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Forms of Urdu Poetry

Understanding different types of Urdu Poetry and their unique elements

Urdu, the language we recognize today, originated from the local dialects known as Dehalvi that are spoken in and around Delhi. It emerged during the 13th and 14th centuries by incorporating vocabulary from Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. The language underwent several transformations and was referred to by various names such as Hindavi, Dehalvi, Gujri, Dakhini, and Rekhta. Over time, it evolved into the contemporary languages of Hindi and Urdu.

Ameer Khusro, a prominent 13th-century poet and musician of the Delhi Sultanate, is the first literary personality to adopt the language for literary expression that later evolved into Urdu. His ghazal, with Matla "Ze Haal-e-Miskeen," is the earliest known example of a Ghazal in the language. Khusro's poetic contributions have played a significant role in shaping the Urdu language and its literature. He was the first writer to popularize Hindavi, which he referred to as Dehalvi. Ameer Khusrau is also credited as the father of Urdu literature (Urdu Adab). 

khusrau baazi prem ki main kheloon pee ke sang
jeet gayi to piya moray, haari, pee ke sang (Ameer Khusrau)

After Khusro, the towering figures who shaped the language hailed from the Deccan region. Quli Qutub Shah (1565-1611) is considered the first poet to have a significant body of work in Urdu. His contributions were followed by Vali Dakni (1635-1707), who continued to develop and enrich Urdu poetry. The works of these poets remain a vital part of the academic study of Urdu literature in India.

The influence of 'Vali' on the poetry of north India, particularly Delhi, was significant in inspiring poets to compose in Urdu. This trend paved the way for the emergence and flourishing of poets like Meer Taqi Meer and Mirza Ghalib in an atmosphere conducive to creative expression.

The development of Urdu Shayari in India can be traced back to these prominent schools: Deccan, Delhi, and Lucknow. The Delhi school marked a significant era for romantic poetry or ghazal in the 18th century, particularly under the influence of Meer Taqi Meer (1722-1810) and Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869). Meer Taqi Meer referred to the spoken language as Rekhta or Hindavi. The terms Hindi and Rekhta were interchangeable until the 19th century in reference to the spoken language. It was Mushafi (1750-1824) who first used the word Urdu, signifying a language, in his initial Divan. Before that, it was commonly known as Hindavi and Rekhta. The term Urdu is derived from the Turkish word 'ordu' (meaning army), which is also the origin of the English word 'horde.' Notable poets from the Delhi school also included Mirza Rafi Sauda (1713-80), Khwaja Meer Dard (1721-85), and Dagh Dehlvi (1831-1905).

After the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739, Ahmed Shah in 1769, and the First War of Independence in 1857, Delhi witnessed a decline in significance, leading to Lucknow emerging as the new cultural capital. During this transition, poets thrived under the patronage of the Awadh Nawabs, including Ghulam Hamdani Mushafi (1725-1824), Inshallah Khan Insha (1757-1817), Khwaja Haidar Ali Atish (1778-1846), Iman Baksh Nasikh (1787-1838), Mir Babr Ali Anis (1802-74), and Mirza Salamat Ali Dabir (1803-1875). 

In this cultural era, while Meer and Ghalib were acknowledged masters of Ghazal, known as Rekhta in those days, Sauda gained recognition for Qasida writing, Masnawi flourished with Mir Hasan, and Marsiya found its expression through Anis and Dabir.

Let's take a closer look at each of these poetry forms, one at a time:

Ghazal is an Arabic word that means "conversing with the beloved." It developed in Persia in the 10th century AD from the Arabic verse form qasida. A Qasida (Ballad) is a long poem in Urdu, Persian or Arabic that usually describes battles or is written in praise of kings, princes or the poet's patron.

The ghazal made its way to the Indian subcontinent in the 12th century, introduced by Sufi mystics and the sultanates, flourishing in both Persian and later in Urdu. Ameer Khusrau is credited with composing the first ghazal in Urdu, titled "ze-hāl-e-miskīñ."

This is a formalist poetic form with strict rules that must be followed to be considered a Ghazal. It consists of a series of independent couplets connected only by formalist elements such as meter (Bahr), Qaafiya, and Radeef. These elements are the only binding agents that hold the composition together, and adherence to them is crucial. Traditionally, a Ghazal contains a minimum of 5 couplets and goes up to 15, but typically, most Ghazals have around seven couplets.

Have a look at this Ghazal:

Let's define the terms used in Ghazal:

Misra: Each line of a couplet is known as Misra. The first line is known as Misra-e-Oola, while the second line is known as the Misra-e-Saani.

Matla: It is the first couplet of a Ghazal and employs Qafiya and Radeef in both lines. Qafiya and Radeef are only employed in the second line in the rest of the couplets.


Radeef: The repeated words at the end are referred to as radeef (highlighted in blue). Since Ghazals don't have a title, Ghazals are traditionally referenced and indexed using the radeef.

Qaafiya: The rhyming word that appears just before the Radeef is known as Qaafiya (highlighted in brown). Example: be-qarari, taari, guzari, bhari, tumhari.



A Nazm is a well-organized and logically evolving poem with a central theme, where each verse is intricately related to the other. It can be composed in rhymed, unrhymed, or even free verse. It gained popularity in the 20th century with the arrival of progressive poets like Meera-Ji, Akhtar-ul-Iman and Nuun Meem Rashid, who only composed Nazms instead of Ghazals. 

Nazms usually have a title and are the most comparable form to modern English poems. 


is bhare shahr mein koi aisa nahin
jo mujhe rah chalte ko pahchan le
aur aawaz de o be o sar-phire
donon ek dusre se lipaT kar wahin
gird-o-pesh aur mahaul ko bhul kar
galiyan den hansen hatha-pai karen
pas ke peD ki chhanw mein baiTh kar
ghanTon ek dusre ki sunen aur kahen
aur is nek ruhon ke bazar mein
meri ye qimti be-baha zindagi
ek din ke liye apna ruKH moD le


It is a collection of two or more couplets that are inter-connected and require each other to convey their full meaning. Qita can also be part of a Ghazal.

kal panw ek kasa-e-sar par jo aa gaya
yaksar wo ustuKHwan shikaston se chur tha

kahne laga ki dekh ke chal rah be-KHabar
main bhi kabhu kisu ka sar-e-pur-ghurur tha (Meer Taqi Meer)


It is a poem praising a king, noble person, or benefactor. It starts with a rhyming couplet, similar to a ghazal, and this rhyme is repeated in the second line of each following verse. A Qasida can be as long as 50 lines.


The term 'Marsiya' originates from the Arabic word 'Risa,' signifying a profound tragedy or lamentation for a departed soul. It serves as an elegy, a poetic expression of mourning, and has become closely linked with the tragedy of Karbala. Typically, Marsiya comprises six-line units called Musaddas, featuring a rhyming quatrain followed by a couplet with a different rhyme. Rekhta has published a comprehensive blog on the Components of Marsiya, providing detailed explanations of each element. Six-line verses in an AA, AA and BB rhyme scheme characterize Marsiya.

dasht-e-wigha mein nur-e-KHuda ka zuhur hai
zarron mein raushni-e-tajalli-e-tur hai
ik aaftab-e-ruKH ki ziya dur dur hai
koson zamin aks se dariya-e-nur hai
allah-re husn tabqa-e-ambar-sarisht ka
maidan-e-karbala hai namuna bahisht ka (Meer Anees)



Much longer than the ghazal, a long narrative poem embodies religious, romantic or didactic stories. It is written in rhyming couplets, each with a different rhyme.


A self-sufficient quatrain, rhyming (a, a, b, a) and dealing generally with a single idea is known as a Rubai. Though rare, some Rubai's also employ (a, a, a, a) rhyming scheme.

Rekhta has preserved 33 different types of Urdu poetry. Visit Rekhta Explorer to discover more poetry types.

Jashn-e-Rekhta | 8-9-10 December 2023 - Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Near India Gate - New Delhi

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