Saaqi- its various meanings in Urdu poetry
One reads and hears too much of tavern (maikhana), wine-flask (mina), wine-cup (saaghar) and wine-provider (Saaqi) in Urdu ghazals poetry. A newcomer to this poetry is often intrigued by frequent occurrence of these terms that tend to create an impression that the protagonist in the ghazal has nothing to do except boozing all the time. This impression is not incorrect to the extent one takes these terms in literal sense. But these terms assume new significance altogether the moment one comes to know their symbolic connotations.
The terms maikhana, Saaghar, mina, and saqi form part of the generic symbolic pattern of ghazal that the Urdu poetry has acquired from its Persian counterpart. Wine (mai, bada) with all its associations in Persian and Urdu ghazal poetry stands for the intoxicatedness that confronts and neutralizes the distractions generated by too much of rationality. Now the tavern (maikhana) becomes a place where one goes to get into a state of ecstasy and blissfulness.
Saaqi (wine-provider) is the presiding deity of this temple of intoxicatedness who provides wine as a source of ecstasy and rapture. Symbolically, Saaqi refers both to the beloved and God.
Saaqi has a mundane connotation when Dagh Dehlvi says:
Saaqi ab tishnagi ki taab nahi
Zahr de de agar sharaab nahin
(Unendurable is my thirst, O, Saaqi
Give me poison if there is no wine for me)
And it refers to the Divine in these lines by Iqbal.
Tere shiishe men mai baqi nahi hai
Bataa kya tuu mera saqi nahi hai
Samundar se mile pyas ko shab nam
Bakhili hai ye razzaaqi nahi hai
(There is no wine left in your flask
Tell me, aren’t you my Saaqi
Merely a dew- drop from an ocean
It’s niggardliness, not large-heated providence to me)
Some poets, like Ghalib, have also spinned the term Saaqi to invest it with still newer meanings. Ghalib says:
Hum tak kab uski bazm men aataa tha daur-e-jam
Saaqi ne kuch mila na diya ho sharaab men
(Never did the wine-cup reach me in her assembly
Saaqi might have added something to it as it now comes to me)