The Dialectic of Divine Manifestation: A Mystical Reading of Mirza Ghalib’s Verse

Mirza Ghalib

Latāfat be kasāfat jalwa paidā kar nahīn saktī
Chaman zangār hai ā’īna-e bād-e bahārī kā

The ineffable requires the tangible to manifest.
The garden is the patina on the vernal wind’s mirror

(Mirza Ghalib)

In the rich tapestry of Sufi poetry, where each thread is a symbol and each knot a philosophical concept, few verses capture the interplay between the divine and the mundane as elegantly as those of Mirza Ghalib. His couplet, “Chaman zangār hai ā’īna-e bād-e bahārī kā” (The garden is the patina on the vernal wind’s mirror), is a masterpiece of mystical imagery, inviting us to contemplate the very nature of existence through the lens of Sufi metaphysics.

At first glance, the verse presents a paradoxical image: a garden, typically seen as vibrant and alive, is described as “zangār”—a term that evokes notions of rust, decay, or the patina that forms on aged metal. This is no ordinary rust, however, for in the lexicon of Urdu and Persian poetry, “zangār” also signifies the color green, thus harmoniously blending the ideas of aging and vitality. But Ghalib’s genius doesn’t stop at this dual meaning; he goes further to liken this green-rust to the tarnish on the back of a mirror, an essential component that enables the mirror to reflect.

The mirror in question is no ordinary looking glass but the “bād-e bahārī” or the spring breeze. In the poetic tradition, this vernal wind is more than a meteorological phenomenon; it is a metaphor for any force that rejuvenates, that breathes new life into the withered and dormant. The garden, then, is not merely a collection of plants but a symbol of the entire phenomenal world—every object, every being, every event that we perceive through our senses.

To fully appreciate the depth of Ghalib’s imagery, we must turn to the Sufi philosophy that underpins it, particularly the thought of Ibn al-Arabi, one of the most influential figures in Islamic mysticism. Central to Ibn al-Arabi’s metaphysics is the concept of “Nafas al-Rahman,” or the Breath of the Merciful. This is not breath in any physical sense but rather the fundamental animating force that brings all things into existence.

According to Ibn al-Arabi, before the universe came into being, all potential forms of existence resided within God’s knowledge as eternal archetypes, known as “A’yān Thābitah.” These archetypes are not mere ideas but are as eternal and inseparable from God’s essence as His knowledge itself. When God wishes to bring any of these potentials into actual existence, He addresses them with the divine command “Be!” (Kun). At this moment, the creative potential moves from the realm of divine knowledge into the realm of manifest reality, carried on the “Nafas al-Rahman.”

Thus, in Ibn al-Arabi’s view, every atom, every star, every thought, and every emotion in our universe is a manifestation of these divine archetypes, given tangible form by the Breath of the Merciful. But why would the infinite, ineffable divine choose to manifest in finite, perceivable forms? Here, Ibn al-Arabi offers a profound insight: the perceptible forms of the universe serve as mirrors in which divine attributes can reflect and, in a sense, observe themselves.

This concept of the universe as a mirror for divine attributes brings us back to Ghalib’s couplet. Just as a mirror requires a layer of reflective material on its back to function, the divine attributes require a “tarnish” of perceivable form to reflect themselves. In Ghalib’s metaphor, the spring breeze—standing in for the Nafas al-Rahman—is the mirror, while the garden—representing all perceivable phenomena—is the patina that allows this mirror to reflect.

But there’s a further layer to this analogy. In traditional mirror-making, the reflective backing often contains silver or other precious metals. Over time, this backing oxidizes, forming a patina that, far from diminishing the mirror’s function, actually enhances its reflective properties. Similarly, in Ghalib’s verse, the garden’s “zangār” is not a flaw but an essential feature, enabling the mirror of divine breath to reflect itself.

This interpretation harmonizes beautifully with another of Ibn al-Arabi’s ideas: that every external object is an outward reflection of the infinite creative possibilities inherent in the divine essence. Just as God’s knowledge and His eternal archetypes are inseparable from His being, every perceivable form in our universe is an externalization of these archetypes. In other words, what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell are not mere illusions or shadows but are, in their very tangibility, reflections of divine reality.

Ghalib’s verse thus becomes a poetic exposition of a fundamental question in Sufi metaphysics: Are the phenomena we perceive merely mirrors that passively reflect divine attributes, or are they themselves embodiments of the divine, albeit in dense, perceivable form? Through his rich imagery, Ghalib aligns himself with Ibn al-Arabi’s perspective: every phenomenon in our universe, from the grandest galaxy to the tiniest grain of sand, is at its core the Nafas al-Rahman, the divine breath that has chosen to adopt tangible form.

In this light, Ghalib’s couplet transcends mere poetic beauty to become a profound philosophical statement. The garden’s “zangār” is not just an aesthetic feature but the very medium through which the divine breath—like the spring breeze—makes itself known. Every leaf, every petal, every grain of soil is a letter in the divine language, a brushstroke in the cosmic canvas where God’s attributes paint themselves into visibility.

This interpretation invites us to see the world around us not as a veil that obscures the divine but as a text that reveals it. The rustling leaves, the blooming flowers, the very ground beneath our feet—all are not distractions from spiritual truth but are themselves tokens of that truth, made tangible so that we might perceive them. In Ghalib’s mystical vision, affirmed by Ibn al-Arabi’s metaphysics, the physical world is neither an illusion to be transcended nor a temptation to be shunned. Rather, it is a divine gift, a mirror crafted with the patina of material form, reflecting the ineffable beauty of its Maker.

In an age often characterized by disenchantment, where the sacred and the secular are sharply divided, Ghalib’s verse offers a powerful counterpoint. It suggests that the boundary between the divine and the mundane is not a wall but a mirror. Every object, every experience becomes an opportunity for divine encounter. The garden is no mere backdrop for our human dramas but is itself a protagonist in the grand narrative of divine self-revelation.

To walk through a garden after reading Ghalib’s verse is to walk through a living scripture, where each blade of grass is a verse and each gust of wind a recitation. In this sacred text, rust and green, decay and life, mirror and reflection all coalesce into a unified whole. Here, the ineffable divine doesn’t merely speak to us; it becomes visible, using the “zangār” of material existence as its chosen medium. In Ghalib’s mystical landscape, illuminated by Ibn al-Arabi’s thought, the entirety of creation becomes one vast, shimmering mirror, its patina of physical forms enabling the divine breath to gaze upon its own boundless beauty.


Subzar Ahmad works as Lecturer urdu in the department of school education Jammu & Kashmir. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]

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