اردو ھے جس کا نام ھمي جانتے ھین داغ
سارے جہاں میں دھوم ھماري زبان کي ھے
Urdu started out as an army “language” where people of different religions and nationalities mixed together and wanted to talk to each other. Out of the cauldron, a new language and a new culture came into existence. This new culture centered around Lucknow and Delhi, in Northern India is responsible for the renaissance, growth and proliferation of art, painting, music, and architecture of pre-British South Asia. The culture born of the confluence of many languages and many religions exuded a sophistication now found in the North Indian and Pakistani population. The emperors, kings, rajahs, nawabs and badshahs of the region supported with gold and silver the poetry and the literature that was an essential part of their court.
The new languages were very instrumental in the transformation of the nationalities and races that inhabited the Northern part of the South Asian subcontinent. Many South Asian languages, Kashmiri, Gujjar, Punjabi, Gujrati and Hindi are very similar to Urdu, and have a lot of commonalities with Urdu.
Urdu is a mixture of languages including Persian, Arabic and Turkish. Today the Urdu language is the national language of the republic of Pakistan and is a constitutionally recognized language of the republic of India. Some Indian states also recognize Urdu as a state language. Indian occupied Kashmir has voted for Urdu as the state langugage. All provinces of Pakistan voted to accept Urdu as the provincial languages. In countries neighboring India and Pakistan the language is understood and appreciated. The language is understood in many Persian Gulf countries and Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa, East Africa, Maldives, and a large immigrant population in Europe and America.
Dr. Munawar Anees adds: “There is at least one Urdu daily out of London but none in Hindi…and there is a Urdu daily coming out from the Gulf; several dozen monthly, quarterly and annual magazines published by the immigrant community”.
In actuality there are more than one Urdu dailies in England, and several weeklies from New York and Los Angeles and many cities have periodicals. Some of the best supporters are Sikhs and Hindus.
Of the many things that are common to the subcontinent, Urdu is surely one of them. Perhaps this bridge can be used to bring peace to our poverty ridden region. The following pages will trace the history of the many languages that encompass the subcontinent.
Urdu is written in the Arabic script like Farsi,. Javi, Maldivian, Old Turkish, several Central Asian languages, Pashto, Baluchi, Western Gurmukhi Punjabi.
PERSIAN AND INDIC GROUP OF LANGUAGES
According to many linguists, Pushto and Baluchi, including Persian , belong to the Iranian group of languages and Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati etc. belong to Indic languages. However this is not clearly defined. Most linguists claim that Urdu is not a ‘form’ of Persian. Many linguist claim that Urdu and Persian have different syntax, phonology, and morphology. However some linguists proclaim that both Persian and Urdu belong to the Indo-European group of languages and have a common base. Punjabi and Urdu speakers can clearly understand and comprehend Persian where as Gujrati and Hindi speakers cannot understand Persian and Arabic. Urdu because of its rich heritage can be conjugated in different ways. It can be conjugated in the Sanskrit manner, or the Persian or the Arabic manner.
THE HISTORY OF URDU AND OTHER LANGUAGE SYSTEMS IN SOUTH ASIA
اردو ھے جس کا نام ھمي جانتے ھین داغ
سارے جہاں میں دھوم ھماري زبان کي ھے
Urdu hai jis ka naam hamin jaantay hain Daagh
Saray jahan main dhoom hamari zaban ki hai!!!
Urdu is a language spoken and understood by about a billion people on this planet. It is one of the major languages of Asia. It however remains almost totally unknown in the West, especially America. This apathy about Urdu is partly due the fact that the Subcontinent is largely ignored in matters of culture and edification. The Lingua Franca of Northern India is understood by every sixth person on this planet. The resilience of this wonderful language is almost unprecedented. The language crosses culture, religion, creed, caste and national boundaries. With some official patronage in the land of its birth, the language is known by many names. Urdu is spoken in the far corners of the globe.
The original and formal full name of the language is Zaban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla. The long title has been shortened to the nick name Urdu. Urdu papers are published from all major cosmopolitan centers of the planet, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Bradford, Manchester, Toronto, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Islamabad, Lahore, Delhi, Karachi, Srinagar, and hundreds of other cities. Urdu language radio broadcast inundate the airwaves on Short-wave, Medium-wave and FM. Today the language is encroaching the Internet. From the shopping malls of Singapore, to the skyscrapers of Dubai, from the jungles of Nairobi to the beaches of Fiji, from the ski slopes of Kashmir to the streets of London, from the shops of Toronto, to the taxis of Chicago– Urdu is survives as a live and vivacious testament to its speakers.
As varied as Chinese in accent and dialect, it is understood by more people who speak Mandrin. Its history is as controversial as the history of its peoples. Almost as old as English, the language had humble beginnings as a pidgin dialect that slowly evolved into a polished language. Urdu led to the cultural unity of Northern India. It has impacted the British Empire and it effected the lingua franca of the world– English. Many of the words used in English have South Asian origins. Kabob, Sahib, Raja, Qamarband, Bazaar, Pajama, Bengal, Curry, Saffron are only some of the examples of Urdus influence on the rest of
In any discussion of cultural and religious unity, and in any discussion of mystical Sufisim, (one of the highest forms of Islamic and religious thoughts), Urdu remains the common factor between the peoples of various religions and creeds of Northern and Western parts of the Subcontinent. According to Barbara Metcalf, (in an interesting discussion on Urdu in her book Islamic revival in India), Urdu was indeed a major factor that led to the Northern Indian Hindu-Skih-Muslim “Mughlea” culture with its lavish architecture and profound literature, and rich Indian-Middle-Eastern-Sino-Central-Asian heritage. Urdu
spans religions and races. It always has and always will. It was the language of Muslim kings and Hindu rajas, and Sikh princes and Parsi courtiers. It spawned a culture and architecture that has survived centuries.
People have died for it, and people are as parochial about it as the Franco-phones are about French in Quebec. Its detractors are jealous of its popularity, and its enemies hate the phenomenal growth the language has seen.
It continues to grow day and night, sometimes at the expense of other languages and dialects.
This article tries to trace the origins or Urdu and other language systems in the South Asian Subcontinent. Though it is relatively a young language it is rich in culture, poetry and literature. This article attempts to trace the genealogy of the language and delineates the differences between Urdu and Hindi.
The article also discusses the other language systems in the South Asian Subcontinent. Let us begin by looking at the linguistic systems in the world.
THE ORIGINS OF URDU
Urdu was influenced by Persian and adopted the Persian script as opposed to the Arabic script. One of the many reasons why the language is spoken around Delhi and developed as a “lingua franca” in the first place was that it was spoken around Delhi, seat of the first and later the most extensive Muslim conquests.
Thus, its vocabulary was heavily influenced by Arabic and Persian right from the time when it began to develop as a separate language.
Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India in 1000 A.D. His second invasion was against Jaypal in 1001. At this time Persian and Arabic was introduced to the subcontinent. Firdausi is considered one of the first poets of Urdu. By the year 1100 the house of Ghaur had been established. The Muslim conquest of India had been formalized. Urdu had begun. The military camps had all sorts of people in them. When they wanted to communicate they spoke their own languages and dialects. These people communicated and gave birth to a new language. Urdu or Askasi was a Turkish word which means “lashkar” or army from a camp. Some called the language “askari” (word also means military in Turkish).
Here is another author giving us sources on the origins of Urdu:
There is evidence (presented by Baba-e Urdu or father of Urdu, Moulvi Abdul Haq) that Urdu sayings can be reliably attributed to Nizamuddin Auliya and Baba Farid Ganj Shakar, who lived in the Sultanate period. And, of course we have the vast apocryphal literature attributed to Amir Khusrau, which is in a language surprisingly close to modern Urdu.
Since Khusrau was associated with Balban’s court, it is very likely that the language was understood and spoken there. The name was eventually shortened to Urdu. From its earlier use in the sub-continent it was written in the Arabic script. Its vocabulary came from vernacular Hindi,Punjabi, Sanskarit to which were gradually added Persian, Turkish and later English words.
This is what Mansoor Khan of Cleveland, Ohio says about origins of Urdu:
“Ameer Khusro is considered by some the first Urdu poet. At his time this language was used only for some poetry purpose and was called “Rekhta” not Urdu untill Mirza Ghalib’s time. Ghalib was first Urdu prose writer in the form of letters to his friends. He called it “Urdu-e-Mu’alla” means superior Urdu to distinguish from the version spoken by masses.Ishfaq”
The Slave Dynasty of India was firmly established in India between the years 1206-1290. These were the days of the creation of URDU. The Khiljis ALSO provided Urdu a cradle in the years 1290-1320. The Tughlaqs officially used Persian as the court language but they gave Urdu the importance it deserved.
The Lodhis used Urdu as the court language. Stanley Wolpert in his book A New History of India says the following about Sikandar Lodhi (1498-1517):
” has been hailed as the wisest and most dedicated , hard working , and far-sighted sultan ever to sit upon Delhis the throne. He wrote poetry himself and invited scholars of every sort to his side, encouraging the compilation of books on medicine (Ma’dan-ul-shifa) as well as music (Lahjat-i-Sikandar-shahi)”
Urdu was given great patronage and the language clearly on the way to becoming the Lingua Franca of at least northern India. During the Lodhi era, Urdu was FIRMLY past the crib, and was in the population. With Babur’s advent he immediately recognized Urdu as the language to be dealt with. Both Babur, Sher Shah Suri and Humayun glorified the language.
Stanley Wolpert in his book A New History of India says the following about the year 1595:
“The importance of Persian cultural influence in the Mughal Empire and court can hardly be exaggerated: it was found in Akbars Sufisim but also in the reintroduction of Persian as the official language of Mughal administration and law (Persian had been used by the Tughlaqs but not the Lodis). The elegant decadence of Mughal dress, decor, manners, and morals allreflected Persian court life and custom. Mughal culture was however more than an import; by Akbars era, it had acquired something of a “national” patina, the cultural equivalent of the Mughal-Rajput alliance. The new syncretism which has come to be called “Mughlai” is exemplified by Akbar’s encouragement of Hindi literature and its development. While the Persian and Urdu languages and literature received the most royal patronage and noble as well martial attention, the emperor also appointed a poet laureate for Hindi. Raja Birbal (1528-83) was the first poet to hold the honored title, thanks to which many other young men of the sixteenth century were induced to study the northern vernacular that has now become India national tongue, helping to popularize it through their poetry and translations of Persian classics. Most popular of the Hindi works of this era was the translation of the epic Ramayana by Tulsi Das.”
This is what “Yaswant Malaiya” <mala…@cs.colostate.edu> says:
According to what I have seen, the term “Urdu” dates from Shahjahan’s time (1628 to 1658) when he built the fort in Delhi. Other terms have been used for it (Hindavi or Rekhta) but around 1850 the term Urdu was in common use.
However if we define Urdu by its basic structure, it can perhaps be dated to as far back as 13th century or so. The Farsi poet Amir Khosrow (1253-1325) wrote verses in a dialect that can be regarded to be Urdu.
Firdausi (940-1020), who wrote Shah-Nameh, was certainly a great poet, but I am not aware of him writing Urdu.
You can see a translation of Shah-Nameh at
However in a way, you can say that Urdu existed around 1000 AD. Many manuscripts of Apabhransha books from that period are now known. Apabhransha is regarded to be the old form of modern north Indian languages.
At the time of the birth of Urdu, Sanskrit was NOT a spoken language, it was more like Latin and Hebrew, available to scholars. The fifteenth century saw the rise of the Mughal empire (1526-1857), and these three centuries were the golden period of Urdu.
Delhi and Lucknow became centers of Urdu poets and writers. Poetry became the fond habit of the rich and the poor. Great eulogies (“qaseeda”) were written for the kings and the nawabs, and the poets were paid handsomely in gold. On the death of the loved ones great obituaries (“marseas”) were written. The sonnets in the form of “ghazzal” were written for lovers and other topics.
Around the nineteenth century, poets like Iqbal used Urdu to rile the masses against the British colonialism.
URDU AND HINDI …..WHICH CAME FIRST… THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG SYNDROME
The earliest use of Brahmini is disputed but the earliest known inscriptions in Brahmini are in the Muyara period, possibly from Chandragupta’s period found at Sohguara, Mahastan; unless we can date the Piparawa casket to right after Buddha’s cremation. Here is what an Indian historian (In an interesting article on Urdu: A Historian Looks at Hindi-Urdu Debate 8 December 1995; Copyright: India Abroad Publications) says about Urdu and Hindi:
`Hindi” and `Urdu” did not exist as languages; they were to be formed out of the myriad languages of northern India by soldiers (`Urdu’ means `language of the camp’) and others who needed a common language (over the regional tongues of the north, such as Bhojpuri, Mythali, Khari Boli, Braj, etc. Certainly, there was no relationship between a particular language and a particular religious group. The nobility (including Hindus and Muslims) preferred Persian as the tongue of the elites: common folk (including Hindus and Muslims) spoke their local languages and used local idioms which transcended religion.
In the ongoing debate over Hindi-Urdu, most commentators betray a minimal familiarity with the historical and linguistic record and yet, they can write with confidence about Hindi-Urdu.
Hindi and Urdu are modern languages: in a very real sense, their most effective development began after 1947 when they became the State languages of India and Pakistan respectively. It was after that date that Hindi was Sanskritized …”
The earliest use of the word “Hindi” was by Sharfuddin Yazdi in Zafarnama (1424). Hindi somply means zaban-e-Hind the language of Hind.
Urdu-Hindi phrase book: (http://www.gorp.com/atb/cwasia/g1146.htm)
Shams-Ul-Ulama, Maulana Mohammad Hussein Azad has done extensive research on the history of Urdu in the subcontinent. His autobiography is the autobiography of Urdu in the Punjab and in the subcontinent.
This is what “Yaswant Malaiya” <mala…@cs.colostate.edu> says:
I have seen many scholars express the view that Urdu and Hindi are basically the same language.
Language of the street is the basic language. There can be two views and one can choose one of them.
1. Some consider the right Hindi a language from which every possible Farsi/Arabic word has been replaced with a Sanskrit one. Similarly many regard Urdu as the language in which every noun is from Farsi/Arabic as much as possible. If you believe that Urdu came into existence only during late 17th century, and that it is spoken by a small minority in India and a large fraction of the Pakistanis; you can take this view.
2. Other possible view is that Urdu/Hindi is basically the same language that has many variations. There is literary Urdu, there is literary Hindi, there is common speech and there are dialects. If you take this view then Urdu/Hindi is an old language, popularly used and understood by a large population.
Many take the second view.
Here is Naufal Khan twho disagrees with the single language point of view.
This really doesn’t support your viewpoint. First of all, none of the universities (not even the ones you’ve listed) teach a single “language” called Hindi/Urdu. Many schools have Hindi/Urdu programs but they do maintain a very clear distinction between Hindi and Urdu. The elementary / very_beginner
Many take the second view.
Here is Naufal Khan who disagrees with the single language point of view.
This really doesn’t support your viewpoint. First of all, none of the universities (not even the ones you’ve listed) teach a single “language” called Hindi/Urdu. Many schools have Hindi/Urdu programs but they do maintain a very clear distinction between Hindi and Urdu. The elementary/very_beginner level conversation courses (usually for foreigners) might lump the two together – mainly due to the smaller no. of students and absolute novice level of students where they’re pretty much at “hindi/urdu phrasebook” (that you later refer to) level – but very soon (i.e. as soon as they need to start writing and have acquired the minimal conversational skills), the two get forked.
According to many linguists the basic difference between Hindi and Urdu linguists is that Hindi-ites believe that “Kharri boli” was the language spoken by the populace of Delhi. According to Hindi-ite linguists around 1000 AD, the Delhi army used “kharrri boli” (standard Hindi) as the base language and started speaking “Urdu” and the two languages Urdu and Hindi developed side by side.
Many linguists and historians on the other hand proclaim that URDU or Askari is a language that developed as a result of the interaction between Persians, Turks, Central Asians and other people in the army. The army began speaking a language and it spread to the populace with minor variations.
Hindi and Urdu, have similar linguistic structure. Unfortunately some parochial writers consider them different languages based on ‘religion’. One Indian says the following:
“The Sanskritized Hindi is, as you say, as much of an enigma to the North Indian as it is to the South Indian or to the Bengali, and is therefore region-neutral (unlike normal, “filmi” Hindi).”
Some authors belittle the differences between Urdu and Hindi and compare them to be as unimportant as the small differences between Dutch and German. However Urdu proponents say that the two languages are conjugated differently. Even though the conjugation is not necessarily one of the main ways separating languages, conjugation DOES separate the languages from the roots. Another difference between Hindi and Urdu is, their writing system. The Muslim Sikh and many Hindu rulers, the government, the official court system and the Urdu speakers, mostly people belonging to Islamic faith (though there have been many many prolific Sikh and Hindu poets and writers) in the sub-continent, used the ‘Arabic’ script where as a section of the Hindu population kept the Sanskrit script alive and Hindi speakers have adopted the ‘Devanagari’ script.
Guru Goband Sings is a prime example of a Sikh who used and wrote not only in Urdu but also in Persian. Most of Akbars Nine gems spoke and wrote Urdu and Persian.
Here is what one Pakistani linguist says:
Persian and Urdu have the same syntax…..EXACTLY THE SAME SYNTAX. Most of the nouns are the same. The conjugation is exactly the same. I converse with my Persian friends in broken Urdu. Pushto and Baluchi is so similar that YOU cannot even tell the difference. I can understand Iqbal’s poetry in Persian by payng more attention. It is like reading DIFFICULT Urdu. Pakistan’s national anthem can be understood in BOTH languages, Urdu, and Persian.
Pushto and Balauchi are so close to Persian that we do not need any tranlations with Afghans, or Iranians. We learn the Quran from the age of five. Persian and Arabic are second languages in Pakistan. We learn them as a matter of fact.
Please refrain from telling us what the relationship of Persian and Arabic is to Urdu. You lose your credibility. Urdu was the language of the Subcontinent for the best part of the pre and post Mughal century. Hindi was never spoken during that era. Urdu was the lingua franca of Northern India during the Mughals era and remains the lingua franca of Northern India and Pakistan. The current Sanskritized version of official Indian Hindi was brought back to life by Hindu fundamentalists who wanted to revive a dead language like Latin, called Sanskrit. It has been done before with Hebrew. Urdu because of its rich heritage can be conjugated in different ways. It can be conjugated in the Sanskrit manner, or the Persian or the Arabic manner. Example. Khabar can be conjugated as Khabrain ( Sanskrit) or Ikhbar ( Arabic). Many words like KURSI or MAIZ are conjugated with Persian plural forms.
URDU SPREADS: SURVIVES BRITISH COLONIALISM
The golden period of Urdu was during the Mughal era. On the arrival of the British, Urdu suffered terribly. The fall of Tipu Sultan was a fall from which Urdu never actually recovered. Overnight the official language was changed to English, and Urdu was uncerimonously un-crowned as the lingua franca of the subcontinent. During the nineteeth century, the British started teaching Urdu as Hindustani. The British not only sent Bahadur Shah Zafar into exile they also sent Urdu and the entire culture based around Delhi into oblivion. For a thousand years the court language and the art and literature of the subcontinent was based around Urdu. This lagacy was destroyed.
Some where along the way, perhaps due to the patronage of the rulers, the Urdu language got branded as the language of Muslims and Sikhs.
In an interesting article on Urdu: A Historian Looks at Hindi-Urdu Debate 8 December 1995; Copyright: India Abroad Publications
`Hindustani’ was the name given to the language of the camp, to Urdu; this was the common parlance of northern India by the late nineteenth century. At this time, Bharatendu Harischandra and Pratap Narain Misra tried to fashion a politics around language; they argued that there was an intrinsic connection between Hindus and Hindi. Harischandra and Misra’s attempts to make this connection did not by itself create the problem which we are rehearsing today. In April 1900, the lieutenant-governor of U.P., Anthony MacDonnell wanted to undermine the established Indian bureaucrats (who used Urdu as the language of their work — this despite the fact that there were Hindus and Muslims in the administration); MacDonnell insisted that Hindi in the Devangri script be used for administrative purposes, thereby undermining the previous bureaucrats as well as making the question of the script a political communal problem.
In the 1901 Census, the British insisted that the language of Muslim be entered as Urdu and the language of Hindus be entered as Hindi. The agitation over Nagri became a communal agitation. The Al-Bashir of 21 September 1901 pointed out that there was little distinction between Urdu and Hindi; the real difference was between the language spoken in towns and language spoken in the countryside. The Nagri agitation was to drag the language of refinement and culture into the morass of communal hatred.
Religious zealots came forward and tried to revive the Sanskrit based languages and the Sanskrit based scripts. Circa: 1900. Certain segments of the Hindu political establishemnt wanted to REPLACE Urdu and and Persian as the official language of the court and government. The one nation agitators (Hindu-Hindi-Hindustani) religious zealots started agitating for the Devanagri script. As a result of this agitation the Devanagri-Sanskrit script REPLACED the Persian Urdu langauge in the 19th century and this led to widespread agitation which was expressed by the creation of the Muslim League in 1906 (see Ira Lapidus..History of Islamic Societies). As soon as the Devanagri script was adopted by the government, the language was SANSKRITIZED, all Arabic-Persian words were quickly repalced by archaic sanskrit vocabulary…..that is STILL alien to the speakers of the language of Northern India.
So the language spoken in Pakistan today is prety much the language that existed int he courts and the streets of Northern India. The language broadcasted by AIR is an alien language that had died a natural death. Persian and Arabic and Turkish words were listed and purged from the official dictionaries. The revival of Sanskrit had begun. A new Sanskritized “Hindi” was transplanted as the official instrument of the elite.
Right before the British left India, Urdu was treated like a step child. Hindu religious zealots did not want “foreign” influences in India, so they began the “ethnic cleansing” on Urdu. The “foreign” words of Urdu were taken out, and words Tatsama words (words in the same form as they appear in Sanskrit ) from a dead language called Sanskrit were injected into Urdu. This new ethnically cleansed language officially called Hindi (actually Sankritized Hindi) is now the national language of a “secular” country called India. The official Hindi is Urdu WITHOUT the Persian and Arabic words.
Hindi according to many Hindus is an ‘apabramsha’ version of ‘Pali’, the language of Buddhists, which is itself an ‘apabramsha’ variety of Classical Sanskrit, which is derived from Vedic Sanskrit.
Urdu is one of the languages recognized in the Indian constitution. Urdu is the state language of the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir. The language is clearly understood on Bangladesh and even in Nepal, Burma and Sri Lanka. If ine know Urdu one can get by in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even in Kuwait. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, and is the provincial language of all provinces of Pakistan, namely, Punjab, Sarhad, Balauchistan, Kashmir and Sindh. Urdu in India, is officially alive only in Kashmir. The rest of India speaks it, but Indian officialdom refuses its existence. Many South Indians are resentlful of Hindi and claim that the politicians of Northern India have tried to “impose” Sankritized Hindi (without Persian or Arabic words in it) upon the people.
Northern Indians still speak Urdu, but call it Hindi. Southern Indians have no affinity with Hindi and they almost “refuse” Hindis existence. The result is linguistic CONFUSION in India. The language spoken by the North Indian people and the language broadcasted in news bulletins across the Indian air waves have no relation to each other. Many many Indians understand Urdu but they do not understand the Sanskrit ridden news broadcasts (the official Sanskritized-Hinduized version of Urdu).
URDU EXPANDS: URDU FINDS ANOTHER HOME IN THE PUNJAB
Urdu lives on the streets of Northern India. It is however called Hindi. While the official Hindi is a Sanskrtized language, the language on the streets of Northern India remains the older non-Sanskritized version. The migration of the language Eastword preceded the decline of the language in Northern India, where under British patronage, and Hindu benefaction, Hindi was fast becoming the lingua-franca