A Timeline of Ghalib’s Life

Pulled together from various sources with the help of S. R. Faruqi and Mehr Farooqi. Chief among these sources was an Urdu timeline: from Kalidas Gupta Raza’s 1995 divan edition. The other main source was Kazim 'Ali Khan, tauqiit-e ;Gaalib (New Delhi: Anjuman Taraqqi-e Urdu, 1999). For comparison, here’s a dating chart for Ghalib’s Urdu ghazals.


1750’s == G’s grandfather Mirza Quqan Beg Khan comes to India from Samarqand, settles in Lahore

mid-1754 == Mirza Quqan Beg Khan moves to Delhi

mid-1756 == Mirza Quqan Beg Khan takes service  with the prince Shah Alam

1763? == Mirza Quqan Beg Khan marries

1765? == G’s father Abdullah Beg Khan is born, in Delhi

1767-80 == five other children are born to Mirza Quqan Beg Khan, including G’s uncle Nasrullah Beg Khan

mid-1771 == Mirza Quqan Beg Khan takes service with Zulfiqar ud-Daulah

1782? == Mirza Quqan Beg Khan takes service with the Maharajah of Jaipur and settles in Agra

mid-1778 == Mirza Quqan Beg Khan dies

1793? == G’s father Abdullah Beg Khan marries 'Izzat un-Nisa Begam

1795 == Abdullah Beg Khan’s first child, Chhoti Khanam, is born

before 1797, Sept. 21 == Abdullah Beg Khan takes service with Asif ud-Daulah in Lucknow

1797, Sept. 21 == Asif ud-Daulah dies

1797, Dec. 27 == Asadullah Khan is born, Agra; or *a year or two earlier*?

later 1799 == G’s younger brother Yusuf 'Ali Khan is born

before 1802 == Abdullah Beg Khan takes service with the Maharajah of Alwar

1802 == Abdullah Beg Khan dies, is buried at Rajgarh in Alwar; his younger brother Nasrullah Beg Khan takes charge of the widow and children; Nasrullah Beg Khan is married to the sister of Ahmad Bakhsh Khan, Navab of Firozpur Jhirka and Loharu (marriage date unknown)

1803 == Nasrullah Beg Khan is the commander of Agra Fort, under the Marathas

1803 == Nasrullah Beg Khan changes sides, makes over the fort to Lord Lake; is appointed commander of 400 cavalry at a salary of Rs. 1,700 per month

1806, April? == Nasrullah Beg Khan dies in a fall from an elephant

1806, May 4 == his survivors, including equally Nasrullah Beg Khan’s mother and three sisters, and G and his sister and brother, are granted a pension of Rs.10,000 annually, to be paid from the revenues of Ahmad Bakhsh Khan’s estate (who was probably granted some of Nasrullah Beg Khan’s property)

1806, June 7== the grant is reduced by Ahmad Bakhsh Khan to Rs. 5,000; the other half is granted to one Khvajah Haji

1807-08? ==  Nazir Akbarabadi is alleged (probably not accurately) to have been G’s tutor for a time in this period; G begins writing poetry, using ‘Asad’; his famous short masnavi about kite-flying has been attributed by Hali to this period

1810 == G is said to have attended the maktab of Maulvi Muhammad Mu'azzam, Agra

1810, Aug. 18/19 == G is married in Delhi to Umra'o Begam (age 11), daughter of Navab Ilahi Bakhsh Khan 'Ma'ruf', younger brother of Navab Ahmad Bakhsh Khan of Firozpur Jhirka and Loharu; none of the seven children they have together lives beyond infancy

1811 == A Persian convert to Islam formerly called Hurmuzd (now Abdus Samad) allegedly (though quite possibly not in reality) arrives from Iran, stays 2 years as G’s Persian tutor, teaches him the Persian of a native speaker

1812/3 == G moves to Delhi permanently; lives for a while with his father-in-law, then moves to a rented house in Gali Qasim Jan

c.1816 == G compiles his first Urdu divan, which is now known as the nus;xah-e amrohah or the nus;xah-e bhopaal . The original manuscript has since disappeared, but printed editions of it exist, one by Akbar Ali Khan Arshizadah (Rampur, 1969), one by Nisar Ahmad Faruqi (Lahore, 1969)

1816 == G adopts ‘Ghalib’ as his takhallus in addition to (not instead of) ‘Asad’

c. 1821 == G compiles the second version of his Urdu divan, which is now known as the nus;xah-e ;hamiidiyah. This manuscript was printed first in 1921, edited by Mufti Anvaar ul-Haq of Bhopal with the famous unfinished preface by Abdur Rahman Bijnori; and again much later (1970’s) in facsimile editions from Lucknow and Lahore. The original is reported to have disappeared from the State Library in Bhopal in 1947, and has recently been reported by S. R. Faruqi to have resurfaced. This version contains most (though not all) of the ghazals from 1816, and many new ones. The present whereabouts of this divan are not known.

1825 == G compiles the third version of his Urdu divan, which is now known as the nus;xah-e sheraanii ; this manuscript, discovered by Haafiz Mahmud Sherani, is now in Punjab University, Lahore; it was published by Punjab University in a facsimile edition, 1969. This version contains most (though not all) of the ghazals from 1821, and many new ones.

1825 == Khvajah Haji dies; G begins seeking restoration of the full pension; he goes to Firozpur Jhirka to talk with Navab Ahmad Bakhsh Khan and General Ochterlony

1825, Nov. == G makes a second fruitless visit to Firozpur Jhirka, hoping in vain to meet Ochterlony’s successor Metcalf through Ahmad Bakhsh Khan and improve his pension situation; he goes to Bharatpur with Ahmad Bakhsh Khan and Metcalf, returns with Ahmad Bakhsh Khan to Jhirka in Dec. and stays till Sept. 1826

1826, early Oct. == G leaves Firozpur for Kanpur, where Metcalf is reported to be encamped, but is unable to meet with Metcalf; he falls ill, and upon his recovery proceeds to Lucknow. There he imposes excessive conditions for meeting the Navab, and thus doesn’t meet him; he again falls ill

1826, Aug./Dec. == G’s father-in-law Ilahi Bakhsh Khan Ma'ruf dies; G’s younger brother Mirza Yusuf goes mad

1826, Oct. 13 == Ahmad Bakhsh Khan abdicates

1827, June == G leaves from Lucknow for Calcutta

1827, August == G travels to Baanda, where he stays for about six months

1827, Oct. == Ahmad Bakhsh Khan dies

1828, very early == G travels to Banaras, where he stays for about a month

1828, Feb. 20 == G reaches Calcutta; he petitions the Company government for redress of his pension grievances

1828, June == G participates in Persian mushairahs; some linguistic objections are raised against his poetry by pupils of Mirza Muhammad Hasan Qatil; he replies to them in his masnavi baad-e mu;xaalif, written in a conciliatory tone but insisting on his view that Indian Persian writers are not authoritative for usage and idiom

1828, June== the Company government directs him to submit his pension petition in Delhi

1828, Sept.  == G compiles gul-e ra((naa, a selection of his Urdu and Persian poetry, for his friend Maulvi Siraj ud-Din Ahmad; the manuscript was missing for almost a century but then was found by Sayyid Naqi Bilgrami, and published by Malik Ram in 1970

1829, Feb. == G receives a place and honors in the Governor General’s durbar

1829, Aug. == G is present at the Governor General’s second durbar; he leaves Calcutta for Baanda

1829, Oct. == G reaches Banda and stays for a week, then leaves for Delhi

1829, Nov. 29 ==G reaches Delhi

1831, Jan. == G’s pension claim case is dismissed

1832(?) == G becomes friends with Mustafa Khan Sheftah

1833, Apr. == G compiles the Urdu divan that is basically the one now current; it is not published till 1841

1834-35 == mai;xaanah-e aarzuu-saranjaam, his Persian divan, is published by Matba Dar us-Salam, Delhi, 506 p.; the compilation is supervised by Navab Ziya ul-Din Ahmad Khan of Loharu (younger brother of the ruler) and others. This work contains 275 ghazals with 6,673 shi'rs. This mss. has now vanished.

1837, June == G is sued for debt by an English wine-merchant, has to stay in his house to avoid creditors, and is briefly arrested; but Amin ud-din Khan of Loharu (son of the ruler), pays the debt

1837, Sept. == Bahadur Shah ascends the throne

1840(?) == G’s mother dies

1840 == G refuses the interview for an appointment to the professorship of Persian in Delhi College

1841, earlier half == G is arrested for running a gaming-house in his own home; he is fined Rs. 100 which is paid then and there

1841, Oct. == diivaan-e ;Gaalib in Urdu is published by the Sayyid ul-Mataabi' Press (also known as Sayyid ul-Akhbar Press), Delhi, in 108 p.; it has a Persian intro. by Ghalib; an endnote by Ziya ud-Din Ahmad Khan dated 1838 saying that the total shi'rs are 1,070 (though it’s actually 1,095). This edition is in the Saulat Public Library, Rampur. A facsimile edition was published by Kalidas Gupta Raza (1999?)@@

1845 == the first printing of G's Persian divan (compiled 1834-35). No copy of this first edition seems to be known

1847, May == diivaan-e ;Gaalib in Urdu, 2nd ed., Matba Dar ul-Salam, Delhi, 98 p.; 1,159 shi’rs. A facsimile edition was published by Kalidas Gupta Raza (1999?)@@

1847, June == G is arrested for gambling, sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment and a fine (which is paid by friends); he is treated leniently and released after 3 months; only Sheftah is loyal; he then stays as tenant in a house owned by Miyan Kale Sahib (Maulana Nasir ud-din)

1847-48 == G’s first surviving Urdu letters

1849 == panj aahang , Persian work in 5 sections: rules of address; rules of Persian grammar; his Persian verses; misc. quotes and references; some of his Persian letters; published by Matba Sultani, Delhi (Red Fort), 493 p. Kalidas Gupta Raza published a facsimile edition of the letters part (year?)@@

1850, July 4 == G is engaged by Bahadur Shah to write a Timurid dynastic history; he is given a khitab and an annual pension of Rs. 600; he’s also given the titles of Najm ud-daulah, Dabir ul-mulk, Nizam (nazzaam?) jang@@

1851? == the ‘sihra incident’ (Bahadur Shah takes umbrage on behalf of Zauq)

1852 == Z’s wife’s nephew Zain ul-'Abidin Khan ‘Arif’, whom G truly loves, dies of an illness; Arif’s wife Zainab had died only a few months before; Ghalib and his wife end up bringing up both their young sons, Baqir Ali Khan and Husain Ali Khan

1852, second half == G translates a prose text of Muhammad Salim in the form of a Persian masnavi, maybe at Bahadur Shah’s behest; it’s printed by the Matba Sultani; it’s finally included in his Persian kulliyat, 1863

1853 or earlier == the heir apparent Mirza Ghulam Fakhr ud-Din  (‘Mirza Fakhru’) starts paying G Rs. 400 a year; another prince, Mirza Khizr Sultan, also patronizes him

1853, April == panj aahang, a second edition, Dar us-Salam, 444 p. (orig. 1849)

1854, late Nov.  == G becomes the royal Ustad, after Zauq dies on Nov. 16th)

1854/55 == mahr-e niim-roz, first part of the Timurid history (creation of the world up to Humayun), published by Matba Fakhr ul-Matabi, Delhi, 116 p.; it’s reprinted twice more in the same year, but all the printings are called the ‘first edition’

1854/55 == G is asked by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan to write a preface to his new edition of A'in-e Akbari, but instead G writes a Persian poem deprecating the project and urging Sir Sayyid to move with the times; he also deprecates Akbar’s rule by comparison to that of the British

1855 == G is awarded cash and a pension by Vajid 'Ali Shah, Navab of Avadh

1856, 7 Feb. == Vajid 'Ali Shah is dethroned, and Avadh is annexed

1856, July == the heir apparent Mirza Ghulam Fakhr ud-Din dies of cholera

1856, second half == qaadir-naamah, mnemonic Persian/Urdu vocabulary verses for children, published by Matba-e Sultani, Red Fort, 8 p.; the text contains 13 references to the language as 'Hindi', none to 'Urdu'

1856 == G composes a qasidah to Queen Victoria

1857, Feb. 5 == G becomes the Ustad of Navab Yusuf Ali Khan ‘Nazim’, of Rampur

1857, Mar/Apr == G writes some letters to the Navab of Rampur, asks for them to be destroyed (unhappiness with wife, quest for a divorce?)

1857, May 10 - Oct. == rebellion; G is protected through the Maharaja of Patiala; all his valuables are lost when his wife secretly sends them to Miyan Kale Sahib’s house for safekeeping; Khizr Sultan is shot dead by Hudson, Bahadur Shah is exiled

1857, Oct.18 == G’s younger, mad brother Yusuf dies of a fever (says G; others claim he wandered out and was shot by the British)

1858 == G sends various qasidahs of the Queen and officers to officialdom, but they are returned as mere useless flattery

1858, Nov. == dastanbuu , G’s ‘old Persian’ (with Arabic words avoided) account of 1857, published by Matba Mufid-e Khala'iq, Agra, 80 p.; much admired by British officers

1859, July == G begins to receive a pension of Rs. 100 a month from the Navab of Rampur; also, mss. collections of his poetry have survived there after most Delhi ones have been lost in 1857

1860, Jan. 19-27 == G travels to Rampur

1860, Mar. 17-24 == G travels back to Delhi at the instigation of the two children; he stops at in a sarai at Moradabad after his boat overturns, but Sir Sayyid offers him hospitality

1860, Mar. 24 == G’s British pension reinstated through Sir Sayyid and/or Navab of Rampur’s help, Rs. 2,250 paid as arrears

1861, July 29 == diivaan-e ;Gaalib, Urdu, third edition, Matba Ahmadi, Shaahdara, Delhi; it is full of misprints and inaccuracies, and is rejected by Ghalib and published without his permission and against his will

1862, 22 March == qaa:ti((-e burhaan, his Persian polemic attacking burhaan-e qaa:ti((, Naval Kishor, Lucknow, 98 p.

1862, June == diivaan-e ;Gaalib, Urdu, revised fourth edition, Nizami Press, Kanpur; 104 p.

1863, Mar. 3 == G’s official durbar honors are restored

1863, June == kulliyaat-e na:zm-e faarsii, Munshi Naval Kishor, Lucknow, 562 p.; 10,424 shi'rs

1863, latter half == diivaan-e ;Gaalib, Urdu, fifth edition, Matba Mufid-e Khala'iq, Agra, 146 p.

1864 == controversies about qaa:ti((-e burhaan begin; the dispute ends on Mar. 23, 1868, when Ghalib files a petition withdrawing his case against one of his attackers

1864 == G’s Persian masnavi abr-e gauhar-baar, separately printed by Akmal-e Mutaabi', Delhi; though it was already in his Persian kulliyaat

1864 == 2nd ed, qaadir-naamah-e ;Gaalib , Mahbas [Prison] Press, Delhi

1864, Oct. 2 == la:taa))if-e ;Gaibii, an Urdu pamphlet, part of the qaa:ti(( controversy; the title page claimed authorship by G’s shagird Miyandad Khan Sayyaad

1864, Nov. == savaalaat-e ((abd ul-kariim, another Urdu pamphlet continuing the qaa:ti(( controversy, published under the alias of ‘Abdul Karim’

1865, Apr. 21 == Navab Yusuf 'Ali Khan of Rampur dies, succeeded by Kalb-e 'Ali Khan

1865, Aug. == naamah-e ;Gaalib , another Urdu pamphlet, part of the qaa:ti(( controversy, Matba-e Muhammadi, Delhi, 16 p.; it’s now included in ((uud-e hindii

1865, Oct. 7 == G travels to Rampur to attend the coronation, falls sick at Moradabad during the return journey; reaches Delhi Jan. 8, 1866

1865 == dastanbuu , second ed. (orig. 1858), Rohilkhand Literary Society Press, Bareilly

1865, Dec. == durafsh-e kaaviyaanii , a revised ed. of qaa:ti((-e burhaan, Akmal ul-Mataabi' Press, Delhi, 154 p.

1866, May == G’s health begins to decline, his sight and hearing begin to fail

1866 == vol. 2 [sic] of inshaa-e urduu, ed. by Maulvi Ziya ud-din Khan of Delhi College, published by Matba Faiz-e Ahmadi, Delhi, with selections of Ghalib’s Urdu prose

1866-67 == masnavi du((aa-e .sabaa;h, a Shi'ite masnavi that G translates from Arabic into Persian

1867 == te;G-e tez, Urdu pamphlet, part of the qa:ti(( controversy, Akmal ul-Mataabi', Delhi, 32 p.

1867, Feb. 18 == nikaat-e ;Gaalib va ruq((aat-e ;Gaalib, model Persian letters selected for schoolboys, and a small text on Persian grammar, Siraji Press, Delhi, 16 p., composed by request of Master Ra'e Bahadur Pyare Lal

1867, April 11 ==  hangaamah-e dil-aashob, part 1, containing verse texts from Ghalib and others; in Urdu, connected with the qaati(( controversy

1867, August == sabad-e chiin, a Persian masnavi already published in his kulliyaat; Matba Muhammadi, Delhi

1867, 24 Sept. == part 2, hangaamah-e dil-aashob , contents like part 1 except both Urdu and Persian

1867, Dec. 2 == G lodges a complaint of defamation against Maulvi Aminuddin Dihlavi, author of one of the most scurrilous of the polemical tracts that resulted from the qaa:ti(( controversy

1868, Jan. == kulliyaat-e na;sr-e faarsii, Persian prose (panj aahang, mahr-e niim-roz, dastanbuu), Naval Kishor Press, Lucknow, 212 p.

1868, Mar. 23 == a compromise is arranged and G’s legal complaint is dropped; since only Hali and Sheftah supported his linguistic claims

1868, Oct. 27 == ((uud-e hindii, a collection of his Urdu letters made by Munshi Mumtaz 'Ali and others, initially against his opposition; Matba Mujtaba'i, Meerut, 188 p.; G objects to many errors, and works on a new edition

1869, Feb. 15 == G dies, after falling into a coma on Feb. 14; he is buried at Nizamuddin in the traditional graveyard of the Loharu family

1869, Mar. 5 == urduu-e mu((allaa, Part I; a second collection of his Urdu letters; Akmal ul-Mataba, Delhi, 464 p.

1870, Feb. 4 == Umra'o Begam dies

1899 == urduu-e mu((allaa , Parts I and II; Matba Mujtaba'i, Delhi

1955 == the present tomb is built

“A Dastaan-e-Ghalib” from ‘Berlin Diary’ by C. M. Naim, Outlook India, Dec. 27, 2010 [site]

I came upon the newspaper in the Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, in the private papers of Dr Aloys Sprenger, who was an employee of the East India Company for many years in the mid-19th century. Now mostly remembered for his invaluable catalogue of the royal libraries of Oudh, Sprenger had also served as principal at the government madrassas in Delhi and Calcutta. While in Delhi, he initiated an Urdu weekly, Qiran-al-Sa’dain, which published articles on scientific subjects and social issues along with political news and some poetry. One of its thirty-four issues preserved at Berlin contained another surprise, this time concerning Ghalib.

Urdu scholars presently agree that Ghalib was born on December 27, 1797, corresponding to the month of Rajab, 1212 AH. That would have made him only 49 in January 1847 (1263 AH). However, an effusive note on him in the Qiran-al-Sa’dain of January 18, 1847, contains one startling sentence: “He has traversed fifty-three stages in his journey of life, but in talent and achievement he has progressed beyond many thousand stages.” The article is unsigned, as was the practice in the journal, but the confident exactitude of the described age—fifty-three—must give us pause. They were, of course, Hijri years, for that was then the established practice in Urdu. In other words, Ghalib was 53 in 1263 AH, and must have been born in 1210 AH (July 18, 1795-July 7, 1796), perhaps on December 27, 1795.

The article must have reached Ghalib the same day, if not courtesy of the author, then surely through the noted mathematician, Master Ramchandar, a beloved teacher at the madrassa and a much-cherished friend of Ghalib’s. The subsequent issue of the journal contains no correction.