History of Urdu

History of Urdu

A couple of weeks ago, there was a very interesting article in the Economic Times that gave the break up of languages spoken by the people of Pakistan. Interestingly 48 % of the population speaks Punjabi while Urdu is spoken by only 8 %. I always thought that Urdu was the language of sub continent Muslims. A few weeks later there was a letter in the Outlook by Khushwant Singh where he complained that the Punjabis had killed Urdu in Punjab. An earlier essay titled Aligarh Movement read “Another development during this period was the emergence of Urdu as a literary language during the period 1818 to 1905”. Where did Urdu spring from?

The objective of this article is to trace the origins of Urdu and its development in Bharat starting with advent of Mughal rule (Persian-Arabic-Turkish were used by earlier rulers) and ending in 1947. I have also tried to find an answer to Khushwant Singh’s remarks and tell you how Urdu got caught in the Hindu Muslim pre 1947 crossfire. Incidental to the objective of this article was my realizing that Urdu has become another example of the Pan Islamic Muslim mind. The article has three chapters.

1.    1526 to 1707 A.D.
2.    1707 to 1947 A.D.
3.     Analysis

1526 to 1707 Proto-Urdu     

Just to give you a perspective Mughal rule began with Babar in 1526 but started moving Southwards after the death of Islamic zealot, puritan Aurangzeb in 1707.

The word Urdu is derived from the Turki word Ordu, which meant “a military camp”. The language as we now know it had not come into existence during this period. Instead it was a product of the dialect used by the Muslims who ruled over Deccan and South India from the 14th century awards. The literary speech arising out of it, known as Dakhni or the Southern Speech may be traced back to the 15th century. It’s use was limited to the Deccan and South India and was used in literature by the Muslims of these regions who were less influenced by the local Hindu spirit of the dialects and languages of North India than the other Muslims living in North India. This difference becomes clearly manifest from the fact that the Perso-Arabian script was used in the Deccan, in writing from almost the beginning. Gradually the literature increasingly came under foreign influence in the sense that it became more and more Muslim and Persian in its attitude. However, it continued to retain till the end of the 17th century, a good deal of Indian vocabulary.

The chief centers of Dakhni literature were Gujarat, Golconda, Bidar, Bijapur and Aurangabad. It was patronized by amongst others Qutb Shahi Sultans of Golcondo, one of whom, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah was a gifted poet. One of his courtiers wrote a romantic poem whose theme was the love of this king, than a prince,  for a Telegu Hindu girl named Bhagwati whom he later married, named the city built in her honor as Bhag-nagar and subsequently renamed with her Islamic name Haider-Begum. This became the city of Hyderabad. Various other poems were written by many rulers.

Dakhni literature flourished up to the end of the 17th century, but declined after the conquest of the Deccan and South India by Aurangzeb. By the first half of the 18th century, the mantle of Dakhni fell to the newly rising Urdu speech of Delhi into which this colonial form of a North India speech virtually merged and Urdu became well established with its present name by 1750.

The Persian literature produced during the heyday of the Mughal rule in India exercised a tremendous influence on the formation and shaping of regional literatures, especially those cultivated by the Muslims. One of the results was the evolution of literary Urdu. Other sister languages modeled on the Persian tradition are Punjabi, Pushtu, Sindhi, Baluchi and Kashmiri, all of which use the Persian script.

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