buud naqsh-o-nigaar saa hai kuchh
.suurat ik i((tibaar saa hai kuchh

1) existence is something like a {decoration/painting / 'print and picture'}
2) appearance/aspect is something like a single/particular/unique/excellent confidence/belief



naqsh-o-nigaar : 'Decoration, embellishment; —designs; decorations, ornaments; —paintings, pictures'. (Platts p.1145)


naqsh : 'Painting; colouring; drawing; designing, &c.; —delineation; —embroidery; —a painting, a picture; portrait; drawing; a print; a carving, an engraving; a map, or plan ... ; a design; —an impression; a stamp; a mark'. (Platts p.1145)


nigaar : 'A picture, painting, portrait, effigy; an idol'. (Platts p.1150)


kuchh : 'Something, somewhat, anything, aught; some, any; a little, a few; ever so little; whatever; in any manner or degree'. (Platts p.819)


.suurat : 'Form, fashion, figure, shape, semblance, guise; appearance, aspect; face, countenance; prospect, probability; sign, indication; external state (of a thing); state, condition (of a thing), case, predicament, circumstance; effigy, image, statue, picture, portrait; plan, sketch; mental image, idea; —species; specific character, essence'. (Platts p.747)


i((tibaar : 'Confidence, trust, reliance, faith, belief; respect, esteem, repute; credit, authority, credibility; weight, importance; regard, respect, view, consideration, reference'. (Platts p.60)

S. R. Faruqi:

For clarification of buud , nah-buud , namuud as Sufistic terms, see:


And for a commentary on .suurat , see:


For further discussion of .suurat , see:




In the present verse, the Sufistic meanings of buud and .suurat are in the background. And the excellence of the verse is in the fact that here buud and .suurat have been used in their common meanings, but the theme is new ( buud = 'existence, circumstances, situation', and .suurat is 'that which is perceived by the senses, the outward form'). Consider the following verses. From the first divan [{421,3}]:

buud-e aadam namuud-e shabnam hai
ek do din me;N phir hu))aa hai yih

[the existence of Adam is the appearance of dew
in one or two days, this has become returned/back]

By Ghalib:


By Hali:

un ke jaate hii yih kyaa ho ga))ii ghar kii .suurat
nah vuh diivaar kii .suurat hai nah ghar kii .suurat

[the moment she went, what has become of the aspect of the house!
it is neither the aspect of a wall, nor the aspect of a house]

In the light of these meanings, one point in the verse is that apparently .suurat has an affinity with naqsh-o-nigaar , and buud with i((tibaar , but here he has said the opposite, and it's as if he has ignored the obvious affinities. What this means is that there is some deep affinity toward which we ought to turn our attention.

A second point is that the grammatical structure of the verse is such that more than one reading is possible:

(1) buud ? naqsh-o-nigaar saa hai kuchh
.suurat ? ik i((tibaar saa hai kuchh

(2) buud , naqsh-o-nigaar saa hai kuchh
.suurat , ik i((tibaar saa hai kuchh

(3) buud , naqsh-o-nigaar , saa hai kuchh
.suurat , ik i((tibaar , saa hai kuchh

Through these various readings the meaning doesn't change much, but the tone in which the verse is read definitely changes.

Now let's consider the meaning. About the existence of something (of humans, the world, the creation) it is being said that this is like naqsh-o-nigaar . The first quality of naqsh-o-nigaar is its colorfulness, its heart-deceivingness, and its superficiality (because naqsh-o-nigaar are made 'on' something). The second quality of naqsh-o-nigaar is its adventitious/accidental quality. For naqsh-o-nigaar are made with color; and whether color is mineral (for example, oil-based or chemical) or organic (for example, henna), in any case it is adventitious. Thus naqsh-o-nigaar too is adventitious, and also heart-attracting. Thus those whose hearts are ensnared in naqsh-o-nigaar are not entirely devoid of wisdom and understanding.

How well Sana'i has said [in Persian],

'My advice to you is, in total, this:
You are a child, and your house is colorful.'

Compared to this, Jigar Sahib's verse, despite all its 'flowingness' and melodiousness, seems only didactic and verbose:

yih fareb-e jalvah hai sar-basar mujhe ;xauf hai dil-e be-;xabar
kahii;N jam nah jaa))e tirii na:zar i;Nhii;N chand naqsh-o-nigaar par

[this is a trick of glory/appearance, from end to end; I fear, oh ignorant heart
may your gaze not somehow be fixed on only/emphatically these few decorations!]

Now we return to Mir's verse. The existence of the universe, or mankind's presence and situation in it, is only this: that it's definitely heart-attracting, but this is only an adventitious and external attractiveness. Even existence itself is adventitious, and like naqsh-o-nigaar is devoid of essential presence. And to crown it all, there cannot even be confidence that the naqsh-o-nigaar exists, because what's been said is that it is 'something like' naqsh-o-nigaar . That is, we do not know its true situation, it's just something like naqsh-o-nigaar .

Here one additional direction of meaning is created. Physical existence and the physical world might or might be anything else, but we can detect them with our senses, we can touch them. Here they are being called naqsh-o-nigaar saa kuchh . That is, the speaker is looking at these things from such a distance that they appear to be only hazy, half-visible, and untrustworthy. In the light of this reading, this verse has been composed not from a level of doubt, but rather after having arrived at a level of world-renunciation where things begin to seem unreal.

In the second line, i((tibaar is worthy of attention. The basic meaning of i((tibaar is 'to receive admonition, to receive a lesson'. From this we have made 'judgment', 'trust', 'belief', and other such meanings. The point is that i((tibaar is a thing that you yourself do. That is, this is a personal action. Having received admonition or a lesson from something, you draw a conclusion about whether this is trustworthy, or whether some other judgment should be made; your decision will in any case be assumed/postulated.

Thus it's also possible that there would be something, but you would not believe in it and would say that it was not worthy of i((tibaar . For example, we say, bachche kii gavaahii kaa i((tibaar nahii;N , or itnii ba;Rii miqdaar me;N do chaar kii kamii beshii kaa i((tibaar nahii;N . The first sentence doesn't mean that the child is telling a lie, and the second sentence doesn't mean that there can be no confidence that there are a few things less or more. In both cases, the meaning is that the child's testimony is not testimony (that is, doesn't have reality), and that we won't speak of a few things more or less (that is, it has no importance).

Thus one reading of the second line of the present verse is that the appearances we see with our external eyes are only convention. If we wish, then we would accept their existence; and if we wish, then we would not accept them. One meaning is, 'all right, we've accepted that appearances exist'; or that they are just as they seem to be. Here too is the charm of the refrain-- saa hai kuchh .

I hope that now it has also become clear why Mir rejected the obvious affinities, and why he wrote the verse in its present form. And it is certainly clear that when it comes to awakening the magic in words of ordinary usage, everyone should learn from Mir.



This verse is just marvelously equipped to create ambiguity of every possible kind, and Mir has made excellent use of the available opportunities. Here are its main ambiguity-facilitating features:

(1) A very short meter, so that there's not much space for explanation or clarification in any case.

(2) A very long refrain, so that the space is further reduced.

(3) The form of an opening-verse, with its doubled refrain, so that still less space remains.

(4) Parallelism of structure between the two lines, which are 'A,B' as well. Thus we must decide: what is the relationship of the two lines to each other? Do they invite us to consider one situation described in two ways, or two similar situations, or two contrasted situations?

(5) The use of the little word ik , with its multiple possibilities-- they can range from the limiting ('single') through the specifying ('particular') to the laudatory ('unique, excellent'). The choice the reader makes among these will obviously be central to the tone, and the whole interpretation, of the verse.

(6) The use of nothing but extraordinarily broad nouns with multiple meanings (see the definitions above). My favorite is .suurat , which can mean things from the physical ('face') to the metaphorical ('aspect'), and from the adventitious ('semblance, guise') to the essential ('essence'). But i((tibaar is a close runner-up, since it can refer to subjective states in a judgment-maker's mind ('confidence, trust'), or to qualities attributed to an object of judgment ('authority, importance'), or to a neutral process of discussion ('consideration, reference').

(7) The blurring effect of saa hai kuchh . Whatever we're talking about is not an X, but something 'X-ish', something 'somewhat like' an X. As SRF notes, such fuzziness could be a quality of observation from a distance, but it could also be a firm assertion of analogical imperfection-- perhaps the speaker sees the thing quite clearly, and clearly describes it as somewhat (but not entirely) resembling an X.

(8) And kuchh should also be thrown into the ambiguity mix, in its own right. For it can mean a nominal 'something' ('Y is something that is X-ish'), or the adverbial 'in any manner or degree' ('Y is somewhat/somehow X-ish').

This is the recipe. Combine all these ingredients in a large mixing bowl like your head, and stir them around as much as you wish, and the resulting batter will make a different, interesting, thought-provoking cake every single time. Mir was, after all, a master chef.