The Third Era of Āb-e ḥayāt:

Part One


#123# In this mushairah such accomplished gentlemen enter, that on the doorsill Eloquence welcomes them with reverence, and *Rhetoric fawns at their feet. The Urdu language was at first gold ore; these elders cleansed it much of its dross, and prepared it to be shaped into thousands of necessary embroideries, material for adornments, jewelry for beautiful women, and even crowns and diadems for kings. Although many gem-setters and enamel-workers came afterwards, this priceless garland of pride has remained on the necks of these elders alone. When these accomplished ones entered the garden of poetry, they strolled through the flowerbeds arranged by their predecessors. They looked at the flower of eloquence, which was showing the inborn beauty of its youthful vigor in a natural springtime. Because they too had to win the badge of renown, they wanted to strike out and move ahead of their elders. They ran everywhere through the fields around them, but all the flowers had been used. When they didn't find anything before them, then having no choice, they raised their buildings high. Just look--they won't [merely] use themes of height, they'll bring down the stars from the sky. They won't merely get praise from connoisseurs--they'll get worship! But not a worship that is, like [the magic of] Sāmirī, only short-lived. You'll find the hem of the garment of their accomplishment bound to the hem of the garment of Doomsday. In their verbal devices they'll use some ostentation as well--but like dew on a rose, or a mirror held up to a picture. And their ostentation too will enhance the pleasure of the original subtlety; it won't be a curtain over its excellence. You'll see Mīr Sahib and Ḳhvājah Mīr Dard, who will be immersed in [emotional] effect. Saudā's poetry, despite the loftiness of its themes and the trimness of his expression, will be a magic world of emotional effect.

But it's a bit regrettable that in this progress, the *'high flight' of their temperament caused them to turn their faces upwards. If only they had moved forward! So that they would have come out from the limited courtyard of beauty and love, and #124# galloped their horses into fields whose expanse knew no bounds, and whose wonders and refinements knew no count! We ought not to forget that the benefit of Ḳhān-e Ārzū's society had nurtured the accomplishments of these youths, just as a nursemaid fosters promising children in her lap.a I have written briefly in notes about some of the ustads of the second and third periods, and this cup [Āb-e ḥayāt] is empty of the names and poetry of some. In truth, they all deserve due credit for providing correction to the Urdu language. But I have heard from my ustads and elders that Mirzā Jān-e Janāñ [Maz̤har], Saudā, Mīr, and Ḳhvājah Mīr Dard, were the four people who turned the Urdu language on the lathe.

Our scholars of language maintain that after sixty years every language develops a clear difference. The persons of the third period, who in reality are the builders of the edifice of Urdu, considered many words to be archaic, and left them behind. And many Persian constructions that came into the mouth like sugar-crystals poorly mixed with milk, they blended in. Nevertheless, by comparison with the present, many things in their poetry have now been given up. [Various archaisms are discussed, illustrated #125# #126# #127# #128# with many verses by Mīr, Saudā, and Dard.]

In their era, some correction was performed on the language, but in orthography much of their heritage from the elders #129# remained. One collection came into my hands that was written in A.H. 1170 [1756-57]. Some intelligent person compiled it with great care. In it are selected ghazals from the volumes of Mīr 'Soz', Tābāñ, Fuġhāñ, Saudā, Ḳhvājah Mīr 'Dard', Inʿāmullāh Ḳhān, Ḳhvājah 'Ābrū', Mīr Muḥammad Bāqir 'Ḥazīn', Mīr Kamāl ud-Dīn 'Shāʿir', Ḳhvājah Aḥsanullāh Ḳhān 'Bayān', Qiyām ud-Dīn 'Qāʾim'. It proves that in that period the accusative marker used to be written kūñ [instead of the modern ko]. Thus the ghazals which Shāh Ābrū, Mīr Kamāluddīn Shāʿir, etc., wrote with the refrain of ko, they put in among ghazals with refrains ending in the letter nūn. Later poets removed the nūn. But it seems that they too used to pronounce the letter vāʾo [in ko] as ū. Thus Ḳhvājah Mīr 'Aṡar', who was the brother of Ḳhvājah Mīr Dard, wrote a ghazal with no refrain in which the rhyme was , , and he deliberately included as well. Mirzā Rafīʿ too has done the same: [three illustrative verses by Saudā].

The words given below were written this way in that era: [eleven pairs of examples of old versus modern spelling]. These verses, that are in reality the epitaphs of a dead idiom--I don't know #130# to what extent modern young people, or those who survive as memorials of earlier times, will take this line of reasoning further, after having read them. I'm not writing this only to tell you to what an extent archaisms survived in the language of that period, but also to express regret over something important. Which is this: Saudā's lifetime was 75 [lunar] years, and his life as a poet was roughly 55 to 60 years; Mīr's lifetime was 100 [lunar] years, and his life as a poet was 80 to 85 years. No one can deny that the language of Delhi as used in the early part of their poetry, was not the same in the middle part; and then that language of the middle part was not the same in the later part. Undoubtedly, clear and apparent differences among the three languages must have developed. But because the custom of the country has decided that volumes must be arranged in order by letters of the alphabet, we cannot today ascertain what changes took place from time to time in the languages of the country, or what levels the inclination of their temperaments, and the ebb and flow of their powers of expression, reached at different times. In this darkness only two poets have left lamps for us. [The argument is made that Amīr Ḳhusrau and Jāmī used more archaic language in their earlier Persian works than in their later ones.] Munshī Aḥmad Ḥasan Ḳhān Sahib was a well-instructed pupil of the late Mīr Taqī. The late Ḍipṭī [=Deputy Collector] Kalb Ḥusain Ḳhān Sahib reported hearing from his lips that a number of words that Mīr Sahib had used in his first and second volumes, are not in the fourth and fifth volumes. Those that are in the second and third, are not in the fifth and sixth. In any case, his style of language in his latter years must have been the language of Sayyid Inshā, Muṣḥafī, Jurʾat. 'God knows better, the truth of the situation.'


With regard to the full resonance and flow of his poetry, and the quantity of his work--when mentioning his name along with those of Mīr and Saudā, #131# one hesitates. Still, the Craftsman of nature endowed his temperament with delicacy, true refinement, and beauty and excellence of style in everything. And he came from the same period. Furthermore the earliest anthology-writers say--in fact, I've heard from the lips of elders too--that in correction of the language, and invention of poetic manner and style, he has the same kind of claim [to authority] as Saudā and Mīr. Thus it is necessary to write about him too along with them. His father was an officer at ʿĀlamgīr's court. From his father's side he traced his descent to Muḥammad ibn Ḥanīfah, who was the son of Hazrat ʿAlī. His mother was from a good family of Bījāpūr. His paternal grandfather too was an officer at the royal court. His paternal grandmother was the cousin of Asad Ḳhān, ʿĀlamgīr's vazir. His great grandfather was married to a daughter of the emperor Akbar. Through these relationships, he was a grandson of the Timurid family. In A.H. 1111 [1699-1700], when ʿĀlamgīr took his army and was encamped in the Deccan, his father left the royal service and returned to Delhi.b Mirzā Maz̤har was born in Kālā Bāġh, in the Malwa region, on Friday the 11th of Ramẓān. A report of his birth reached ʿĀlamgīr.

The rule of the realm was that when a child was born to a noble, he would humbly report it to the king. The king would himself give the child a name, or choose one of the names placed before him. Sometimes he made the child his own son or daughter, for this act produced unity and love between their two hearts. For the children, at some point it would be a warrant for advancement; and the kings hoped for their faithfulness and loyalty to the death. The child's marriage too would be by royal permission. Sometimes the king would endorse the choice of the mother and father, sometimes he himself would make the choice. In short, ʿĀlamgīr said, 'The son is the life of the father. The father is Mirzā Jān. We have named the child Jān-e Jānāñ [=Life of Jān]'. Then although the father named him Shams ud-Dīn, it could never shine compared to ʿĀlamgīr's name. He himself chose the pen-name Maz̤har, which has become famous along with Jān-e Jānāñ. Mirzā Jān too was a poet, and used the pen-name Jānī.

He was sixteen years old when his father died. From that time he tied his handful of dust into the corner of the robe #132# of his elders. Until the age of thirty, he served humbly in schools and khanqahs. The days that are the flower of life's springtime, he offered up at the graves of his elders. In that period the influence of Sufism lay spread like a cloud over India. Thus, leaving aside accomplishment in poetry, thousands of Muslims--and even Hindus--were his disciples, and revered him from the heart. Many anecdotes about him are well known, such that if such things were found in someone today, people now would not approve. But that was a time when the aforementioned qualities were considered a part of excellence. Partly, '/To point out faults in the elders is a fault in itself/' [--Saʿdī]. And partly, if on some clear, bright, clean surface there is a stain, and it can appear from a good vantage point, then it is not an ugly spot, but seems like embroidery; and the person who disapproves of it is not one of good faith. I, the black-faced [=sinful] one, consider all the elders' words and deeds to be the collyrium of the eye of faith; but keeping in view the demands of the present time, it is necessary to be content with an example.

He himself used to say, 'Love for the beauty of Appearance and the beauty of Reality was in my heart from the beginning. Even in childhood, metrical lines used to issue from my lips. Even when I was an infant, I was so drawn to beauty that I wouldn't sit in the lap of anyone ugly. If someone beautiful took me, I would rush to leap into his lap, and then when they took me from him I came away reluctantly'.


In his time, Mīr ʿAbdul-Ḥayy, with the pen-name Tābāñ, was a young man of good family whose great beauty was so universally famous that both high and low called him a second Joseph. With a fair complexion black clothes look very becoming, so he always dressed in black. His beauty became so famous that the king too grew eager to see it. The king learned that Tābāñ's house was in Phāṭak Ḥabsh Ḳhān, and his usual place for meeting friends was the upper story of the big gate that stands between that street and the bazaar at Lāhorī Darvāzah. Just look at the atmosphere of the period and the ideas of the time: the king himself, with his entourage, #133# passed through that way. Tābāñ too had learned of it. He dressed in his best, and arranged a chair looking toward the bazaar, and came and sat down. When the king reached that place, in order to have an excuse to pause, he asked for 'the Water of Life'.c And having drunk the water--while looking--he went away.

In short, Tābāñ himself was the possessor of a volume. He was the pupil of Shāh Ḥātim and Mīr Muḥammad ʿAlī 'Ḥashmat', and was the disciple of Mirzā Maz̤har. Mirzā Maz̤har too looked on him with the eye of love and the glance of kindness. Thus it often happened that Mirzā Sahib would be sitting, and in his company--where there were sometimes gatherings for preaching and exhortation, and sometimes discussions of poetry and verse--Tābāñ too would be present, sitting in respectful attendance upon his spiritual guide. Although Hazrat, in accordance with the etiquette of gatherings for preaching and exhortation, did not express his ardor, it was clear that he looked at Tābāñ and inwardly overflowed with joy. Tābāñ knew his temperament: he used to recite verses and tell spicy anecdotes. Hazrat would listen and feel happy. If some matter was such that it would be contrary to etiquette to tell it before everyone, then as was the etiquette among the mystical fellowship, he would stand with his hands folded and petition, 'I want to submit something else as well'. Hazrat would smile and give his permission. He used to bring his lips near his ear, and said very quietly some words of such boldness that no one could say them except some dearly loved one whom the affection of elders had made bold. Then Hazrat would smile and say, 'That's right'. Then he used to say more of the same things. Hazrat would command, 'That's absolutely right'. When Tābāñ had gone and sat down in his place, then again Hazrat himself would say, 'You've forgotten one thing'. Tābāñ would bring his ear near his lips and Hazrat would tell some even spicier anecdote, about himself this time,d and enjoy conversing with his dearly loved one. It's the greatest pity that that flower, swaying in its springtime, fell to earth. (Alas, my Delhi, everything of yours is unique in the world!) When #134# that second Joseph wounded all hearts [by dying] in the full flower of his youth, the whole city grieved for him. Mīr Taqī Mīr too has said in the concluding verse of one of his ghazals,

/Mīr, on my breast is the scar of Tābāñ, may God have mercy on him

May salvation be granted him, the poor man--he was my friend, too/.

Mirzā Maz̤har's educational attainments were not of a scholarly order, but he had made a systematic study of hadith. Along with the Hanafi school of religious law, he was a follower of the Naqshbandī order [of Sufis]. And he fulfilled the commands of the Shariat with a sincere heart. His style and manners, and his general deportment, were extremely sober and appropriate: whoever spent time in his company was careful to behave discreetly. The anecdotes about his delicacy of temperament and finely balanced disposition are surprising to hear today. He could not tolerate ill-regulated situations of unsuitable style.

An anecdote: One day the tailor brought a cap that he had sewn for him. It was cut crookedly. At that time no other cap was available, so he was obliged to wear the crooked one. But he began to have a headache.

An anecdote: If a bedstead [chārpāʾī] was warped, he could not sit on it; he would feel agitated and get up. Thus one day he was traveling in an open palanquin near Delhi Gate. On the way, his glance fell on a merchant's warped bedstead. He stopped right there, and didn't continue his journey until he had had the warp straightened out.

An anecdote: One day a Navab Sahib who was a disciple of his family came to visit him, and picked up the water-jug and poured himself a cup of water. It happened that when he put the cup back [over the jug's mouth], he put it back crooked. Mirzā's equanimity was so disturbed by this that he couldn't at all restrain himself, and he angrily said, 'Whoever made you a navab was an amazingly stupid fool--you don't even know how to put the cup back on the water-jug!'.

An anecdote: Maulvī Ġhulām Yaḥyā, a man of great learning, who has written a commentary on Mīr 'Zāhid', came by advice from the Unseen to Delhi, to become a disciple of Mirzā's. His beard was very long and thick. On Friday, he met Mirzā in the Jāmaʿ Masjid and expressed his purpose. Mirzā looked attentively at his face, and said, 'If you wish to receive initiation from me, then first trim your beard, and make yourself look like a civilized person. #135# Then please come. "God is beautiful, and loves beauty." After all, if this bear-like appearance doesn't please me, then how can it please God?' The Mullā [Ġhulām Yaḥyā] was a believer in the Shariat.1 He shut himself up in his house. For three days in a row, he dreamed: 'Without Mirzā, the knot of your heart will not open'. Finally the poor man confided his beard to a barber, and having it trimmed to the same extremely short length that Mirzā Sahib wore, he joined the disciples.

The result of this very delicacy of disposition and refinement of temper was that he turned his attention to the language, and shaped it in such a way that he left behind the poets who had passed away, and gave his own period a quality of its own. And he carved out a new model for native speakers, through which the old path of punning was erased from the ground of the verse. In his poetry romantic themes show a remarkable heartfelt power, and this is no cause for surprise, because he had naturally the temperament of a lover. In the poetry of others, these themes are imaginings. In his poetry, they are the truth of his situation.e His language is extremely clear and limpid and transparent. The state of the idiom of that time can be known partly from his verses, and partly from the conversation that took place one time on the occasion of a meeting between him and Sayyid Inshā. Thus the original speech is reproduced from Daryā-e lat̤āfat. [An account of a meeting #136# between Maz̤har and Inshā, which precedes the passage quoted on page #23#.]

Mirzā Sahib has a volume in Persian that he himself made in A.H. 1170 [1756-57] at the age of 60 years, by selecting one thousand verses out of twenty thousand. For this reason a number of ghazals are incomplete and disordered. This should be taken as the supreme limit of fair-mindedness and fine balance of disposition. Otherwise who has the heart to cut his verses, which are his spiritual children, with his own hand? His Persian too is very limpid, and romantic themes are used with a special style: [one Persian verse].

Nor does he have a complete volume in Urdu. There are ghazals and verses, of which the language is the same as Saudā's and Mīr's. But after all, for whom did Saudā ever show any respect? Thus, throwing all courtesy and consideration to the winds, he says,

/Maz̤har's poetry is Persian or Rekhtah

Saudā, know for a fact that it's a heavy paving-stone!

They who know Persian will call it Rekhtah

He who knows even a little Rekhtah--

When he hears it, he'll say that this is not Rekhtah

And even if it's Rekhtah [=mixed mortar], then it's the kind used to build Fīroz Shāh's [Koṭlā]!

In short, his condition is this, if I tell the truth:

He's the 'washerman's dog--neither from the house, nor from the riverbank'/.f

Ḳharīt̤ah-e javāhir is a brief selection of the verses of the Persian masters, which he went on writing down as it pleased him. It is in truth a purse of jewels [ḳharīt̤ah-e javāhir].

When he had traversed seventy-nine year-stages in the desert of mortality and set foot in his eightieth year, he began to realize #137# that the traveler of his spirit was about to throw down the burden of his body. Thus he himself expressed his awareness very clearly in a number of writings and conversations.

An anecdote: The son of one of his followers came with sincere devotion, bringing a ghazal, to become a pupil and receive correction. He said, 'Who has the sense and thought for correction? Now my state is quite other.' The visitor petitioned, 'I only want to receive it as a gracious token of blessing'. He said, 'A verse has just now come into my head. Consider it a token of blessing, and consider it correction:

/People say that Maz̤har has died--

In reality, I went to my home, Maz̤har/'

In short, it was the seventh of Muḥarram, at night, when an individual came with a basket of sweets in his hand. The door was closed. He called out, and claimed that he was a disciple and had come to present an offering. When Mirzā Sahib came out, the visitor shot him with a carbine,g so that the ball passed through his breast; then he ran off. But Mirzā Sahib had received a mortal wound. For three days he lingered, tossing and turning in this state of restlessness, and kept reciting this [Persian] verse of his own:

/What a good custom they founded, of writhing in dust and blood!

May God have mercy on these pure-natured lovers/.

He passed these three days with extreme firmness and fortitude. In fact, when the emperor Shāh ʿĀlam heard about it, after an investigation he sent word, 'The murderer cannot be found. Give some description, so that we can punish him.' He said in reply, 'Faqirs are struck down in the path of God. And it is not murder to kill a dead man. If you catch the murderer, please don't punish him, send him here.' Finally, on the tenth, in the evening, he departed this world. Many people composed chronograms. But the [Arabic] chronogram by Mīr Qamar ud-Dīn 'Minnat' is of the first order; it is based on words from a hadith, and by chance they are metrical: /Alive, he was praised; dead, he was a martyr/.

The cause of this murder was widely rumored in Delhi among high and low: that according to custom, on the seventh day [of Muḥarram], the standards were carried aloft [in procession]. Mirzā Maz̤har sat by the side of the road in the upper veranda of his house, with some of his special disciples. Just as ordinary barbarous people do, his [Sunni] group and the [Shia] procession group may perhaps have hurled some insults and abuse, and some barbarous person #138# was offended. Among them was one stony-hearted person named Faulād [=steel] Ḳhān, who was extremely barbarous. He did this evil deed. But Ḥakīm Qudratullāh Ḳhān 'Qāsim', in his anthology, says that in his poetry Mirzā Sahib used to compose a number of verses in praise of Hazrat ʿAlī, and some Sunnih took this amiss and did this evil deed. [A Persian verse by Maz̤har:]

/Maz̤har did not do any deeds of obedience--and he went under the dust

He left his deliverance to his love for the 'Father of Dust' [=Hazrat ʿAlī]/.

My late grandfather always used to recite an Urdu verse and attribute it to him:

/I am a Sunni, but I am a sincere servant of ʿAlī

Whether you call me Iranian or Turani/.

He was buried in Delhi, within his own house near Chitlī Qabr which is now called a khanqah. On his tomb a [Persian] verse of his own is written:

/On my tomb they found written by the Unseen:

This murdered one has committed no fault except being sinless/.

Mirzā Rafīʿ Saudā too composed a chronogram:

/Mirzā's murderer was a wretched apostate

And his martyrdom became widely known

Hearing this, out of grief Saudā said,

'Alas, the oppressed Jān-e Jānāñ!'/ (A.H. 1195 [1780-81]).

By recording this, I want to make it clear that the *satire is a thorny branch of our poetry that is full of tastelessness from its fruit to its flowers. And it proves the foulness of temper of both the ground and the plowman. And even in this the late Mirzā Rafīʿ is the most notorious. But the truth is that whatever came from his lips was due either to mere mischievousness of temper, or to some passing outburst of anger. And the amount of the foulness was usually so slight that when the words were committed to paper, his heart was cleared.i Thus the words of the above chronogram express the clearness of his heart. Our age is adorned with such civilized and refined people that they consider the word 'satire' to be abuse. But God is the master of hearts.

#139# Among his pupils, Mīr Muḥammad Bāqir 'Ḥazīn', Basāvan Laʿl 'Bedār', Ḳhvājah Aḥsanullāh Ḳhān 'Bayān', Inʿāmullāh Ḳhān 'Yaqīn' composed volumes and were known as good poets. Mirzā Sahib's ghazals were not available in complete and perfect form; whatever was at hand, I have set down. [One ghazal and six verses #140# by Maz̤har are noted, along with four ghazals #141# by Tābāñ.]

a See pages #116-117#.

b In the anthology Gulzār-e ibrāhīmī, it says that his native place was Akbarābād [=Agra]. He had settled in Delhi.

c Special words were used for the actions of the kings of Delhi. For example, water was called āb-e ḥayāt [Water of Life], food ḳhāṣṣah [=special], sleep sukh farmānā [=to command happiness], the princes' water āb-e ḳhāṣṣah [=special water], and there were thousands of technical words of this kind.

d Propriety casts a cold eye on these matters, and especially on his verse recorded above on page #92#. But what can I do--the poetry of Asia says, 'This is the spice of my wit and my sharpness of tongue'. Thus if the historian does not set forth the special characteristics of the language, he is either delinquent in his duty, or unaware.

1 According to orthodox Sunni Muslims, a beard should bne at least 'one handful' long.

e It's a pity about the ideas of our countrymen--seeing such delicacy of temperament, by way of good faith, they finally added yet another feather in his cap: 'The murderer too was a young man, fair and good-looking, and so he surrendered his life to him'. Or perhaps it really happened like that. 'God alone is the knower of hidden things.'

f The point of this is that Mirzā Sahib had installed a washerwoman in his house.

g My late Ustād always used to say, 'I too have seen the mark of the musket-ball'. It was present until that time in Keval Rām kā Koṭhā, on the wall of the entryway.

h It's a strange difficulty. The Ḥakīm Sahib too was a faithful Sunni; he says that a Sunni killed him. The people say that a Shia killed him. Well, the Sunni and Shia should figure it out together. My task was only this much: whatever I've found, I've committed to paper.

i See, in the account of Saudā, the quarrel between him and Mirzā Fāḳhir 'Makīn', pages #157-160#; and, in the account of Sayyid Inshā, the encounter at the Delhi mushairah.