Ghazal is a common and popular form of music in Indian and Pakistan. Strictly speaking, it is not a musical form at all but a poetic recitation. However, today it is commonly conceived of as an Urdu song whose prime importance is given to the lyrics. Ghazal traces its roots in classical Arabic poetry. Ghazal grew from the Persian qasida (a verse form that had come to Iran from Arabia around the 10th century A.D).The qasida was usually a eulogy composed in praise of the emperors or their noblemen. Many a times the Qasida often had 100 couplets or more.
With the coming of the Muslims, Ghazal got introduced in the 12th century. Thus Ghazal was imported into India from the 12th to the 18th centuries. Slowly and gradually Ghazal acquired local color and form. The most notable contributor to Ghazal music in India was the famous poet Amir Khusro. Soon Ghazal came to enjoy widespread popularity among Indian Muslims and rulers for many centuries.
It is interesting to note that the Ghazal was introduced first in the north but it got Urdu character in the south. In the north, the rulers were very much oriented toward Persian but Urdu was beginning to be used for literary purposes in the south. The Golconda and Bijapur rulers encouraged this tradition of Urdu. Some important patrons of Ghazal and Urdu were Nusrati, Wajhi, Hashmi, Mohammad Quli Qutab Shah and Wali Dakhini.
From just a poetic form, Ghazal acquired musical form in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was the period when the Ghazal became associated with courts. The "tawaif" tradition in the courts played an important role in the growth and development of Ghazal music. However, with the decline of the "tawaif" tradition in the 19th and the early 20th century, the performance part of Ghazals also underwent change.
With the development of recording and film industries, the Ghazal music became more popular as it went out from the confines of the courts to the masses. This had tremendous economic advantages for performers and producers of the Ghazals.
The poetic arrangement of the Ghazal is precise. The Ghazal is based upon a series of couplets which are woven together by a rhyming formation. The first couplet of the Ghazal is called "matla" and is the most important one. At times there are two matlas, where the second one is referred as "matla-e-sani". The last couplet of the Ghazal is vital and is called the "maqta". The "maqta" usually contains the pen name of the poet. The maqta is generally different from rest of the Ghazals as it is a personal statement.
The Ghazal music revolves usually around a few common themes. The Ghazals are woven around unreciprocated love, madness, mystical reflection and even social commentaries ridiculing and highlighting religious orthodoxy. But the most important theme of Ghazals is unrequited love. The traditional Ghazals are similar to the Hindustani classical music forms such as "Dadra" and "Thumri". Then there are some Ghazal forms that are similar to Qawwali. India has produced some of the exceptional talents in the field of Ghazal singing like Begum Akhtar, Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas.