The Grammar of Ghazal

Author: Dr. Mukul Acharya

Ghazal  is a collection of Sher's which follow the rules of 'Matlaa', 'Maqtaa', 'Beher', 'Kaafiyaa' and 'Radif'.

So to understand what Ghazal is all about, it is essential to familiarise one with these terms.

Let us take an example of a famous Jagjit Singh ghazal

1.)   Gam badhe hai qatil ki nigaahon ki tarah;

Tum chhupalo mujhe aye dost gunahon ki tarah

2.)   Aapni nazaron mein gunaahagaar na hote, kyon kar

Dil hee dushman hai mukhaalif ki gavaho ki tarah;

3.)   Har taraf zeest ki raah mein kadi dhoop hai dost

Bas teri yaad ke saaye hai panaaho ki tarah;

4.)   Jinki khaatir kabhi ilzaam uthaaye ‘faakir’

Woh bhee pesh aaye hai insaaf ke shaaho ki tarah 

So what is a Sher?

It's a poem comprising of two lines. This definition is deceptively simple. Hence it can be deduced that every Sher is a poem in itself! A Sher does not need, any accessory around it, to convey the message.

All the 4 stanzas in our example are independent poems, Sher's. So a Ghazal is necessarily a collection of two-line-poems called Sher.

In our example above, the mukhda and the stanza are all comprised of 2 Shers.                                                                                                                                                  

So now let us explore the other rules for a Ghazal

Any collection of Sher's is not a Ghazal. Some good examples are; The famous Mukesh song

from Yehoodi, "Yeh mera deewaanaapan hai" and the Manna Dey song “Puchho na kaise maine raiin bitayee". – there are 3 or more lines in the Mukhda of these songs

To further understand, why, we have to wait till 'Kaafiyaa, 'Radif'. Beher etc

'Beher' is the 'meter' of the Sher's. It can be considered as the length of the Sher.

Both the lines in the Sher MUST be of same 'Beher'. And all the Sher's in one

Ghazal MUST be of the same 'Beher'. There are more than 15 types of 'Beher'.

But in simple terms, 'Beher' is categorized in 3 classes. Short, medium, long.          

Our example above is an example of medium length “Beher”

Other examples from Hindi Films Ghazals are as follows:

Small: Talat song, "Dil-e-nadan tuze hua kya hai"

Medium: The famous Lata - Madan Mohan - Gulzar nexus from Mausam, "Ruke

ruke se kadam, ruk ke baar baar chale"

Long: “Kal chaudhavi ki raat thi, shab bhar rahaa charchaa tera,                          

Kuchh ne kaha ye chaand hai, kuchh ne kahaa chehraa tera”

So Ghazal is a collection of Sher's of SAME 'Beher'.

What is 'Radif’'?

In a Ghazal, second line of all the Sher's *MUST* end with the *SAME* word/s.

This repeating common words is the 'Radif' of the Ghazal.

In our original example at the start of the article (Gham badhe aate hai)), the 'Radif' is “ki tarah”.

Sometimes, a Ghazal becomes known by its 'Radif'. eg. "jaraa aahista chal" sung by

Pankaj Udhas. 

Another Ghazal known popularly by the 'Radif' is "Aahista aahista" by Jagjit Singh

(Saraktee jaaye hai rukh se.....)

So after having covered Sher and then Beher and Radif, we will move to the next term Kaafiyaa.

What is 'Kaafiyaa' ?

'Kaafiyaa' is the rhyming pattern which all the words before 'Radif' *MUST* have.  

In our original example the words forming the kaafiyaa are “Nigahon”, “gunahon”, “Panahon”, “gawahon” etc.

Kaafiyaa is another pre-requisite for a Ghazal, which is adhered to, even in the case of exceptions to all these rules.

Hence, a "Ghazal" is a collection of Sher's of same 'Beher', ending in same 'Radif'

and featuting a 'Kaafiyaa'.

That's the reason, why "Yeh mera diwanapan hai" etc. are NOT Ghazals. There is no common thing which can be called 'Kaafiyaa' and 'Radif'

What is 'Matlaa' ?

The first Sher in the Ghazal *MUST* have 'Radif' in its both lines. This Sher is called 'Matla' of the Ghazal and the Ghazal is usually known after it’s 'Matlaa'.

(There can be more than one 'Matla' in a Ghazal. In such a case the second one is

called 'Matla-e-saani' or 'Husn-e-matla')

 In our original example, "Gham badhe aate hai", the first Sher is the 'Matlaa'.

What is 'Maqtaa' ?

A Shayar usually has a pen name or nom de plume ie. 'takhallus'  eg. Mirza  Asadullakhan used 'Ghalib' as his 'takhallus' and is known by that. Other examples are 'Daag'  'Mir' Taqi Mir, 'Faraz'. Hence the Maqtaa is a Sher in a Ghazal, usually the last one, which has the Shayar's 'Takhallus' in it. A Shayar, can use the 'Maqtaa' very intelligently.

Some examples are

"Ishq ne Ghalib ko nikammaa kar diya,,

Warnaa hum bhi aadmi thé kaam ke"

In this case, the word Ghalib has no meaning but only used as a Takhallus

Another example is

“Aaiye in se miliye yahi 'Noor haiN'

 jin ke haathoN meN toota diya bhi naheeN”. The ghazal writer is Noor Indori

In our original example (Gham badhe aate hai qaatil), the last sher (4th) is the Maqtaa which has the “takhallus” of the shayar in it (Faakir)


Hence, in a nutshell:

A Ghazal is a collection of Sher's (independent two-line poems), in which there is atleast one 'Matlaa', one 'Maqtaa' and all the Sher's are of same 'Beher'  (meter/length) and have the same 'Kaafiyaa' and 'Radif'.

Some exceptions:

1. Ghazal is just a form of poetry and is independent of any language. eg. There are some

good Ghazals in Marathi as well.

 Example of Marathi Ghazal :                                                                                        

“Tujhi Vanchana, Sadhana hoat aahe,

  tula hee ataa vedanaa hoat aahe;                           

 Punha megh aalet, aashwaasanaanche,

punha ekdaa garjanaa hoat aahe;             

Tula sparsha kelaa, asa bhaas jhaalaa,

 kitee goad sanvedna hoat aahe”

2. Some Ghazal's do NOT have any 'Radif'. Such Ghazal's are called "gair-muraddaf"


3. Although, every Sher, should be an independent poem in itself, it is possible, that

all the Sher's are on the same theme. What famous example can be other than "chupke

chupke raat din aasun bahaanaa yaad hai".

4. In modern Urdu poetry, there are lots of Ghazal's which do NOT follow the

restriction of same 'Beher' on both the lines of Sher. But even in these Ghazal's, 'Kaafiyaa' and 'Radif' are present.


5. The restriction of 'Maqtaa' is really very loose. Many many Ghazal's do NOT have

any 'Maqtaa'.

I believe 'Maqtaa' was used in the earlier times, as a way of taking credit, but has not

been a recurring theme of late.

This, in short, is an attempt to simplify the grammar of a Ghazal. Hence , a Ghazal is defined by its lyrical grammar and not its musical grammar.

(*Dr.Mukul Acharya is a UK-based ENT-surgeon and an accomplished musician.)

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