Music A ghazal can be truly appreciated only when its content and rendition are presented in an authentic manner.
For South Indians, ghazal, as a musical genre has been an experimental exercise of any form of singing, in any language suitable to the singer and composer and has gained popularity with audience who have no clue of its origin or its structure. A few Telugu singers have even prefixed the term ‘ghazal’ to their names- such is their fame! There have also been instances where popular musicians trained in Carnatic classical try to adopt the Carnatic format and render ghazals with ‘sangathis’ and ‘neravals’ It’s a pity that neither the organisers nor the audience know what actually constitutes a ghazal, though hundreds of ghazals are accessible through old Hindi movies and Hindustani singers. A non-Hindi-speaking music aficionado of the southern regions is therefore not a discerning audience if, to him anything in the name of ghazal is presented by regional or popular voices.
A brief outline of what can be labelled as a ghazal in both content and rendition would serve to enhance appreciation of this genteel genre. It originated way back in the 10th century in Iran and gained ground on the Indian soil during the reign of the Mughals, especially with the great composer-musician Amir Khusro. Interestingly the ghazal first dawned on the Deccan region, our very own Hyderabad under the Qutb Shahis of Golconda, who were direct descendents of Iranian clan. It was when Wali Mohammad Wali, (17th century) whose pen name was Wali Deccani, visited the Delhi sultanate that Urdu ghazals got introduced to northern India. He is said to be the first poet to have composed ghazals in Urdu (an Indian language) and compiled a collection of ghazals called divan. The Persian-oriented poets of Delhi began to appreciate the simple, sensuous themes of his poetry, the beauty of the idiom and thus spread the ghazal across the sub-continent.
The 18-19th centuries were considered to be the golden era of ghazals with Delhi and Lucknow as its epicentres. Technically, it is a structurally short poem comprising of shers (verses/couplets) not exceeding 12 though usually the ghazal doesn’t boast of more than seven shers. All the couplets are set to the same meter. The rhyme scheme is an integral part of the ghazal. There is one sher/verse that is the opening couplet (Matla) which gets repeated at the end of each succeeding sher. The ‘Matla’ sets the mood and tone of the ghazal as well as its musicality. The lyrical language is superb and each line has a certain format to be adhered too (like the qafia and radif which are rhyme words and repetitive word of the Matla respectively). The last couplet (sher) of the ghazal is called the ‘Maqta’ which comprises the signature of the poet and is a personal outpouring.
Coming to the content, which is the essence of the ghazal, it encompasses a spectrum of human experiences but is pivoted on love of varying nature- earthly, divine, devotional, spiritual, mystical and so on. Even in a patriotic ghazal, the element of mysticism is bound to exist in the poetic expression and the tone is generally slow tempo with emphasis on the emotion, romantic in nature (like the madhura bhakti of south Indian devotional poets/composers). Loud instrumental accompaniment is almost taboo and so is speedy rendition which just doesn’t gel with the ghazal. The musician is supposed to render it in such a way that the audience and the singer savour the subtle romance underlying the lyrical lines and dwell upon the beauty of the poem that aims directly at the heart, long after it is heard and done. Ghalib, Mir, Momin are some of the poets who spoke on their deep philosophical understanding of life through their ghazals while Wali Deccani, Siraj Aurangabadi, Dehlvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sudharshan Faakhir and Raghupathi Sahai Firaq are a few famous poets of Urdu ghazal whose compositions are popular to date.