Courtesans of Lucknow and Urdu Poetry

As Mughal rule in Delhi declined, the Nawabs of Avadh came into their own, of course with the help of English, who were more than eager to help. Many courtesans moved from Delhi and surrounding areas to Lucknow, and Urdu poets and the seat of Urdu poetry went with them, to Lucknow where easy money was available in abundance, thanks to the poor farmers, who, as usual, were unaware of the doings of their masters.

The close association of the court, the courtesans, and Urdu can not be denied. The services provided by the courtesans used Urdu as their medium, the services provided by the courts used Persian as their medium. The impact of courtesans on Lucknow’s poetry can be judged from the fact that under their influence of the poets of Lucknow gave a new direction to the ghazals. They chose a female sweet-heart in place of the hitherto universally popular male, or at best without gender, as the object of their love. Their expressions amply prove that their sweet-heart is usually an accomplished courtesan. This itself was a landmark in Urdu poetry in as much as it imparted genuineness and sincerity to the expression of Urdu poets who, for the first time, presented a clear and distinct concept and picture of `women’, the desired women, in Urdu poetry, which was an accomplished courtesan.

As the courtesan was center of their thoughts, they freely gave an expression to their ideas and feelings on different parts of the body of their sweet-heart especially the breasts, belly, waist, thighs and ankles unheard of earlier. It is understandable that most schools completely ignore this poetry in their teaching of Urdu or its history. Unlike a respectable female sweet-heart in whose love the poet had to pine and was prepared to die, the courtesan was easily available. That is why in the Urdu ghazal, Masnavi, and Vasokht of those days, we come across allusions to sex-act itself. True, some of the verses written in those days can be considered risque and even vulgar but let us not forget that they represented the general state of morals of that time.

These women also formed the central theme of a peculiar type of poetry called Rekhti in which the male poet used feminine language of courtesans and the like to give expression to their suppressed thoughts.

Source: From the archives of ALUP (alt.language.urdu.poetry)


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