Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Definition: Ghazal, Nazm

Definitions of "ghazal" and "nazm" as I read them on some website years ago.


A poem of five to fifteen couplets, a Ghazal is a collection of 'sher' which follow the rules of 'matla', 'maqta', 'behar', 'qafiya' and 'radeef'. So to know what a Ghazal is, it's necessary to know what these terms mean.

Sher (shey-r) - a two line poem. This is a deceptive definition as it does not convey the complexity of thought that can be conveyed in two lines. Each is a "complete" poem in itself. It stands by itself and can be quoted as such, and often is.

Thus, a Ghazal is a collection of 'ashaar' (plural of sher) which are complete in themselves and each may deal with topics/ subjects completely unrelated to each other.

Behar (be-huhr) - behar is the metre of the poem. This can loosely thought of as the length of the sher. Both the lines of a sher MUST be of the same 'behar' or 'metre'. Also, all the ashaar of a Ghazal MUST be the same behar.

There are 19 different metres that are used. In simple terms, they are divided into three categories - short, medium and long.

Radeef (ra-dee-f) - word or phrase that is repeated at the end of the second line in EVERY sher. The SAME word(s) are repeated.

Qafiya (qaa-fee-yaa) - the rhyming pattern of the word(s) just before the radeef in the second line of a sher. This is a necessary requirment, followed even in the absence of other rules.

Thus, a Ghazal is a collection of two-lined poem called sher, having the same behar, ending with the same radeef and having the same qafiya.

Matla (muh-ta-laa) - This is the first sher of a Ghazal, and both lines of the sher must end in the radeef. Usually a Ghazal has only one matla. If a Ghazal has more than one matla, then the second matla is called 'matla-e-saani'.

Maqta (mak-taa) - A shaayar (poet) usually had a pen-name under which he wrote. The pen-name is called 'taKhallus' (takh-ul-lus). The sher in which the taKhallus is included is called the maqta. It is the last sher of the Ghazal.

This is what a ghazal looks like:

Couplet one:
---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain
---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain
Couplet Two, Three, & so on:
---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain

Example A:
I say That, after all, is the trick of it all
When suddenly you say "Arabic of it all."
For Shahid too the night went quickly as it came.
After that, O Friend, came the music of it all.

Example B:
What will suffice for a true love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief's lottery, bought even the rain.
They've found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.

Example C:
Suspended in the garden, Time, bit by bit, shines-
As you lean over this page, late and alone, it shines.
Mark how Shahid returns your very words to you.
It's when the heart, still unbriefed, but briefly literature, shines.

Example D:
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight
Before you agonize him in farewell tonight?
And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee-
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.


In a broad sense, nazm is a term used to define all kinds of Urdu poetry which do not fall into any other category. However, in a literary sense, a nazm is a well organized, logically evolving poem where each individual verse serves the need of the central concept or theme of the poem. Though a nazm is traditionally written in rhymed verse, there are many examples of nazms written in unrhymed verse, or even in free verse.

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