Ghazal 109, Verse 5x


bah zaahidaa;N rag-e gardan hai rishtah-e zunnaar
sar-e bah paa-e but-e naa-nihaadah rakhte hai;N

1) with the Ascetics, pride/'the neck-vein' is the string/connection of the sacred-thread

2a) [they/we] keep a head that is non-placed at the foot of an idol
2b) [they/we] keep a head that is at the foot of an idol that is non-{placed/formed}


rag-e gardan : 'Vein of the neck; (fig.) pride'. (Platts p.598)


rishtah : 'Thread, string, line; series; connexion, relationship, kin; ... alliance, affinity'. (Platts p.593)


nihaadah : 'Placed; appointed'. (Steingass p.1437)


nihaad : 'Nature, disposition, temperament, constitution; —form; habit; —stature ; —quality; essence; —mind; heart; —original; family, stock, race'. (Platts 1161)


Having made servitude into an idol, the Ascetics become arrogant; so to speak, the string of the sacred-thread has for them become the neck-vein (pride). Thus from fear that we might become proud, we keep a head that we never place on the feet of any idol.

Or else this: that the Ascetics are proud of the sacred-thread; the reason is that they don't place their head on the feet of any idol. (170-71)


That is, the Ascetics' neck-vein, by which is meant their arrogance, is like the string of the sacred-thread. For the sacred-thread remains lying on the neck, but doesn't come down to the feet. Similarly, the Ascetics' arrogant heads have never bowed at the feet of any idol. Thus their arrogance of asceticism is not less than the wearing of the sacred-thread; that is, their asceticism really means infidelity [kufr]. sar-e bah paa-e but-e naa-nihaadah = 'that head that would never have bowed at the feet of any idol'. (251)

Gyan Chand:

rag-e gardan = pride and arrogance [sar-kashii]. The Ascetics' neck-vein always remains stiffly extended, as if this sign of haughtiness has bound them in infidelity [kufr] like a sacred-thread. For humans, the admirable thing is that the head would be placed at the foot of some idol. But the Ascetics have the kind of head that was not placed at the foot of an idol. From this let there be no misunderstanding that they are free from bondage to the sacred-thread. This pride and haughtiness is itself a sacred-thread.

== Gyan Chand, p. 274


IDOL: {8,1}

For background see S. R. Faruqi's choices. For more on Ghalib's unpublished verses, see the discussion in {4,8x}.

Having a stiffly extended 'neck-vein' is a sign of pride because it suggests that one holds his head high. Thus also pride as sar-kashii , the 'pulling [up] of the head', which Gyan Chand uses in his commentary. The long thin neck-vein is thought of as string-like, so it can evoke the Brahminical sacred thread (which is worn over the shoulder and hanging down across the chest); on the zunnaar see {60,8}. Thus the Ascetics are stiff-neckedly and high-headedly proud of their (Islamic) religious attainments; and this very arrogance perhaps becomes a sign of culpable idolatry, like a sacred-thread. (Or, from the lover's point of view, a sign of terrible folly, since submission to the beautiful 'idol' is so self-evidently desirable.)

But then, we discover that the second line has no subject. We could take the subject to be either the same 'Ascetics', or else the speaker, who is contrasting his own behavior with theirs. (Asi chooses the 'we' reading.)

There's another ambiguity as well, in the second line. All the i.zaafat constructions are metrically necessary. Since there are three of them, there are two ways that they can be grouped. One way, endorsed explicitly by Zamin and implicitly by the others, is (2a): sar-e ( bah paa-e but ) -e naa-nihaadah rakhte hai;N , which yields the reading '[they/we] keep a head that is non-placed at the foot of an idol'. The other way is (2b): sar-e bah paa-e ( but-e naa-nihaadah ) rakhte hai;N , which yields the reading '[they/we] keep a head that is at the foot of an idol that is non-placed/formed'.

Remarkably enough, all four of the possible readings seem to be meaningful:

(1) + (2a) + 'Ascetics' = they are culpably and foolishly arrogant about their own asceticism
(1) + (2a) + 'we' = we have no such false pride, we don't make an 'idol' of our own asceticism
(1) + (2b) + 'Ascetics' = they 'bow' before an idol that is not 'placed' on the ground, but made in their own heads
(1) + (2b) + 'we' = we, unlike them, bow before an 'idol' that is placeless, formless, quality-less

My own favorite of these possibilities is the last one, since it so strongly evokes the attitude of nirgun bhakti .

The second line of the following verse, {109,6x}, has a structure remarkably similar to that of the second line in this verse.

Compare {195,1}, which uses a similar pattern of imagery.