Originally posted on 29 Nov 2010 :

Mirza Ghalib did not offer ‘namaaz’ as the good Muslims do. He did not observe ‘roza’ (fasting) and was given to boozing and gambling. He celebrated Diwali with infidels and was willing to go to the Church. His poetry is largely focused on human relations with particular emphasis on ‘ishq’ (love) ‘GHam’ (pain or anguish) and ‘wafaa’ (fidelity) It is natural to conclude that he was either an atheist or an agnostic.

As an ardent lover of his poetry I did a bit of research on Ghalib’s relationship with God. For this, I went through the entire ‘Diwan-e-Ghalib’ several times and the results of my survey are placed below for those who care for them. I have taken the liberty to quote from him, without being too judgemental.

Before I proceed further, I want you to click on the link below and listen to a ‘ghazal’ rendered by Jagjit. When I first heard it, I could not understand a single word, but it did something to my soul and I could not resist listening to it over and over again. Very few singers have sung it, and it is not recited very often in gatherings, but if you listen to it a few times, it grows on you and leaves a profound influence.

I beseech you to observe the expressions on the faces of Naseeruddin Shah who played Ghalib and Tanvi Aazmi who acted as his wife in the famous serial. Please also pay particular attention to the phonetics of the words and syllables used.

In my view, the last shayer (known as ‘maqta’ in Urdu poetry) contains the key to Ghalib’s thought process. It says

Aate haiN GHaib se ye mazaameeN KHayaal meiN ‘GHalib’, sareer-e-KHaama nawa-e-sarosh hai

(It means, “These thoughts or ideas come to me from an unknown and mysterious source. The ‘scratching’ sound of my pen is the voice of an angel known as Jabeel)

I was in for more than that. At one place Mirza Nosha says,

na tha kuch to khuda tha, kuch na hotato khuda hota duboyaa mujh ko hone ne, na hota main to kya hota?

This is a simple one and the meaning is obvious: Ghalib avers that God is omnipresent and eternal. The existence of man is transitory and insignificant. Mirza believed that since the Being of God is so obvious and overpowering where is the need for so much hullabaloo?  He asks:

Jab ki tujh bin nahiN koi maujood.     

 (maujood means present or existing)

Phir ye hungaamaa ai khudaa kya hai?

  (hungaama means furore or delirium)

If he was alive during the Babri masjid dispute he would have said,

KHuda ke waaste parda na kaabe se uthaa zaalim
 kaheeN ‘eisa na ho yaaN bhee wohee kaafir sanam nikle

It seems Mirza Nosha knew that if the veil is lifted from Kaaba, you may find idols beneath. The word ‘sanam’ is now used to refer to the beloved or ‘beau’ But I think its initial meaning was an object of love or worship, which means idols. For this, read the note below:

Sanam is an urdu word derived from an Arabic word isnaam.

isnaam is said to be something which people take toworship (idols or any other objects which has a well defined face means likeanimals , human beings birds etc) It is a misconception among some people that sanam is a word  to describe some one’s lover. In fact, it issomeone whom you worship beside God .

And, indeed, there is little doubt that Ghalib was secular. Here is the proof:

ImaaN mujhe roke hai jo khiNche hai mujhe  kufr

(ImaaN refers to Islam; kufr to Christianity)

K a’aba   mere  peechhe hai  kaleesa  mere aage 

 (kaleesa means Church)

Indeed, there is not a great deal in his works about spiritualism, but enough to show that he was not a non-believer. He did comment on Sufism in his own way;

 Ye masaail-e-tasawwuf, ye tera bayaan ‘Ghalib’!

Tujhe ham walee samajhate, jo na baada_khwaar hota

(massail-e-tasawwuf means spiritual issues related with Sufism; bayaan means description or explanation; wali means guardian or protector and ‘baada-khwaar, is a man who drinks alcoholic bewerages)

Given a choice between spirituality and ‘spirits’ Mirza Sahib would obviously go for the latter. An anecdote about Ghalib which I like very much goes as follows:

Ghalib was once requested by a pretty young lady to give up drinking. Mirza sahib asked why he should do so. And then the following conversation ensued

        “Pehli baat to yeh hai ki jo sharaab pite haiN unki dua qabool nahiN hoti”

The famous answer to this question is

        “Mohtarima, jin ko sharaab haasil ho, unheN dua ki zarurat kya hai?”

If you have come thus far, you deserve to become a member of the “Ghalib Akadami” You are now fully equipped to listen to the ghazal “Zulmat kade se” and for you I am giving the link again. The complete ghazal with its thirteen couplets is attached. Of these only four (nos 1,2,12 and 13) were chosen for singing by Jagjit

  1. Mohammad says:

    Thank q dear

  2. ashwani says:

    हुई मुद्दत के ग़ालिब मर गया पर याद आता है,
    वो हर एक बात पे कहना के यूं होता तो क्या होता।

  3. Ashwani Kumar says:

    Bahut mushkil hai har ek kam ka asaaN hona

    Aadmi ko bhi muyassar nahiN insaaN hona

  4. Vijay Madan says:

    i greatly enjoyed your write-up. being one of those fast dying breeds of kashmiri pandits who consider urdu as their mother tongue,and who was brought up listening to outstanding urdu poets of his community i found your write up very thought does it matter wether ghalib believed in god or whatever? he believed in human beings.

  5. Inderpal Sandhu says:

    If we do away with the literal translation of the words meaning ‘reed pen’ and ‘scratching’

    the last line, as per Mr. K. C Kanda, could be translated to;

    ” My pen is the scribe of the voice of gods.”

    The 2nd line can be translated as ” It was the mind and the senses which came with My vajood that led me astray in indulging in all sorts of vices like drinking, gambling and womanizing. My coming into being was dispenable, though.

    The 1st verse reads – Jab ke tujh bin koi nahin maujood.

  6. Gen R. K. Joshi says:

    A million thanks for this e-mail. Though I can read and to some extant write urdu and am very fond of Ghalib’s poetry but this insight provided by you is amazing.

    Thanks again.

  7. kamal khanna says:

    Thanks a lot. Enjoyed reading and listening to the youtube.

  8. Mirza Yawar Baig says:

    Ghalib is also one of my favorites. Whether he was a good Muslim or a bad one or a Muslim at all is between him and Allah. Let us leave it there. After all we will not be asked to testify on his behalf. But that does not prevent us from enjoying the beauty of his writing.

    He lived in a very difficult time where he lost most of his family in 1847 and would have been himself killed if it were not for a qaseeda in praise of the Queen Empress which he had written and which found royal favor. He was still produced before the judge who asked him what kind of Musulmaan he was. He replied, ‘Huzoor main aadha musalmaan hoon.’ The judge asked him what that meant. He said, ‘Sharaab peeta hoon, suwwar nahin khata.’ 1857 and the treatment of Bahadur Shah Zafar (who he used to coach in poetry in competition with the other great man of Urdu poetry, Mir (Sahib) Taqi Mir) broke his heart. As we know, the 85 year old monarch was banished from his own land and his 3 sons were shot in cold blood, stripped and left lying naked in the street for three days. When asked why he had rebelled he replied, ‘How can a king rebel against himself? It is the Company Sahib which must ask what it is doing in my country.’ Not that such a courageous answer did him any good. Interesting to note that until and after this point until the British Crown took charge, India was actually ruled by a British MNC which had an army and which conducted war and slaughtered uncounted Indians with impunity. Its head was what today we would call Country Manager. Interesting parallels today with the MNC’s which rule India and the world in much the same ways.

    History is witness to the perfidy and treachery that ensured British victory and delivered India into the hands of British colonial power for another century (more or less).

    The British targeted Muslims and embarked on breaking the back of Muslim leadership and more than 150,000 Muslim scholars alone were hung from the trees along the road from Delhi to Meerut by the British. A sacrifice for their nation that is largely forgotten. The seeds for partition were sown in 1857. Meanwhile the Baniyas of Delhi and the Rajas and Maharajas of Rajputana and Punjab were rewarded by the British for their help in winning the war against the Indian patriots with scraps from the final loot of the Mughal court and the realignment of power that the British brought about ruthlessly.

    Babari Masjid and all the scams that are happening today are an indication that the treachery of 1857 lives on. This is because of the cherry picking way in which we learn and teach history, glossing over the nasty parts as if ignoring facts can change reality. It has nothing to do with Islam or Hinduism. It has all to do with raw pursuit of power at any cost to the nation. They did it in 1857 and they are doing it today, Sir.

    Ro-engay hum hazaar baar

    Koi hamein sata-ye kyon?

    Once again many thanks for the lovely links to listen to Jagjit Singh. I love his voice and Ghalib’s poetry.

  9. H.Ramanathan says:

    Wonderful…..Thank you general

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