The following forms of Urdu poetry are known, some more popular than others:
A composition consisting of only one sher.
Gazal (pronounced “guzzle”)
Ghazal is a collection of couplets (shers or ashaar) which follow the rules of ‘matla’, ‘maqta’, ‘bahar’, ‘qafiya’ and ‘radeef’. The couplets are complete in themselves. All the couplets of a ghazal must be of the same bahar, end in the same words (radeef) and have the same rhyming pattern (qaafiyaa). Every ghazal MUST have a matla. A ghazal may or may not have a maqta but if it does, it has to be the last sher of the ghazal.
Ghazals which do not have a radeef are called Gair-muraddaf ghazals. In such cases, the rule of qafiya is strictly followed. These type of ghazals are very rare. Ghazals with the same radeef are called ham-radeef ghazals.
Poem written in praise of God.
Humourous poetry, also known as ‘mazaahiyaa’ or ‘mazaakiyaa’ shaayari.
A satirical poem written to condemn or abuse a person. This type of poetry is considered inferior and generally avoided by reputed poets. The opposite of a hijv is a madah which is written in praise of patrons.
Poem written in praise of royalty, patrons, etc.
A poem written in praise of members of the family of the holy Prophet.
An elegy written to mourn the death of a great man or a dearly loved person. In its stricter sense, traditionally accepted in Urdu, a marsiya is an elegy written specifically in honour of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Husain and his comrades at Karbala. It describes the battle fought on the plains of Karbala by Hazrat Imam Husain against the army of Yazid. The most well known writers of Marsiya in Urdu are Mir baber Ali Anees and Salamat Ali Dabir. Sub-parts of the marsiya are called Nauha and Soz.
A long narrative poem – much longer than the ghazal – embodying religious, romantic or didatic stories. It is written in rhyming couplets, with each couplet having a different rhyme and radeef. The most famous masnavis are Masnavi-e-Rumi in Persian, Shah Namah of Firdausi, and Zehar-e-Ishq in Urdu.
A lyrical poem written as a prayer to God.
A poem in which each unit consists of 6 lines. The most well known poet of this style of writing was Maulana Altaf Husain Hali.
A poem written in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
In a broad sense, nazm is a term used to define all kinds of Urdu poetry which do not fall into any other category. However, in a literary sense, a nazm is a well organized, logically evolving poem where each individual verse serves the need of the central concept or theme of the poem. Though a nazm is traditionally written in rhymed verse, there are many examples of nazms written in unrhymed verse, or even in free verse.
qasiidaa (pronounced “quh-see-daa”)
A panygeric, or poem written in praise of a king or a nobleman, or a benefactor. As in a ghazal, the opening couplet of a qasida, is a rhyming couplet, and its rhyme is repeated in the second line of each succeeding verse. The opening part of the qasida, where the poet may talk in general about love and beauty, man or nature, life or death, is called the ‘tashbib’ or ‘tamheed’.
Interestingly, the ghazal has evolved from the qasida. Over time, the tashbib got detached and developed into what we today know as Gazal. A qasida is usually quite long, sometimes running into mor than a 100 couplets. A Gazal is seldom more than 12 couplets long, averaging about 7 couplets.
A poem consisting of four lines, in the form of two shers. However, unlike shers in a ghazal, the subject of the two shers is the same. It is believed that the qataa was invented for occasions when poets felt that they were unable to express their thoughts completely and satisfactorily in a single sher.
Traditionally a devotional song expressing love and oneness with God sung by a group of people to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Nowadays, qawaallis cover popular topics like love and wine.
A self-sufficient quartrain, rhyming (a, a, b, a) and dealing generally with a single idea, which is customarily introduced and developed with the aid of similes in the first three lines, and concluded, with concentrated effort and impact, in the fourth line.The most well known rubaayis in Persian were written by Omar Khayyam. In Urdu, some of the most well known practitioners of this form were Firaq, Josh and Yagna Yaas Changezi.
A salutory poem written in praise of the holy Prophet. It can also be a poem describing the incidents of Karbala. It is recited standing up.
A song sung at the time of tying the seharaa during the wedding ceremony. It is usually in praise of the bride/groom and their relatives.
A poem describing the displeasure and carelessness of a lover.