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Ghazal, in poetry is a form consisting of five to fifteen couplets (sher), which share a rhyme and a refrain. (The word "Ghazal" is pronounced roughly like the English word "guzzle". The ancient form originated in the 10th century in Persia (modern day Iran). It is derived from the Persian qasida, which in turn derived from an Arabian form that can be traced back to the 8th century. Ghazals were written by the Persian mystics and poets Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi (13th century), Hafez (14th century), and the Turkish poet Fuzuli (16th century).

The Ghazal spread into India in the 12th century under the influence of the Mughals. In India, Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869), Altaaf Hussien Haali (1837-1914) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), were the masters of Ghazal in Urdu as well as Pharsi (Persian) . Although the Ghazal is most prominently a form of Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi poetry, today, it has followers and writers in many other languages.

Through the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the Ghazal became very popular in Germany in the 19th century, and the form was used extensively by Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866) and August von Platen (1796-1835). The Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali was a prominent proponent of the form, both in English and in other languages; he edited a volume of "real Ghazals in English."

The Ghazal is a common song form in India and Pakistan today. Strictly speaking, it is not a musical form, but a poetic recitation. Today, however, it is commonly conceived of as an Urdu, Hindi or Punjabi song, with prime importance given to the lyrics.

Details of the form

  • A poem of five to fifteen couplets.

  • The second line of each couplet in a Ghazal ends with the repetition of a refrain of one or a few words, preceded by a rhyme (though in a less strict Ghazal the rhyme does not need to precede the refrain immediately).

  • In the first couplet, which introduces the theme, both lines end in the rhyme and refrain.

  • There can be no enjambment across the couplets in a strict Ghazal; each couplet must be a complete sentence (or several sentences) in itself.

  • Each of the couplet must be treated as a separate poem, thematically and emotionally complete in itself. This couplet is called a 'sher' in Urdu and Hindi.

  • All the couplets, and each line of each couplet, must share the same meter.

  • The last couplet may be (and usually is) a signature couplet in which the poet may invoke his/her name in the first, second, or third person.

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