Many people in the west may never have heard of Urdu Poetry before, and even fewer may know what Urdu Poetry actually is. This article is a modest attempt to educate those who have never heard about this form of poetry.
The most appropriate place to start at would be to look into the Urdu language. Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by an estimated 250 million people in India, Pakistan and neighbouring South Asian countries. It is the official language of Pakistan and is the major language in some Indian states, despite the partition many decades ago. However, the language is no longer confined, to the sub-Indian continent; Britain, USA, Kenya, Canada have some of the biggest Urdu speaking communities in the world today.
Earliest signs of the Urdu language emerged as far back as 13th century in North India as a mixture of the Hindi language, other local languages, and the Persian language. It was and still is the language of merchants and military men. Many Arabic and Turkish words have also been incorporated into Urdu and the script is very similar too. The colourful fusion of elements are drawn from many languages resulting in its highly poetic nature.
Urdu Poetry traditions are deeply rooted in time, but its starting points simply are not fully established, as many of the influences that have shaped its poetical development are still not authenticated. Some major literary influences for later Urdu Poetry go back as far back as Kabir (1440-1518) and Amir Khusro (1253-1325 AD).
Urdu Poetry is a melodic and elegant type of poetry; most of its themes include human feelings, nature’s beauty, and the passion for love. A majority of Urdu Poetry is written in Nasta`liq calligraphy, a small, fine beautiful Perso-Arabic script.
Urdu Poetry is very popular in India, where there are many people who can understand Urdu as well as Hindi, as some of the words are similar, but are unable to read the Nasta`liq script, many of the poems have been translated into the Devanagari script that is used by Hindi speakers.
With globalization, some Urdu poems have been written in Roman Urdu and, Roman Urdu is the Urdu language written using the Roman alphabet to say exactly the same thing.
Poets of Urdu Poetry use a signature name called a “takhallus”. The “takhallus” will normally become a part of a poet’s real name and is added at the end of it. In Urdu Poetry, it is incorporated into the last couplet of the poem to act as a sort of a pen name almost.
Mushairas, or Urdu Poetry recitals, are entertaining events where poets perform their works. The Mushaira is a deeply loved and traditional element of the poetical reading culture and cherished part of the Pakistani and North Indian cultures. It does require a certain ambience for the full effect.
A person hosting a typical Mushaira, will invite guest poets to sit along a long table at the front of the room, like a panel of judges. The host will invite each poet to perform his work and the audience participate by calling out “va” at the end of important couplets, if they like them. It is not for every-one, but it helps build a friendly social circle if you are poet and want a lot of attention.
The study of Urdu Poetry is an extremely exciting and complicated subject that simply cannot be covered in one article. An Urdu Poem is essentially composed of couplets, or pairs of versed lines that rhyme and have similar metres. One couplet is called a “Sher” and many couplets are called “Ashaar”.
Although several basic ingredients define Urdu Poetry, there are many different forms of Urdu poems, some simple and some long, complicated and difficult to interpret meaningfully, unless you really make it a full time study as some scholars do.