In the name of Allah

In endearing memory of Mr Madan Mohan, foremost film music composer in Indian Cinematic history- the King of Ghazals.

An elegy of “Love”
The Ghazal is an Arabic term and with the influence of Islam it passed into languages such as Persian, Turkish and Urdu, and it is in these languages that it developed a particular meaning. Its root term ” gh- zl ” in Arabic refers to yarn but it does not mean women spinning yarn. It refers to a song by a man to a woman. The word ” Ghazal ” has an aiffinity to the concept of ” lahw ” ( pleasure ) in the work of Al Akhtal and with the contemporary Suraka it appears as ” pleasure in the youth of Ghazal ”

In the work of Waddad it is termed to be a love song inspired by youthfulness. By the 3rd/9th century, the Ghazal had become an established genre and became fully associated with the above although there were other similar themes. These were the “aghazlu “, the “ghazil” ,and the “taghazzala “. It was Kudama who established a distinction between the Ghazal and the Taghazzala and with Kudama the basis of the Ghazal is further identifies separately from the ” Nasib ” Similar to the genre of Ghazal there is the ” tashbib ” and ” shabbaba “. This term is derived from “shabab” ( youthfullness, youth ). This is often used for a mere synonym for the Ghazal and Nasib. The Nasib designated an elegiac genre in a number of styles of poems that also featured the poem of praise, the satire and the fakhr. In certain ways the verb “nasaba ” means to sing of the ” beauty of a lady and the agitation she inspires ” ( AGHANI vi 219 ). In popular terms the nasib designates the amatory elegiac prologue at the beginning of a ” Kasida “.

Arabic Poetry and the Ghazal-
With the works that are attributed to the second part of the 6th century , such as those of Imru Al Kays, and Tarafa , and others it can be concluded that the Ghazal was seen to be a historic and honourable genre. It was considered to be spontaneous poetry, such as in the chant of the desert nomad , known to be as the “hidd”. There are similarities here with the “ahal ” of the Tuaregs.

It was , however, from the generation of poets which arose in the second half of the 6th century in what is now known to be the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia , that the amatory elegiac “genre ” received a particular twist. It was this generation of peots that freed itself from the traditions inherited in Arabia from previous generations. However, Iraqi poets followed previous traditions inherited from the desert society and cultivated in al -Hira.

However, in the Hidjaz, and particularly in Mecca and Medina the conditions had changed due to the influx of people and merchants. It was the establishment of the Ummayad dynsaty in Syria , the emergence of the cities of Iraq, the years of the revolt of the Zubayrids that cut of the Hidjaz from the rest of the Muslim world, which gave the cities of Mecca and Medina a unique character. In this environment elemets of the ruling class withdrew from the Court and sought refuge for themselves and their frustrations and pursued the societies of intrique. It was most likely that this class of aristocracy was that which had been displaced by the new civlisation of Islam and found it difficult to come to terms with the loss of power but where they still found a secret society that was a representation of the society where they once held power and which was now displaced. The writings of Abu al Faraj al ishfahani and also al Zubayr b Bakkar ( d.256 ) give us a picture of this society of intrigue. Here women occupied an important place and where the rich visited to satisfy their passions, where people with dubious backgrounds visited and also where there were singing girls.

It is here that the conditions were favourable to the development of lyrical poetry and it was the new aristocracy that produced the new poets such as al-Ardji, al-Ahwas, and Umar bin Rabia who showed their peotical talents in writing about their loves. In this poetic environment a significant part is played by singing girls who often commissioned the poets or took part in the composition of the work. The relationship between poetry and music was strong in this environment and this is shown in the use of metres unknown at the time poets of the desert. This is exemplified by the use of the “khafif “, the “Hazadj “, the ” ramal ” amongst the elegists , and the identity of these with the musical modes of the same names needs to be mentioned. The vocabulary of amongst the poets of this genre aims at simplicity where the dialogue form is commensurate to actual scenes and where expression is connected to emotion. The elegists of the “Hidjaz ” were essentially poets of the desert school and where their environment was translated into their writings. The elegist is a lyric poet where his expressions are those of his reality and experiences which were felt. Such is the accuracy of the reality of their emotions for the lady attentions that her name is often substituted in their works.

Often in their works there is a constant complaint about gender separation in the new Mecca and Madina, the elegists also refer to the “rakib ” ( the censor ), the “kashih ” ( ill wisher ), the “adhil ” “the blamer ” – these are real persons in that society who the poets have had experience of. The poetical works refer very often to the traits of human nature, and the quarrels between lovers, the heartbreak of separation.

There is a sharing of a common theme in the works of these elegists- the meeting between the poet and a lady on the occasion of the Pilgirmage. Here the work of al-Ardji can be seen as an example where the lady is the “silent one ” and where her mere presence is needed to provoke lyricism of the poet.

The thematic sequence concerned with rediscovery is very suggestive and appears frequently – here also the poet refers to actual and experienced events and a conversation that has actually taken place , and where the quest is regarded as an exploit thereby re-establishing the relationship of relationship between the elegic theme and “fakhr “.

Amongst the poets of the Hidjaz rediscoveries are given authenticity by the poets attention to detail of the experience. There is here a literary concept of love which is formed in the images formed by the lover and his Lady. In regard to this Lady , her character is already described in the “nasib ” and has existed for centuries , as evoking softness and luxury, socially she belongs to a nobel family who is a creature of formidable charm and beauty, which she exhibits with cruelty.

However, there is a difference in the description of the ideal woman in the works of the Hedjazi poets and those from the Iraqi school.

The Hedjazi elegist takes pleasure in saying that his lady is the ideal woman in terms of love, is humble in the fact of destiny, and eager for her seducer. The Iraqi woman is described by its school as a person with the spirit of the Court. The elegist of Medina and Mecca apperas as a victim of his love for the Lady, and as a vulnerable creature subject to the despair. At times the poet lover reveals his ” badawi ” roots and also quiet. openly his ” fakhr .”

In his works the poet lover also exhibits ideas related to realism where the poet depicts himself as a heart breaker that no beauiful woman can resist. The realities of life are also evident in their works which describes love that withers with age. There is often a stress on the tranistory feelings of passions.

One aspect demarkates the Hidjazi manner from that of any other school which depicts Courtly love- that the Hidjazi style does not follow the tradition where the lover bows to the Lady of his choice in total submission.

Another aspect of the Hidjazi style, that they adhere to what is human and do not seek to transcend it. Often these poets have been identified as ” licentious ” . However, it needs to be made clear that this does not transcend to indecency or depravity. It should be emphasized that the Hidjazi manner does not offend against nature or good manners.

Udhiri custom- this ascribes to Courtly love or spirit. The amatory elegiac poetry of courtly inspiration acquired its character under influences coming from outside the Arab homeland of the Hidjaz, such as Iraq in the pre occupations and tastes of some elements of society in Basra, Kufa or Baghdad: others derive from contacts between centres in Iraq and the Hidjaz. It should be noted that during the 2nd century of Islam ( 8th century AD ) the city of Medina had eliminated elements that it considered worldly. It was the result of this spiritual cleansing in Medina that singers, composers, and other artistes left for Iraq where they enchanted the population with stories about the elegists of Medina and Mecca.

From this point onwards there developed in Basra and Baghdad a semi romantic, semi – historical literature , of which there were several noticable writers such as Ibn al Kalbi, al- Madani, and al-Hytham.

Abu Faradj al Isfahani in his ” Kitab al Aghani ” demonstrates that the poet lovers often underwent a genuine transfiguration , which in some cases turned real persons like Djamil into veritable heroes of love. Therefore, the poeticall works of these writers who were the poet lovers reflected the psychology of the heroes who figured in the romances or romanticised biographies.

Various nomadic groups began to boast of the fact that they had produced great poets- such as the Udhra which in the 1st century of Islam travelled between the oasis at Tayma and the Wadi l-Kura, who prided themselves on having produced the hero , the famous Djamil.

The Nahd also boasted of having produced their own legend of poetry- he sayyidd Ibn Adjlan , who later became the hero of a love saga. Other groups later developed creations of a similar kind in the Iraqi centres where they had installed themselves: such seems to have been the case with the Amir b. Sasaa and Madjnun through his love for Layla.

In Basra, the poet Bashar b. Burd ( d.784 ce ) popularised certain themes. In his Diwan he wrote there are verses addressed to Abda and other female personalities of the city, lyric pieces where infact his love is from the first known to be hopeless and draws its lasting character from this certainty. The environment in Basra that Bashar was composing his Ghazals in was favourable for emotional exaltation, where mystical experiences were attributed to women, where there was an emergence of free think

ers in Kufa, and also where there was a thirst for purer joys. Bashars elegic work gives evidence of his fruitless desire to detach himself from carnal desires- which was achieved by his compatriot ,al- Abbas b. al.Ahnaf ( d.808 ce) , whose work is unique in the history of Arabic poetry , which is extensively a song of Courtly love. Al-Abbas composed works that were all concerned with one ideal- that for the poet the , the lady is the unattainable and a distant incarnation of a desired being and where nothing can permit one to dream of being healed from an affliction sent by fate. To express his experience the Courtly poet turns to the instruments used by poets of the Hidjazi school whereby he employs the same metres of “khafif “, “ramal ” and ” hazadj “.His poems were set to music and many were composed at the request of certain aristocratic women of Baghdad.

The evidence of the above that the courtly ” Ghazal ” is a genre born among the aristocratic society of the Iraqi cities: it corresponds to a certain sophistication cultivated by the youth of both genders, who described themselves as ” Zarif ” – smart.

The emergence of Abu Nawas ( b 747 AD) represents a new stage in the development of the amatory elegic genre where he exhibits the convergence of influences. His Mother was Persian and his Father was half Arab and this comes through in his work. He was based in Baghdad and in his work the Courtly spirit occupies a secondary place in theses works. These poems prefer to develop a philosophy that embraces every kind of satisfaction. The poets attention is not towards one Lady but towards several loose women.The work of Abu Nawas corresponds to the taste of one sector in Baghdad society. It is this sector that breaks with the Courtly spirit and romantic love.

The 3rd century saw the elaboration of a courtly ideal.Amongst the poets of this period the field of expression of the amatory elegic genre became more restricted. The only developments are to be found in ” nasibs ” that preface ” kasidas ” Here themes are treated more intellectually and are reduced to the states of mind and the adage of the vanity of fleeting nature of love, the sorrow it inspires and the dissatisfaction it brings. However, some poets from the urban centres in Iraq and the Maghrib wrote poems of a more personal lyricism in the Ghazal manner.The spirit of the Courtly spirit is perceptible in these works but it does not go so far as to exclude references to a lived experience, in which emotion seeks to express, in which emotion seeks to a spontaneity that is frequently suppressed.

During the 4th century similar efforts are made by other poets of the Baghdad tradition and in particular those who benefitted from the Buyid dynasty. The most significant of these were Ibn Sukkara ( d.385 ) and al-Salami ( d.393 ). The influence of Abu Nawas is significant amongst these poets. Like him these poets sing about the joys of love as well as the pain it brings.

To date , therefore, there are 2 currents that are forming. One that is idealistic and courtly. The second is realistic , either with the moderation of the Hijazi style or with the extremism of the obsenity in the works of Ibn  adjdjadj. The latter is restricted by the ideology of Islam. By this time, however, poetry in Arabic was cultivated in all the intellectual centres of Muslim world. The amatory elegic genre had its representatives in all of these centres of
literary brilliance. All the poets acknowledged the work of Abu Nawas. In Spain Ibn Zaydun ( b 394 ) gave the genre a different brush with the use of elaborate vocabulary. Ibn Hamdis ( d.527 ) of Syracuse achieved the combination of a generalised lyricism with amatory elegiac movements of real charm. The cultured societies of Spain relished this spirit in particular.

But faced with their incapacity to induce new life the thematic elements of the ghazal , the Arab poets from the 5th century began to show their originality in a different method. In Spain there emegred the composition lyrical and elegiac pieces in the ” muwashah ” and “zadjal ” forms. From here this influence passed to the East where Ibn Sana al Mulk ( d.1217 ) in Egypt and Safi al Din al Hilli ( d.1359 ) in Irag compliles treatises of the new poetic form. These were efforts to return to the foundations of lyrical poetry. However, what transpired was a renewal of the Ghazal, even though this was not the first intention. In modern times in the middle east we have witnessed attempts to affect such a revolution. However, it is too early to state if the surrealists and symbolists that hav achieved some prominence in the literary circles of Western Europe will sufficiently be followed to give new life to elegiac lyricism in Arabic poetry.

In Persian Literature-
the ghazal is one of the most common instruments of Neo-Persian lyrics. The Neo-Persian ghazal originated from the “tashbib ” or ” nasib ” of the Arabic Kasida, which later developed into an independent form. The origin of this lies in the Persian folk songs,antedating Arabic influence.

A distinction needs to be drawn between a “technical ghazal ” and a more generic ghazal. The first can be said to have found its final form only in Saadi ( 17th century ), and the second owes its origin to folk poetry and later refined at the Courts under Arabic influence. It is important to stress that neo-Persian poetry in its specific sense has its origin in the literary evolution of adapting Persian language to Arabic metres to and forms , an experiment first begun at the courts of the independent Persian dynasties in Khurasan by those who had a perfect knowledge of Arabic. These people were not Arabs in an ethnic sense but were Persians and Arabic poetry of the time was influenced by Persian ideas although very little exists or survives of pre Islamic folk poetry of Persia.

The formal history of the Neo-Persian ghazal can be divided roughly into five phases in history. The first is the period of its origins, rather obscure, for which there are only fragments of poetical compositions. At this stage many elements of the technical ghazal are lacking such as the “takhallus “, “matla” and “makta “. Rudagi and Dakiki may be regarded as the greatest poets of this period ( 3rd / 4th century of Islam ).

The second period can be viewed as a formative one ( 4th to 7th centuries ). During this time the ghazal acquires an important element- the mystical experience. It is at the end of this period that the classical ghazal is formed perfectly ,although its form is either mystic, as with Attar, or it is profane , as with Anwari, who was best known as a Kasida writer but who distinguished the ghazal as a special literary genre , having as its object the “mashuk ” ( the beloved ). The Kasida , however, has the “mamduh ” ( the Praised one- Prince or patron ) as its object.

The third period ( 7th to 10th centuries ) can be seen to be the classical period. Here the ghazal finds its perfectly defined present , both from the point of view of form and content. The ghazal now becomes a highly decorative and symbolic style . Saadi and Hafez are the supreme ghazal writers of this period. For Hafez the chief object of the ghazal is the mashukh , the ( earthly ) beloved , becomes inextricably connected not only with the mabud , the divine Beloved , but also with the mamduh.

The fourth period , that of the Indian style ( 10th to 12th centuries ), sees an intellectual reflection on the accepted symbols of the classical ghazal , which becomes an arena for a quasi philosophical exercise of the mind. The ghazal finds a renewed congruity of meaning, and its protagonist, instead of the mashuk/mamduh/mabad , seems to be the mind of the author, creating ever new purely intellectual combinations of the old symbols ( The finest poet of this period is Saib ).

The fifth and last period is not easily definable : in Iran a tendency to revive the classical and the pre classical ghazal is followed by attempts to use the ghazal for more modern and profane purposes for which the ghazal is not favourable.

The Ghazal In Urdu Literature-
Urdu literature was born under the strong influence of Persian culture and belongs to the period of the 10th to 12th centuries and its history can be divided into some four periods. The first period is seen to be that of the “dakhani ” urdu ( 9th to 17th centuries ) where the ghazal is one of instruments of the lyrics of Urdu, but not the most successful. The dakhani ghazals are generally more descriptive and congruous than the classical Persian ones. With Wali ( 1668-1741) the attempts to at adapting the Persian style to Urdu poetry is more successful and profound and Urdu ghazals at this time began to be accepted in the literary culture of Northern India.

Herewith begins the classical period of the ghazal in Urdu culminating in in the works of Mir ( d.1810 ), Ghalib ( d.1869 ) and a period that initiated the period of modren Urdu , the greatest names of which , besides Iqbal ( d.1938 ) , who uses the ghazal in his peculiar ideological way as a symbolic channel to introduce ideas, Asghar of Ghondwa ( d.1936 ), Hasrat Mohani ( d.1951 ), Fani of Badayun ( d.1941 ) and Jigar Morarabadi ( d.1960 ).

The Urdu ghazal , born under the influence of the Indian style Persian ghazal , shows a more marked intellectual character then the Persian ghazal , together with the greater congruence in meaning. Later this led to ghazal writers to use this form as an ideological instrument, such as under the influence of Hali ( d.1914 ) and Iqbal ( d.1938 ).

Hali advocated the in his work ” Mukadima i shir u Shairi ” a reform of the classical ghazal in the modern sense , based on the widening of the ghazal which would also involve emotions of the modern world. The renovation of brought about in the ghazal by the aforementioned personalities led to the the result now, in the Indian subcontinent the ghazal has become a serious instrument of modern poetry both in political and poetical terms, as exhibited by the late Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Polite request from Kaleem- if you are going to use any part of the research , could you kindly credit this website. Authentic research is difficult to find and should therefore be respected and acknowledged.

Above article reserached and publsihed by Kaleem Sheikh on 30.09.2010. Protected by
Copyright Act.

Um e Kulsoom Sheriff. Thank you for your kind words.



6 thoughts on “Ghazal.

  1. It may seem simple to talk about literature, but it is not; just the one with deep knowledge, pure perception and profound emotion dares to go over it. “Ghazal” is one of the important literary elements which you expanded it excellent. Great Job.

    1. Fereshteh Rezakhani

      Thank you indeed. To receive an observation from yourself is really special since you have taught Persian at University level in Iran.

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