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The Journey of Ghazal from Persia to the Indian Subcontinent

Ghazals are short forms of rhyming poetry that originated during the Umayyad era in the 7th century. They are poetic expressions of unrequited love, freedom celebrations, melancholy, and philosophical questions. Ghazals have evolved from the Persian Qasida, a pre-Islamic Arabic poetry style, generally longer in length and recited in honor of the emperor and his noblemen.

In Ghazal, tablas are used as a musical instrument.
Image of a Tabla by vmulky via Creative Commons

The structure of a ghazal is precise and distinct. It is composed of a series of rhythmically connected couplets. The first and most important couplet of a ghazal is known as 'malta.' When there are two maltas in a ghazal, the second is called 'malta-e-sani.' The last couplet, or 'maqta,' is an essential part of a ghazal and the poet's pen name is generally included in the last line of the ghazal.


This literary genre has a unique history. Its origins can be traced back to the 7th century in Arabia. It soon made its way to medieval Spain, where it was written and recited in both Arabic and Hebrew. It was also sung in West African languages such as Hausa and Fulfulde. Even though these ghazals developed in foreign lands, the original form of the old Arabic writing style was not lost.

The ghazal arrived in Persia in the mid-eighth century and quickly spread to other parts of the world. Some of the popular ghazal writers of Persia, among others, were Abdullah Jafar Rudaki, Sanai Ghaznavi, Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz Shirazi.

As centuries passed, it became well-known for its two special characteristics- profound spiritual ideas and philosophical concerns. These factors had a tremendous impact on the growth of ghazal as a poetic form in the East.


During the period of the Delhi Sultanate, Amir Khusrau became the most noteworthy contributor to ghazal music in India. He wrote poems in both Persian and Hindi. With the advent of the Mughals, the ghazal flourished across India from the 12th to 18th century due to the influence of Sufi mystics.

Performance of ghazals by Walters Art Museum Illuminated via Creative Commons

It grew and rapidly became popular among the locals and has remained so for centuries. When the ghazal was first introduced in the North, the monarchs were more interested in Persian ghazals. However, when it traveled south, it acquired an Urdu flavor. It evolved in the courts of Golconda and Bijapur under the patronage of Mughal rulers who supported the Urdu tradition. Nusrati, Wajhi, Hashmi, Mohammad Quli Qutab Shah, and Wali Dakhini were some well-known ghazal writers of their time.

The 18th and 19th centuries were regarded as the golden age of the ghazals. In this period, the ghazal transitioned from a literary to a musical form and came to be associated with court performances. Their principal hubs were considered to be Lucknow and Delhi. As ghazals gained popularity among Indian poets, they were composed in various Indian languages, including Urdu, Hindi, Telugu, Gujarati, Punjabi, and Bengali. Begum Akhtar and Ustad Mehdi Hassan were among the first to familiarise and reintroduce musical art to the Indian masses.

Many others contributed significantly to the development of ghazals in India. Jagjit Singh was one such ghazal artist whose enchanting voice captured the hearts of millions of people in India and around the world.

Jagjit Singh by scorpioprithu via Creative Commons

Ghazals were once considered exclusive to the people belonging to the upper class. In the 1970-80, Jagjit Singh popularised the genre by introducing a contemporary style of ghazal composition by combining Western and Indian classical instruments. Among his most notable works are Arth, Prem Geet, and Khushiyaan.


One of the most prominent elements of the Indian ghazal was the collaboration of poets from many linguistic, regional, and religious backgrounds. It was typically sung in the classical style, which comprised 'Thumri,' 'Khayal,' 'Raga,' and other genres of Indian classical music. Some of the musical instruments used in ghazal include sarangi, harmonium, sitar, tabla, and santur. Ghazals acquired popularity in India and Pakistan towards the end of the 20th century.

Modern-day ghazal singing in India has experienced major modifications in terms of lyrics and instruments utilized in performances. It has become far more understandable, making it more enticing and appealing to the general public. They can not only relate to the emotions expressed in the ghazals, but it also opens them to new ideas. People nowadays choose to listen to ghazals because they provide them hope, motivation, and a break from their stressful lives.

Due to the growth of modern media, ghazal music is no longer limited to stage performances. They have been sung in a lot of movies as well. The beauty of ghazals lies in their way of expressing deep emotions. As a result, this singing style has become extremely popular and successful.



Divya Balvally

Pratha Content Writer

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