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The ghazal (Arabic/Persian/Urdu: غزل; Hindi: ग़ज़ल; Punjabi: ਗ਼ਜ਼ਲ, غزل; Turkish: gazel) is a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in 6th century pre-Islamic Arabic verse. It is derived from the Arabian panegyric qasida. The structural requirements of the ghazal are similar in stringency to those of the Petrarchan sonnet. In its style and content it is a genre which has proved capable of an extraordinary variety of expression around its central themes of love and separation. It is one of the principal poetic forms which the Indo-Perso-Arabic civilization offered to the eastern Islamic world.

The ghazal spread into South Asia in the 12th century under the influence of the new Islamic Sultanate courts and Sufi mystics. Although the ghazal is most prominently a form of Persian and Urdu poetry, today it is found in the poetry of many languages.

Ghazals were written by the Persian mystics and poets Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi (13th century) and Hafez (14th century), the Azeri poet Fuzuli (16th century), as well as Mirza Ghalib (1797–1869) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), both of whom wrote ghazals in Persian and Urdu. Through the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), the ghazal became very popular in Germany in the 19th century, and the form was used extensively by Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866) and August von Platen (1796–1835). The Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali was a proponent of the form, both in English and in other languages; he edited a volume of "real ghazals in English".

In some ghazals the poet's name is featured somewhere in the last verse.



The Arabic word غزل ġazal is pronounced [ˈɣazal], roughly like the English word guzzle, but with the ġ pronounced without a complete closure between the tongue and the soft palate. In India, the name sounds exotic, as the voiced velar fricative (ġ sound) is not found in native Indic words. In English, the word is pronounced /ˈɡʌzəl//[1] or /ˈɡæzæl.[2]

Details of the form

  • A ghazal is composed of five or more couplets.
  • The second line of each couplet (or sher) in a ghazal usually ends with the repetition of a refrain of one or a few words, known as a radif, preceded by a rhyme known as the qaafiyaa. In Arabic, Persian and Turkic the couplet is termed a bayt and the line within the bayt is called a misra. In the first couplet, both lines end in the rhyme and refrain so that the ghazal's rhyme scheme is AA BA CA etc.
  • There can be no enjambement across the couplets in a strict ghazal; each couplet must be a complete sentence (or several sentences) in itself.
  • All the couplets, and each line of each couplet, must share the same meter.
  • Ghazal is simply the name of a form, and is not language-specific. Ghazals exist, for example, in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish, Kashmiri, Kurdish and Pashtu and many other languages.
  • In South Asian languages ghazals occasionally contain no radif. Such ghazals are termed "ġair-muraddaf" ghazal. The pre-Islamic Arabian qasida was in monorhyme; like the rest of the qasida, the ghazal itself did not have a radif.
  • Although every sher may be an independent poem in itself, the shers may share the same theme or even display continuity of thought. This is called a musalsal ghazal, or "continuous ghazal". The ghazal "chupke chupke raat din aasUU bahaanaa yaad hai" is a famous example of a musalsal ghazal.
  • In modern Urdu poetry, there are a few ghazals which do not follow the restriction that the same beher must be used in both the lines of a sher. But even in these ghazals, qaafiyaa and, usually, radif are present.
  • By placing his or her takhallus (pen name) in the maqta or final sher, the poet traditionally attempted to secure credit for his or her work. Poets often made elegant use of their takhallus in the maqta.


Illicit unattainable love

The ghazal not only has a specific form, but traditionally deals with just one subject: Love. And not any kind of love, but specifically, an illicit and unattainable love. The subcontinental ghazals have an influence of Islamic Mysticism and the subject of love can usually be interpreted for a higher being or for a mortal beloved. The love is always viewed as something that will complete a human being, and if attained will lift him or her into the ranks of the wise, or will bring satisfaction to the soul of the poet. Traditional ghazal love may or may not have an explicit element of sexual desire in it, and the love may be spiritual. The love may be directed to a man or a woman.

The ghazal is always written from the point of view of the unrequited lover whose beloved is portrayed as unattainable. Most often either the beloved does not return the poet's love or returns it without sincerity, or else the societal circumstances do not allow it. The lover is aware and resigned to this fate but continues loving nonetheless; the lyrical impetus of the poem derives from this tension. Representations of the lover's powerlessness to resist his feelings often include lyrically exaggerated violence. The beloved's power to captivate the speaker may be represented in extended metaphors about the "arrows of his eyes", or by referring to the beloved as an assassin or a killer. Take for example the following couplets from Amir Khusro's Persian ghazal Nami danam chi manzil buud shab:

Nami-danam chi manzil buud shab jaay ki man buudam;
Baharsu raqs-e bismil buud shab jaay ki man buudam.
Pari paikar nigaar-e sarw qadde laala rukhsare;
Sarapa aafat-e dil buud shab jaay ki man buudam.

I wonder what was the place where I was last night,
All around me were half-slaughtered victims of love, tossing about in agony.
There was a nymph-like beloved with cypress-like form and tulip-like face,
Ruthlessly playing havoc with the hearts of the lovers.

(translated by S.A.H. Abidi)

In the context of Sufism

It is not possible to get a full understanding of ghazal poetry without at least being familiar with some concepts of Sufism. All the major historical post-Islamic ghazal poets were either avowed Sufis themselves (like Rumi or Hafiz), or were sympathizers with Sufi ideas. Most ghazals can be viewed in a spiritual context, with the Beloved being a metaphor for God, or the poet's spiritual master. It is the intense Divine Love of sufism that serves as a model for all the forms of love found in ghazal poetry.

Most ghazal scholars today recognize that some ghazal couplets are exclusively about Divine Love (ishq-e-haqiqi), others are about "earthly love" (ishq-e-majazi), but many of them can be interpreted in either context.

Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani, and Indian musicians. The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu, a mix of the medieval languages of Northern India, including Persian. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.

Important poets of Urdu ghazal

In Urdu some important and respected ghazal poets are Wali,Aatish, Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Rafi Sauda, Mirza Ghalib, Zauq, Dard, Daagh, Iqbal, and Jigar Moradabadi. Post-partition poets include Firaq Gorakhpuri, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Shakeb Jalali, Parveen Shakir ,Tanwir Phool, Qamar Jalalabadi, Qateel Shifai, Aghar Gondvi, Nasir Kazmi, Ahmed Faraz, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Sahir Ludhianvi, Nida Fazli, Gulzar, Jaun Elia, Habib Jalib,Munir Niazi,Ali Arman, Vikram Singh.

Translations and Performance of Classical ghazal

Enormous collections of ghazal have been created by hundreds of well-known poets over the past thousand years in Persian, Turkish, and Urdu, as well as in the Central Asian Turkic languages. Ghazal poems are performed in Uzbek-Tajik Shashmakom, Turkish Makam, Persian Dastgah and Uyghur Muqam. There are many published translations from Persian and Turkish by Annemarie Schimmel, Arthur John Arberry, and many others. The first complete translation of Mirza Ghalib's Urdu ghazal was written by Sarfaraz K. Niazi[citation needed] (Love Sonnets of Ghalib; Rupa 2002; Ferozsons 2002)

Ghazal "Gayaki", the Urdu art of performing the classical ghazal in singing, is very old. Singers like Ustad Barkat Ali and many other singers in the past used to practice it, but due to the lack of historical records, many names are anonymous. It was with Begum Akhtar, and later on Ustad Mehdi Hassan, that classical rendering of ghazals became popular amongst the masses. The categorization of ghazal singing as a form of "light classical" music is a misconception. Classical ghazals are difficult to render because of the varying moods of the "shers" or couplets in the ghazal. Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh, Farida Khanum, and Ustad Ghulam Ali are popular classical ghazal singers.

Ghazal and its popularity

Understanding the complex lyrics of ghazals required education typically available only to the upper classes. The traditional classical rāgas in which the lyrics were rendered were also difficult to understand. The ghazal has undergone some simplification in terms of words and phrasings, which helps it to reach a larger audience around the world. Most of the ghazals are now sung with various styles which are not limited to khayāl, thumri, rāga, tāla and other classical and light classical genres. However, these forms of the ghazal are looked down on by purists of the Indian Classical tradition. In Pakistan Noor Jehan, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum,Ghulam Ali, Ahmed Rushdi and Mehdi Hassan are known for Ghazal rendetions .Singers like Jagjit Singh (who first used a guitar in ghazals), Ahmed and Mohammed Hussain, Hariharan,Mohammad Rafi, Pankaj Udhas and many others have been able to give a new shape to the ghazal by incorporating elements of Western music. The Canadian classical ghazal singer Cassius Khan has the unusual talent of singing in the recitational style whilst accompanying himself on the tabla.

In English

After nearly a century of "false starts" -- that is, early experiments by James Clarence Mangan, James Elroy Flecker, Adrienne Rich, Phyllis Webb., etc., many of which did not adhere wholly or in part to the traditional principles of the form, experiments dubbed as "the bastard ghazal"[3] -- , the ghazal finally began to be recognized as a viable closed form in English-language poetry sometime in the early to mid 1990s. This came about largely as a result of serious, true-to-form examples being published by noted American poets John Hollander, W. S. Merwin and Elise Paschen, as well as by acclaimed Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (d. 2001), who had been teaching and spreading word of the ghazal at various American universities over the previous two decades. Ali, it is worth noting, had also published by this time a collection (The Rebel's Silhouette) of translations of the legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (b. 1911, d. 1984), and although the selected poems were presented in English in a free verse style, their romantic and revolutionary-Marxist sociopolitical impact was not entirely lost upon Western readers.

Recognizing the growing interest, in 1996 Ali decided to compile and edit the world's first anthology of English-language ghazals. Finally published by Wesleyan University Press in 2000, Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English served as material proof that the ghazal had indeed finally arrived in the English-speaking Western world. (Still fewer than one in ten of the ghazals collected in "Real Ghazals in English" observe the constraints of the form.) Sadly, succumbing to brain cancer in December 2001, Ali did not live long enough to witness the book's full impact and further evolution of the Western ghazal.

A ghazal is composed of couplets, five or more. The couplets may have nothing to do with one another, except for the formal unity derived from a strict rhyme and rhythm pattern.

A ghazal in English which observes the traditional restrictions of the form:

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere--“ ”to make Me beautiful--“
“Trinket”-- to gem– “Me to adorn– How– tell”-- tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates–
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar–
All the archangels– their wings frozen– fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open– for God– the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day–
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love– you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee–
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight. (Agha Shahid Ali)

Ghazals composed in English by notable poets

Ghazal singers

Some well-known ghazal singers are:

Many Indian and Pakistani film singers are famous for singing ghazals. These include:


  1. ^ Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  3. ^ That Bastard Ghazal


  • Agha Shahid Ali (ed.). Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English. ISBN 0-8195-6437-0.
  • Agha Shahid Ali. Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals. ISBN 0-393-05195-1.
  • Bailey, J. O. The Poetry of Thomas Hardy: A handbook and Commentary. ISBN 0-8078-1135-1
  • Doty, Gene (ed./sitemaster). The Ghazal Page; various postings, 1999—2006.
  • Faiz, Faiz Ahmed. The Rebel's Silhouette: Selected Poems. Translated by Agha Shahid Ali. University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.
  • Kanda, K.C., editor. Masterpieces of the Urdu Ghazal: From the 17th to the 20th Century. Sterling Pub Private Ltd., 1991.
  • Mufti, Aamir. "Towards a Lyric History of India." boundary 2, 31: 2, 2004
  • Reichhold, Jane (ed.). Lynx; various issues, 1996—2000.
  • Watkins, R. W. (ed.). Contemporary Ghazals; Nos. 1 and 2, 2003—2004.

External links

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