.sub;h tak sham((a sar ko dhuntii rahii
kyaa patange ne iltimaas kiyaa

1) until dawn, the candle kept {feeling ecstasy / suffering grief / 'beating its head'}

2a) did the Moth make a petition?
2b) what a petition the Moth made!



dhun'naa : 'To beat, pummel (e.g. sir dhun'naa ); to make strenuous effort, to wrack (the brains)'. (Platts p.549)


patangaa : 'A flying insect; moth; grasshopper; a spark (of fire), a live coal'. (Platts p.225)


iltimaas karnaa : 'To petition, beseech, entreat, supplicate, request, represent humbly'. (Platts p.74)

S. R. Faruqi:

The flame of a candle keeps trembling; or if a breeze would blow, then it begins to flicker. The speaker has explained this as the candle 'beating its head'. If the flight of the Moth is swift, then too the candle flame begins to flicker. In the verse there's a subtle ambiguity. The phrase sar dhun'naa has two meanings: 'to be overpowered by emotions of ecstasy'; or 'to beat the head in a mood of excessive grief'. What the Moth said, what petition he made-- this, the verse hasn't made clear.

In the verse there's the very same kind of ambiguity, as in this verse of Ghalib's:


But in Mir's verse, on the basis of inquiry and wonder (did the Moth make a supplication?), a mood of mysteriousness has also been engendered.



The expression 'to beat the head' [sar dhun'naa] is so graphically physical a gesture that it's easy to believe in its versatility. Platts assigns it the sense of 'striving', which doesn't seem very plausible here. SRF offers not only the cross-culturally plausible sense of 'to suffer grief', but also the counterintuitive one of 'to experience ecstasy'. Both of these possibilities work well in the context.

The mysterious mood that SRF talks about is certainly there, based on the primary reading (2a). But in view of the complex grammar of kyaa , the exclamatory reading (2b) is also quite possible. On this reading the second line is still insha'iyah, and it still gives no clue about the nature of the Moth's petition, but rather than a hushed murmur of mystery it's a vigorous exclamation of astonishment. And in either case, we're left to 'fill in' for ourselves first the existence (if any) and nature of the Moth's communication with the candle, and then the nature of the candle's resulting emotion.

It reminds me of a verse from one of Iqbal's best ghazals:

dam-e :tauf kirmak-e sham((a ne yih kahaa kih vuh a;sar-e kuhan
nah tirii ;hikayat-e soz me;N nah mirii ;hadii;s-e gudaaz me;N

[at the time of circumambulation, the Moth said this: 'tThat former effect
is neither in the story of your burning, nor in the account of my melting']

That kind of devastating remark might well cause a candle grief! But of course, Iqbal's Moth said it while he was in the very act of flying around the candle-- so perhaps his performance was more traditional than his words? And in addition, he was complaining about literary descriptions (a 'story' and an 'account'), not behavior. So Iqbal too, in his own way, left the real relationship of the candle and the Moth to our imagination.