Sunday, February 4, 2018

Ghalib and Ghazals

If your notion of poetry has been restricted to Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and maybe a couple of Shakespearean sonnets, there's a distinct possibility that you've never heard of Ghalib before. And perhaps you have no idea what a ghazal is...

But if your lyrical knowledge extends beyond American and British soils, and into the realm of India, Pakistan, and beyond, then you probably already know that a ghazal represents one of the most celebrated poetic forms of Urdu, Hindi, and Persian cultures, and the Ghalib is the man who many say is the master of the ghazal.

So... What the heck is a ghazal

It's a poetic form with several key components:

  • The length is usually 6 to 14 lines (organized by couplets)
  • Meter can vary, but each line in a single couplet has the same number of syllables.
  • Refrain (radif) is an important aspect in most ghazals.
  • The poet usually includes his name at the end of the poem, almost as if conversing with him/herself. 
  • Many ghazals have been set to music... and it's still popular today!

Common Themes: 

All the ghazals that I have read explore the topic of love in its many facets. Some of this can be read as romantic love, but very often the ghazal is a meditation of love between the poet and God (or a higher power, often called "beloved"). Other forms of love can be explored in a ghazal... friendship, family, nature, the universe... although I don't think I've ever read a ghazal about the love between humans and pets. 

UPDATE: Just did a google search and found a ghazal about a dog and his owner. 

Origins and Early Ghazals: 

According to extensive research (or a slight glance at Wikipedia), ghazals were written as early as the 12th century, and they became incredibly prominent within Urdu culture in the 18th and 19th century. 

The cosmic/spiritual nature of ghazals can be traced back to Sufism. (Which we touched upon when discussing the Book of Travels.)  

Here's a quick video that gets you up to speed about some of the defining qualities of Sufism, a mystical avenue of belief and practice within Islam:

In the 13th century, Rumi became the most prominent of the Sufi poets. 

What About Ghalib?

Flash Forward to the 1800s... 

That's when this guy is writing ghazals... 

Mirza Asadullah Khan -- Pen Name: Ghalib

He lived during the time of the Mughal Empire...

And he wrote ghazals that would inspire millions of people throughout the world. 

What is Urdu? 

It's an Asian language noted for its literature and lyrics. This little Youtube film can explain it better than I can... 

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