ASIDE from his military and political feats, Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan (1556-1627) is renowned as a poet and credited with writing some of the finest dohas in history of Urdu poetry.
Doha, also known as dohra is the briefest genre and usually consists of only two lines, as the name suggests, though in Hindi some long poems have also been composed in this prosodic pattern. Doha is an independent and free-standing genre, completely conveying the theme. It has two pithy lines that rhyme and often offer metaphysical and wise ideas, hence making it popular among Muslim Sufis and Hindu saints.
The genre has been popular in Hindi, Braj Bhasha, Avadhi and Urdu and is still composed in Sindhi and Saraeki. Though Doha cannot be traced in Sanskrit literature, some poets wrote dohas in Prakrits and Apabhranshas, the languages spoken in North India before the development of dialects, such as Khari Boli and Braj Bhasha, that later on further developed into modern languages.
According to Jamal Panipati, the earliest samples of doha can be found in Bu Ali Shah Qalandar’s and Ameer Khusrau’s poetry. But the fact is there are dohas attributed to Baba Fareeduddin Ganjshakar that are found in some old religious works and are dated earlier than Ameer Khusrau. From Baba Fareed to Bahadur Shah Zafar, we find the tradition flourishing and both Hindu and Muslim poets composed dohas during this period spreading over 700 years. Some of the well-known poets of doha in this long period included Bhagat Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas, Bihari Lal, Shiekh Yahya Maneri, Shams-ul-Ushshaaq Meeran Jee, Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan and Malik Muhammad Jaisi.
It is a fact that Urdu doha was much impressed and inspired by Hindi doha and the behr, or metre, used for Urdu doha is called chhand, or Hindi metre. Even the vocabulary used in Urdu doha is predominantly Hindi. This is one of the reasons why a doha is usually dubbed ‘Hindi doha’, though Urdu doha has a history of its own.
Doha tradition in Urdu began to decline in latter half of 19th century. However, some theatrical companies used dohas in their stage plays and they were mostly composed by the playwrights themselves, like Agha Hashr Kashmiri. The genre would have almost died in Pakistan — despite its long history and tradition — had it not been for Khwaja Dil Muhammad, who composed dohas and published an entire collection of his Urdu dohas, titled Peet Ki Reet. Dil used the same Hindi metre for Urdu dohas that has 48 metrical units, or short vowels, often called instants and commonly known as maatras.
Another poet that lent a new lease of life to Urdu doha was Jameeluddin Aali. But, interestingly, Aali had slightly amended the metre to make it compatible with Urdu and Persian prosodic patterns. This led to a controversy, with some poets and scholars accusing Aali of deviating from the traditional doha patterns. But Farman Fatehpuri and Jamal Panipati challenged their view and accorded approval by saying that what Aali wrote was not Hindi dohas but Urdu dohas and this new metre that Aali innovated was completely in sync with Urdu and fits in well. In fact, it was Aali who made Urdu doha popular again with his melodious renderings in mushairas.
After Aali, some other poets began composing doha in Urdu and they include Jameel Azeemabadi, Partau Roheela, Ilyas Ishqi, Taj Saeed, Jamal Panipati, Tahir Saeed Haroon and Kishwer Naheed. Soon research work began on Urdu doha and students from Multan and Lahore wrote dissertations on Urdu doha in Pakistan.
It is said that Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan had composed 700 dohas in Braj Bhasha, a dialect of Urdu and/or Hindi, but only 100 could survive. Some of them have become very famous and are often quoted. Hasan Aziz Javed had written a book Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan Aur Un Ke Dohe. This writer luckily grabbed a copy from a roadside hawker of old books. A slim volume published from Karachi in 1968, it reproduced 74 dohas selected from several Hindi manuscripts preserved at British Museum.
A few of those dohas by Khan-i-Khanan are reproduced here for the readers to enjoy the language and the themes. In this doha, Rahim stresses that materialistic belongings are of no help when departing for hereafter:
Bhaar jhonk ke bhaar mein Rahiman utre paar
Wo boode manjdhaar mein jin ke sar par bhaar
[Throwing the weight (of belongings) into an oven Rahim swam across
But those with heavy burden sank in the midstream]
In another doha, Rahim says:
Kher, khoon, khaansi, khushi, bair, preet, madpaan
Rahiman daabe na daben, jaanat shakal jahan
[Virtue, murder, cough, happiness, enmity, love and intoxication
O Rahim! Hide them no matter how much, they will tell]
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2022