The ghazal (Arabic/Persian/Urdu: غزل) is a poetic form with rhyming couplets and a refrain, 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 Arabic poetry in Arabia long before the birth of Islam. 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 style and content, it is a genre that has proved capable of an extraordinary variety of expression around its central themes of love and separation.
- Unconditional superior love
- Important poets of Persian Ghazal
- Translations and performance of classical Ghazal
- In English
- Notable poets who composed Ghazals
- Ghazal singers
The ghazal spread into South Asia in the 12th century by the influence of Sufi mystics and the courts of the new Islamic sultanates. Although the ghazal is most prominently a form of Dari poetry and Urdu poetry, it is now found in the poetry of many languages on the Indian Subcontinent.
Ghazals were written by Rumi and Hafiz of Persia; the Azeri poet Fuzûlî in the Ottoman Empire; Mirza Ghalib and Muhammad Iqbal of North India; and Kazi Nazrul Islam of Bengal. Through the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), the ghazal became very popular in Germany during the 19th century; the form was used extensively by Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866) and August von Platen (1796–1835). The Kashmiri 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". Ghazals were written by Moti Ram Bhatta (1866 - 1896), the pioneer for Ghazal writing in Nepali language.
It is common in ghazals for the poet's name (known as takhallus) to be featured in the last verse (a convention known as the maqta).
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 English, the word is pronounced /ˈɡʌzəl/ or /ˈɡæzæl/.
Unconditional, superior love
The ghazal not only has a specific form but also traditionally deals with variety of subjects and has encountered revolutions over the ages, specially after 1947 there was a drastic change in the subjects of ghazal opted by the Poets. The most prominent subject of ghazal even after the end of romantic era of Urdu literature has been love, specifically an unconditional and superior love. Ghazals from the Indian subcontinent have an influence of Islamic mysticism and the subject of love can usually be interpreted for a higher being or for a mortal beloved. 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 law 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 either 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 has not returned 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:
Many of the major historical 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 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 and later due to Indian poets such as Mirza Ghalib. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.
Important poets of Persian Ghazal
In Persian, prominent and acclaimed ghazal poets include Hafez, Wali Mohammed Wali, Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Momin Khan Momin, Daagh Dehlvi, Khwaja Haidar Ali Aatish, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Khwaja Mir Dard, Jaun Elia, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ahmad Faraz, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Tahir Faraz Rampuri Muhammad Iqbal, Qamar Jalalabadi, Shakeb Jalali, Nasir Kazmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Hasrat Mohani, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Jigar Moradabadi, Saghar Siddiqui, Munir Niazi, Mirza Rafi Sauda, Qateel Shifai, Ehsan Sehgal, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Wali Mohammed Wali, Dushyant Kumar Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq and Kashmiri Lal Zakir.
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.
Ghazal "Gayaki", the art of singing or performing the ghazal in the Indian classical tradition, is very old. Singers like Ustad Barkat Ali and many other singers in the past used to practice it, but the lack of historical records make many names anonymous. It was with Begum Akhtar and later on Ustad Mehdi Hassan that classical rendering of Ghazals became popular in 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. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Begum Akhtar, Talat Mahmood, Mehdi Hassan, Abida Parveen, Jagjit Singh, Farida Khanum and Ustad Ghulam Ali, Moinuddin Ahamed, are popular classical ghazal singers.
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 in styles that are not limited to khayāl, thumri, rāga, tāla and other classical and light classical genres.
However, those forms of the ghazal are looked down on by purists of the Indian classical tradition. In Pakistan, Noor Jehan, Iqbal Bano, Abida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Ghulam Ali, Ahmed Rushdi, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and Mehdi Hassan are known for ghazal renditions. Singers like Jagjit Singh (who first used a guitar in ghazals), Ahmed and Mohammed Hussain, Hariharan, Adithya Srinivasan, Mohammad Rafi, Pankaj Udhas and many others have been able to give a new shape to the ghazal by incorporating elements of Western music.
In North India, in addition to Hindustani, ghazals have been very popular in the Gujarati language. For around a century, starting with Balashankar Kantharia, there have been many notable Gujarati ghazal writers like Kalapi, Barkat Virani 'Befaam', Aasim Randeri, Shunya Palanpuri, Amrut Ghayal, Khalil Dhantejvi and many more. Some notable ghazals of those prominent writers have been sung by Bollywood playback singer Manhar Udhas.
Renowned ghazal singer, and pioneer of Telugu ghazals, Ghazal Srinivas popularized the ghazal in Telugu. Srinivas also introduced ghazal singing in Kannada, and Ghazals in Kannada were written by Markandapuram Srinivas.
The first true-to-form Bangla (Bengali) ghazal are published in "gajaler aayanaay" by British Dashgupta.
The Canadian classical ghazal singer Cassius Khan has the unusual talent of singing in the recitational style while accompanying himself on the tabla.
After nearly a century of "false starts", the early experiments of James Clarence Mangan, James Elroy Flecker, Adrienne Rich, Phyllis Webb, etc., many of whom did not adhere wholly or in part to the traditional principles of the form, experiments dubbed as "the bastard Ghazal", the ghazal finally began to be recognized as a viable closed form in poetry of the English language some time in the early to mid-1990s. It 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 Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali, who had been teaching and spreading word of the Ghazal at American universities over the previous two decades.
In 1996, Ali compiled and edited the world's first anthology of English-language Ghazals, published by Wesleyan University Press in 2000, as Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English. (Fewer than one in ten of the ghazals collected in Real Ghazals in English observe the constraints of the form.) Devi Panthi of Nepal started composing ghazals claiming himself the pioneer of English ghazals since 2006.
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 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
Notable poets who composed Ghazals
Some notable ghazal singers are:
Many Indian and Pakistani film singers are famous for singing ghazals, such as these:
Some Malay singers are famous for singing Ghazal, such as these: