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Nomenclature of Beher (Meter)

Meter (Beher) is one of the most difficult aspects of Urdu Poetry as it is and the nomenclature of Beher is
even more confusing. For example names like “Beher Hazaj Musaddas Mahzoof” are enough to scare any
person who is unfamiliar with the concepts behind the nomenclature of Beher. While Beher names may
appear to be complicated and confusing they are based on an elaborate system which fully defines a Beher.
Just the full name of a Beher is sufficient to construct any Beher. Different terms in the Beher name
represent different aspects of Beher construction.

In this post, I will briefly describe the concepts behind the nomenclature of Beher. This description will
also cover almost all the aspects of Beher construction as the nomenclature system is very closely linked
with the same. In Urdu Poetry, Meter (Beher) is constructed by phonetic building blocks called Rukn
(singular) or Arkaan (plural of Rukun). Arkaan are meaningless dummy words representing a unique
sequence of short and long syllables. Short and long syllables are also represented as 1 and 2 and therefore
the Arkaan have an equivalent sequence of 1s and 2s.

There are 8 basic Arkaan in pure form (called “Saalim”) but there are many variants of Arkaan created
through minor tweaking which are called “Muzaahaf”. Therefore Beher is classified as Saalim or Muzaahif
depending on the type of Arkaan used. However the term “Muzaahaf” is not used in the name of the Beher
because it only means that the Arkaan used are not pure but modifed. The Arkaan are modified by
application of “Zihaaf” (hence the term Muzaahaf which means with Zihaaf). “Zihaaf” literally means “to
advance” but in this context it means “Alteration”. Application of Zihaaf produces 14 variants in Arkaan
while Zihaaf themselves are of 3 types- 1. Addition of a syllable in a Rukn; 2. Deletion of a syllable from
Rukn and 3. Shifting of a syllable. Based on this, 42 (14 x 3 = 42) permutations/ combinations of Zihaaf
are possible but in Urdu Poetry only 20 odd Zihaaf are used.

Zihaaf are of 3 types – 1. Khaas Zihaaf (applicable to only one Rukn); 2. Aaam Zihaaf (applicable to more
than one Rukn); and 3. Murakkab Zihaaf (more than one Zihaaf applied to a Rukn).

I am deliberately not giving detailed description of Zihaaf in this post as I do not want to burden the readers
with too many details. I will post another article on Zihaaf separately. However, just to give a flavor I will
give one example of a Zihaaf of Aam Zihaaf category. This Zihaaf is called “Hazf” in which Sabab-e-
Khafeef (syllable pattern 1+1) is dropped from the last Rukn of a line. For example- if “lun” is dropped
from “faa-uu-lun” what is left is “faa-uu” which is also used as “faa-AL”. Similarly if “lun” is dropped
from “ma-faa-ii- lun” what is left is “ma-faa-ii” which is same as “faa-uu-lun”. After application of the
Hazf Zihaaf the resultant Rukn and Beher is called “Mahzoof”.

You must be wondering what is Sabab-e-Khafeef. Although I had not planned to go into so much detail but
since the term had to be used to explain the Hazf Zihaaf, it would be prudent to briefly explain what Sabab-
e-Khafeef is. Of the 8 Arkaan, 6 have 7 syllables and 2 have 5 syllables. 7 syllable Arkaan were constructed
first and 5 syllable Arkaan were added much later. The Arkaan can further be broken down into smaller
parts (Qalma) which are called Sabab (2 syllable) and Vatad (3 syllables). Sabab are of two types Sabab-e-
Khafeef (1+1) and Sabab-e-Saqeel (2).

Behers are also classified according to the mix of their Arkaan. If a Beher is constructed by the repetition
of the same Rukn, it is a “Mufarrid” (made of a single ingredient) Beher. If it uses a combination of more
than one Rukn, it is a “Murakkab” (composite) Beher.
Out of 8 Arkaan, first 7 are used in Mufarrid Beher while the 8th Rukn is only used in Murakkab Beher.
The reason is that only the 8th Rukn has a short syllable in the end and it is not preferred to end a Misra
(line of a couplet) with short syllable. Each of the first 7 Arkaan have an corresponding term which is used
to identify the corresponding Mufaarid form of Beher.

The 8 Arkaan and names of Mufarrid Behers for the first 7 are as follows-

1. fa-uu-lun (1-2-2) Beher-e-Mutaqaarib


2. faa-i-lun (2-1-2) Beher-e-Mutadaarik
3. ma-faa-ii-lun (1-2-2-2) Beher-e-Hazaj
4. mus-taf-i-lon (2-2-1-2) Beher-e-Rajaj
5. faa-i-laa-tun (2-1-2-2) Beher-e-Ramal
6. mu-ta-faa-i-lun (1-1-2-1-2) Beher-e-Kaamil
7. ma-faa-i-la-tun (1-2-1-1-2) Beher-e-Wafir
8. maf-uu-laat (2-2-2-1) – Not used in Mufaarid Beher

A couplet may have any number of Arkaan starting from 4. The nomenclature of Beher is also based on the
number of Arkaan as follows:

4 Arkaan – Murabba (2 identical Arkaan sequence in each line)


6 Arkaan – Musaddas (3 identical Arkaan sequence in each line)
8 Arkaan – Musamman (4 identical Arkaan sequence in each line)

For more than 8 Arkaan, an additional term Muizaafi is added which means double. For example – Muizaafi
Musamman represents 16 Arkaan (double of 8).

Let’s now take the same Beher name cited in the beginning of this post as an examples to illustrate the
concepts described above. The name “Beher Hazaj Musaddas Mahzoof” means the following-

-Hazaj denotes the Rukn used which is ma-faa-ii- lun (1-2-2-2). See item no. 3 in the above list of Arkaan.
-Musaddas means 6 Arkaan in the couplet (3 identical Arkaan sequence in each line).
-Mahzoof refers to the Zihaaf applied. Same as the one given in Zihaaf example i.e. last Rukn modified.
-Based on the above information the Beher can be constructed as follows:

[ma-faa-ii- lun] [ma-faa-ii- lun] [faa-uu- lun]

-Famous shair “Sitaaro’n se ulajhtaa jaa rahaa hun/ shab-e-furqat bahut ghabraa rahaa hun” by ‘Firaq’
Gorakhpuri is in this Beher.

XXXXXXXXXxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx*******---------------------******xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxXXXXXXXXX

'Bah'r or 'Meter' is the structure over which the words of a misra (line) of a sher (verse) are arranged. Bah'r
itself is made of 'arkaan' (plural of 'rukn' which means 'pillar' or 'important part'). Arkaan are also referred
to as 'feet'. Whosoever coined this term was perhaps trying to relate it to the bigger unit 'meter', without
realizing that 'meter' and 'foot' are units of length in two different systems of measurement. However, the
'meter' and 'feet' combination may be justified by the fact that one meter is roughly equal to three and a
quarter feet and most of the bah'rs do have three or four arkaan in one misra. Arkaan are meaningless
dummy words, the basic purpose of which is to specify the places of long and short syllables in an actual
word. The eight arkaan, broken down into syllables, used in Urdu shaayari are as follows:
'fa-uu-lun',

'faa-i-lun',

'ma-faa-ii-lun',

'mus-taf-i-lun',

'faa-i-laa-tun',

'mu-ta-faa-i-lun',

'ma-faa-i-la-tun' and

'maf-uu-laat'
Perhaps this is a good place to add a note on transliteration, which is the process of writing Urdu words in Roman
script, so that they are pronounced correctly. We will treat 'a' as in 'akbar', 'i' as in 'ishq', 'u' as in 'uljhan', 'e' as in 'ek'
('ai' and 'ei' should be treated as 'e'), 'o' as in 'bahaaro', 'aa' as in 'aaraam', 'ii' as in 'merii' and 'uu' as in 'juutaa'. Other
Roman letters used are self explanatory and are not as important as these vowels.

 An 'a', 'i' or 'u' by itself or after a consonant will produce a short syllable (weight '1').
 An 'e', 'o', 'aa', 'ii' or 'uu' by itself or after a consonant will produce a long syllable (weight '2').
 An 'a', 'i' or 'u' between two consonants or before a consonant will produce a long syllable (weight '2').
 An 'e', 'o', 'aa', 'ii' or 'uu' between two consonants or before a consonant will produce a long syllable (weight
'3').
 The syllable with weight '3' can be subdivided into two syllables, with weights '1' and '2' respectively, but let
us keep it as it is for now.

Given this description, the eight arkaan mentioned above can be written respectively in terms of weights as
'1-2-2', '2-1-2', '1-2-2-2', '2-2-1-2', '2-1-2-2', '1-1-2-1-2', '1-2-1-1-2' and '2-2-3'

The arkaan mentioned above are in their 'saalim' (pure) form. With slight modification, each can be turned into one
of its 'muzaahif' (modified) forms (These forms may be seen in the bah'rs given at the end of this article).
Accordingly, a bah'r may be a 'saalim' or a 'muzaahif' one. Bah'rs are also classified according to the mix of their
arkaan. If a bah'r is made by the repetition of the same rukn, it is a 'mufarrid' (made of a single ingredient) bah'r. If
it uses a combination of more than one rukn, it is a'murakkab' (composite) bah'r. Bah'rs given at the end of this article
have examples of both.

The arkaan and bah'rs were developed by the masters of literature and music. That is why shaayari written in proper
bah'r is fluent to recite and easy to compose into a tune. However, not all the bah'rs have the same ease of flow and
spontaneity of rhythm. As a result, few became more popular than others. In this article, we will cover only the most
popular ones. Most of the Urdu shaayari has been written using these bah'rs. Please note that in addition to the
traditional bah'rs that I was taught, I have seen shaayars (poets) using other bah'rs that they have devised themselves.
In my opinion, one can write poetry in any format as long as it follows some 'rule' and is enjoyable when recited.
However, in the beginning, it is advisable to stick to the traditional bah'rs.

After you decide which bah'r to use, the next thing is to arrange your words on that bah'r. This is the real art in shaayari.
If possible, the words should start and end where the arkaans do, but this is not necessary. A word can be spread over
two adjacent arkaan. Moreover, a syllable in a word that is normally considered a long syllable, can be treated as a
short one, if it does not fit into the arkaan and the bah'r. In other words, the 'weight' of the syllables can be reduced or
the pronunciation of the syllables can be hastened to fit the bah'r. Where and how one can do it is a complex issue in
Urdu shaayari. There are elaborate rules for doing so which are beyond the scope of this article. For now, all I can
suggest is to look at the shaayari by the ustaads and see how they have used a particular word in a particular situation.
A glimpse of this feature may be seen in the ashaar given with the bah'rs in this article. You may notice that certain
words have been placed against a relatively small portion (or syllable) of a rukn. These are the words whose
pronunciation is altered to fit the bah'r.

The bah'rs being discussed here are used for the most popular forms of Urdu shaayari (like ghazal, nazm, qit'aa and
geet/naghma etc.), but not for all forms. Rubaayii, for instance, has its own set of bah'rs.

Following are some very frequently used bah'rs. You may find the names difficult to remember. But what's in a name!
Pay attention to the structure because that is what matters. Each bah'r is accompanied by a sher on it, broken down
according to the structure of the bah'r. If a word happens to be spread across more than one part of a rukn or across
more than one rukn, its pieces are joined by a hyphen (-). I have used my own ashaar to illustrate the bah'rs, but I am
also giving a classic sher for each bah'r. You may have heard the classic many times, may have memorized it and thus
may find it easier to capture the structure of the bah'r. Try to break these classic ash'aar down according to the bah'r.

I. Bah'r Hazaj Saalim

bharii duniyaa sahii lekin Thikaanaa ham bhii paa leNge


jahaaN do gaz zamiiN hogii wahiiN ham ghar banaa leNge
Ma - faa - ii - lun Ma - faa - ii - lun Ma - faa - ii - lun Ma - faa -
ii - lun

bha - rii duni - yaa sa - hii le - kin Thi- kaa - naa ham bhii paa
leN - ge
ja - haaN do gaz za - miiN ho - gii wa - hiiN ham ghar ba-naa
leN - ge

Classic Sher by Allama 'Iqbal':


mitaa de apnii hastii ko agar kuchh martabaa chaahe
ki daanaa Khaak meiN mil kar gul-e-gulzaar hotaa hai

II. Bah'r Hazaj Musamman Akhrab

KhwaaboN meiN banaaii thii aaNkhoN meiN sajaa lii hai


tasviir tirii ham ne is dil meiN basaa lii hai
Maf - uu - lu Ma - faa - ii - lun Maf - uu - lu Ma - faa - ii -
lun

Khwaa - boN meiN ba - naa - ii thii aaN - khoN meiN sa - jaa lii hai
tas - vii - r ti - rii ham ne is dil meiN ba - saa lii hai

Classic by 'Jigar' Moradabadi:


kyaa husn ne samjhaa hai kya ishq ne jaanaa hai
ham khaak-nashiinoN kii thokar meiN zamaanaa hai

III. Bah'r Hazaj Musamman Akhrab Makfuuf Mahzuuf

tuufaan meiN tinke kaa sahaaraa bhii bahut hai


zulmat meiN to bas ek sharaaraa bhii bahut hai

Maf - uu - lu Ma - faa - ii - lu Ma - faa - ii - lu Fa - uu - lun


tuu - faa - n meiN tin - ke kaa sa - haa - raa bhii ba - hut hai
zul - mat meiN to bas e - k sha - raa - raa bhii ba - hut hai

Classic by Mirza Ghalib:

baaziicha-e-atfaal hai duniyaa mire aage


hota hai shab-o-roz tamaashaa mire aage

IV. Bah'r Hazaj Musaddas Mahzuuf

tamannaaoN se aye dil kyaa milegaa


jo qismat meiN likhaa hogaa milegaa

Ma - faa - ii - lun Ma - faa - ii - lun Fa - uu - lun

ta - man - naa - oN se aye dil kyaa mi - le - gaa


jo qis - mat meiN li - khaa ho - gaa mi - le - gaa

Classic by 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri:

sitaaroN se ulajhtaa jaa rahaa huuN


shab-e-furqat bahut ghabraa rahaa huuN

V. Bah'r Ramal Musamman Mahzuuf

dil kii bechainii ne apnaa kaam aakhir kar diyaa


tujh se mere raabte ko aam aakhir kar diyaa

Faa - i - laa - tun Faa - i - laa - tun Faa - i - laa - tun Faa - i -
lun*
dil kii be - chai - nii ne ap - naa kaa - m aa - khir kar di -
yaa
tujh se me - re raa - b - te ko aa - m aa - khir kar di -
yaa

*Faa - i - laan is acceptable here.

Classic by 'Hasrat' Mohani:

sab ghalat kahte hain lutf-e-yaar ko wajh-e-sukuuN


dard-e-dil usne tau 'Hasrat' aur duunaa kar diyaa

VI. Bah'r Ramal Musaddas Mahzuuf

ishq kaa haasil hai kyaa mat puuchhiye


kyaa milaa kyaa kho gayaa mat puuchhiye

Faa - i - laa - tun Faa - i - laa - tun Faa - i - lun*

ish - q kaa haa- sil hai kyaa mat puu - chhi - ye


kyaa mi - laa kyaa kho ga - yaa mat puu - chhi - ye

* Faa - i - laan is acceptable here.

Classic by Meer Taqi 'Meer':


ibtidaa-e-ishq hai rotaa hai kyaa
aage aage dekhiye hotaa hai kyaa

VII. Bah'r Mutaqaarib Saalim

muhabbat burii hai na nafrat burii hai


burii hai tau har shai kii kasrat burii hai

Fa - uu - lun Fa - uu - lun Fa - uu - lun Fa - uu - lun

mu - hab - bat bu - rii hai na naf - rat bu - rii hai


bu - rii hai tau har shai kii kas - rat bu - rii hai

Classic by 'Bekhud' Dehlvi:

na dekhaa thaa jo bazm-e-dushman meiN dekhaa


muhabbat tamaashe dikhaatii hai kya kya

VIII. Bah'r Mutaqaarib Musamman Maqbuuz Aslam (16 Ruknii)

ho shaam-e-gham jis qadar bhii lambii dhalegii yeh bhii zaruur yaaro
kabhii to utregaa mere ghar meiN Khushii kii kirnoN kaa nuur yaaro

Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun


ho shaa - m-e- gham jis qa - dar bhi lam - bii

Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun


dha - le - gii yeh bhii za - ruu - r yaa - ro

Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun


ka - bhii to ut - re- gaa me - re ghar meiN

Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun Fa - uu - lu Faa - lun


Khu - shii kii kir - noN kaa nuu - r yaa - ro

Classic by 'Daag' Dehlvi:

sitam hii karnaa jafaa hii karnaa nigaah-e-ulfat kabhii na karnaa


tumheN qasam hai hamaare sar kii hamaare haq meN kamii na karnaa

IX. Bah'r Kaamil Saalim

ki gaNwaa diye maine hosh bhii mujhe chain aa na sakaa kabhii


terii yaad yuuN hii jawaaN rahii tujhe dil bhulaa na sakaa kabhii

Mu - ta - faa - i - lun Mu - ta - faa - i - lun


ki gaN - waa di - ye mai - ne ho - sh bhii

Mu - ta - faa - i - lun Mu - ta - faa - i - lun


mu - jhe chai - n aa na sa - kaa ka - bhii

Mu - ta - faa - i - lun Mu - ta - faa - i - lun


te - rii yaa - d yuN hii ja - waaN ra - hii

Mu - ta - faa - i - lun Mu - ta - faa - i - lun


tu - jhe dil bhu - laa na sa - kaa ka - bhii
Classic by Hakeem 'Momin':

wo jo ham meN tum meN qaraar thaa tumheN yaad ho ke na yaad ho


wahii yaanii waadaa nibaah kaa tumheN yaad ho ke na yaad ho

X. Bah'r Mutadaarik Saalim

gul chiraaghoN ko kar ham sare shaam deN


kyon bhalaa aatish-e-dil ko aaraam deN

Faa - i - lun Faa - i - lun Faa - i - lun Faa - i - lun

gul chi - raa - ghoN ko kar ham sa - re shaa - m deN


kyoN bha - laa aa - ti - sh-e -dil ko aa - raa - m deN

Classic by Nida Fazli:

har taraf har jagah be-shumaar aadmii


phir bhii tanhaaiyoN kaa shikaar aadmii

XI. Bah'r Mazaar'a Musamman Akhrab

maiN beqaraar kyoN huuN dil beqaraar kyoN hai


us bewafaa se ab tak aakhir yeh pyaar kyoN hai

Maf - uu - lu Faa - i - laa - tun Maf - uu - lu Faa - i - laa - tun

maiN be - qa - raa - r kyoN huuN dil be - qa - raa - r kyoN hai


us be - wa - faa se ab tak aa - khir yeh pyaa - r kyoN hai

Classic by Allama 'Iqbal':

saare jahaaN se achchhaa HindostaaN hamaaraa


ham bulbuleN haiN iskii yeh gulsitaaN hamaaraa

XII. Bah'r Mazaar'a Musamman Akhrab Makfuuf Maqsuur

kaise kahuuN maiN apnii kahaanii ko baar baar


kyoN kar piyuuNgaa aaNkh ke paanii ko baar baar

Maf - uu - lu Faa - i - laa - tu* ma - faa - ii - lu** Faa - i - laan***

kai - se ka - huuN maiN ap - nii ka - haa - nii ko baa - r baar


kyoN kar pi - yuuN - gaa aa - Nkh ke paa - nii ko baa - r baar

* Faa-i-laa-tun is acceptable here.


** Maf-uu-lu is acceptable here.
*** Faa-i-lun is acceptable here.

Classic by Daag Dehlvi (with Faa-i-lun as the last rukn):

Khaatir se yaa lihaaz se main maan tau gayaa


jhuuti qasam se aap ka iimaan tau gayaa

XIII. Bah'r Mujtas Musamman Makhbuun Maqsuur


wafaa ke qaul se ham tau mukar nahiiN sakte
ki dushmanii meiN bhii had se guzar nahiiN sakte

Ma - faa - i - lun Fa - i - laa - tun Ma - faa - i – lun Fa - i - lun

wa - faa ke qau - l se ham tau mu - kar na – hiiN sa - k - te


ki dush - ma - nii meiN bhii had se gu - zar na – hiiN sa - k - te

Classic by Faiz Ahmed 'Faiz':

guloN meiN rang bhare baad-e-nau-bahaar chale


chale bhii aao ki gulshan ka kaar-o-baar chale

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