Ghazal 141, Verse 5


mushkii;N libaas-e ka((bah ((alii ke qadam se jaan
naaf-e zamiin hai nah kih naaf-e ;Gazaal hai

1) know the drapery/veil of the Ka'bah [to be] musky/dark from the footstep of 'Ali
2) it's the navel/center of the earth, it's not the navel of a gazelle


mushkii;N : 'Of musk, musky; --dark, black, jetty, raven'. (Platts p.1040)


naaf : 'The navel; --nave; middle, or center (of anything)'. (Platts p.1115)


;Gazaal : 'A young gazelle or deer, a fawn'. (Platts p.771)


To call the Ka'bah the 'navel of the earth' is the theme of an anecdote about the Prophet [;hadii;s], and by 'navel of the earth' is meant 'middle/center of the earth'. But the objection is made, that how can it be the center/pole of the earth [which is far to the north]? A possible answer to this is that first of all, very few anecdotes about the Prophet are such that they have been proved to be absolutely accurate and correctly recorded.

And if we accept it, then consider: the people of Europe, who have sifted through every bit of dust and investigated historical conditions, have reported this astonishing thing: that in the northern regions, where ice and cold are extreme, many bones are found of animals who live in hot lands, and can't ever survive outside the tropics. This gives us great reason to suppose that at some time this region was in the tropics; and where now snow falls, the loo used to blow. From which it follows very clearly that when the northern regions were in the tropics, then Arabia must certainly have been at the pole. (152)

== Nazm page 151; Nazm page 152

Bekhud Dihlavi:

This is a verse in praise of the Prophet and his companions [manqabat]. He says, consider the cover [;Gilaaf] of the Ka'bah to be perfumed by the footsteps of 'Ali. That is, the blessing and benefit that is reaching all the world from the Ka'bah-- it is because Hazrat 'Ali, may God's blessing be upon him, tore the idols from the walls of the Ka'bah and took them out. If the idols had not been broken, then the infidels would have continued to have it in their grasp, and Muslims would not have received benefit from it.

And the chamber of the Ka'bah is the navel of the earth, it is not the navel of a gazelle that has musk in it. With regard to musk, the chamber of the Ka'bah ought not to be considered to be perfumed clothing. The second special point is the Hazrat ['Ali] was also born right in the chamber of the Ka'bah. (209)

Bekhud Mohani:

In Central Asia, there is a species of deer, from the navel of which musk is taken out. The Ka'bah's cover/veil is black.

The Ka'bah is the navel of the earth, not of a gazelle. Because it is the navel of the earth, the Ka'bah's cover/veil does not have that perfume. Rather, through the blessing of 'Ali's footsteps the allusion is to the fact that Hazrat Ali was born in the chamber of the Ka'bah, and destroyed the idols and purified the Ka'bah from idols. (277)



ABOUT THE MUSK-DEER: There is a species of Central Asian 'musk deer', the adult males of which have an external scent gland with very strong aromatic powers that make it valuable for use in perfumes (*wikipedia*, *National Geographic*). The gland isn't in the deer's navel, or even connected to the navel in any way. But the ghazal world has its own rules of anatomy and physiology, which override the arrangements of mere ordinary nature. The 'navel' might only refer, after all, to the 'middle' of the deer in question; being too literal-minded about the real world gets us nowhere in the world of the ghazal. There's also the word naafah , obviously derived from naaf , that refers to a 'musk-pouch', presumably one on the animal's body. For more examples of musk-deer imagery, see {95,1}; {228,1} // {282x,4}; {380x,1}.

This verse clearly expresses reverence for Hazrat 'Ali. But since many Sunni Muslims feel such reverence, the verse doesn't suffice to mark Ghalib formally as a Shi'a. Ghalib himself always sought to avoid not only sectarian controversy, but sectarian labels as well. Russell and Islam provide (pp. 32-38) a thoughtful discussion of the available evidence of his religious attitudes as they developed over time.

In proper mushairah-verse style, the first line appears merely perplexing until we are allowed to hear the second. For after all, either as a newborn baby, or as an adult idol-breaker, Hazrat 'Ali surely never walked on the covering of the Ka'abah. So why would it be either 'musky' or 'dark' (see the definition above of mushkii;N ) from his footsteps?

In the second line, we learn that 'it'-- unspecified-- is the navel of the earth, not the navel of a deer. What is the 'it'? Grammatically, it ought most directly to be the covering/veil [libaas] of the Ka'bah, but that reading gives rise to major problems: the mere covering is surely not the 'navel of the earth'-- after all, it's changed every year. So we are led to take the 'it' to be the Ka'bah itself.

If we take 'it' to be the Ka'bah itself, then we learn that the Ka'bah is the navel of the earth, not the navel of a deer. It is the navel of the earth apparently because there is a ;hadii;s to this effect, as Nazm points out; and also because it is musky-dark [mushkii;N] like earth (and like musk). And it is the navel of the earth, rather than the navel of a deer, because it (along with its covering) is made into a powerful perfume-source by means of the footsteps of Hazrat 'Ali, rather than merely by means of the musky scent-gland of a deer.

As a handy example of such literal-mindedness, Nazm himself becomes surprisingly exercised over the problem of the 'navel of the earth'; he seems to equate this with the North Pole, and energetically argues that long ago Mecca could perfectly well have been in the polar region. And yet it's not hard to see how the Ka'abah could be viewed as the (religious) 'center' of the earth, and thus referred to as the earth's 'navel'.

Without being at all literal-minded, however-- in fact, just because we are not literal-minded in naturalistic terms-- we can expect precision of structure, especially from a poet like Ghalib. And in this verse we don't really find it. The need to slide constantly back and forth in our minds between the qualities of the Ka'bah itself, and those of its covering, is disconcerting. It's also not attractive to have to compare the footsteps of Hazrat 'Ali to the scent-gland of a deer. All this makes the verse feel rather slippery. Its connections seem slapdash, and there's really not much going on in it. Perhaps its charm is meant to lie in its devotional tone, rather than in its literary subtlety.