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Urdu poetry

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Amir Khusrau, a 13th-century Urdu poet.

Urdu poetry (Urdu: اُردُو شاعرى Urdū šāʿirī) is a tradition of poetry and has many different forms. Today, it is an important part of the culture of India and Pakistan. According to Naseer Turabi there are five major poets of Urdu: Mir Taqi Mir (d.1810), Mirza Ghalib (d. 1869), Mir Anees (d.1874), Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938) and Josh Malihabadi (d.1982). The language of Urdu reached its pinnacle under the British Raj, and it received official status. All famous writers of Urdu language including Ghalib and Iqbal were given British scholarships.[1] Following the Partition of India in 1947, it found major poets and scholars were divided along the nationalistic lines. However, Urdu poetry is cherished in both the nations. Both the Muslims and Hindus from across the border continue the tradition.

It is fundamentally performative poetry and its recital, sometimes impromptu, is held in Mushairas (poetic expositions). Although its tarannum saaz (singing aspect) has undergone major changes in recent decades, its popularity among the masses remains unaltered. Mushairas are today held in metropolitan areas worldwide because of the cultural influence of the South Asian diaspora. Ghazal singing and Qawwali are also important expository forms of Urdu poetry.


The principal forms of Urdu poetry are:[2]

  • Ghazal غزل, is a set of two liner couplets, which strictly should end with the same rhyme and should be within one of the predefined meters of ghazals. There has to be a minimum of five couplets to form a ghazal. Couplets may or may not have the same thought. It is one of the most difficult forms of poetry as there are many strict parameters that one needs to abide by while writing ghazal. It is important to think about the topic as well as the theme of a ghazal before starting to write it. The first line of a ghazal must include a refrain, which is a word or a phrase that can be easily fitted into the other couplets. Each couplet of a ghazal is known as Sher (شعر ). The first Sher is called Matla' (مطلع ). The last Sher is called Maqta' (مقطع ), but only if the poet uses his "Takhalus (تخلص )".
  • Hamd حمّد is a poem in praise of God. The word "hamd" is derived from the Qur'an, its English translation is "Praise".
  • Manqabat مُنقبت is a Sufi devotional poem, in praise of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of Muhammad, or of any Sufi saint.
  • Marsiya مرثیہ is an elegy typically composed about the death of Hasan, Husain, or their relatives. Each stanza has six lines, with the rhyme scheme AAAABB.[2] The famous marsia writers who inherited the tradition of Mir Anis among his successive generations are Mir Nawab Ali 'Munis', Dulaha Sahab 'Uruj', Syed Mohammed Mohsin (Jaunpuri), Mustafa Meerza urf Piyare Sahab 'Rasheed', Syed Muhammad Mirza Uns, Ali Nawab 'Qadeem', Syed Sajjad Hussain "Shadeed" Lucknavi, Allama, Dr.Syed Ali Imam Zaidi, "Gauher" Luckhnavi the great-grandson of Mir Babber Ali Anis, Syed Karrar Hyder (Jaunpuri) and Syed Yadullah Haider (son of Syed Karrar Hyder).
  • Masnavi مثنوی is a poem written in couplets in bacchic tetrameter with an iambus for last foot. The topic is often romance.[2] Mir Taqi Mir and Sauda wrote some of this kind. The Religious Masnavi History of Islam (Tarikh-e-Islam Az Quran) written by Dr Syed Ali Imam Zaidi Gauher Lucknavi.
  • Na`at نعت is a poetry that specifically praises the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
  • Nazm نظم is the basic type of Urdu poetry. It can be written on any topic, and so a large number of Nazm exist. From Nazeer Akbarabadi, Iqbal, Josh, Firaq, Akhtarul Iman to down the line Noon Meem Rashid, Faiz, Ali Sardar Jafri and Kaifi Azmi, Urdu poets have covered common life, philosophical thinking, national issues and the precarious predicament of an individual human being. As a distinct form of Nazm many Urdu poets influenced by English and other European poets took to writing sonnets in the Urdu language.[3] Azmatullah Khan (1887–1923) is believed to have introduced this format to Urdu Literature.[4] The other renowned Urdu poets who wrote sonnets were Akhtar Junagarhi, Akhtar Sheerani, Noon Meem Rashid, Zia Fatehabadi, Salaam Machhalishahari and Wazir Agha.
  • Qasida قصیدہ, usually an ode to a benefactor, a satire, or an account of an event. It uses the same rhyme system as the ghazal, but is usually longer.[2]
  • Ruba'i رُباعی, is a poetry style, the Arabic term for "quatrain". The plural form of the word, rubāʿiyāt, often anglicised rubaiyat, is used to describe a collection of such quatrains.
  • Tazkira تذکرہ is a biographical anthology of poetry.[2]

Collection forms

The principal collection forms of Urdu poetry are:[2]


Urdu poetry forms itself with following basic ingredients:


The major genres of poetry found in Urdu are:

Pen names

In the Urdu poetic tradition, most poets use a pen name called the Takhallus (تخلص). This can be either a part of a poet's given name or something else adopted as an identity. The traditional convention in identifying Urdu poets is to mention the takhallus at the end of the name. The word takhallus[5] is derived from Arabic, meaning "ending". This is because in the Ghazal form, the poet would usually incorporate his or her pen name into the final couplet (شعر) (maqta) of each poem.

Scripts used in poetry

In Pakistan and Deccan region of India, Urdu poetry is written in the standard Nasta'liq calligraphy style of the Perso-Arabic script. However, in north India, where Urdu poetry is very popular, the Perso-Arabic is often found transliterated into the Devanāgarī script, as an aid for those Hindī-speakers, who can comprehend Urdu, but cannot read the Perso-Arabic script. With the dawn of the internet and globalization, this poetry is often found written in Roman Urdu as well as in Hindi script.

Example of Urdu ghazal

The following is a verse from an Urdu ghazal by Syed Khwaja Mir Dard:


دوستو، دیکھا تماشا یہاں کا بس
تم رہو؛ اب ہم تو اپنے گھر چلے

Roman Urdu:

Dōstō, dēkhā tamāśhā yaāhan kā bas.
Tūm raho; ab hum tō apne ghar chalē

English translation:

Friends, I've seen the spectacle of this place enough
You stay here; I'm heading home.

See also


  1. ^ Paul R. Brass (2005). Language, religion, and politics in North India. Lincoln, Neb.: IUniverse. ISBN 978-0-595-34394-2.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Bailey, Thomas Grahame (2008) [1932]. A History of Urdu Literature (PDF). Association Press (Y.M.C.A.). ISBN 978-0-19-547518-0. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  3. ^ Encyclopedic dictionary of Urdu literature p. 565
  4. ^ The Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature (Volume Five) p. 4146
  5. ^ A Brief History of Persian Literature, by the Iran Chamber Society.