Poetic Insults Traded Between Ghalib and Zauq over a Sehra

, Sher o Sukhan

The art of writing sehra or prothalamion is now a vanishing genre nowadays. I remember while I was growing up that almost all weddings would have a sehra read by some relative with poetic aspirations after the nikah. Though they are supposed to be in praise of the groom and a prayer for his future wedded life, these would be witty and laudatory at the same time. It’s usually a humorous take at all the relatives. A copy of this would then be distributed to all the wedding guests.

They fall into the category of nazms and had to be in meter.

Of course the most famous sehra is the one by Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) in which he took a dig at the Emperor’s Ustad, Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq (1788/9-1854). Zauq was given the title of Khaqani e Hind and drew a nominal salary of Rs 4/. The respect and position that he gained as a result was immense. It also gave him free access to the Qila e Moalla (Red Fort). This was a constant thorn in the side of Mirza Ghalib who always felt he was better and should have got a royal position too. He never let go of any chance to score poetic points over his rival.

It was the last grand Mughal wedding on 2nd April 1852 – that of Badshah Bahadur Shah Zafar’s son Jawan Bakht by his favourite and youngest wife Zeenat Mahal to Nawab Shah Zamani Begum.

Begum Zeenat Begum asked Ghalib to write a ‘sehra’ for her son, Mirza Jawan Bakth’s wedding. The honour should have gone to Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq but he was reportedly unwell.

William  Dalrymple in his book “The Last Mughal” writes :
“The marriage procession of Prince Jawan Bakht left the Lahore Gate of the Red Fort at 2 a.m. on the hot summer night of 2 April, 1852.”
and he goes on to write that what was remembered longest and discussed most eagerly was not so much the festivities or the feasting or the fireworks, as the marraige odes recited by the Poet Laureate Zauq, and his rival Mirza Nausha, now more widely known by his pen-name Ghalib.”

“The squabble at the wedding was over a single verse in Ghalib’s sehra (or wedding oration) where he appeared–characteristically–to suggest that no one in the gathering could write a couplet as well as he…. Zafar also encouraged Zauq to reply to Ghalib’s unprovoked sally. The fine sehra that the Poet Laureate came up with ended with a couplet tossing the challenge back to Ghalib:

The person who claims poetic skills,
Recite this to him and say,
“Look–this is how a poet”

This round went to Zauq as the singers in attendance, picked  up the verse and spread it all over Shahjahanabad. By next day it was in the newspapers

This is the famous ‘clash between Mirza Ghalib and Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq over the writing of the royal ‘sehra’ ( a celebratory poem at time of a wedding in honour of the groom, It’s usually a humorous take on marriage, relatives and festivities connected with the wedding, interspersed with praises and wishes for the groom. ).

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s favorite wife, Begum Zeenat Begum asked Ghalib to write a ‘sehra’ for her son, Mirza Jawan BaKth’s wedding.

The honour should have gone to Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq but he was reportedly unwell.

Complying with the Empress’ wish, Ghalib wrote a ‘sehra’ whose maqta* was:

‘hum suKhan_fahm haiN, Ghalib ke tarafdaar nahiN
dekheN keh de koi is sehre se baRh kar sehra’ **

We are connoisseurs of  poetry, not partial to Ghalib
Let’s see if there’s anyone who can write a better ‘sehra’

The Emperor realizing that this was a dig at his mentor Zauq is said to have been displeased with the maqt’a. A slight to his mentor was seen as a slight to the Emperor himself. Zafar asked Zauq to write a ‘sehra’ as well . Not one to let go of an opportunity , Zauq included these lines:

jin ko daawa ho suKhan ka yeh sunaa do unko
dekh is taraH se kehte haiN suKhanwar sehra

Tell those who claim to be eloquent
This is how poets write a sehra

 The Fort reverberated with this clash of titans and It is recorded that the Crown Prince Mirza Fakhruddin (also a disciple of Mirza Zauq) exclaimed, “Ustaad ne maidan maar liya

Ghalib wrote his celebrated  ‘qat’a-e-ma’azerat’ ( letter of apology) in response to the Emperor’s reaction. However, the egoistic Ghalib left no ‘verse’ unturned in adding insult to injury, using poetry as a medium to prove his supremacy. and take a dig at Zauq’s ancestry and the Emperor’s neglicience towards himself. The maqta of this ghazal became even more famous.

manzoor hai guzaarish-e-ahvaal-e-waaqa’aii
apna bayaan-e-Husn-e-tabii’yat nahiN mujhe

I accept the request to state the facts,
To praise oneself is not a habit of mine

sau pusht se, hai pesha-e-aaba sipahgari
kuchh shayari, zari’ye-e-izzat nahiN mujhe

My forefathers have been warriors for  hundred generations
By writing poetry, fame I seek  not

aazaadah rau huN, aur mira maslak hai sulH-e-kul
hargiz kabhi kisi se adaawat nahiN mujhe

I am a free spirit and my conduct is always peaceful,
I bear malice against no one

kya kam hai yeh sharaf ke Zafar ka Ghulaam huN
maana ke jaah-o-mansab-o-sarwat nahiN mujhe

Is the privilege not enough that I serve Zafar ,
Agreed rank, position and affluence I have not

ustaad-e-shah se ho mujhe parKhaash ka Khayaal
yeh taab, yeh majaal, yeh taaqat nahiN mujhe

The thought of a row with the king’s mentor
This arrogance, this audacity, this strength I have not

jaam-e-jahaaN_numa hai shahenshaah ka zameer
saugand aur gawaah ki Haajat nahiN mujhe

The king’s conscience is all encompassing,
The need for an oath and witness I have  not

sehraa likhaa gaya ze_rah-e-imtiSaal-e-amr
dekhaa ke chaarah Ghair ita’at nahiN mujhe

The sehra was written in obedience of orders,

Non compliance with that order I dare not

maqt’e meiN aa paRi hai suKhan gustaraana baat
maqsood is se qat’a-e-moHabbat nahiN mujhe

I wrote something in the maqta’ which became popular,
A reason to ending friendship I want not.

ruu-e-suKhan kisi taraf ho, tau ruu_siyaah
sauda nahiN, junooN nahiN, veHshat nahiN mujhe

If I aimed it at someone in particular then may my face be
blackened,
I am neither mad, nor crazed nor so deprived of sense.

qismat buri sahii, pa tabii’yat buri nahiN
hai shukr ki jagah, ke shikaayat nahiN mujhe

Although my luck is bad, but my habits aren’t bad,
I’m in a place of thankfulness and complain I do not.

saadiq huN apne qaul meiN Ghalib Khuda_gawaah
kehta huN sach ke jhooT ki a’adat nahiN mujhe

Always true to his word is Ghalib, as God is my witness,
I tell you the truth as lie I do not.

*The maqta is the last verse of a ghazal  in which the poet’s takhallus, or pen name, is employed

This is the original sehra written by Ghalib for Mirza Jawan Bakht

Here is the ‘sehra’ written by Ghalib for the wedding of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s
son Javan Bakht.

Khush ho ai baKht ke hai aaj tere sar sehraa
baaNdh shahazada Javaa.N baKht ke sar par seharaa

[baKht = luck; pun on Groom’s name]

kyaa hii is chaaNd se mukhaDe pe bhalaa lagataa hai
hai tere husn-e-dil_afroz kaa zevar sehraa

[husn-e-dil_afroz = beauty that lights up the heart]

sar pe chaDhnaa tujhe phabataa hai par ai tarf-e-kulaah
mujhko Dar hai ke na chhiine tera lambar sehraa

[phabataa =  suits]

nav bhar kar hii piroye gaye honge motii
varnaa kyun laaye hain kishtii mein lagaakar sehraa

saat dariyaa ke faraaham kiye honge motii
tab banaa hogaa is andaaz kaa gaz bhar sehraa

ruKh pe dulhaa ke jo garmii se pasiinaa Tapakaa
hai rag-e-abr-e-guharabaar saraasar sehraa

ye bhii ik be’adabii thii ke qabaa se baDh jaaye
rah gayaa aan ke daaman ke baraabar sehraa

jii me.n itaraaye.N na motii ke hamii.n hai.n ik chiiz
chaahiye phuulon ko bhii ek mukarrar sehraa

jab ke apane mein samaave’n na Khushii mein maare
guu.Ndhe phuulon kaa bhalaa phir koii kyuu.Nkar sehraa

ruKh-e-raushan kii damak gauhar-e-Galtaa kii chamak
kyuN na dikhalaaye faroG-e-maah-o-aKhtar sehraa

taar resham kaa nahii.n hai ye rag-e-abr-e-bahaar
laayegaa taab-e-giraa.Nbaari-e-gauhar sehraa

ham suKhan_faham hain “Ghalib” ke tarafadaar nahii.n
dekhe.n is sehare se kah de koii ba.Dhakar sehraa

[suKhan_faham = patron of poetry/ kaavyaa parakhane vaalaa

 

ZAUQ’s SEHRA

Ai Javaan Bakht mubarak tujhe sar par sehra

Aaj hai Yaman wa Sada’t ka tere sar sehra

 

Aaj woh din hai ke laaye durr e anjum se falak

Kashti e zar mah e nau ke lagakar sehra

 

Tabish husn se manind shua e khursheed

Rukh e pur noor pe hai tere munawwar sehra

 

Woh kahe Salle Alay eh kahe SubhanAllah

Dekhe mukhade pe jot ere mah o akhtar sehra

 

Taa banni aur banne mein rahe ikhlas baham

Goondhiye sura e ikhlas padhkar sehra

 

Dhoom hai gulshan e afaaq mein is sehre ki

Gaaye’n marghaan e nava sanj na kyunkar sehra

 

Ru e farkh pe jo hain tere baraste anwar

Taar e barish se bana ek sarasar sehra

 

Ek ko ek pe tazai’n hai dam e araaish

Sir pe dastar hai, dastar ke oopar sehra

 

Ek gauhar bhi nahin sadgaan e gauhar mein choda

Tera banwaaya hai le leke jo gauhar sehra

 

Phirti khushboo se hai itraayi huyi baad e bahaar

Allah Allah re phoolo’n se moatta’r sehraa

 

Sar pe turra hai muzaiyyan to gale mein baddhi

Kangana haath mein zeba hai to munh par sehra

 

Runumayi mein tujhe de mah o khurshid o falak

Khol de munh ko jot u munh se uthakar sehra

 

Kasrat e taar e nazar se hai tamaashiyo’n ke

Dam e nazara tere ru e niko par sehra

 

Durr e khush aab e mazameen se banakar laaya

Waaste tere tera Zauq sanagar sehra

 

Jis ko daawa hai suKhan ka yeh sunaa de usko
Dekh is taraH se kehte haiN suKhanwar sehra

 

 

 

 

Comment List

  • Kunal 22 / 11 / 2014 Reply

    Majaa aa gaya padh kar. Shukriya hazaar baar.

    • Rana Safvi 23 / 11 / 2014 Reply

      Shukriya

  • Pingback: Poetic Insults | urduwallahs

  • Sadiq Saba 19 / 11 / 2015 Reply

    undoubtedly interest and full of sensations while reading the invaluable piece of writings from Ghalib’s work. He really was the one and only who ruled the marvelous nooks of poetry.

  • Sadiq Saba 19 / 11 / 2015 Reply

    Great ! It really is great for read Ghalib.

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