interesting experience/Urdu/hindi

Bharat Gupt abhinav at DEL3.VSNL.NET.IN
Thu Aug 31 10:48:57 UTC 2000

Dear List,
S. Abbas implied that Delhi Sultanate should be regarded as the birth of
a new nation in North India because of the birth of Urdu. Then came another
inquiry about it. I venture some observations:

 As is well known Urdu began as a pidgin in the eleventh century
with the interaction between urkish, Persian, Arabic and the local Hindi
that prevailed at the time.
The sufis used it to create their syncretic expression for devotees of mostly the
lower classes. Its early literature was a mixture of medieval Hindi, from Dingal
to Brij, Avadhi, Punjabi and Mewari etc. The "sufiana kalam" extant today got
refurbished in the process of aural transmission and musical performances.
Across the Vindhyanchal it developed as "dakkhini".

Urdu was never the language of the elite or the masses.  It is difficult to
convey this bit of linguistic history to modern Indians or even Pakistanis as
false stories about languages and scripts are a powerful influence. Many well
educated people have to be told that Sanskrit was not always written in
Devanagari  before the 19th century, but in all the scripts  associated with
regional languages today. One script for one language is a creation of print
technology.  Films like Mughle-Azam and a host of tv serials that thrust
Persianised Urdu into the mouth of every Muslim character from King to
fisherman or chaste Hindi (Sanskrit infested) into the speech of every Hindu ,
have left no room for linguistic history in the common imagination.

        The truth is that Urdu was not the official or court language in medieval India
except at the sunset of the Mughal empire. The place was occupied mostly
by  Persian. It had little to do with ruling Turks, Lodis and Moghuls.
It grew out of the linguistic trends prevalent in India much before Islamic invasion.

        Using different languages in a single text or composition is an age old
tradition in India. Ancient plays used Sanskrit, Shaurseni, Magadhi etc., all
together. Compositions with some lines in Sanskrit and some in Prakrit
constituted the "manipravala" style. Sufis carried forward this tradition by
mixing lines of Brij and Persian.
                                          (continued in next post)

Bharat Gupt,  Associate Professor, Delhi University
PO Box 8518, Ashok Vihar, Delhi 110052  INDIA
tel 91-11-724 1490, fax 741-5658, email: bharatgupt at

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