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.

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 and you can also find an article written by Irfan ‘abid’ Alvi sahib on the meter entitled “Behr – The backbone of Urdu poetry” at 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

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: –RadeefQaafiya.

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