Doha Movement – Resurrecting a lost art

- June 15, 2022
| By : Ali Fraz Rezvi |

With its first event titled ‘Ba-Yaad e Ijteba Rizvi’ and held on 2 October 2021, started what is arguably the most recent literary movement in Delhi - the Doha Movement. It aims at reviving the lost art of Doha writing- a classical form of self-contained rhyming couplet used by poets like Kabir, Rahim, Tulsidas and others

(From L-R) Doha Movement Preident Irfan Azmi, Secretary Shahid Anwar, Founding members Afeef Seraj and Anas Khan

Rahiman dhaaga prem ka todo mat chatkaaye

Toote se phir na mile, mile gaanth pad jaaye

(Don’t snap off the thread of love,

For once broken, it can’t be joined without a knot)

Many of us received our first lessons in Raheem’s dohas through conversations, well before we studied them in books. This is the same Abdul Raheem Khan-e-Khanaan, whose tomb lies next to the mausoleum of Emperor Naseer-ud-Deen Mohammad Humayun in Delhi.

Around nine kilometres away from his grave, and 395 years after his death, a movement has been started to bring to life the long-lost art of Doha writing and to introduce it to the newer generation of poetry enthusiasts. 

Doha movement, a Delhi-based initiative led by its President Irfan Azmi, Secretary Shahid Anwar and Treasurer Qamar Anjum Krishn is about to celebrate its first anniversary with thousands of members around the globe. It celebrates and attempts to bring back the lost classical art of Doha writing, where the rhyming couplet is composed in the Matrika metre. Dohas were commonly composed by renowned poets and saints like Kabir, Rahim, Raskhan, Mirabai and Tulsidas and several others.

“Doha Movement is basically a group dedicated to reviving the lost art of writing Doha in its actual form, in a language easily understandable by the common people ”, says Anas Khan, one of the founding members of the Doha Movement. 

(L-R) Presdient Irfan Azmi, Treasurer Qamar Anjum Krishn, Secretary Shahid Anwar

Vilupt Vidha – Lost in time

Khan, who has been studying and composing Dohas for the past 18 years, while speaking to Patriot, said, “The origin of doha can be traced back to 7th century AD, but it only became popular by the 13th century (Aadi Kaali), when Baba Fareed and Ameer Khusrow adapted this style. Doha then made its entry into the Bhakti Kaal when it spoke of love and mysticism, from which emerged the Saint – Kabeer Das.” He continues, “Then comes the Riti Kaal, where a fusion is seen between the existing form of doha and the Darbari style of poetry.” 

This was the time when the language used in doha became rich and intact and Abdur Rahim Khan-e-Khanan – one of the nine jewels of Akbar’s court, is seen mastering the art of doha. “These were the days when the art of doha became materialistic and non-materialistic simultaneously with patronage from the royalty and influence of the mystics of that era”, added Afeef Seraj, one of the founding members of the Doha Movement. It was the same time when ghazals were taking shape in India.

Khan adds that both Doha and the Urdu ghazal find their origins in the royal Mughal court. “While Urdu ghazal, because of its playful and feminine nature, was widely cherished by the masses and patronised by the royalty, Doha remained aloof and later fell out of public interest. After all, it was never a channel of entertainment, but a method to convey the harsh realities of life”, he concludes.

Tussle between the languages

‘For more than 200 years, Doha remained buried in multiple layers of dust, unclaimed’, said Afeef Seraj – a novelist, poet, script-writer and member of the Doha Movement. Historically, Doha has been produced and composed in the language of the common people in Braj, Awadhi, Khadi Boli and several other dialects.   

According to Khan, when Hindi developed as a language in the late 19th century, attempts were made to claim doha as a part of its literature, but the transition wasn’t smooth. Hindi as a refined language affected doha in such a way that it lost its charm. A similar situation was faced when Urdu tried to adapt doha as a part of its literary heritage. 

‘The most important aspects of Doha writing are its accent and methodology, which while claiming Doha as part of their literary heritage were neglected by both the languages, and this led to Doha losing its true essence’, he added.

A movement begins

Its organizers say that the initiative was undertaken to resurrect “a lost literary heritage”. Focused on the accent, method, metaphors and rawness of doha, the movement started with the idea to reclaim and propagate this poetic form among people at large. 

“We want to bring it to the core of debates and discussions in the universities, quite close to the new generation”, says Khan while speaking about the objectives of Doha Movement.

“Doha, as a form of art, gives a free hand in composing poetry in a language one speaks. This freedom is found nowhere else in any other form of literature. Despite the increasing popularity of ghazal these days, one must stick to a particular tone and theme, else the ghazal would leave its essence, but it is quite the opposite when it comes to doha. Doha takes you out of the barrier of languages and themes”, added Khan.

Quoting Shahryar – an Urdu poet known for his ghazals such as ‘in aankhon ki masti ke deewane hazaron hain’, Seraj delivers an example :

Tooti phooti kashtiyan darya mein girdaab

Jeene marne ke liye yeh lamhe nayaab 

(Broken ships and whirls in river,

rare are these moments for life and death)

Founding members Anas Khan and Afeef Seraj

A journey that continues

According to Shahid Anwar, secretary of the Doha Movement, after the death of Nida Fazli, it was believed that Doha had completely disappeared from the symposiums.

Later, with the efforts of Anas Khan, who hasn’t written anything but doha for the past 18 years, emerged a global initiative. The Doha Movement has, within a year, more than 1500 online and offline members across the national boundaries. 

“With thousands of people in continuous interactions from all over the world, the initiative has turned into a global movement”, Shahid claimed. 

Farooq Argali, one of the most noted writers in Urdu literature has, under the influence of this movement, composed multiple dohas. He has also stated that this movement has taken the art of doha writing to a larger extent.

President of the Doha Movement, Irfan Azmi, when asked about the movement’s status in present times, said that the response they have received in a year is much more than they expected. “I would say that whoever comes in contact with the movement or sits in one of our gatherings, at least tries to compose a doha once in their life-time”, he says.

One of the youngest members of the Doha Movement, Adarsh Bajpai, 23, who is also the founding member of a budding media platform ‘The Modern Poets’, has been a member of this movement for more than six months. For him, Doha Movement stands as a fine example of multiculturalism and the collective literary heritage. But he believes it still has a long way to go.

Speaking to Patriot, Bajpai said, “Whoever starts writing in the first place is very much inclined towards the prevalent forms of literature like ghazal and nazm, but looking at the emphasis this movement has upon the heart and soul of this generation, the day isn’t far when doha compositions would mark the beginning of people’s literary career.”

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