Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib began and concluded his first collection of Urdu poetry - his Divan published in 1816 - with a dedication to the rooh, or spirit, of the great 17th century Sufi poet Mirza Bedil.

Mirza Bedil composed in Persian, not Urdu. He belonged to the school of poetry generally designated as Sabk-i-Hindi, but also known as taaza goee [fresh style], tarz-i-nau [new style] or khayaal bandi [capturing metaphor]. This style is marked by semantic complexity and a stacking of metaphors which expand the poetic image to accommodate multiple meanings. There's a celebration of 'difficulty' in it. Scholars perceive this penchant for complexity as the early modern phase in the ghazal's evolution.

Much has been written about young Ghalib's tatabbu [following in the footsteps] of Bedil. Ghalib openly expressed his admiration for Bedil in numerous Urdu verses - I've counted up to 15:

Tarz-i-Bedil mein Rekhta kehna

Asadullah Khan qiyaamat hai

[Writing Rekhta in Bedil's style

Asadullah Khan, it is impossible!]

Later, presumably after disagreements with Persian poets of Indian descent who criticised his Persian usages, Ghalib distanced himself from Indian-Persian. Thus, when preparing the 1841 intikhaab [selection] of his Urdu poetry, Ghalib did not include verses in praise of Bedil. Some Urdu critics even say that Ghalib changed his poetic style after 1840. I think Ghalib continued to admire Bedil. In the early Urdu Divans, this admiration was expressed as conspicuously as possible; later it remained mostly unexpressed, but still evident.

The complexity of the Ghalib-Bedil emulation hasn't been explored fully. Most scholarship is focused on tracking and matching Bedil and Ghalib's verses that have similar, if not identical, themes. Indeed, some verses are so close that they are virtual translations from Bedil's Persian to Ghalib's Urdu. Ghalib's 'poetic temperament' was literally in tune with Bedil.

Mutrib-i-dil ne meray taar-i-nafs se Ghalib

Saaz per rishta paaey naghma-i-Bedil baandha

[Ghalib! My heart's musician with the thread of my breath,

Stringed Bedil's song to the instrument]

Bedil was considered a literary saint with a miraculous presence. We're fortunate to have numerous resources about his life and times, including his autobiography, Chahar Unsur [Four Elements] - one of the most complicated books one could read. Although there's some controversy about his place of birth, it seems likely he was born in Azimabad (now Patna) in...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT