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Bah'r: The Backbone of Shaayari

Author: Irfan 'Abid'
Date: 19th July, 2001

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

If this article helps you in any way, it will be my pleasure. If you are really serious about shaayari, find a ustaad near you and be his shaagird (student). There is no substitute for the guidance and teaching of a ustaad. Please let me know if you have anything to add to or correct in this article. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated.


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Last updated on: 19th July, 2001