Zihaal-e Miskeen: A Bilingual Masterpiece

A reclining Mughal prince, perhaps Dara Shukoh, observing the women in his garden. 18th century CE.

About the Poem

AuthorAmeer Khusrau [attributed; authorship unclear]
Time Period13th-14th century CE [attributed; likely later]
LanguagesFarsi/Persian; Hindi
Metermutaqaarib musamman muzaa’af maqbooz aslam
– = – / = = / – = – / = = / – = – / = = / – = – / = =


Attributed to the legendary Ameer Khusrau, “Zihaal-e Miskeen” is a romantic ghazal that alternates between classical Farsi (Persian) and an old dialect of Hindi. Although its true authorship is unclear due to a lack of historical records, it is one of Khusrau’s most well-known poems, particularly because of its unique bilingual structure. It is probably the earliest example of a poem that uses both Farsi and Hindi. This mixing of languages reflects the blending of worlds that is associated with Khusrau, his cultural milieu, and qawwali – the Turko-Persian and the Indian, the Muslim and the Hindu, the elite and the ordinary.

In the first couplet (she’r), each hemistich (misra) is split in half, with the first part being in Farsi and the second in Hindi. For the rest of the poem, the structure is different because the first hemistich of each couplet is entirely in Farsi and the second hemistich is entirely in Hindi. The exception for the first couplet allows the poem to adhere to the formal rules of the ghazal, which requires a rhyming pattern of AA, BA, CA, DA, etc. Thus, all of the rhyming words (at the end of the A lines) are in Hindi. 

“Zihaal-e Miskeen” deals with unrequited love and separation from the beloved, a common Sufi theme. Gender also plays an interesting role in this poem. Persian is technically gender neutral, so the Persian lines do not indicate the gender of the speaker. However, the Hindi lines elucidate that although it is penned by a man, the ghazal is written from the perspective of a young woman who yearns for union with her lover and complains to her friends of his neglect. This use of the feminine voice is not alien to South Asian literature, and it can be compared to the later development of rekhti, a genre of Urdu poetry from the 19th century CE in which male poets wrote from the perspective of women.

Sufi poems generally have a deeper spiritual meaning beyond their literal mundane meaning. At a metaphorical level, the unrequited love in “Zihaal-e Miskeen” can be seen as representing humanity’s relationship with the divine. Similar to Allama Iqbal’s “Shikwa”, the subject of this poem laments that despite their devotion, God neglects them by not answering their prayers or by improving the world’s conditions.

Given that “Zihaal-e Miskeen” is quite an old poem whose history is not well documented, there are several variations in its wording when sung or recited. Some of these are minor, while others encompass entire lines. These variants likely arose because of errors in oral transmission, since most qawwals and ghazal singers are usually not native speakers of Persian or of the old Hindi dialect used in the poem. There is even some dispute about what parts of this poem actually mean, particularly the last line. In this translation, I have made an effort to adhere to the variation that seems to make the most grammatical and poetic sense.

Featured Renditions

A graceful duet by Bollywood playback singers Mukesh and Sudha Malhotra
A rare recording by qawwal Haji Mehboob

Text, Transliteration, and Translation

زِحالِ مسکیں مکن تغافل دُرائے نیناں بنائے بتیاں 

ज़िहाल-ए-मिस्कीं मकुन तग़ाफ़ुल दुराए नैनां बनाए बतियां
zi-haal-e miskeeN makun taghaaful / duraa’e nainaaN banaa’e batiyaaN
Do not neglect the condition of this wretch! He turns his eyes away and makes excuses.

کہ تابِ ہجراں ندارم اے جاں نہ لیہو کاہے لگائے چھتیاں

कि ताब-ए-हिज्रां नदाराम ऐ जां न लेहो काहे लगाए छतियां
ke taab-e hijraaN na-daaram ai jaaN / na leho kaahe lagaa’e chHatiyaaN
For I cannot bear separation, my dear. Why do you not hold me in your embrace?

شبانِ ہجراں دراز چوں زلف و روزِ وصلت چو عمر کوتاه

शबान-ए-हिज्रां दराज़ चूं ज़ुल्फ़ व रोज़-ए-वस्लत चो उम्र कोताह
shabaan-e hijraaN daraaz chooN zulf / va roz-e vaslat cho umr kotaah
The nights of separation are long like my tresses, but the day of union, like life, is brief!

سکھی پیا کو جو میں نہ دیکھوں تو کیسے کاٹوں اندهیری رتیاں 

सखी पिया को जो मैं न देखूं तो कैसे काटूं अंधेरी रतियां
sakHi piya ko jo maiN na dekHooN / to kaise kaaTooN andHeri ratiyaaN
O friend, if I do not see my beloved, then how shall I pass the dark nights?

یکایک از دل دو چشمِ جادو بصد فریبم ببرد تسکیں 

यकायक अज़ दिल दो चश्म-ए-जादू बसद फ़रेबम बिबुर्द तस्कीं
yakaayak az dil do chashm-e jaadoo / ba-sad farebam bi-burd taskeeN
Suddenly, two enchanting eyes stole the solace of my heart through a hundred tricks.

کسے پڑی ہے جو جا سناوے پیارے پی کو ہماری بتیاں

किसे पढ़ी है जो जा सुनावे पियारे पी को हमारी बतियां
kise paRi hai jo ja sunaave / piyaare pi ko hamaari batiyaaN
Who shall take it upon themselves to go inform my beloved darling of my woes?

* چو شمع سوزاں چو ذرّہ حیراں زِمہرِ آں مہ بگشتم آخر

चो शमा सोज़ां चो ज़र्रा हैरां ज़िमेहर-ए-आं मह बिगश्तम आख़िर
cho sham’a sozaaN cho zarra hairaaN / zi-mehr-e aaN meh bi-gashtam aakhir *
In the love of that moon, I finally became like a burning candle, like a bewildered speck of dust. *

نہ نیند نیناں نہ انگ چیناں نہ آپ آویں نہ بھیجیں پتیاں

न नींद नैनां न अंग चैनां न आप आवें न भेजें पतियां
na neend nainaaN na ang chainaaN / na aap aaveN na bHejeN patiyaaN
No sleep for my eyes, nor rest for my limbs. And you neither come to me nor send letters!

بحقِّ روزِ وصالِ دلبر کہ داد ما را فریب خسروؔ

बहक़्क़-ए-रोज़-ए-विसाल-ए-दिलबर कि दाद मा रा फ़रेब ख़ुसरौ
ba-haqq-e roz-e visaal-e dilbar  / ke daad ma ra fareb khusrau
I swear by the day of union with my beloved that he has deceived me, Khusrau!

سپیت منکے ورائے راکھوں جو جائے پاؤں پیا کی گھتیاں

सपेत मनके वराए राखूं जो जाए पाऊं पिया की घतियां
sapet manke varaa’e raakHooN / jo jaa’e paaooN piya ki gHatiyaaN
I will pick out pearl beads to give him, if I can ever unravel my beloved’s schemes!

* Alternate line in some versions:

چو شمع سوزاں چو ذرّہ حیراں ہمیشہ گریاں بعشق آن مہ

चो शमा सोज़ां चो ज़र्रा हैरां हमेशा गिर्यां बइश्क़ आन मह
cho sham’a sozaaN cho zarra hairaaN / hamesha giryaaN ba-ishq aan meh
Like a burning candle, like a bewildered speck of dust, I forever weep out of love for that moon!

Further Reading and References

  • Jawahir-e-Khusravi (1918), edited by Maulana Muhammad Ameen Sahib Abbasi Chiraiyakoti. In this collection of poems attributed to Ameer Khusrau, you can find a variation of “Zi-haal-e Miskeen” on page 324 of 432. [link]
  • Amir Khusraw: The Poet of Sultans and Sufis (2005) by Sunil Sharma.
  • Urdu Meter: A Practical Handbook (2003) by F.W. Pritchett and K.A. Khaliq. [link]
  • The Hindi Classical Tradition: A Braj Bhasa Reader (1991) by Rupert Snell. [link]

Further Listening

  • Sabri Brothers version, live in England in 1986 [link]
  • Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan version [link]
  • Ghulam Ali version, with more modern instrumentation [link]
  • Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad version 1, live in Montreal and released in 2010 [link]
  • Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad version 2, live in Karachi in 2017 [link]

Suggested Citation

Shad, Hamza. “Zihaal-e Miskeen: A Bilingual Masterpiece”. The Khusrau Circle. 10 February 2023. khusrau.com/zihaal-e-miskeen/.