in English words.

Now that we know more about the weight of words, what’s the next step?  Lets’ take a couplet and break it down to see what meter it is following.  We will take a famous sh’er from Ghalib again:

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

Lets break this down slowly, one line at a time and see what meter this couplet is following.  (Please note here that the process of finding what meter a ghazal is following is called “taqtee” in Urdu and it usually takes more than one sh’er, in fact a few ash’aar from a ghazal to come up with a consensus, why?  because as explained in the case of “aur”, some words have flexible weights).


Things to be noticed here dil-e-naadaaN can be broken down this way as well:  di-le-naa-daaN.  Notice that this breakdown is a better one (IMHO) because when you pronounce “dil-e-naadaaN“, its easier to say “di-le” than “dil-e“, the flow in pronounciation is much better in the former case so if we keep that in mind, there are actually two breakdowns that can take place for this particular misra of the couplet:


Note on the word “kyaa“:  the word kyaa can’t be broken down in “k-yaa” because of the way it is pronounced.  Being a hindi word, you will see that the sound coming from “ka” and “ya” together can not be broken down at all.  Similarly, words like “pyaar” or “pyaas” follow the same rule where “pa” and “ya” sound in both of them can’t be broken down seperately as it will result in an unnatural pronounciation of the word.  You don’t say “payaar” or “piyaar” but rather “pyaa-r” and similarly, you can’t say “payaas” or “piyaas” but rather “pyaa-s“.  If you are pronouncing it “piyaas” then you will break the word down as 1-2-1 (pi-yaa-s) which is not an acceptable talaffuz of the word and hence you will be making a mistake.  Hence pyaas = 2-1 and pyaar is 2-1 as well. Getting back to our misra in question, based on the two breakdowns, we have two arrangement of sounds for it:



The numbers in parantheses represent a sound that can be flexible depending on its pronounciation.  What does that mean, depending on how you pronounce that sound, you can elongate it, make it long, or you can hasten it, making it short. So, right now, until we do the breakdown of the second line, we won’t know what the meter is that this couplet is following, lets go on then:


Note on “aakhir-is” vs “aakhi-ris“:  A word ending in a consonant followed by a word starting in a vowel can virtually be pronounced together.  Pronounce them in the way I’m breaking them down and you will see what I mean by that, you can say: “aakhir (pause) is” aur you can say “aakhi-ris” –> see?  You have just pronounced these two words in different manner thus changing their weights.  In the first case “aakhir-is” the weight would be 2-2-2, while in the second case “aa-khi-ris“, the weight would be 2-1-2, so the break down in the first case is:


So far, this is what we have come up with in terms of meter analysis of the first couplet:

  • 1a)  2-1(2)-2-2-1-2(1)-1-2-2-1(2)
  • 1b)  1-1(2)-2-2-1-2(1)-1-2-2-1(2)
  • 2a)  2-1-2-2-1-1(2)-1-2-2-1(2)
  • 2b)  2-2-2-2-1-1(2)-1-2-2-1(2)

We can immediately eliminate 1b as being an option because in the second misra, the first sound is a long sound in both the breakdowns, “aa” is definitely a long sound, hence “dil-e-naadaaN” is most probably broken down as “dil-e-naa-daaN” and not di-le-naa-daaN.  We can now have three possible metrical distributions:

  • 1a)  2-1(2)-2-2-1-2(1)-1-2-2-1(2)
  • 2a)  2-1-2-2-1-1(2)-1-2-2-1(2)
  • 2b)  2-2-2-2-1-1(2)-1-2-2-1(2)

Now we are still uncertain about the second sound in this couplet.  It can be either 1 or 2 and as there is an uncertanity in the first misra as well, we can’t eliminate any of the other possible metrical distributions.  Why not have a look at another couplet from the same ghazal and see if we can’t thin down the possibilities?

ham haiN mushtaaq aur vo bezaar
yaa ilaahii ye maajraa kyaa hai


Ah! I think we just managed to figure out what the second sound is for sure as in the second misra, the poet used “ilaahi” which breaks down (without a doubt) into 1-2-2

Hence, now we have:  2-1-2-2 as the first part of the meter. We just eliminated 2b as a possibility as well and now we have

  • 1a) 2-1-2-2-1-2(1)-1-2-2-1(2)
  • 2a) 2-1-2-2-1-1(2)-1-2-2-1(2)

Note that we are still uncertain about two sounds in this metrical distribution, the sixth sound can be either short or long and the last sound can be either short or long.  Did the second couplet breakdown help? It sure did.  Notice that in the sixth sound, the word “aur” was used, according to 1a breakdown, It is either 2(1)-1 at that place and according to 2a breakdown, it is once again either 1(2)-1 at that place.  So one thing is for certain, there is a 1 and as “aur” can be broken down as 2-1, it is safe to say that the sound is naturally 2-1 and hence we have now:

  • 1a)  2-1-2-2-1-2-1-2-2-1(2)
  • 2a)  2-1-2-2-1-2-1-2-2-1(2)

We are still not certain as to our last sound, is it a long sound or a short sound because “hai” can be either long or short, so what is it??

Once again, the second couplet can help us in determining what is the sound and we can definitely be certain if we analyze another couplet from this ghazal.  But before jumping on to another couplet, let’s see the first misra of the second couplet again:

ham haiN mushtaaq aur vo bezaar

Now break it down


Did you notice something?  There’s an extra sound if you compare it with our previous analysis, the “1” at the end of the word “bezaar” is extra!  Ah! another exception that we didn’t talk about yet, so here it is: most meters are allowed a short sound at the end that does not count in the analysis, well ok then, lets take that one(1) out shall we?


Ah.. yes, we got it, the last “hai” everywhere else is definitely being used as a long sound.  So that’s it then? We got our meter. Indeed the Ghazal is written in the following metrical distribution

2-1-2-2 1-2-1-2 2-2

This particular meter has a name as well, oh yes, they all have names and no, I’m not going to be going into the names as I have no clue what the names are until I look them up.  Oh by the way, we can confirm our final sound by the first misra of the maqta in this ghazal:

hamne maanaa k kuchh nahiiN “ghalib”
muft haath aaye to buraa kyaa hai

look at the breakdown of the first misra:
2-1-2-2 1-2-1-2 2-2
(no extra sound and no umbiguous sound)

Was that hard? Trust me, it was.  I really hate this part of analyzing a ghazal to see what the meter is, but a necessary step to take when you are learning meters because it helps you understand more, later on, you will perhaps feel this distribution of sounds without doing a breakdown, as I do now.

And how does this help?  Well now you know how to pronounce the Ghazal properly! When you recite this Ghazal, you know where the long sounds are and where the short sounds are, you won’t make a mistake of saying “di-le-naadaaN’ because you know it was meant to be pronounced as “dil-e-naa-daaN” and you won’t say “aakhir is” because you know it was meant to be pronounced as “aa-khi-ris“, and if you follow these pronounciations, you will notice that the musicality in this Ghazal just comes out and your recitation will flow with the beautiful rhythm that Mirza Ghalib wrote this beautiful ghazal with.

My first Ghazal was written in this meter, it was written with the same radeef and same qaafiya as well.  New term: A combination of meter-radeef-qaafiya is called the “zameen” of a ghazal. If you write a ghazal that has the same meter as this one, same qaafiya (buraa-havaa-luTaa-churaa, basically the “aa” sound) and same radeef (kyaa hai), then you are writing a ghazal in the zameen of “dil-e-naadaaN tujhe huaa kyaa hai”.  Here’s a couplet from my first ghazal (which has been posted elsewhere on my blog under the category “My Urdu Poems”):

kis se poochheiN k maajraa kyaa hai
ye sanam kyaa hai, ye Khudaa kyaa hai?

Hey break it down and see how it fits the meter!  Next we will go deeper in the meter and see other ghazals as well.

Edit(2010/Feb/2nd):  About “duniyaa vs dunyaa”:  As I didn’t continue this series any further and did promise “more on this later”, I think I will clarify this right here.  The weight of the word depends on its pronounciation. If you are to pronounce it “du-ni-yaa” which is a very common pronounciation, it would be wrong and you will be translating the weight as 1-1-2, or a short sound (du), another short sound (ni) and a long sound (yaa).  However, the correct pronounication or talaffuz of the word is “dun-yaa” and hence this translates into 2-2 or two long sounds.  Now imagine trying to fit “duniyaa” into a sh’er where the weight required is 1-1-2, and if you do fit that in there, you would be wrong as the proper and correct weight for the word is 2-2-.  Correct pronounication is extremely important when trying to figure out the weight of a word.

12 thoughts on “Technicalities of Ghazal III – Digging Deeper

  1. Hi Vinod,

    Nothing has been written beyond the Part III as of yet as I haven’t really made up my mind whether to go a bit more technical on this or not. Although, if you are interested, you can always contact me at my email: tanhaa AT tanhaa . net

    Amit Malhotra

  2. Great Work. Aap ka andaaz-e-bayaan bahut dilchasp hai. Kitni aasani se alfaaz, khud aap ke qareeb aa rahe they. Mujheh haalanki is topik se kuchh lena-dena nahi hai (matlab mein likh to saktaa hi nahi aur padhnaa bhi arsa-e-daraaz se chhoot gaya) lekin ‘technical topic’ itne non-technical andaaz mein likh kar aap ne mujhe padhney ko majboor kar diya. Ghazal ki behron mein zaroor main interested tha (ki yeh aakhir hai kya balaa?)aur usi search sey main is article tak pahuncha lekin yaqeen maaniye ki ‘wazan’ aur ‘zameen’ se mera koi sarokar nahi.
    Yeh article padh ker albatta mein kuchh-kuchh hoshiyaar ho gaya hoon.
    Khuda aap ko jazaa-e-khair de. Aameen (2-2-1)


  3. Great work.But looks like not many people are aware of your blog.wish you lots of luck in your work.You are doing a great job.Regards.

  4. Pingback: Technicalities of Ghazal II – Weighing your words! | tanhaaiyaaN

  5. Pingback: Technicalities of Ghazal I | tanhaaiyaaN

  6. Very very impressive presentations. Is it possible that I could correspond with you via e-mail? I promise not to become a pest! Regards

  7. Sure. My email is tanhaa [at] tanhaa [dot] net … I would love to answer any queries on this matter in my limited knowledge.

  8. Truely very helpful. You are doing a great job in the service of gazal. May God bless you. Regards!

  9. Hello. I have been lookin for a detailed yet not so technical explanation of behrs and .y search landed me here. Your articles have been very helpful. I congratulate you. Also, it’s been 8-9 years already. Have you stopped writing/ guiding us ignorants?

  10. I haven’t actually stopped writing, but paused it for a while. Since these posts, I have mainly written songs for The Bilz and Kashifs (some of the lyrics are posted on my blog). I’m always available to share my knowledge on Urdu Poetry as it’s a passion for me. Don’t hesitate to email me at tanhaa [at] tanhaa [dot] net if there’s anything I can do to help. Glad you found these articles helpful.

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