Dagh Dehlvi: A Musical Tribute

Mirza  Nawab Mirza Khan or Dagh Dehlavi  (Dagh means stain) was born on 25 May 1831. His father was the nawab of Loharu in today’s Punjab and his mother is said to be a courtesan. His father was accused of the murder of William Fraser and hanged when Dagh was just four years old. His mother Wazir Khanum married again to Mirza Mohammad Sultan, who was one of the sons of Bahadur Shah Zafar. Dagh grew up in the Red Fort in Delhi. After the Ghadar (mutiny 1857) he left Red Fort, and moved to Rampur, which is now in western UP. He was given patronage by the Nawab of Rampur where he lived for next twenty four years.

He is most admired for writing simple and evocative romantic ghazals, which have been celebrated and rendered by the best singers of our times. Many of his shers or couplets have become part of our folklore. Like:

Urdu hai jiska naam hamee jante hain Daagh
Hindostaan mein dhoom hamari zuban ki hai


Khoob parda hai ke chilman se lage bethain hain

Saaf chupte bhi nahi saamne aate bhi nai.

(Begum Akhtar has sung it in her seductive voice. The great Mehdi Hasan has also rendered it in his signature classical melody)

Dagh is also remembered for his long and intense affair with Muni Bai, a courtesan from Calcutta. This tumultuous affair with Muni Bai makes Dagh’s life colourful, somewhat like his poetry. And some kind of a caricature, a rich poet falling in love with a courtesan.

He met Muni Bai at a fair/mela in Rampur. Muni Bai was a poet herself and had a takhalus or pen name Hijab (veil). Muni Bai returned to Calcutta after the fair but they kept in touch with each other by exchanging letters which were sprinkled with poetry. In 1881, Muni Bai again returned to the Rampur Mela. This is a little sample from their poetic correspondence.

Dagh writes:

Aa gayi hijre ki ghadi sar par

Ye bala jhelni pari sar par…..

Muni Bai responds:

Jee nahi chata hai jaane ko

Par chale hain qalaq uthane ko

Hum to bhooke hain aadimyat ke

aadmiyat ke saath ulfat ke

aaise waison jee nahi milta

Dagh sa admi nahi milta

(This ghazal sung by Shobha Gutru is sublime and in many ways epitomises Dagh’s poetry. It mingles romance and eroticism. And Gutru’s voice makes it even more palatable.)

Gale mila hai woh maste-shabaab barson mein….

To cut the long story, of Dagh’s torrid affair short, Dagh travelled to Calcutta and met Muni Bai in 1883.  It is said Dagh lived in Calcutta for almost three months in a rented place opposite the famous Nakhuda mosque.

(Here Iqbal Bano sings a charming ghazal penned by Dagh. This particular couplet in this ghazal is my favourite. It might be considered blasphemous by those who nurse fragile sentiments)

di muazan ne azaan vasl ki shab pichle peher

Haae kambakht ko kis waqt khuda yaad ayaa

In 1887, the Nawab of Rampur died and Dagh returned to Delhi. He did not stay in Delhi for very long and moved to Hyderabad. The nizam of Hyderabad Mahbub Ali Khan appointed Dagh as a court poet. In 1889 Dagh accompanied the Nizam to Calcutta and discovered Muni Bai had married. Dagh left Calcutta distraught. But the story didn’t end here. In 1902 Muni Bai came to Hyderabad ready to marry Dagh. By then this courtship seemed to have run out of steam.

Dagh had many disciples, the most famous being Allama Iqbal. He inspired a whole new genre of romantic poetry, that was simple and direct, frisky and playful and tantalisingly romantic and musical.

He died in on 17 March,1905 in Hyderabad. He is buried in the Yousufain Dargah complex.

Below Farida Khanam sings the beautiful ghazal…..

Na rawa kahiye na sazaa kahiye,

Kahiye kahiye mujhe bura kahiye

Below Malika Pukhraj sings

zahid na kah buri ki ye mastane aadmi hain

tujh ko lipat padenge diwane aadmi hain

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tanweer Fazal
    May 25, 2021 @ 09:43:05

    Thanks for posting some of these rare ghazals. Enjoyed thoroughly. The write-up on Dagh was also very useful.


  2. Subhendu Ghosh
    May 26, 2021 @ 02:50:44

    Mubarak. I wish to compose some of Dagh’s ghazals. Do you suggest any?


    • Jamal Kidwai
      May 26, 2021 @ 09:44:35

      Thank you Subhendu da…am humbled that you read and liked the article..yes we must meet up and make a selection….i will send some suggestions soon….warmly


  3. Abdullah Zakaria
    May 26, 2021 @ 09:20:39

    Such a lovely article.
    Dagh”a heir in poetry was his son in law nawab Sahil dehlvi and his charm and poetry has outlived his contemporaries and other great Urdu poets .It was said if dagh’s entire “Kalam”is lost for some reason the courtesan would be able to dictate every ghazal of his .Such was his power and such was the popularity of his ghazals


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