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The ghazal 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 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 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. 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 due to the influence of Sufi mystics and the courts of the new Islamic Sultanate. Although the ghazal is most prominently a form of Dari poetry and Urdu poetry, today it is found in the poetry of many languages of the Indian sub-continent.
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 Indian 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".
- 1 Pronunciation
- 2 Themes
- 3 Important poets of Urdu ghazal
- 4 Translations and performance of classical ghazal
- 5 Popularity
- 6 In English
- 7 Ghazal singers
- 8 See also
- 9 Footnotes
- 10 References
- 11 External links
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 Indo-Aryan words. This phoneme is often replaced by average Indo-Aryan and Dravidian speakers with the voiced velar stop /g/ or the murmured velar stop /gʰ/. In English, the word is pronounced // or //.
Illicit unattainable love
The ghazal not only has a specific form, but traditionally deals with just one subject: love, specifically an illicit and unattainable love. Ghazals from the Indian sub-continent 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 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 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:
nemidanam che manzel bood shab jayi ke man boodam;
be har soo raghse besmel bood shab jayi ke man boodam.
pari peykar negari sarv ghadi laleh rokhsari;
sarapa afat-e del bood shab jayi ke man boodam.
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.
In the context of Sufism
It is not possible to gain a full understanding of ghazal poetry without at least being familiar with some concepts of Sufism. 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 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 and later due to Indian poets such as Mirza Ghalib. 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 prominent and acclaimed ghazal poets are: Hafez, Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Momin Khan Momin, Daagh Dehlvi, Khwaja Haidar Ali Aatish, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Khwaja Mir Dard, Jaun Elia, Hafeez Hoshiarpuri, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ahmad Faraz, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Muhammad Iqbal, Qamar Jalalabadi, Shakeb Jalali, Nasir Kazmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Hasrat Mohani, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Jigar Moradabadi, Munir Niazi, Mirza Rafi Sauda, Qateel Shifai, Ehsan Sehgal, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Wali Mohammed Wali and Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq.
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 Indian classical tradition, 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. Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Begum Akhtar, 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, these 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 India, in addition to Urdu/Hindi, 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 Barkat Virani 'Befaam', Aasim Randeri, Shunya Palanpuri, Amrut 'Ghayal', Khalil Dhantejvi and many more. Some of the notable ghazals of these prominent writers have been sung by Bollywood playback singer Manhar Udhas (the elder brother of noted Ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas).
Renowned ghazal singer, and pioneer of Telugu ghazals, Dr. Ghazal Srinivas popularized the ghazal in Telugu language. Srinivas also introduced ghazal singing in Kannada language, and ghazals in Kannada language were written by Markandapuram Srinivas.
First true-to-form Bangla (Bengali) ghazal are published in "gajaler aayanaay" by Bratish Dashgupta.
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" — 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 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.)
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 that 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
- Agha Shahid Ali, "Ghazal ('...exiles')"
- Robert Bly, The Night Abraham Called to the Stars and My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy
- Francis Brabazon, In Dust I Sing (Beguine Library, 1974).
- Lorna Crozier, "Bones in Their Wings"
- Judith Fitzgerald, Twenty-Six Ways Out of This World (Oberon), 1999.
- Thomas Hardy, "The Mother Mourns"
- Jim Harrison, Outlyer and Ghazals (Touchstone), 1971
- John Hollander, "Ghazal On Ghazals"
- Galway Kinnell, "Sheffield Ghazal 4: Driving West", "Sheffield Ghazal 5: Passing the Cemetery" (Mariner Books), 2001
- Maxine Kumin, "On the Table"
- Marilyn Krysl, "Ghazals for the Turn of the Century"
- Edward Lowbury, "A Ghazel (for Pauline)" (1968); "Prometheus: a ghazel" (1976); "Remembering Nine (a ghazel for Peter Russell)" (1981)
- W. S. Merwin, "The Causeway"
- William Matthews, "Guzzle", "Drizzle"
- Elise Paschen, "Sam's Ghazal"
- Robert Pinsky, "The Hall"
- Spencer Reece, Florida Ghazals
- Adrienne Rich, Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib
- John Thompson, "Stilt Jack" (Anansi), 1978.
- Andrew D. Chumbley, "Qutub" (Xoanon), 1995.
- Natasha Trethewey, "Miscegenation", 2006.
- Phyllis Webb, Water and Light: Ghazals and Anti Ghazals (Coach House), 1984.
- John Edgar Wideman, "Lost Letter"
- Rob Winger, "The Chimney Stone" (Nightwood Editions), 2010
- Sukhdarshan Dhaliwal, "Ghazals at Twilight" (SD Publications), 2009
Some notable ghazal singers are:
Some Malay singers are famous for ghazals. These include:
- Filmi-ghazal, Indian filmi music based on ghazal poetry
- 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—2010
- 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
- A Desertful of Roses The Divan-e Ghalib - in Urdu, with Devanagari and Roman transliterations.