Urdu has been one of the premier languages of poetry in South Asia for two centuries, and has developed a rich tradition in a variety of poetic genres. The Ghazal in Urdu represents the most popular form of subjective music and poetry, while the Nazm exemplifies the objective kind, often reserved for narrative, descriptive, didactic or satirical purposes. Under the broad head of the Nazm we may also include the classical forms of poems known by specific names such as Masnavi (a long narrative poem in rhyming couplets on any theme: romantic, religious, or didactic), Marsia (an elegy traditionally meant to commemorate the martyrdom of Hazrat Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad, and his comrades of the Karbala fame), or Qasida (a panegyric written in praise of a king or a nobleman), for all these poems have a single presiding subject, logically developed and concluded. {However, these poetic species have an old world aura about their subject and style, and are different from the modern Nazm, supposed to have come into vogue in the later part of the nineteenth century.

Probably the most widely recited, and memorised genre of contemporary Urdu poetry is nāt—panegyric poetry written in praise of the Prophet Muhammad. Nāt can be of any formal category, but is most commonly in the ghazal form. The language used in Urdu nāt ranges from the intensely colloquial to a highly Persified formal language. The great early 20th century scholar Ala Hazrat, Imam Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, who wrote many of the most well known nāts in Urdu (the collection of his poetic work is Hadaiq-e-Baqhshish), epitomised this range in a ghazal of nine stanzas (bayt) in which every stanza contains half a line each of Arabic, Persian, formal Urdu, and colloquial Hindi. The same poet composed a salām—a poem of greeting to the Prophet Muhammad, derived from the unorthodox practice of qiyam, or standing, during the mawlid, or celebration of the birth of the Prophet—Mustafā Jān-e Rahmat, which, due to being recited on Fridays in some Urdu speaking mosques throughout the world, is probably the most frequently recited Urdu poem of the modern era. Another notable nāt natkhwan (writer) is Maulana Shabnam Kamali whose nāts have been widely appreciated and acknowledged.

Another important genre of Urdu prose are the poems commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali(r.a) at the Battle of Karbala, called noha (نوحہ) and marsia. Anees and Dabeer are famous in this regard.


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