Urdu poetry adheres to a series of strict rules that give way to its unique poetic structure. These rules govern the groups of versed verses used in each Urdu poem and dictate their meter, rhythm, rhyme pattern, ending words, and the location of the poet’s signature. Despite these strict rules, Urdu poetry has evolved into an incredibly colorful art that manifests itself in a myriad of different ways.
Each of the forms of Urdu poetry has unique characteristics that differentiate them from all the others. Although we will not be able to cover all the forms in this article, we will take a look at some of the most popular:
Ghazal. The Ghazal is a collection of many couplets (called “shers”), or pairs of lined verses that follow the rules of bahar, radeef, matla, maqta, and qafiya. Each couplet in a Ghazal must express a single thought or focus on a certain topic in such a way that it has the ability to be independent. Each couplet in a Ghazal must have the same metric, bahar, the same rhyming pattern, qafiya, and must end with the same words, radeef. Each couplet must also have an opening couplet called a matla. Some Ghazals in Urdu poetry have the poet’s pseudonym incorporated in the last couplet, which is later called maqta.
Marsiya. A Marsiya is an elegantly written poem whose purpose is to express grief over the death of a great man or a deeply loved person. From a historical perspective, the traditional Urdu Marsiya poetry was composed to honor the self-sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Husain and his troops at the Battle of Karbala. This type of Marsiya describes how Hazrat Imam Husain and his comrades fought against the Yazid army on the Karbala plains.
Masnawi. A Masnawi is a long narrative epic poem that describes stories of great battles that were fought in the past. They usually include a philosophical or ethical thought. A Masnawi is much longer than a Ghazal and contains rhyming couplets. However, each of the couplets has a different rhyme pattern and ends in different words.
Qasida. A Qasida is a very long ballad that is written to praise a king or nobleman. Sometimes it also describes great battles. It is not uncommon to find a Qasida that has more than 100 couplets. Like the Ghazal, the Qasida begins with a rhyming couplet and uses the same qafiya, or rhyming pattern, throughout the poem. The Ghazal, as we know it today, was originally derived from the Qasida.
Nazm. In Urdu poetry, the word “Nazm” is used to describe a poem that cannot be classified under any particular form. From a literary perspective, each verse of the Nazm is based on a central theme, as opposed to the variation of the couplet theme in a Ghazal. The verses of a traditional nazmo adhere to the same rhyming pattern, but more modern nazmos can be written in free verse.
As you can see from this short overview of some of the different forms of Urdu poetry, the subject is very complex and powerful. It usually takes years and years of a dedicated student to master the art of Urdu poetry. But that knowledge shouldn’t stop you from reading and enjoying the fantastic poems of this very special art form.