Bah’r :: The Backbone of Shaayari

Author: Irfan ‘Abid’

Before I started writing this article, I thought several times if I had the knowledge and expertise to dwell on a subject as vast and complex as ‘shaayari’. After all, I have taken only the first step towards learning this great art. But then I thought that my experience might help those who are yet to take that first step. So here I am, with my explanation of ‘bah’r’, the most important technical aspect of shaayari.

The purpose of this article is to give the readers a general idea of what bah’r means and how it is used to construct a misra (line) of Urdu shaayari. I am sharing with you some of my limited knowledge of shaayari that my Ustaad ‘Mazaq’ Charkhariwi has graciously given to me. He belongs to Ustaad Daag Dehlvi’s school of shaayari. Everything written here conforms to that school and its teachings. There are areas where schools differ in opinion but that happens only in the case of very fine details. The scope covered here is very basic and should not pose any such issue. However, I wanted to post the disclaimer, just in case.

‘Bah’r or ‘Meter’ is the structure over which the words of a misra (line) of a sher (verse) are arranged. Bah’r itself is made of ‘arkaan’ (plural of ‘rukn’ which means ‘pillar’ or ‘important part’). Arkaan are also referred to as ‘feet’. Whosoever coined this term was perhaps trying to relate it to the bigger unit ‘meter’, without realizing that ‘meter’ and ‘foot’ are units of length in two different systems of measurement. However, the ‘meter’ and ‘feet’ combination may be justified by the fact that one meter is roughly equal to three and a quarter feet and most of the bah’rs do have three or four arkaan in one misra. Arkaan are meaningless dummy words, the basic purpose of which is to specify the places of long and short syllables in an actual word. The eight arkaan, broken down into syllables, used in Urdu shaayari are as follows:

‘fa-uu-lun’, ‘faa-i-lun’, ‘ma-faa-ii-lun’, ‘mus-taf-i-lun’, ‘faa-i-laa-tun’, ‘mu-ta-faa-i-lun’, ‘ma-faa-i-la-tun’ and ‘maf-uu-laat’

Perhaps this is a good place to add a note on transliteration, that is the process of writing Urdu words in Roman script, so that they are pronounced correctly. We will treat ‘a’ as in ‘akbar’, ‘i’ as in ‘ishq’, ‘u’ as in ‘uljhan’, ‘e’ as in ‘ek’ (‘ai’ and ‘ei’ should be treated as ‘e’), ‘o’ as in ‘bahaaro’, ‘aa’ as in ‘aaraam’, ‘ii’ as in ‘merii’ and ‘uu’ as in ‘juutaa’. Other Roman letters used are self explanatory and are not as important as these vowels.
•An ‘a’, ‘i’ or ‘u’ by itself or after a consonant will produce a short syllable (weight ’1′).
•An ‘e’, ‘o’, ‘aa’, ‘ii’ or ‘uu’ by itself or after a consonant will produce a long syllable (weight ’2′).
•An ‘a’, ‘i’ or ‘u’ between two consonants or before a consonant will produce a long syllable (weight ’2′).
•An ‘e’, ‘o’, ‘aa’, ‘ii’ or ‘uu’ between two consonants or before a consonant will produce a long syllable (weight ’3′).
•The syllable with weight ’3′ can be subdivided into two syllables, with weights ’1′ and ’2′ respectively, but let us keep it as it is for now.
Given this description, the eight arkaan mentioned above can be written respectively in terms of weights as
’1-2-2′, ’2-1-2′, ’1-2-2-2′, ’2-2-1-2′, ’2-1-2-2′, ’1-1-2-1-2′, ’1-2-1-1-2′ and ’2-2-3′

The arkaan mentioned above are in their ‘saalim’ (pure) form. With slight modification, each can be turned into one of its ‘muzaahif’ (modified) forms (These forms may be seen in the bah’rs given at the end of this article). Accordingly, a bah’r may be a ‘saalim’ or a ‘muzaahif’ one. Bah’rs are also classified according to the mix of their arkaan. If a bah’r is made by the repetition of the same rukn, it is a ‘mufarrid’ (made of a single ingredient) bah’r. If it uses a combination of more than one rukn, it is a ‘murakkab’ (composite) bah’r. Bah’rs given at the end of this article have examples of both.

The arkaan and bah’rs were developed by the masters of literature and music. That is why shaayari written in proper bah’r is fluent to recite and easy to compose into a tune. However, not all the bah’rs have the same ease of flow and spontaneity of rhythm. As a result, few became more popular than others. In this article, we will cover only the most popular ones. Most of the Urdu shaayari has been written using these bah’rs. Please note that in addition to the traditional bah’rs that I was taught, I have seen shaayars (poets) using other bah’rs that they have devised themselves. In my opinion, one can write poetry in any format as long as it follows some ‘rule’ and is enjoyable when recited. However, in the beginning, it is advisable to stick to the traditional bah’rs.

After you decide which bah’r to use, the next thing is to arrange your words on that bah’r. This is the real art in shaayari. If possible, the words should start and end where the arkaans do, but this is not necessary. A word can be spread over two adjacent arkaan. Moreover, a syllable in a word that is normally considered a long syllable, can be treated as a short one, if it does not fit into the arkaan and the bah’r. In other words, the ‘weight’ of the syllables can be reduced or the pronunciation of the syllables can be hastened to fit the bah’r. Where and how one can do it is a complex issue in Urdu shaayari. There are elaborate rules for doing so which are beyond the scope of this article. For now, all I can suggest is to look at the shaayari by the ustaads and see how they have used a particular word in a particular situation. A glimpse of this feature may be seen in the ashaar given with the bah’rs in this article. You may notice that certain words have been placed against a relatively small portion (or syllable) of a rukn. These are the words whose pronunciation is altered to fit the bah’r.

The bah’rs being discussed here are used for the most popular forms of Urdu shaayari (like ghazal, nazm, qit’aa and geet/naghma etc.), but not for all forms. Rubaayii, for instance, has its own set of bah’rs.

Following are some very frequently used bah’rs. You may find the names difficult to remember. But what’s in a name! Pay attention to the structure because that is what matters. Each bah’r is accompanied by a sher on it, broken down according to the structure of the bah’r. If a word happens to be spread across more than one part of a rukn or across more than one rukn, its pieces are joined by a hyphen (-). I have used my own ashaar to illustrate the bah’rs, but I am also giving a classic sher for each bah’r. You may have heard the classic many times, may have memorized it and thus may find it easier to capture the structure of the bah’r. Try to break these classic ash’aar down according to the bah’r.

Bah’r Hazaj Saalim

bharii duniyaa sahii lekin Thikaanaa ham bhii paa leNge
jahaaN do gaz zamiiN hogii wahiiN ham ghar banaa leNge

Ma – faa – ii – lun  Ma – faa – ii – lun Ma – faa – ii – lun Ma – faa – ii – lun

bha – rii  duni – yaa sa – hii le – kin Thi- kaa – naa ham bhii paa leN – ge
ja – haaN  do  gaz  za – miiN ho – gii wa – hiiN ham ghar ba-naa leN – ge

Classic Sher by Allama ‘Iqbal’:
mitaa de apnii hastii ko agar kuchh martabaa chaahe
ki daanaa Khaak meiN mil kar gul-e-gulzaar hotaa hai

Bah’r Hazaj Musamman Akhrab

KhwaaboN meiN banaaii thii aaNkhoN meiN sajaa lii hai
tasviir tirii ham ne is dil meiN basaa lii hai

Maf – uu – lu  Ma – faa – ii – lun Maf – uu – lu Ma – faa – ii – lun

Khwaa – boN meiN ba – naa – ii thii aaN – khoN meiN sa – jaa lii hai
tas – vii – r   ti – rii ham ne  is dil meiN ba – saa lii hai

Classic by ‘Jigar’ Moradabadi:
kyaa husn ne samjhaa hai kya ishq ne jaanaa hai
ham khaak-nashiinoN kii thokar meiN zamaanaa hai

Bah’r Hazaj Musamman Akhrab Makfuuf Mahzuuf

tuufaan meiN tinke kaa sahaaraa bhii bahut hai
zulmat meiN to bas ek sharaaraa bhii bahut hai

Maf – uu – lu Ma – faa – ii – lu Ma – faa – ii – lu Fa – uu – lun

tuu – faa – n meiN tin – ke kaa sa – haa – raa bhii ba – hut hai
zul – mat meiN to    bas  e – k sha – raa – raa bhii ba – hut hai

Classic by Mirza Ghalib:
baaziicha-e-atfaal hai duniyaa mire aage
hota hai shab-o-roz tamaashaa mire aage

Bah’r Hazaj Musaddas Mahzuuf

tamannaaoN se aye dil kyaa milegaa
jo qismat meiN likhaa hogaa milegaa

Ma – faa – ii – lun Ma – faa – ii – lun Fa – uu – lun

ta – man – naa – oN se  aye  dil    kyaa mi – le – gaa
jo qis – mat meiN li – khaa ho –  gaa mi – le – gaa

Classic by ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri:
sitaaroN se ulajhtaa jaa rahaa huuN
shab-e-furqat bahut ghabraa rahaa huuN

Bah’r Ramal Musamman Mahzuuf

dil kii bechainii ne apnaa kaam aakhir kar diyaa
tujh se mere raabte ko aam aakhir kar diyaa

Faa – i – laa – tun Faa – i – laa – tun Faa – i – laa – tun Faa – i – lun*
dil  kii  be – chai – nii   ne  ap – naa kaa – m   aa – khir kar di – yaa
tujh se   me – re raa – b – te   ko aa –  m   aa – khir kar di – yaa

* Faa – i – laan  is acceptable here.

Classic by ‘Hasrat’ Mohani:
sab ghalat kahte hain lutf-e-yaar ko wajh-e-sukuuN
dard-e-dil usne tau ‘Hasrat’ aur duunaa kar diyaa

Bah’r Ramal Musaddas Mahzuuf

ishq kaa haasil hai kyaa mat puuchhiye
kyaa milaa kyaa kho gayaa mat puuchhiye

Faa – i – laa – tun Faa – i – laa – tun Faa – i – lun*

ish – q   kaa  haa-  sil  hai  kyaa  mat puu – chhi – ye
kyaa mi – laa  kyaa kho  ga – yaa mat puu – chhi – ye

* Faa – i – laan  is acceptable here.

Classic by Meer Taqi ‘Meer’:
ibtidaa-e-ishq hai rotaa hai kyaa
aage aage dekhiye hotaa hai kyaa

Bah’r Mutaqaarib Saalim

muhabbat burii hai na nafrat burii hai
burii hai tau har shai kii kasrat burii hai

Fa – uu – lun Fa – uu – lun Fa – uu – lun Fa – uu – lun

mu – hab – bat bu – rii  hai na  naf – rat bu – rii hai
bu – rii   hai tau  har  shai kii kas – rat bu – rii hai

Classic by ‘Bekhud’ Dehlvi:
na dekhaa thaa jo bazm-e-dushman meiN dekhaa
muhabbat tamaashe dikhaatii hai kya kya

Bah’r Mutaqaarib Musamman Maqbuuz Aslam (16 Ruknii)

ho shaam-e-gham jis qadar bhii lambii dhalegii yeh bhii zaruur yaaro
kabhii to utregaa mere ghar meiN Khushii kii kirnoN kaa nuur yaaro

Fa – uu – lu Faa – lun Fa – uu – lu Faa – lun
ho shaa – m-e- gham  jis qa – dar   bhi lam – bii

Fa – uu – lu Faa – lun Fa – uu – lu Faa – lun
dha – le – gii yeh  bhii za – ruu – r yaa – ro

Fa – uu – lu Faa – lun Fa – uu – lu Faa – lun
ka – bhii to ut – re- gaa  me – re ghar meiN

Fa – uu – lu Faa – lun Fa – uu –  lu Faa – lun
Khu – shii kii kir – noN kaa  nuu – r yaa – ro

Classic by ‘Daag’ Dehlvi:
sitam hii karnaa jafaa hii karnaa nigaah-e-ulfat kabhii na karnaa
tumheN qasam hai hamaare sar kii hamaare haq meN kamii na karnaa

Bah’r Kaamil Saalim

ki gaNwaa diye maine hosh bhii mujhe chain aa na sakaa kabhii
terii yaad yuuN hii jawaaN rahii tujhe dil bhulaa na sakaa kabhii

Mu – ta – faa – i – lun  Mu –  ta – faa –  i – lun
ki   gaN – waa  di – ye  mai – ne   ho – sh  bhii

Mu – ta  – faa – i – lun Mu – ta – faa – i – lun
mu – jhe  chai – n   aa  na   sa – kaa  ka – bhii

Mu – ta – faa – i – lun  Mu – ta – faa – i – lun
te – rii    yaa – d    yuN hii  ja – waaN  ra – hii

Mu – ta  – faa – i – lun Mu – ta – faa – i – lun
tu – jhe   dil  bhu – laa na   sa – kaa  ka – bhii

Classic by Hakeem ‘Momin’:
wo jo ham meN tum meN qaraar thaa tumheN yaad ho ke na yaad ho
wahii yaanii waadaa nibaah kaa tumheN yaad ho ke na yaad ho

Bah’r Mutadaarik Saalim

gul chiraaghoN ko kar ham sare shaam deN
kyon bhalaa aatish-e-dil ko aaraam deN

Faa – i – lun Faa – i – lun Faa – i – lun Faa – i – lun

gul chi – raa – ghoN ko  kar ham sa – re  shaa –  m deN
kyoN bha – laa aa – ti – sh-e -dil ko   aa – raa –  m  deN

Classic by Nida Fazli:
har taraf har jagah be-shumaar aadmii
phir bhii tanhaaiyoN kaa shikaar aadmii

Bah’r Mazaar’a Musamman Akhrab

maiN beqaraar kyoN huuN dil beqaraar kyoN hai
us bewafaa se ab tak aakhir yeh pyaar kyoN hai

Maf – uu – lu Faa – i – laa – tun Maf – uu – lu Faa – i – laa – tun

maiN be – qa – raa – r  kyoN huuN dil be – qa – raa – r kyoN hai
us  be – wa – faa  se  ab   tak  aa – khir yeh pyaa – r kyoN hai

Classic by Allama ‘Iqbal’:
saare jahaaN se achchhaa HindostaaN hamaaraa
ham bulbuleN haiN iskii yeh gulsitaaN hamaaraa

Bah’r Mazaar’a Musamman Akhrab Makfuuf Maqsuur

kaise kahuuN maiN apnii kahaanii ko baar baar
kyoN kar piyuuNgaa aaNkh ke paanii ko baar baar

Maf – uu – lu Faa – i – laa – tu* ma – faa – ii – lu** Faa – i – laan***

kai – se  ka – huuN maiN ap – nii ka – haa – nii  ko baa – r baar
kyoN kar  pi – yuuN – gaa aa – Nkh ke   paa – nii  ko baa – r baar

*   Faa-i-laa-tun is acceptable here.
**  Maf-uu-lu is acceptable here.
*** Faa-i-lun is acceptable here.

Classic by Daag Dehlvi (with Faa-i-lun as the last rukn):
Khaatir se yaa lihaaz se main maan tau gayaa
jhuuti qasam se aap ka iimaan tau gayaa

Bah’r Mujtas Musamman Makhbuun Maqsuur

wafaa ke qaul se ham tau mukar nahiiN sakte
ki dushmanii meiN bhii had se guzar nahiiN sakte

Ma – faa – i – lun Fa – i – laa – tun Ma – faa – i – lun Fa – i – lun

wa – faa  ke  qau – l  se   ham   tau  mu – kar na – hiiN sa – k – te
ki dush – ma – nii meiN bhii had  se gu – zar na – hiiN sa – k – te

Classic by Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’:
guloN meiN rang bhare baad-e-nau-bahaar chale
chale bhii aao ki gulshan ka kaar-o-baar chale


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