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What Is Urdu Poetry?

Ray Hawk
Ray Hawk

Urdu poetry is a collection of many forms of poetry that originated in the region of Pakistan and parts of northern India. It was frequently found in the Jammu and Kashmir region largely populated by Islamic people. Urdu is a language that can be traced back to the Persian and Arabic writing systems covering a broad region of western and southwestern Asia. Now one of the official languages of Pakistan, Urdu is often used by Muslims for poetry. International gatherings where Urdu poetry is read and celebrated are known as Mushairas, and the poetry is typically expressed in ghazal form, through recitation or singing.

Online collections of Urdu poetry are often written in Arabic or Urdu itself that is sometimes transliterated into English letter by letter to try to retain the original sound and meaning. The ghazal form of the poem is considered a love lyric, and is often erotically written as recurring rhymes. The nazm is another variation and closely related to the ghazal as a form of rhymed verse. One collection of poems lists the work of 343 poets and 1,826 actual ghazals and nazms. Indexes of ghazal singers, songs, and entire Urdu poetry musical albums can also be found.

Urdu poetry originated in Pakistan and parts of northern India.
Urdu poetry originated in Pakistan and parts of northern India.

Mushaira gatherings for Urdu poetry are relatively unstructured events where the poems can be erotic, humorous, or musical, and the audience is often invited to participate. Audience members are allowed to come forward to the stage and recite their own poems. Recitations can also be competitive, and the ending of a Mushaira is typically closed by the most revered Urdu poet present being invited to recite his or her poems to the audience.

As a form of literature, Urdu poetry has more of an oral tradition, being passed down from generation to generation since the 12th and 13th centuries. Despite political turmoil in the region during the early 21st century, the oral tradition of Urdu still thrives. Conflicts due to British occupation of India and the eventual partitioning of the Hindu state to create the Islamic nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh led to Urdu poetry acquiring a foothold as part of Indian culture and as a source of national pride in Pakistan. The first widely recognized Urdu poetry master was Quli Qutub Shah who lived from 1565-1611 AD.

Other forms of Urdu poetry include the qasida, consisting of lofty praise, the mathnawi as another form of romantic poem, and the marthiya as a elegy, or mournful song, often performed at funerals. Literary journals such as the noted Shaabkhoon, which started publication in 1966, have brought a modern tradition into the writing and rhyme of the Urdu poet. Topics now covered by the language of Urdu poetry include present-day thinking on sociology, and local and foreign influences affecting Third World nations.

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Discussion Comments


Another famous Urdu poet is Faiz, or Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who wrote Urdu love poetry. You can also look at the work of Carolyn Kizer, to see what she translated, if you are interested in more Urdu poetry.


Though people try to write a form of ghazals in English, this is often difficult, as English is not the best language for ghazals because it is harder to make the rhyme sequences happen and to have them sound natural when they do. A more contemporary poet who was good at them though is Agha Shahid Ali.

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    • Urdu poetry originated in Pakistan and parts of northern India.
      By: Tupungato
      Urdu poetry originated in Pakistan and parts of northern India.