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A provocative inquiry into the linguistic history of the

vernacular of India-Pakistan

By: Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 9, July 2009

Wherever and whenever a new religion has taken roots in the
known human history, there has always been a language in use among
that group of people and similarly, a culture associated with that group.
When such a movement begins and a new religion starts, a new system
is formulated, and new laws are enunciated either by a person who
claims to be an apostle or a prophet, or by way of local social forces and
prevailing circumstances. Usually the leader(s) speak that language
which had been in use in that group of people. In some areas and times
such a language had been used for hundreds of years before the advent
of the new religion. So, all the documentation of new laws and rules is
done in that language. However, as the population base following that
religion expands and the followers of that religion migrate to new lands,
the rules and laws are transferred to the new languages and new
documentation is produced. Usually this change takes place over a
number of generations.
However, there are two exceptions to that general rule that we have
described above, which we will bring to our readers presently. Let us first
see some examples in history of the general rule. Christianity began in
Bethlehem, a city in Palestine. Jesus Christ was born, raised and had
lived among the Jews, a community of which he himself was a member.
It has been suggested by historical linguists that the language spoken
among those people at that time was Syriac. Some others have opined
that it was Aramaic. There is also an opinion that since the language of
all religious work in the Judaic society was done in Hebrew, Jesus Christ
may actually have spoken his sermons in that language. But nothing is
100% certain in this respect. All such opinions are based on the evidence
discovered so far by archaeologists, historical linguists and philologists.
Because of the fact that there is no known copy of the Book of
Jesus Christ (a part of The New Testament 1) in existence that dates back
The New Testament, as we know it, was actually written by the early followers of
Jesus Christ many years after the disappearance of Jesus. The document contains
sermons and sayings of Jesus Christ. According to the Muslim belief, Jesus Christ had

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 1
to the time of Christ, we are unable to make a statement with any
certainty on this. Both Christian as well as Jewish scholars have
ascertained that the language spoken by the prophet Moses and his
people was Hebrew. This is evident by the fact that there are numerous
Hebrew words found in the Old Testament 2 that we read today in the
English language. An ancient copy of the five books of the Pentateuch,
which includes (according to the Islamic point-of-view) parts of TAWRAAT
(the Torah), Zuboor (the Psalms of David) and some other religious
documents, is the Vulgate. The Vulgate is written in Latin. An even older
copy of the Bible is the Septuagint. This is in the Greek language. The
Vulgate 3 is dated to be of the 5th century A.D., while the Septuagint 4 is
considered to be of the 3rd century B.C.
Reuters news agency has just announced that another ancient
Bible known as the Codex Sinaiticus has been completely digitized in its
original Greek script after extensive work carried out in the UK,
Germany, Egypt and Russia 5.
We know for certain that Latin was not the original languages of
the Bible. The Jewish and Christian scholarship had maintained that the
books of the New Testament Bible were written in Koine Greek. However,
there has been a minority group insisting that the New Testament was
written in Aramaic. This group has recently increased its presence on the
Internet. Friedman6 has identified five different authors and therefore,
five different periods during which the Old Testament was compiled.

a Book which was revealed to him and it is known as Injeel in the Qur’an. But no such
book exists today, in actuality. Incidentally when The New Testament was translated
into Arabic, it came to be known as Injeel-e-Muqaddas. I am sure this was an after
thought by the Christian Arab translators under the influence of the holy Qur’an.
According to the Jewish and Christian scholars the writing of the Divine word or the
Bible begins with Moses. According to the Islamic belief, there are five Divine books
revealed to the five Great Apostles of God, namely: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and
Muhammad. The Books of Noah and Abraham are only identified by the word suhuf,
this is a plural for saheefa, meaning a written document. The other three books are
identified by names as Tawraat – the book of Moses, Injeel- the book of Jesus and al-
Qur’an the Book of Muhammad. The five books contained laws and were revealed to the
five respective Apostles whose job it was to establish the Divine Law on earth among the
human society. Each new revelation superseded the previous one, al-Qur’an being the
final one. Alongwith the three named books of Laws there is also a fourth Book
mentioned by name as Zuboor – the Book of Songs of David.
This is the oldest version of Latin Bible that contains the New Testament alongwith
the Old Testament.
4 The word means 72 and it points to the fact that so many scholars sat down and

collectively produced the work. It is the Koine Greek translation of the original Hebrew
The news was announced on June 6, 2009. For details visit the website:

6 Friedman, R.E., Who Wrote The Bible, Harper One, New York, 1997

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 2
Similarly, John Robinson 7 has made a thorough study of the dates of
writing of the 27 books of the New Testament. A table of those dates and
names of the books contained in both the Old Testament and the New
Testament can be found at the website:
Today the center of Catholic religion is in the Italian city of
Vatican. The Pope lives there and all his religious directives are issued
from the Vatican in Latin. They are then translated into other languages
and sent out to various different countries. The question arises, why
Latin? Obviously, there is history behind that.
In the year 313 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine I decreed
that Christianity would be accepted and established as the state religion
across the Roman Empire. When Jesus Christ preached his message,
Palestine was within the Roman Empire. At that time the Roman
authorities had opposed the movement in cahoots with the Jewish
establishment and the early Christians were persecuted. However, after
three centuries the politics had changed and the once persecuted religion
had become the state religion. Therefore, all religious literature had to be
translated into Greek (the then official language as well as that of the
elite in the Roman Empire), and then later into Latin. Latin was the area
language spoken in and around Rome.
As the Christians spread across the globe during the two thousand
years, Christianity found its new followers in various new geographical
areas. Christian teachings including the original Bible were rendered into
the languages of those new areas. The Standard English Bible is
considered to be the King James’ Version 8. However, in the USA a new
American version of the Bible has been produced in the English
language. The Catholic Church has kept its religious documentation in
Latin. In July 1971, I visited the city of Cologne (Koeln). As I walked up to
the raised ancient Cathedral of that city (the one with twin steeples), I
noticed that there was a service in progress. To my surprise, that service
was being conducted in Latin rather than in German.
In juxtaposition to that evolution when we look at the development
of the religion of Islam, we notice that the Arabic language had been well
established in the Arabian Peninsula some five hundred years before the
birth of the Prophet (pbh). The literary Arabic that was spoken in and
around the province of Hijaz was the standard language. The word
“literary” is a kind of an oxymoron here because that Arabic was purely
spoken language – there was no writing. All record was in poetical form
and it was preserved in breasts of men that would transfer from
generation to generation by a very well established oral tradition – the
system of rhyming words and an extensive use of metaphors, allegories,

7 Robinson, John A. T., Redating The New Testament, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000
The Catholic Bible is different from the King James’ Version

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 3
onomatopoeia and linguistic puns along with music would help the
memorization and recital on a large scale.
Qur’an is the first “book” in the Arabic language which was
preserved as a written document. Qur’an does mention the previous
prophets and apostles in reverential terms. Qur’an claims that all the
previous prophets preached and propagated the same religion, the Truth
from one god, Allah. But there were some differences in times, their
respective value systems and particularly the laws. Those differences
become significant from a political and social point-of-view when the two
civilizations come in contact with each other, especially the attitude of
Christians and Muslims towards each other. In recent times two
interesting books have come out. One is by a Christian scholar 9 who was
at Oxford and the other is by a Muslim scholar 10 who is at Berkeley.
The ancient Arabic poetry of the period of Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic)
that has reached us shows that the Arabic language had acquired high
literary standards by that time. While the holy Qur’an accepted a part of
the current Arabic vocabulary, which we see in words such as WAQT,
DUA, NIKAH, KITAB and MEERATH; some other words have been
accepted in the Qur’an with new meanings, which we see in words such
The relationship of the Arabic language with the religion of Islam is
profound and has worked in two ways. All basic principles, laws, rules on
morals and ethics as well as the philosophy of the religion are
documented in Arabic in which the terminologies and expressions of the
7th century Arab culture are hard to miss. Some of the idioms are so
clearly connected to the Arab life-style of that time. For example, we
know that the city-dwellers of Makka were traveling businessmen. Many
of the verses of the holy Qur’an revealed in Makka have the idiom of
selling and buying in them. Very much like a good bargain lets the
buyer/seller make a profit, prayers and worship guarantee good rewards
in the hereafter. For example see Q.2:207 and Q.31:6. In the city of
Madinah, on the other hand, the greater part of the population was
farmers. In the Madinan part of the revelation we find that terminology.
For example, see Q.2:223 in which one’s women have been equated as
one’s own tilth. Once a man has sowed the seeds in his field, he takes
care of the filed with his life and protects it with all the power and
passion. Once the field is ripe for harvesting, he does it with love and
care and also has full control over it. That is how a head of the family
should look after his family. The point is, Qur’an spoke to the Arabs in
their own terminologies and language with which they were comfortable
and thus made the communication that much more effective.

Geoffrey Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, OneWorld Publications, 1995
Hamid Algar, Jesus in the Qur’an: His Reality Expounded in the Qur’an, Islamic
Publications International, 1999

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 4
Under the influence of the religion, when Urdu came into being, it
accepted those Arabic words and idioms in its own vocabulary with those
respective meanings. For example, if some one has sacrificed his/her
religious values for some worldly and material gain, in Urdu we say:
‫ﻳہ ﺗﻢ ﻧﮯ ﺍﭘﻨﮯ ﺣﻖ ﻣﻴﮟ ﮔﻬﺎﮢﮯ ﮐﺎ ﺳﻮﺩﺍ ﮐﻴﺎ ﮨﮯ۔‬
While the above expression is a reflection of that buying/selling
idiom in the Qur’an, the poetry quoted below was composed by the 19th
century Lucknow poet named Meer Anis. The poet is describing a scene
from the Battle of Karbala where the women in Imam Husayn’s camp are
praying for safety and security. The poet is describing the prayer in the
speech of Imam Husayn’s sister named Zaynab. The lines are composed
in the most eloquent Urdu of Lucknow of that time. Zaynab uses the
expression of “the glorious Bano’s tilth” for the family of Imam Husayn.
This, obviously, is a reflection of the Qur’anic verse 2:223 that we quoted

‫ﺧﻴﻤﮯ ﻣﻴﮟ ﺟﺎ ﮐﮯ ﺷہ ﻧﮯ ﻳہ ﺩﻳﮑﻬﺎ ﺣﺮﻡ ﮐﺎ ﺣﺎﻝ‬

‫ﭼﮩﺮے ﺗﻮ ﻓﻖ ﮨﻴﮟ ﺍﻭﺭ ﮐُﻬﻠﮯ ﮨﻴﮟ ﺳﺮﻭں ﮐﮯ ﺑﺎﻝ‬
‫ﺯﻳﻨﺐ ﮐﯽ ﻳہ ﺩﻋﺎ ﮨﮯ ﮐہ ﺍے ﺭﺏ ﺫﻭﺍ ﻟﺠﻼﻝ‬
‫ﺑﭻ ﺟﺎﺋﮯ ﺍﺱ ﻓﺴﺎﺩ ﺳﮯ ﺧﻴﺮ ﺍ ﻟﻨﺴﺎء ﮐﺎ ﻻﻝ‬
‫ﺑﺎﻧﻮﺋﮯ ﻧﻴﮏ ﻧﺎﻡ ﮐﯽ ﮐﻬﻴﺘﯽ ﮨﺮی ﺭﮨﮯ‬
‫ﺻﻨﺪﻝ ﺳﮯ ﻣﺎﻧﮓ ﺑﭽﻮں ﺳﮯ ﮔﻮﺩی ﺑﻬﺮی ﺭﮨﮯ‬
David Matthew’s translation:
The King beheld the women’s piteous state;
Their hair hung loose, their faces pale and white.
Zainab made a prayer: ‘Oh God Most Great!
Save Fatima’s darling in this awful fight.
May Bano’s crop be green and fresh with sap;
And may she nurse new offspring in her lap 11.

On the other side of the equation, the Arabic language went

through some serious changes under the influence of the newly emerging
religion. There are numerous examples of that. The prime example is
that all nouns in Arabic have a singular, a plural and a dual, as well as
both masculine and feminine genders. There is no plural for the word
Allah, neither is there a feminine. There was a goddess named AL-LAAT
in the pre-Islamic period. But that concept and that word both have been
completely dropped from the language. All those words which the holy
Qur’an has used for Islamic terminologies, were actually in existence
before Islam. They had their meanings and usage. But the Qur’an

Matthews, David; The Battle of Karbala, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 1995, translation of
stanza no:43 from the Marsiyya of Meer Anis

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 5
changed that. For example the word EEMAAN ‫ ﺍﻳﻤﺎﻥ‬has been used
extensively in the Qur’an. In the Qur’anic terminology it means ‘faith.’
However, it has its lexical meaning. The word is derived from the tri-
literal root A-M-N which means ‘to be safe and secure.’ The fourth form
derivative verbal noun from that root is EEMAAN which means ‘to be at
peace within one’s heart and to be fearless.’ All other similar Qur’anic
words have their pre-Islamic meanings and usage, such as ،‫ ﺯﮐﻮٰﺓ‬،‫ﺻﻠﻮٰﺓ‬
‫ ﺣﺪ‬،‫ ﺻﺪﺍﻕ‬،‫ﺭﮐﻮﻉ‬ etc.

In the beginning paragraph, we had pointed out two exceptions to

the general rule about the relationship between a religion and the
language of the progenitors/followers of that religion. The first of those
exceptions is the revival of the Hebrew language in the country of Israel;
and the second case is that of the evolution of Urdu in the Indo-Pak
Israel was created as a separate country in the old land of
Palestine in 1948. The people of the Judaic faith and practice were
scattered all over the world. Once the new country was established, those
people began migrating to the new country. Those people came with their
respective languages. The problem was to create a new nation-state out
of those linguistically diverse people. The leaders of the country decided
that the best instrument for that process would be a single language.
They revived a language that had been dead for a long time and gave it
currency as the state language. The Jewish Rabbis had always
memorized some parts of the Torah and the Haggadic literature which
they would recite during religious services. So, the old relationship
between the Judaic religion and the Hebrew language was revived and a
double sentimentality for the language was created among the Jewish
population of the country of Israel. Eventhough the Jews of Eastern
Europe had created a language of their own which is known as Yiddish,
the Jews living in the new country made Hebrew their national identity.
Not only that, the local Jewish population, though very small in number,
who had been Arabic speaking, they too accepted Hebrew as their new
national language.


The story of the development of the Urdu language in India is also
a very interesting one. Arabs had always been avid travellers and sea-
farers. They would travel by land towards the north into the countries of
the Byzantium. They would also sail on business trips from the port of
Aden and from other ports of the Persian Gulf to the Indus delta and all
the way up to China. The holy Qur’an has briefly touched upon this in
Sura Quraysh. Islam spread from Arabia proper to Iraq and Iran very
quickly. That old tradition of travel and sea-faring continued all the

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 6
same. Turko-Iranian and Afghani warriors began attacking other
countries in the name of spreading Islam to the four corners of the earth.
As communities of Muslims established themselves in the new countries
experts belonging to various arts and professions also began arriving in
the new areas. Another type of people who came to new areas and settled
were the holy men, the Sufis.
These three communities, the soldiers, the business people and the
proselytizers, all had one common need and a basic need --- the need to
be able to communicate with the local indigenous population. Thus the
coming together of two cultures gave rise to a new language in northern
areas of the Indian sub-continent.
While the desire existed on both sides of the cultural divide to be
able to communicate with the other side, the cultural clash between the
two was there all the same. And we will have to accept that the cultural
clash was based on the religious differences. A natural consequence of
that was that religious literature in Urdu began to be produced from day-
one of its very inception.
The authors of the book Cambridge History of Islam have dedicated
one whole chapter on Urdu in their book. Their rationale in including
that chapter is that the sole cause of the evolution of the new language in
India was the arrival of Muslims.
The new arriving Muslim settlers needed a language so that they
could communicate with the local population in India – a language that
would be equally understandable to both of them. This statement is often
repeated among the academic elite as a matter of fact. However, if we
consider the activities of the Sufi temples and shrines that began
sprouting up across the country from as early a period as the tenth
century, we can see very clearly that the process of the evolution of the
new language had yet another force working for it.
Let us quote a passage from:

For any civilization to blossom, there has to be a certain intellectual and cultural space that is
relatively free from dogma and hidebound traditions. In the earliest examples of the Islamic
courts, particularly during the reign of the Abbasids in Baghdad, there was an informal
separation of church and state and Arab civilization was able to make important gains , drawing
inputs from a variety of eclectic sources - both indigenous and external (such as Indian and
But once the paramountcy of the Qur’an and the Shari’at laws began to be more strictly enforced
- the Islamic courts needed some alternate current to prevent the newly established Islamic
societies from slipping into the dark ages as had occurred in the Christian kingdoms of early
medieval Europe. Sufism thus emerged as a protestant and liberalizing current, that eventually
became the primary vehicle for intellectual advance and the dissemination of culture in societies
governed by Islamic sovereigns.

Sufi currents were essential in easing the transition from the earlier Hindu, Buddhist, Judaic,
Christian, Manichean, and Zoroastrian societies that had existed prior to the victory of the Islamic
conquerors. Sufism provided a way to reconcile some of the religious doctrines of these earlier

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 7
cultural and/or religious systems. Sufi scholars went to great lengths in establishing a sense of
continuity and evolution amongst the various revealed faiths - such as Judaism, Christianity and
Islam. In helping to reconcile formally differing beliefs amongst Christians, Manicheans, Jews,
and Muslims, the Sufis were instrumental in limiting political tensions and in facilitating a
modicum of social peace and stability.

This type of work was not inimical to the political interests of the Islamic conquerors and was
generally tolerated, although often, Sufi scholars had to take great pains to reassure the orthodox
Ulema that their scholarly treatises were not inconsistent with the worldview of Islam.
Kalabadhi (10th C, Bukhara), author of the Taaruf, and Persian scholar Hujwiri (11th C), author
of the Kashf, attempted to situate their work within the broad contours of Islamic tradition.
Hujwiri suggested that there was a place for high culture and spiritual development apart from
the following of religious rules. Although, equally, he emphasized that he was not challenging or
rejecting anything contained in the Qur’an.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- end quote

The Sufi shrines and temples thus established began attracting a

steady stream of faithful visitors. These visitors belonged to various
different linguistic, cultural and religious backgrounds. They freely
communicated with each other – a natural instinct among the Homo
Sapien, irrespective of colour and creed. The Sufis, on the other hand,
felt the need to translate Islamic teachings into the local languages. Thus
a mix of languages became current in such gatherings. These Sufis, who
were mainly Farsi-speaking, felt a two-fold need to document their
teachings in the new language. They realized that their teachings had to
be easily understood by the locals. They also realized that their future
generations would not remain Farsi-speaking. So, to preserve the Islamic
teachings for their own future generations they began producing religious
literature in the new language.
Mawlana Muhammad Husayn Azad has cited (in his AAB-E-
HAYAAT) the first Urdu translation of the holy Qur’an by Shah Abdul
Qadir and has given its date of publication as 1807 A.D. I have seen a
copy of this work. In the preface to this book the author has said: “We
are writing this TAFSEER in the Hindi language.” It is obvious from this
quote, since the entire work is printed in Urdu-Nasta’aleeq script that
even during the 19th century the new language was being called HINDI
rather than URDU. Of course, the word HINDI itself is a Farsi word
coined by the newcomer Muslims in India for the new language. The
word simply means “of Hind.”
However, the process of producing religious literature in
Hindi/Urdu had begun a long time before that date.
That brings us back to the original question: When did Urdu begin
as a language of the people of India?
Not surprisingly, scholars have differed on this. Here is a sample of
Nuqoosh, Lahore had published an article in its ADABI MAARKE
NUMBER. The heading of the article is:

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 8
‫ﺍُﺭﺩﻭ ﮐﻴﻮں ﺍﻭﺭ ﮐﮩﺎں ﭘﻴﺪﺍ ﮨﻮﺋﯽ‬ Urdu kiyon awr kahan payda hui

Muhammad Husayn Azad has asserted in his AAB-E-HAYAAT that

Urdu was built on the base of Braj Bhasha. That implies that the process
began on the shores of the Yamuna River in and around Agra. Hafiz
Mahmoud Shirani is of the opinion that Urdu’s beginning is rooted in the
bazaars of Punjab when in 1027 A.D. Mahmood Ghaznavi descended on
that area with his Afghan hordes. Professor Naseer-ud-Deen Hashmi is of
the opinion that Urdu began in South India. We will elaborate upon this
view presently. A fourth view is that Urdu began in the province of Sind.
This last view is based on the fact that the Muslim Armies under
the command of Muhammad bin Qasim had landed at the port city of
Deebal 12 at the Indus Delta in 712 A.D. According to the historian

Farishteh, Muhammad bin Qasim had arrived in Sind on his expedition

with a 6,000 strong Syrian army leaving Shiraz and passing through
Mekran via the land route.
The influence of the Arabic language, which was the language of
these early Muslim invaders, had lasting effect on the local language.
Today’s Sindhi language is written (right to left 13) in a set of alphabets

which is a modified set of the 27 original Arabic letters.


If we go through the oral tradition as well as documentation, the
first traces of a language that could be seen as akin to modern Urdu is
found in Amir Kusro’s poetry. Amir Khusro had lived in Delhi during the
period 1253-1325 A.D. In actuality Khusro was a genius in fine arts. He
wrote Farsi Ghazal as well as other poetry in local dialects (both Avadhi
as well as Braj Bhasha) that were current in the area. He also produced
music. He is the progenitor of raga Ayman. He is also a contemporary of
the great saint of Delhi known as Nizam-ud-Deen Awliyya. Khusro wrote
songs of praise for Nizam-ud-Deen in the dialect of Braj Bhasha. See the
samples below.
The first poem is all in Braj Bhasha. It has been transcribed in
Devnagari as well as in Nasta’aleeq for line-to-line comparison. The next
row gives transliteration in English on the left and the translation on the

12 Haig, Malcolm Robert : The Indus Delta Country: A Memoir, Chiefly on Its Ancient
Geography and History, first published from London in 1894. A copy of this book can be
viewed at the University of Michigan website:
13 As opposed to all other North Indian languages belonging to the Proto-Indo-
European family which are written from left to right

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 9
बहुत क�ठन है डगर पनघट क� ‫ﺑﮩﺖ ﮐﮣﻬﻦ ﮨﮯ ڈﮔﺮ پﻧﮕﻬﭧ ﮐﯽ‬
कैसे म� भर लाऊं मधुवा से मटक� ‫ﮐﻴﺴﮯ ﻣﻴﮟ ﺑﻬﺮ ﻻﺋﻮں ﻣﺪﻫﻮﺍ ﺳﮯ ﻣﮣﮑﯽ‬
पिनया भरण को जो म� गई थी ‫ﭘﻨﻴﺎ ﺑﻬﺮﻥ ﮐﻮ ﺟﻮ ﻣﻴﮟ ﮔﺌﯽ ﺗﻬﯽ‬

दौड़ झपट मोर� मटक� फटक� ‫ﺩﻭڑ ﺟﻬﭙﭧ ﻣﻮﺭی ﻣﮣﮑﯽ ﭘﻬﮣﮑﯽ‬

बहुत क�ठन है डगर पनघट क�

‫ﺑﮩﺖ ﮐﮣﻬﻦ ﮨﮯ ڈﮔﺮ ﭘﻨﮕﻬﭧ ﮐﯽ‬
‫ﺧﺴﺮﻭ ﻧﺠﺎﻡ ﮐﮯ ﺑﻞ ﺑﻞ ﺟﺎﺋﻴﮯ‬
खुसरो िनजाम के बल बल जाईऐ
‫ﻻﺝ ﺭﮐﻬﻮ ﻣﻮﺭے ﮔﻬﻮﻧﮕﻬﭧ ﭘﭧ ﮐﯽ‬
लाज रखो मोरे घूँघट पट क�
‫ﻣﻮﺭے ﺍﭼﻬﮯ ﻧِﺠﺎﻡ ﭘﻴﺎ ﺟﯽ‬
मोरे अच्छ िनजाम �पया जी
‫ﺑﮩﺖ ﮐﮣﻬﻦ ﮨﮯ ڈﮔﺮ ﭘﻨﮕﻬﭧ ﮐﯽ‬
बहुत क�ठन है डगर पनघट क�

bahut Ka.Thin hai Dagar pangha.T ki, The road to the Well is much too difficult,
kaisay main bhar laaun madhva say (I do not know) How to get my pot filled?
ma.Tki? When I went to fill the water-pot,
paniya bharan ko main jo gayi thi, In the furor, I broke my pot.
dau.R jhapa.T mori ma.Tki pha.Tki. Khusrau ! May you be the ransom time
bahut ka.Thin hai Dagar pangha.T ki. and again, Oh, Nijam.
Khusrau Nijaam ke bal bal jayyiye Would you please take care of my veil (or
laaj rakho moray ghoongha.T pa.T ki. self respect),

more achey Nijam Piya ji My dear Nijam,

bahut ka.Thin hai Dagar pangha.T ki. The road to the well is much too difficult.

The most interesting work of poetry that Khusro produced is the

one where he mixes so artfully his Farsi she’r with Braj, Avadhi and
Khari Boli poetry. Of course, poetry is a thing for recital more than
writing. See the following couplet by Khusro:

Khusro dariya prem ka ulti va ki dhaar ‫ﺩﻫﺂﺭ‬ ‫ﺧُﺴﺮﻭ ﺩﺭﻳﺎ ﭘﺮﻳﻢ ﮐﺎ ﺍُﻟﮣﯽ ﻭﺍﮐﯽ‬
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar‫ﺟﻮ ﺍُﺗﺮﺍ ﺳﻮ ڈﻭﺏ ﮔﻴﺎ ﺟﻮ ڈﻭﺑﺎ ﺳﻮ ﭘﺎﺭ‬

Trans: Khusro, the river of love flows backwards; anyone who enters it is
drowned, and the one who drowned came ashore.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 10
Consider Khusro’s vocabulary here:
Dariya = Farsi word which actually means an ocean
Va ki = this is from Braj Bhasha, in Khari Boli it will become uski
Utra, dooba, doob gaya = the verb endings of long ‘a’ in these words
indicate that they are all from Khari Boli 14
Khusro had called his language as Hindavi. In this couplet he is
expressing the very standard and profound Sufi thought. Anyone who is
out to seek his(her) Lord has to lose himself(herself) in that process. It is
only after one has totally lost his(her) self in that search that one finds the
Nizam-ud-Deen Awliyya died in the same year as Khusro (1325).
Khusro’s poetry is profoundly influenced by the teachings of Nizam-ud-
Deen. This is what we have been arguing in this article that the evolving
language that we now know as Urdu has a long history of Sufi influence
in it.
Anyone who has read Khusro’s work would be rightly justified in
assuming that the Urdu’s sapling germinated in and around Delhi and
flourished there. It would also be logically correct to assume that since
Urdu is a language in the PIE 15 group of languages and the PIE
languages have traditionally flourished in the northern part of the
However, we shall see presently that Urdu’s young sapling did not
take roots in and around Delhi. In fact it took roots in the Deccan, an
area of Dravidian influences. It did in later years spread across northern
India, though.
There were many reasons for that which we will discuss presently.
According to Ahsan Marharvi in his book titled: Tareekh-e-Nasr-e-Urdu,
the main reason for that was the event of shifting the capital of the
Sultanate from Delhi to Daulatabad, a city in the Deccan, south India 16.

14 There are three basic vowels in the spoken word, a, i, u. All other vowels are
variations on these three. Urdu has borrowed its vowels from Khari Boli and they are
ten in number. Each verb has to end in one of the three basic vowel sounds. Braj
Bhasha verb endings are in ‘u,’ Khari Boli endings are in ‘a’ and those in Bundel Khandi
dialect are in ‘i.’ The reason that KHARI BOLI (standing or upright speech) is called as
such, is because in both the DEVNAGRI as well as in the NAST’ALEEQ script the long
vowel ‘a’ is depicted by a vertical line – an upright standing line. For greater technical
details on vowels, see: McGregor, Outline of Hindi Grammar, O.U.P., Delhi, 1972
15 Proto-Indo-European family of languages
16 This was done by Muhammad Tughlaq. Muhammad Tughlaq’s reign begins in Delhi

the same year in which both Khusro and Nizam-ud-Deen Awliyya had passed away.
Marharvi’s book can be seen at the website:

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 11
At this point we present a summary of the history of the Muslim
rule in the Deccan.
Arabs used to sail from both the Arabian coasts in the Persian
Gulf, from Aden as well as the Egyptians from Alexandria to the western
coastal cities of India. Their main stop used to be at Kerala due to the
active growth of spices in that region. The Arabs were merchandisers and
it was good business to buy and sell spices. There are reports that many
Arabs had settled down in Kerala long before Islam. It is reported that
Kerala was the first outpost of Arab Muslim early in the 7th century. One
name that is found in the Malyalam chronicles is that of Malik ibn
Deenar. There is also a mosque in Kerala dedicated to Malik. It is not
certain what was the exact time of Malik 17. Was he a companion of the
Prophet? Some Malyalam chronicles date his coming to the Malbar coast
in the year 644 A.D That date, obviously is 12 years after the passing
My research on the life and times of Malik bin Deenar is not completed yet. As soon
as I get that information I will supplement this text accordingly.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 12
away of the Prophet. Some other reports suggest that one of the
Malyalam kings actually became Muslim and proceeded to Hajj. During
that Hajj he is reported to have met with the Prophet of Islam. That does
not sound credible. However, that first Muslim settlement in the south
western part of India did not seem to have an impact on the region either
linguistically or culturally.

The first real contact of Muslims with the Indian subcontinent is

accepted to be the invasion of the province of Sind by Muhammad bin
Qasim. We said: ‘the first real contact’ because it is this beginning of the
Muslim culture in India which had left an indelible mark both culturally
as well as linguistically on the sub-continent. Then there is a series of
such invasions in the Peshawar area and beyond up to Delhi. We discuss
those a little later.
Some Muslim conquerors, who came to Delhi via Punjab, did not
stay there. Instead they moved on to the southern provinces of the
subcontinent and established themselves in that part of the
subcontinent. In the 14th century two sizable kingdoms were established
in the Deccan, one was the Bahmani Sultanate of Bijapur and the other
was the Qutub-Shahi Kingdom of Golcunda.
In 1347 the Turkish military ruler named Ala-ud-deen Bahman
Shah established the greater Bahmani Sultanate of Bijapur. This
Sultanate extended from the shores of Bay of Bengal in the East (today’s
Chenai or Madras)) all the way to the shores of Arabian Sea (today’s
Maharashtra and Bombay). Its northern limits began at the foot of the
Vindhyachal to the center of the triangle of the peninsula in the south
(including Karnatak). The capital of the Bahmani kingdom was in Bidar,
which in those times was known as Muhammadabad. That Sultanate
flourished for the good part of two hundred years. The Sultanate began
to weaken in the early parts of the 16th century and finally it broke up
into smaller parts. In 1490 Berar broke off and became an independent
state. The capital city of Bidar became an independent kingdom in 1518.
About the same time Sultan Quli Qutub al-Mulk established the
Qutub Shahi kingdom at Golcunda. This is the same area where the
modern day city of Hyderabad is located. The ancient fort of Golcunda is
located some eleven kilometers outside of the city of Hyderabad. This was
the most powerful kingdom in the Deccan and it lasted for 171 years.
The Mughal king Aurangzeb conquered it in 1687. The fifth king of that
kingdom known as Quli Qutub Shah is considered to be the first Urdu
poet who had his own Deevan 18.

18 A documented collection of poetry

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 13

On the other side, Ahmad Nizam Shah had established the Nizam
Shahi kingdom at Ahmadnagar in 1494. The city of Ahmadnagar still
exists today with that name in the province of Maharashtra in India
which has a majority Muslim population. It was at Ahmadnagar that an
illustrious woman regent named Chand Bibi had ruled for ten
years(1580-90). During her reign as regent, the Mughal king Akbar had
attacked Bijapur which was successfully repulsed under the leadership
of Chand Bibi.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 14
After the break up of the greater Bahmani Kingdom, Ibrahim Adil
Shah established the Adil-Shahi Sultanate at Bijapur in 1527 which
lasted until 1686 19
Fine arts, literature and architecture flourished during all the
Deccan kingdoms. As we pointed out, Quli Qutub Shah wrote poetry,
specifically Marsiyya for the martyrs of Karbala. He used the most
popular language of his time that was understood by the Telgu-speaking
indigenous people as well as by the Muslim settlers. He thus introduced
Islam and particularly a loving and passionate portrait of the Prophet of
Islam and his family to the local population. Chand Bibi, in spite of being
a woman regent, knew Arabic, Farsi, Turkish as well as Telgu and Tamil
languages and she had a great presence among her subjects – most of
whom were Dravidian Hindus. So we can see that the society in Deccan
was evolving on a very pluralistic platform – pluralism that was rooted in
the popular language.
Why was it that the Delhi kings could not do anything to
strengthen the development of the language during the 14th and 15th
centuries in spite of the fact that Khusro had started his work on the
language in Delhi as early as the 1300s? As opposed to that the kings in
the Deccan were able to popularize the language. The main reason as we
stated above, was the fact that the Delhi Sultans and conquerors were
much too busy in the palace intrigues, killings and lootings in the area to
establish their own rule. They were neither inclined to any work on
language nor did they have the time. It is quite clear from these historical
facts that the kings who established themselves in the Deccan were
made of a different human material and their preferences in life were
different than those of the Delhi kings. Not only did they write poetry in
the new vernacular that was developing in the area, they chose a dialect
that was easily understood by all classes of people in the society and
they also chose topics for their poetry which appealed to every class and
every section of the society.


Nearly a hundred years before the time of Khusro and Nizam-ud-
Deen, another Sufi of great piety and knowledge had come to India and
had settled in Rajasthan. Khwaja Mu’een-Ud-Deen Chishti was born in
1142 in Seestan, Iran. He had moved through (today’s) Afghanistan and
after a short stay first in Lahore and then in Delhi, he had moved to
Rajasthan and had settled down in Ajmer where he passed away in 1236
A.D. So after his death his place of burial in Ajmer became a place of
pilgrimage for Hindus and Muslims alike. That was because of his

Brief history of the Deccan kingdoms taken from McLeod, John; The History of India,
Greenwood Press, 2002, pp. 46-47

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 15
teachings which were based on pluralism, tolerance and love for the
universal human brotherhood. It is likely that by the mixing of the
Muslim immigrants. and the indigenous Hindu population at that shrine
a mixed spoken language developed in that area. It is also likely that that
spoken language spread out into other neighbouring areas.
There are many other Sufi saints who came to India and had
settled in different parts of the country. Many of those are nameless local
saints whose gravesites are adorned by local people where they go to
show their devotion and gratitude for their fulfilled wishes and vows 20.


Within a century or so of Khwaja Muinuddin Hasan Sijzi 21 establishing a

Khanqah 22 at Ajmer, the cultural landscape of the subcontinent came to be
dominated by a large number of khanqahs tracing their lineage from the

20 See for example: Russell, Ralph, Islam in A Pakistan Village: Some Impressions,
article in his book – How Not to Write a History of Urdu Literature, O.U.P., 1999
This is the same person whom we have identified above as Mueen-ud-Deen Chishti
A Sufi temple

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 16
great Shaikh and his successors. Centers of other Sufi silsilas 23 did emerge,
but it was rare to see any of them acquiring a long-lasting a status in its
respective area as most of the Chishti khanqahs came to command. This
initial phenomenal success is often explained in terms of the
cosmopolitanism of the Chishtis and their ability to identify themselves with
the concerns of the masses, rather than with only those of the elite or ruling
classes. At the same time, one can notice a tendency to reject the religious
exclusivism and the narrow limits set out by the jurists. These early
Chishtis seldom practised adherence to a particular school of law. Enough
data exists from various Chishtis centers in northern and southern India to
enable a bold generalization on the issue of religious plurality…… 24

At this point let us have a brief overview of the history of Muslim

raids and conquests in the Punjab and Delhi. In 997 AD Mahmoud
Ghaznavi had established himself as the ruler of Ghazni. Mahmoud was
a Perso-Turk from his father’s side as well as from his mother’s side. His
father was Subuktageen of Ghazni and his mother’s father was
Alaptageen. He attacked the Gandhara kingdom around Peshawar in
1000 A.D. He then attacked Multan which was at that time under the
control of the Ismaili Fatimi rulers. That endeared him to the Abbasi
rulers in Baghdad. From then on he ravaged the North Indian kingdoms
every year, in the name of Islam, destroying temples and looting their
wealth all the way up to Gujrat. This continued until the year of his
death, that was 1030 A.D 25.
Mahmoud Ghaznavi is the first Muslim conqueror who had coined
himself as Sultan. Mahmoud is a unique commander who is rated
alongside Alexander the Great, in that he was never defeated on the
battlefield by any enemy. His character is though, controversial in
The first conqueror who actually established a Muslim kingdom in
Punjab and up to Delhi is Muhammad Ghawri. He too came from Ghazni
and defeated Prithivi Raj Chawhan whose kingdom had extended from
Delhi to Rajasthan. This was in 1173 A.D.
It was around this time or sometime soon after that Khwaja
Mu’een-Ud-Deen Chishti had arrived in India. That also explains why the
Khwaja proceeded all the way to Ajmer. He wanted to take his message to
the farthest end of the Muslim Sultanate.
Muhammad Ghawri had no children of his own. Although he
himself was an Afghan, his contingent was full of Turk soldiers. Ghawri
had treated his soldiers like his own sons. After him the kingdom of
Delhi passed to those soldiers. The most prominent among them were
Sultan Qutub-ud-Deen Aybak, Sultan Iltutmash and his daughter Razia
The word means ‘a chain,’ and it is used in Sufi terminology to indicate the four
Jafri, Syed Zaheer Husain, Religious Plurality in the Chishti Tradition, article in
Malik and Reifeld, p.221-222
Kulke, Herman and Rothermund, Dietmar; A History of India, Routledge, 2004,

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 17
Sultan. According to John Mcleod 26, Delhi, which had been an economic
and communications center in North India but it was a never the capital
of any state. It was Sultan Iltutmash who established Delhi as the capital
of his Sultanate first time in history of India. The city’s glory and its
importance as the capital of India has never waned since. This dynasty of
Turk Sultanate was threatened first by the Mongols. However, Kulke and
Rothermund have paid rich tribute to Iltutmash for resisting the Mongol
invasion and holding his ground. Not only that, but actually for
establishing the Delhi Sultanate in 1206 against those odds, while the
rest of Central and South Asia had succumbed to the Mongol
onslaught 27. And then it was replaced by the Balbans. Another Afghani
Commander named Jalal-ud-Deen Khilji took over the Delhi Sultanate
in1290 A.D.
Jalal-ud-Deen was a very kind ruler. His nephew, Ala-ud-Deen
conspired against him and had him assassinated by trickery. He then
took over the Sultanate for himself. Ala-ud-Deen extended his kingdom
and he could be called the first Muslim king of India. Ala-ud-Deen’s rule
is marked with conquests, but also with extensive ravaging of Hindu
temples and the erecting of mosques in place of those destroyed Hindu
temples. The signs of that destruction and reconstruction can be found
all the way from Gujrat to Benaras. According to one report, Ala-ud-Deen
Khilji had attacked the fort of Chittawr in 1303 AD at the head of a huge
army, reportedly lusting for a Rajput princess named Padmani. While the
Rajput young men came out of the fort with a vow to fight till death,
when the princess saw how hopeless the cause was, she along with other
700 women gave herself up to the flames of JAWHAR. This was an old
Rajput tradition that women would die rather than allow a “dirty
infidel 28” to touch them.
The Khilji dynasty came to an end in 1316. In 1321 Giyas-ud-Deen
Tughlaq established the Tughlaq kingdom at Delhi. In 1325 Muhammad
Tughlaq came to rule the Delhi Sultanate after Ghiyas-ud-Deen. This is
the same year when both Amir Khusro and Nizam-ud-Deen Awliyya
passed away in Delhi. Muhamamd Tughlaq was an eccenetric. He took
the unwise decision to move the capital of the kingdom from Delhi to
Dawlatabad in the Deccan. Hundreds of people died during the move due
to bad logistics. Muhamamd Tughlaq had appointed Ala-ud-Din
Bahman, another Turkic commander, as his governor in the Bijapur
district. It was this same governor 29 who declared his own rule at Bijapur

McLeod, John; The History of India, Greenwood Press, 2002, p. 35
Kulke, Herman and Rothermund, Dietmar; A History of India, Routledge, 2004,
28 That is how early Muslim warriors and rulers came to be identified among the

indigenous Hindu population. There are references in the existing Hindi poetry to such
Stein has mentioned his name as Zafar Khan, see Stein, Burton; A History of India,
Wiley-Blackwell, 1998, p. 151

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 18
and had established the greater Bahmani Kingdom in 1347, as we have
explained above 30. Towards the 1390s the Tughlaq kingdom was showing
weaknesses and finally it came to its end in 1398.
The main cause and the trigger event for that was the disastrous
invasion of North India by Timur the Lame 31. His armies ravaged the city
of Delhi for three days, killing people indiscriminately and looting
property 32. Order was restored by an Afghan commander named Afghan
Khizr Khan after ten years of chaotic rule at Delhi. This was the
beginning of the Syed Dynasty of the Lodhis at Delhi.
The Lodhi dynasty of Delhi began in 1414 AD which lasted for over
a century. Sikandar Lodhi, who ruled during 1489-1517, moved the
capital of the Sultanate from Delhi to Agra 33, where it would remain until
the middle of the Mughal period.
Babur establishes the beginnings of the Mughal kingdom at Delhi
by defeating Ibraheem Lodhi in 1526.
As we can see from this brief overview, on the one side there was
all that invasion by foreign raiders, palace intrigue, killing and looting
going around Punjab and Delhi; on the other side Muslim Sufis were
coming to India and settling down in various parts of the country
spreading their message of love, tolerance, pluralism and of course,
Islamic values.
Both those forces working in parallel had influenced the evolution
of Urdu. The fighting soldiers and conquerors were imbued with a
militant philosophy of Islam and believed in forcing their way into other
people’s life-style to spread Islam in the world. This was the force
propagating an exclusivist-elitist thinking. The Sufis on the other hand
were motivated by the universal human brotherhood – also a factor in
Islamic philosophy and actually an inclusivist attitude. Their message
gave rise to a very strong current of pluralism, tolerance and love in the
society where Urdu was evolving. It was fortunate for the new language
to have not been associated with the early conquerors in any big way.
They all used the language nevertheless, but they were not in a position
to influence the language in its natural evolution. Urdu was not blessed
with any support from any king’s court until first, in the Muslim
kingdoms established during the 14th century in the southern areas of
India, the Deccan, and then in the 19th century at the declining Mughal
Court of Delhi. By that time the Sufis’ message and influence had
already made its mark on the language. This language had evolved by
way of people of different religious and cultural backgrounds mixing
together freely, albeit in a religious ambience inside Sufi shrines.

McLeod, p. 46
31 In typical Eastern chronicles he is known as Timur Lung, the Anglicised name is
McLeod, pp.38
Ibid. pp. 39

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 19
However, the military adventures (or misadventures) of the
Ghaznavis and the Khlijis and their like did damage the cause of Urdu to
a great extent. Eventhough these raiders and conquerors were fighting in
the name of Islam, a cause they much needed to arouse the fervour of
their own soldiers, they were far removed from the true spirit of Islam.
The comment made in the quotation below is only an academic
observation and a very recent one.

Furthermore, the main reason for religious wars appear to have been not so
much animosity between the religions themselves but rather the obsession
with, or the thirst for, power on the part of individuals and human groups
(realms, dynasties and nations) where religion has been used in order to
satisfy personal and collective ambition. With regard, finally, to
contemporary conflicts, information must be checked carefully and critically,
before it is simply ascribed to religious motivations. 34

At the popular level that fine point was difficult to be understood.

The large majority of the Hindu population could not separate the looting
and plunder done by the Muslim soldiers under the command of the
Ghaznavis and the Khiljis from the evolution of the Urdu language,
which to them was purely a Muslim language. The Muslims of India were
seen and are still seen as the heirs of the Ghaznavis and the Khiljis of
the past centuries. That has undermined the work done on pluralism by
the Sufis. As a consequence it has been hurting the cause of Urdu as a
language of the masses. That is in addition to the ongoing sectarian
conflict between the two communities in India that has lasted to this day.

In spite of that strong conflict, Urdu did grow and evolve in a very
pluralistic culture. As Muslim settlements began appearing in almost
every part of the subcontinent a system of communication, cultural
exchange in the form of attending each other’s festivals, weddings and
other social events as well as business transactions did give rise to
understanding and sympathy at an extensive scale. The Sufis played a
very important part in that process. Of course, a common language
played yet a greater role in that process.
Let us bring some specific and concrete examples to support our
views here.
Consider the word JAWHAR as used in the paragraph above. How
did this terminology become current among the Rajput rulers of
Rajhastan? The tradition of the women burning themselves to death
rather than surrendering their selves to a Muslim invader must be

Troll, Christian W., Plurality of Religion and Plurality in Religion, in Malik and
Reifeld, Religious Pluralism In South Asia and Europe, O.U.P., New Delhi, 2005, p.83

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 20
inherently Rajput 35. But where did the name JAWHAR KI JWALA come
from? The word JWALA is of Sanskrit origin. But JAWHAR 36 is an Arabic
word which is variably translated as ‘the essence,’ ‘mettle,’ ‘jewel’ and
the such like. This was the time when the Rajputs had been fighting the
Muslim invaders. How could they accept the hated invader’s language to
define one of their own traditions?
Our contention is that such language became current and was
accepted in the vernacular only because of the influence of the Sufi
saints who had settled in the area. By the time Ala-ud-Deen Khilji
attacked the fort of Chittawr, three generations had passed after the
settlement of the Chishti Dargah at Ajmer. Chittawr is located in the
province of Mewar (a part of larger Rajhastan) some 150 miles south
from Ajmer.
Another Rajput princess named Mira Bai was born in 1498 AD in a
town named Kurkhi which is located some 12 miles south of Ajmer. By
that time three centuries had passed since the settlement of the Ajmer
shrine. It is very likely that the stream of devotees visiting the shrine had
multiplied; not only that but new shanty towns must have come about
around the general area of the shrine. These visitors belonged to various
different classes of people and they used a mixed vernacular. That
spoken language had even filtered inside the Rajput palaces.
Mira Bai was married to another prince in the area. She was
widowed young. Soon after the death of her husband, she declared
herself to be a devotee of Lord Krishna. She wrote poetry and sang those
songs of devotion openly. She became a JOGAN 37 and wandered around
singing her songs of devotion. It is not unlikely that she had visited the
shrine at Ajmer and spent time there. Let us look at some of her poetry:

पितयाँ म� कैसे िलखूं ‫ﭘﺘﻴﺎں ﻣﻴﮟ ﮐﻴﺴﮯ ﻟﮑﻬﻮں؟‬

िलख्योर न जाए ‫ﻟﮑﻬﻴﻮ ﺭی ﻧہ ﺟﺎﺋﮯ‬
कलम धरत मेरो कर कम्प है ‫ﮐﻠﻢ ﺩﻫﺮﺕ ﻣِﺮﻭ ﮐﺮ ﮐﻤﭙﺖ ﮨﮯ‬
नैन रहे झड़ लाए ‫ﻧﻴﻦ ﺭﮨﮯ ﺟﻬﮍ ﻻﺋﮯ‬

Patiya.N mai.N kayse likhu.N

Likhyo ri na ja’e
Kalam dharat mero kar kampat hai

35 Please note that the concept of SATI, or the widow burning herself on the funeral
pyre of her dead husband is totally different from this.
I am grateful to our learned friend, C.M.Naim, for pointing out that the word
JAWHAR could be a variant of JIV-HARAN which means suicide. It is very plausible
that the RAjput women would jump in fire anticipating the killing of their own men in
battle field, and that would be another form of the tradition of SATI.
37 Hindi/Urdu word for a woman saint who wanders from place to place

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 21
Nayn rahe jha.R la’e

Trans: how may I write a letter,

I cannot,
When I pick up the pen, my hand trembles,
And my eyes begin shedding tears.

The interesting word here is ‘kalam,’ another purely Arabic word 38.
The influence of the local dialect is very apparent. The soft guttural
Arabic sound has been replaced by the Sanskritic ‘K.’ In the larger part
of India, this word is extensively used and it is pronounced as depicted
here. This is not an isolated instance. Mira’s poetry is replete with words
such as ‘mahal’ (Arabic for palace), ‘awaaz’ (Farsi for voices), and
‘taraaja’ (a distortion of the Arabic Taraazu with the ‘z’ sound replaced by
the Sanskrit ‘j’). We will quote some more examples of Meera Bai’s poetry
How were the proud Rajputs accepting the language of their
avowed enemies? Not only that, how was this language seeping through
indoors to the women folk?
We have to accept that this new vernacular had been taking shape
naturally without any force or pressure from the conquerors.
Keeping this model in view, I am going to make yet another claim.
It is very likely, actually strongly likely that such groups of mixed people
had come about in many other parts of India and in all those groups a
mixed spoken language like that of Meera Bai’s was developing. Now we
have lost the actual hard evidence to that in history, but the
circumstantial evidence is there. All such groups with their own newly
developed dialects were instrumental in the shaping of a new vernacular
in Northern India which we now know as Urdu.
As we quoted above, every province of North India is claiming to be
the original home of Urdu. I do not consider this to be a clash of opinions
and views. This only goes to show the intra-country universality of the

The word in Arabic means ‘to cut,’ ‘to trim,’ or ‘to prune.’ In the olden days pens were
made out of reed. The reed would be cut into a manageable size then its end would be
trimmed into a flat and thin point which would be trimmed to make a nib-like end for
writing. The English word ‘pen’ is derived from the Latin ‘penna’ which means ‘a
feather.’ That is because in Europe writing was done with a quill, which was made by
trimming the hollow shaft at the end of a bird’s feather. The original P.I.E. speakers
must have had a word for ‘pen’ which is now lost. It is interesting that the Indian
languages have also lost that word and they are extensively using the Arabic ‘qalam’ for

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 22
The Indian nationalist leader named M.K.Gandhi had returned to
India in 1916 from South Africa after he had campaigned in that country
very successfully for the rights of the people of Indian descent. The
Congress party had already been formed and the Indian Independence
Movement was visible. A part of that movement was the new poetry that
had emerged in India.
Before we go into that topic let us follow the time line a little
further. Before the arrival of M.K. Gandhi on the Indian political scene,
the Congress Party had a very pluralistic and secular outlook and the
party’s structure was also based on the pluralism that was a part of the
Indian social milieu. The party was actually formed in 1885 on the
suggestion of a British civil servant named Allan Octavian Hume. The
main purpose and aim of the party was to create a forum for dialogue
between the British Government and the educated Indian elite. In the
early days there were such people at the helm of the party as Dada Bhai
Naoroji (a Parsi) and a secularist. M.A. Jinnah had admired Naoroji from
his student days in London when Naoroji had stood in elections for a
seat in the British Parliament and had won it. There was though a very
strong lobby of Hindu nationalists in the Party from the earliest days.
When the party took its political character those colours became very
apparent. Muslim leaders such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who had a
keen eye for such movements, had seen it earlier on and had looked at
the Congress Party with suspicion. Jinnah himself was a secularist and
he was hailed as the ‘apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity’ by a colleague. He
therefore joined the Congress Party in 1896, right after his return from
England and becoming a barrister. Sir Syed passed away in 1899 when
Jinnah was a young practicing lawyer in Bombay and also active in
politics. However, during his lifetime Sir Syed had made the momentous
announcement urging the Muslims of India to accept and declare Urdu
as their national language. All indications were that Urdu had become
the lingua franca of the larger Indian population and it was freely
accepted by Indians of all classes and interest groups. In 1906, when the
Muslim League was formed, Jinnah refused to join it saying that it was
much too religion-oriented. However, there were factions showing up in
the ranks of the Congress Party. There were some among the leadership
cadres who were looking to a very strong Hindu-nationalist stamp on the
party. The name of Bal Gangadhar Tilak was at the top of that list 39. It
was Tilak who had used the term swaraj for the future of India. Such a
strong nationalistic slogan was a red flag for both the secularists as well
as the Muslim leadership. However, soon the secularists were able to
force extremists such as Tilak out of the party. But the respite turned

It is interesting to note here that Tilak was charged with the crime of sedition by the
British Government. It was the young Jinnah who had defended Tilak in his trial.
Jinnah had pleaded the case brilliantly but Tilak had lost and he was sent to prison

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 23
out to be only temporary. Gandhi’s leadership fed a very strong dose of
Hindu nationalism in the party. While conservative and people strongly
oriented towards religion such as Vallabh Bhai Patel and Pandit Ballabh
Pant rose under Gandhi’s tutelage, more enlightened people such as
Nehru with his secular-socialistic agenda had to take a back seat when it
came to the language politics.
Most prominent leaders published their autobiographies several
years before the actual partition of India in 1947. Nehru wrote his MERI
KAHAANI, which was all in beautiful Urdu. Dr. Rajendra Prasad
published his biography which was printed in Devnagari script but the
language is uncannily Urdu. Moreover, the involvement of a Muslim
cleric in his early education was highlighted. Here is an excerpt.

Gandhi wrote his biography in English which was later translated

into Hindi and published only in Devnagari script.
Jinnah had gone into a self-imposed exile to London when the
negotiations at the 1916 Lucknow Pact failed between the Congress Party
and the Muslim League. It was not until 1934 that he was persuaded
back to India by the Muslim League leadership to take charge of the
Party, which he did and led it into the formation of Pakistan.
Jinnah was a Sindhi by virtue of the place of his birth and a
Gujrati by way of his community association; ethnically he was a
converted Rajput. However, he had become totally anglicized while living
in England. He spoke absolutely immaculate English. But when Pakistan
was created he declared Urdu as the national language of the country.
This was a very perceptive and far-reaching decision. He knew that the
Muslims of Pakistan who came from different provinces and therefore
from diverse cultural backgrounds could only be united into one nation-
state by way of a common language.
The country of Israel would repeat the same technique a year later
to create a unified nation in 1948. While the experiment was very
successful in Israel, it did not work in Pakistan and the country of
Bangla Desh was formed only 25 years later on the language issue out of
the Eastern Wing of Pakistan. It was a great achievement for Jinnah to
have been able to persuade the Bengalis in the first place to accept Urdu
as the national language of the one country. The fact that the country
lasted for 25 years indicates that the people allowed one whole
generation to pass before they took the decision to separate. The
experiment could have worked had there not been a 1,000 mile gap
between the two wings of the country. Of course, ineptness of the
successive governments and the military dictatorship of General Ayub
Khan only aggravated the problem.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 24
The Indian film industry began with three separate and
independent establishments.
(1) Prabhat (1929) in Poona.
(2) B.N. Sircar's New Theatres Ltd in Calcutta (established in 1930).
(3) Himanshu Rai's Bombay Talkies (1934) in Bombay.

These were all business ventures relying on the demands of the

times. No government support was involved in any of the above
Then the industry was so fortunate to find a genius such as
Himanshu Rai. He was a very educated man.
Rai was born into a wealthy Bengali family which owned a private
theatre. He took a Law degree from the University of Calcutta and
studied with Tagore at Shantiniketan in Switzerland. He trained as a
lawyer in London in the early 1920s and also began acting in plays there,
amongst them Niranjan Pal's The Goddess.
Himanshu Rai had the vision, along with the intellect for fine art, to
explore the most modern technology for his venture. And he used it.
Rai collaborated with Germany's famous studio UFA and made
Shiraz (1928) and A Throw of Dice (1929) there. The films were known for
presenting 'Indian exotica' to the West.
Rai also had the good sense to consider some of the classical
literature for his works. He adapted Edwin Arnold's poem, The Light of
Asia, for a film on the biography of Gautam Buddha. Rai went into
partnership with the German producer Peter Ostermayer whose brother
Franz Osten directed the film, The Light of Asia (1925) starring Rai as
Gautam Buddha. The film, co-produced by the Great Eastern Film
Corporation in Delhi, was presented in the press as the 'first specifically
Indian Film' by Osten and was fairly successful in Central Europe.
Rai encountered both good luck as well as bad luck during his
career. It was his good luck that he met with Devika Rani in London.
Devika was not only one of the most beautiful women of her time in
India, she was an excellent actress and intellectually very mature.
According to one legend, Devika Rani would just see (years later) Dilip
Kumar (real name Yusuf Khan, a young man originally from the Hindko
tribe of the NWFP, whose family had been in fruit merchandizing in
Peshawar and Bombay for a couple of generations) and pick him out as a
Rai later married Devika Rani and they both starred in many
successful films.
After the break out of the Second World War the British interned all
prominent people of German and Italian descent living in India. Rai's
ventures suffered a set back due to that.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 25
Bombay Talkies settled down to a schedule of about three films a
year. Their films were of a high technical standard and had a glossy look
to them reminiscent of the films of MGM. Devika Rani would be lit up in
a manner not unlike Greta Garbo!
Because of his charm, his business acumen, and his abilities, Rai
attracted good financing too to his venture.
The real fame came when Rai decided to tackle a very controversial
issue in the Indian society. This was a film named Achhut Kanya(the
untouchable maiden), the story of a love affair between a Harijan girl and
a Brahman boy. Years later, Bimal Roy would make yet another film on
the same lines named: SUJATA (with Sunil Dutt and Nootan in lead
The second phase of the development of the industry comes in the
1940's. This was the influence of music and lyrics in films. The tradition
of Urdu Ghazal was well established among the middle classes. Urdu
poets flocked to Bombay in search of their fortunes and found it there.
Because of the old Awadh kingdom, Lucknow had been a center of fine
arts in India. Both poets and musicians were to be found in great
numbers in Lucknow. Some of them found their way to Bombay and gave
a new impetus to the industry.
Musicians like Naushad and poets such as Shakeel Badayuni,
Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhyanavi, even Majaz and Josh, ended up
in Bombay and made their mark in the industry. Minorities also
prospered in Bombay. Suhrab Modi (a Parsi) made some memorable films
such as PUKAR. Nadira (a woman from a Jewish family, who recently
passed away in Bombay) prospered first under Mahboob Khan (AAN) and
then with other producers.


India is famous for its classical music which was patronized by
Kings, Rajas and Nawabs in various parts of the subcontinent. However,
the music that became popular in the films was of a lighter tenor and it
appealed to the masses.
Hand in hand with that popular brand of music, poetry played its
own part. Urdu poets (as well as writers of prose) assembled in Bombay
seeking their fortunes. As we said, even such great poets as Josh
Malihabadi and Majaaz found their way to Bombay. However, the
commercial life of Bombay was hard to endure for such people and they
returned to their bases after a short stay. There were though, some
names which became permanent fixtures of the Bombay film scene. For
example, Majrooh Sultanpuri came from Sultanpoor in the early 1940’s
and spent all his working life in Bombay. He became a very successful
song-writer as well as being a great poet of Nazm and Ghazal. Majrooh
was born Asrar-ul-Hasan Khan in 1919 in Sultanpoor, a city in Uttar
Pradesh. He qualified as a Muslim physician (HAKEEM) in 1938 but then
took to poetry very soon after.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 26
Majrooh was a socialist and he could have actually become as
great an INQILABI poet as was Josh. But his fortunes were waiting for
him elsewhere. Consider these lines:

‫ﺳﺘﻮﻥِ ﺩﺍﺭ ﭘہ ﺭﮐﻬﺘﮯ ﭼﻠﻮ ﺳﺮﻭں ﮐﮯ ﭼﺮﺍﻍ‬

‫ﺟﮩﺎں ﺗﻠﮏ ﻳہ ﺳﺘﻢ ﮐﯽ ﺳﻴﺎﮦ ﺭﺍﺕ ﭼﻠﮯ‬
Sutoon-e-daar pa rakhte chalo saroN ke chiraagh
Jahan talak yeh sitam ki siyah raat chale
Trans: Let us keep lighting lamps of (our) severed heads on the gallows,
As long as this dark night of oppression would continue.

However, he kept his socialist thinking and his socialistic poetry

quite separate from his work in films. He hit the jackpot with his
memorable song
‫ﻏﻢ ﺩﺋﮯ ﻣﺴﺘﻘﻞ۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔‬
"Ghum diye mushtaqil..." for the film ShahJahan.

The song was composed by music director Naushad, and sung by

K. L. Saigal. The song acted as the springboard for Majrooh to the
forefront of film lyricists, where he would remain until his death in 2000.
His contributions to films and to the world of Urdu poetry were
recognized and rewarded with many awards. Majrooh became the
pioneer in writing lyrics for a scene which had already been set in the
film and the musical tune for it has already been composed. So the
lyricist had to fit the poetry with the tune so that it could be sung
properly and he had to choose words and phrases which could relate to
the situation in the story and the screenplay.
Later on, that became the standard system of writing film poetry in
Bombay. Sometimes, the poet had to write silly words just to go with the
music and at other times words could not really fit the situation, except
for the best lyrics writers.
As opposed to that, one situation in the Bombay film scene lent
itself to reversing that mechanism completely. This is about a poet
named Sahir Ludhyanavi and his works. Sahir came from a feudal family
in the Punjab. However, he faced difficulties in his early life. He was
dispossessed of his properties by his other relatives and he had to fight
for his survival. He grew up into an angry young man, who was bitter
about the hypocrisy, injustice and oppression in the society. His poetry
reflected all that in so many words. Guru Dutt produced, directed and
played the leading role of a poet in his famous film Pyaasa. This was
based partially on Sahir’s own life story and entirely on his poetry that
had already been published. TIME has rated the film Pyaasa among the
100 all time great films of the world.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 27
We saw that the Indian film industry sprouted in the 1930s,
during the British Rule, and it took substantial shape in the 1940s.
By the decade of 1940 the Indian independence movement had
really hotted up. Every section of the society had been playing their
respective role in the movement. Urdu poetry played its role too. Poets
such as Josh Malihabadi rose to fame by writing and publishing anti-
British, anti-Imperialism and pro-independence revolutionary poetry. The
high point of that movement was that precious little poetry of that genre
is to be found that was composed and published in the Devnagari script.
All revolutionary poetry that was published in that period was in Urdu.
That is yet another indication that the Indian population had accepted
Urdu as its lingua franca. Urdu had become the language of all classes of
people in India.
Urdu gave the deep pluralistic character to the Indian film industry
that remains so even to this day in 2009. And that is in spite of all the
sectarianism that has taken over the Indian society in the last 65 years.
The first indication of that force of multiculturalism was seen in
the 1940s in films such as SHAHEED. The film had starred Dilip Kumar
in the leading role as a militant anti-British young Indian who is the son
of a Judge employed by the British authorities. The title song of the film
had the line:
‫ﻭﻃﻦ ﮐﯽ ﺭﺍﮦ ﻣﻴﮟ ﻭﻃﻦ ﮐﮯ ﻧﻮﺟﻮﺍں ﺷﮩﻴﺪ ﮨﻮ۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔‬
Watan ki raah mai.N watan ke nawjawa.N shaheed ho….
Trans: O the young man of the land, give your life for your land…

While the sentiment of patriotism and sacrifice for one’s own

mother land is a universal one, the language used to express it here was
purely Muslim and Islamic. The words watan and Shaheed are Arabic.
Raah and Nawjawaan both are Farsi words. Particularly the word
Shaheed is a Qur’anic terminology in which the soldier who gives his life
fighting in Allah’s way is seen not as dying but going to live for ever
because he had witnessed (in his martyrdom) Allah’s truth. The word
Shaheed, which is usually translated as a martyr, actually means an
eyewitness to some significant event.
That phenomenon still exists in the film industry. Let us look at
another song that dates back to the 1950s. The name of the film was
Seema (meaning ‘limits’ in Hindi). That was the story of a misguided, but
highly intelligent and spirited young woman who had become a juvenile
delinquent and sent to an orphanage. The teacher in the orphanage is
out to tame the young woman into a useful member of the society. In
that process he leads the young woman to God. That process is depicted
by a song. The song has been reproduced below.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 28
तू प्या का सागर है ‫ﺗﻮ ﭘﻴﺎﺭ ﮐﺎ ﺳﺎﮔﺮ ﮨﮯ‬
ितर� इक बूँद के प्यास हम ‫ﺗﺮی ﺍک ﺑﻮﻧﺪ ﮐﮯ ﭘﻴﺎﺳﮯ ﮨﻢ‬
लौटा जो �दया तू ने ‫ﻟﻮﮢﺎ ﺟﻮ ﺩﻳﺎ ﺗﻮ ﻧﮯ‬
चले जाएंगे जहाँ से हम ‫ﭼﻠﮯ ﺟﺎﺋِﻨﮕﮯ ﺟﮩﺎں ﺳﮯ ﮨﻢ‬
घाएल मन का पागल पंछ�
‫ﮔﻬﺎﺋﻞ ﻣﻦ ﮐﺎ ﭘﺎﮔﻞ ﭘﻨﭽﻬﯽ‬
‫ﺍُڑﻧﮯ ﮐﻮ ﺑﻴﻘﺮﺍﺭ‬
उड़ने को बेक़रार
‫ﭘﻨﮑﻪ ﮨﻴﮟ ﮐﻮﻣﻞ ﺁﻧﮑﻪ ﮨﮯ ﺩﻫﻨﺪﻫﻠﯽ‬
पंख ह� कोमल आँख है धुध
ं ली
‫ﺟﺎﻧﺎ ﮨﮯ ﺳﺎﮔﺮ ﭘﺎﺭ‬
जाना है सागर पार
अब तू ह� इसे समझा ‫ﺍﺏ ﺗﻮ ﮨﯽ ﺍﺳﮯ ﺳﻤﺠﻬﺎ‬
राह भूले थे कहाँ से हम ‫ﺭﺍﮦ ﺑﻬﻮﻟﮯ ﺗﻬﮯ ﮐﮩﺎں ﺳﮯ ﮨﻢ‬
तू प्या का सागर ........ ‫ﺗﻮ ﭘﻴﺎﺭ ﮐﺎ ﺳﺎﮔﺮ ﮨﮯ۔۔۔۔۔۔۔‬
इधर झूम के गाये �ज़न्दग ‫ﺍﺩﻫﺮ ﺟﻬﻮﻡ ﮐﮯ ﮔﺎﺋﮯ ﺯﻧﺪﮔﯽ‬
उधर है मौत खड़� ‫ﺍُﺩﻫﺮ ﮨﮯ ﻣﻮﺕ ﮐﻬﮍی‬
कोई क्य जाने कहाँ है सीमा ‫ﮐﻮﺉِ ﮐﻴﺎ ﺟﺎﻧﮯ ﮐﮩﺎں ﮨﮯ ﺳﻴﻤﺎ‬
उलझन आन पड़� ‫ﺍُﻟﺠﻬﻦ ﺁﻥ ﭘﮍی‬
कान� म� ज़रा कह दे
‫ﮐﺎﻧﻮں ﻣﻴﮟ ﺫﺭﺍ ﮐﮩہ ﺩے‬
‫ﮐہ ﺁﻳﺌﮟ ﮐﻮﻥ ﺩِﺷﺎ ﺳﮯ ﮨﻢ‬
क� आएं कौन �दशा से हम
‫ﺗﻮ ﭘﻴﺎﺭ ﮐﺎ ﺳﺎﮔﺮ ﮨﮯ۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔‬
तू प्या का सागर है ..........

As we can see, the song is written in the popular Hindustani

language that will pass for both Urdu and Hindi. The song could be sung
by a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu, or even by a godly theosophist or
theist without any qualms. The words highlight the dilemma of a young
lost soul seeking guidance. The highpoint of the lyrics is the pluralistic
tone and the very inclusive language of the song.
The only words that can be said to come from Hindi are DISHA
(direction) and SEEMA (limit). The rest of the lyrics would be easily
understood on the streets of Bombay, Lucknow, Karachi and Lahore
equally well.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 29
Urdu is basically a language of India, and by extension, of Pakistan
– it is a member of the Proto-Indo-European (henceforth PIE) family of
There is no university in the west where research on the Proto-
Indo-European and its original speakers is not in progress. In some
institutions this work is being done under Historical Linguistics, in other
places under Social and Cultural Anthropology and in yet other places in
South Asian Cultural Studies departments.
There is still a strong lobby within India which believes and
propagates the idea that the languages of India are very local. But this is
now a minority view. Linguists, archeologists and historians have
brought forth overwhelming evidence to show that the North Indian
languages have developed over the centuries as a result of the ancient
people settling in India, who were the original speakers of PIE and had
come from far off areas of Eurasia in to the north.
In fact nearly two-thirds of the world population speaks a language
or another which is a member of the PIE group 40.
Evidence points to the finding that the original speakers of PIE
lived during the last centuries of the latest Ice Age, or some ten thousand
years ago. They began dispersing from their original habitat to other
areas around 2,500-1,500 B.C 41. Their original abode is though still
under discussion. There are three opinions. The first view is that these
people lived in the valley of the southern end of the Ural Mountain range.
The Ural Mountain chain begins below the North Pole from the shores of
the Arctic Ocean and runs North-South on the edge of the Siberian
Tundra. The Chain is divided in four separate units. The valley at the
foot of the southern most part, which is part of Northern Russia, is fertile
and full of tall timbers. The second view is that these people lived in the
valley of the Caucus Mountains. In the popular American terminology
White people are called Caucasians from that association. A third view is
that these people lived in the Pontic-Caspian region. This area is defined
as starting from the southern tip of the Ural Mountain range running
East-West, including the valley between the Caspian Sea and the Black
Sea up to and including the valley of the Caucus Mountain. Today the
countries of Ukraine, Georgia, Romania and Kazakhstan are included in
this area. So are the disputed provinces of South Osetia and Abkhazia,
where the Russian forces fought a brief battle with those of Georgia (7
August 2008). This third view has gained more credence in the academic
circles in the last few years 42.
40 According to Anthony, some three billion people in the world speak languages of the
PIE group, see: Anthony, David P., The Horse, The Wheel and Language, Princeton,
2007, p. 5
Toynbee, A., Mankind and Mother Earth, O.U.P., 1976
42 For details on this and other related points, see Mallory as well as Anthony

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 30
As we mentioned above, the theory is that these people spread out
of their original abode some time around 2500 B.C. Since the area of the
Pontic-Caspian region is equally accessible to both Europe and Asia, it
was easy for them to reach both parts of the continent. One group of
such migrants found their way into Europe, another went up to the Iran-
Afghanistan plateau and a third ended up in the Indian sub-continent.
They took their language with them but under the local influences of the
new homelands the original mother-language went through changes and
new daughter-languages were born. In Europe the Romance (Greek and
Latin) languages as well as the Saxon tongues were created. In Iran
Avesta came into being, that gave rise to Pahlavi and then Farsi as well
as Pashto in Afghanistan. In India Sanskrit took shape in which the
collection of the Vedas was documented. What facilitated the spread of
the PIE-speakers to these far off areas was the fact that those people had
invented the wheel 43, had domesticated the horse and were able to build
two-wheeler and four-wheeler vehicles drawn by horses 44.
The summary that we have presented to our readers in the
paragraph above took some two hundred years of hard work by
numerous anthropologists, linguists and archeologists as well as forensic
scientists to find out, research, analyse and document in so many words.
Numerous books have been written on this topic. The latest and one of
the better ones is David Anthony’s The Horse, The Wheel and Language.
This book came out in 2007 and because of being a new publication; it
has all the latest research as well as methodologies documented in it. It
is a goldmine of information for research students and scholars. Another
book is James P. Mallory’s In Search of the Indo-Europeans. This book
was published in 1989 but the findings in the book are still valid after all
these years. We have drawn our material for this work from those two
books in addition to many others.
The studies on these lines were initiated as a result of the findings
of Sir William Jones(1746-94) 45. Jones was sent to India as the Chief
Justice on the request of East India Company to Calcutta back in the
middle of the 18th century. Jones knew some 28 languages before he
came to India. In India he also learned Sanskrit. That opened a
completely new world to him. When he returned to England he delivered
a lecture on the Indian culture in 1786. In that lecture he made his most
celebrated comments which we quote here:

The Sanskrit language, whatever may be its antiquity, is of wonderful

structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and

According to one estimate the invention of wheel took place some four thousand
years ago
44 The most up-to-date and thorough discussion on this subject will be found in: David

Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language, Princeton University Press, 2007
45 Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, p. 296

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 31
more exquisitely defined than either, yet bearing to both of them a
stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar,
than could have been produced by accident; so strong that no philologer
could examine all the three without believing them to have sprung from
some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists. There is a
similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the
Gothic and Celtic, though blended with a different idiom, had the same
origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same
family. (……..quoted in Mallory, p.12) 46

Since Jones was a very prominent person in the society and his
intellectual abilities were well recognized among the learned elite in
England, the work caught on. Work continued on these lines and such
lineage as Sanskrit—Agni, Latin—Ignis and English—Ignition were
quickly recognized. Within a period of fifty years extensive work followed.
In the middle of the 19th century August Schleicher, a German linguist,
brought out new ideas. Schleicher(1821-1868) was basically a biologist 47
so he presented his linguistic theories in those terms. Schleicher was the
first scholar to propose the theory of a tree-structure for the languages
belonging to one family (Stammbaumtheorie 48).
Before Jones’ and Schleicher’s works came to light all studies on
linguistics were limited to philology, lexicography, grammar and
etymology. Jones, Schleicher and other scholars’ work brought out the
universal application of the science of linguistics. It turned out that the
science of linguistics, on the one hand, was closely associated with
anthropology and therefore with history and archeology, on the other
hand it was also associated with sociology, psychology, economics and
political science.
More than 1,200 Proto-Indo-European roots have been identified
and documented with ample evidence to show their authenticity and
credibility 49. Also, the cognate words associated with those roots in
various languages, mainly English, Latin and Sanskrit, have clearly been
identified 50
Anthony has listed five PIE roots which form the basis of the theory
of invention of the wheel, travel on two-wheeled and four-wheeled
carriages drawn by horses and the consequent spread of the language
and the people. Cognates of those five PIE roots are found in all
languages of the world belonging to the PIE family from Eastern Europe
to Western Europe, Asia and other places 51. 50F

Those roots are as follows:

46 James P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo Europeans, Thames and Hudson, London,
1989, p.12
47 According to Mallory
48 Cambridge Encyclopedia of Languages, p.292
49 See for example, The American Heritage Dictionary of the Indo-European Roots,

Houghton Mifflin, 2000

50 See, for example, Sanskrit Grammar, by Mueller
51 Anthony, pp. 59-82

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 32
(1) k-w-e-l: The word ‘wheel’ is derived from this root
(2) w-e-g-h: This word was used for a wheeled vehicle. The English
and German words ‘WAGON’ is derived from this root 52
(3) r-e-t: The word ‘rotate’ is derived from this root 53
(4) r-e-i-d-h: the word ‘ride’ is derived from this root
(5) s-k-e-p: this was used for the long wooden pole which connects
the wheeled vehicle on its one end and its other end rests on the
shoulder of the animal pulling the vehicle. From this we have the
Latin word ‘scapula’ for the shoulder blade which is used in
English too.
Towards the beginning of the twentieth century research on
historical linguistics intensified and more and more western institutions
began sponsoring works in that science. More formal works began to
appear on those lines. Several methods have been proposed for
classifying the hundreds of languages spoken all across the world. We
quote below the major classes and methods of classification.


When Karl Marks analysed the world history he saw it as an
ongoing struggle between the working class and the capitalist class. The
workers were always exploited by the capitalist to make more money
thus making the capitalist richer and the worker poorer. This was a view
of history very different from what had hitherto been thought natural.
History would be written to tell who conquered which country and when-
-- Which king ruled which people and for how long. Marx’s work brought
a completely new perspective in the science of historiography.
The study of the historical evolution of language gave a yet another
totally new view to historiography. For example, quoting Nicholas Ostler:

The language history of the world shows more of the true impacts of past
movements and changes of peoples, beyond the heraldic claims of their
largely .self-appointed leaders. They reveal a subtle interweave of cultural
relations with power politics and economic expediency.
It also offers some broad hints for the future. It suggests rather
strongly that no language spread is ultimately secure: even the largest
languages in the twenty-first century will be subject either to the old
determinants of language succession or some new ones that that had
arisen in the last five hundred years or the last fifty. Migrations,
population growth, changing techniques of education and communication
--- all shift the balance of language identities across the world, while the
focus of prestige and aspiration varies as the world’s economies adjust to
the rise of new centers of wealth. Future situations may well be
unprecedented, with potential for languages to achieve truly global use,
but they will still be human. And human beings seldom stay united for
long. 54

52 The Urdu/Hindi word BAGGHI is also from the same root, in English it is “buggy”
53 The English word ‘chariot’ and Urdu/Hindi ‘rath’ both are from this root
54 Ostler, N., p.13

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 33
According to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, there are
some 4,000 languages spoken in the world 55. However, David Anthony
believes this figure is greater than 6,000. Some 23 different families of
languages have been identified.
In connection with Urdu, we are mainly concerned with three
language families. However, before we list those, let us first discuss the
classification of the world languages. There are three main methods of
classifying languages:
(1) The Genetic Method
(2) The Typological method, and
(3) The Areal method

We give below the definition of each of the above by quoting Joseph

Greenberg 56.

Of these, the genetic is the only one which is at once non-arbitrary,

exhaustive and unique. By “non-arbitrary” is here meant that there is no
choice of criteria leading to different and equally legitimate results. This is
because genetic classification reflects historical events which must have
occurred or not occurred. If the classification is correct, it implies events
which did occur. By “exhaustiveness” of a classification is meant that all
languages are put into some class, and by “uniqueness” that no language
is put in more than one class 57. Genetic classification, as has been seen, is
based on criteria of sound-meanings resemblances of linguistic forms.
Related languages are likely to be in the same geographical region but
usually are not in continuous distribution……..
Typological classifications are based on criteria of sound without meaning,
meaning without sound, or both. For example, using a phonetic criterion
only we might divide the languages of the world into two typological
classes, those with tonal systems and those lacking tonal systems………
Typological classifications are arbitrary, as has just been indicated,
exhaustive, and unique. They have no necessary historical implications.
Areal classifications are based on effects of languages upon one another
whether they are related, or unrelated. Among the relevant data are
borrowings, involving both sound and meaning, and influences in sound
only or meaning only which are the result of historical contact.

55 Cambridge Encyclopedia, p.85

Joseph Greenberg (1915-2001) was a New Yorker who worked on and taught
Linguistic typology and Language Classification at Stanford University.
57 Readers who are experts in database design techniques would have noticed the

strong resemblance to data normalization in this description by Greenberg. This is the

third normal form of data. It tells us how far ahead Greenberg was in his thinking. The
concept of data normalization was not introduced until the 1970s.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 34
Areal classifications are therefore arbitrary within limits. They are neither
exhaustive nor unique. 58

We shall see that the study and classification of the languages

belonging to the Proto-Indo-European family of languages, of which Urdu
and Hindi both are members, has been done by the genetic method. A
comprehensive tree-structure has been proposed which has been largely
accepted by the scholars of linguistics. Before we discuss that, let us give
the details of the other two families of the languages which are relevant
to the discussion on Urdu.
One of the oldest or perhaps the oldest language family of the
world is the Semitic family of languages. The term ‘Semitic’ signifies an
association with the Biblical name Sam, a son of the prophet Noah. Even
though the term has come to signify Jewish people and everything else
Jewish in modern times, both R.A. Nicholson 59 of Cambridge as well as
Philip Hitti 60 of Princeton have maintained that the only people who
could be called purely Semitic are the Arabs.
Nicholson lists the Semitic languages 61 with their respective dates
as follows:
(1) Babylonian or Assyrian (3,000-500 B.C.)
(2) Hebrew (from 500 B.C.)
(3) South Arabic otherwise called Sabean or Himyarite (inscriptions
from 800 B.C.)
(4) Aramaic (inscriptions from 800 B.C.)
(5) Phoenician (inscriptions from 700 B.C.)
(6) Ethiopic (inscriptions from 350 A.D.)
(7) Arabic (from 500 A.D.)
The above list is important for our discussion because Urdu as well
as Hindi both are influenced by Arabic, the youngest of the Semitic
languages. Our contention is that Urdu and Hindi though identified in
modern times as two separate languages for political reasons are actually
the same except for the two scripts. Much discussion has ensued in
academic circles on this highly controversial and contentious topic. See
for example: (1) Amrit Rai, A House Divided, The Origin of Urdu and Hindi,
Greenberg, J.H., Essays in Linguistics, Chicago University Press, 1957, pp. 65-69.
Please note that we have only quoted the salient points of the essay, for those who are
interested in the subject of classification of languages, we recommend that they read
the full essay.
Reynold Nicholson (1868-1945) was an English orientalist of great repute. He was
the professor of Arabic, Farsi and Islamic studies at Cambridge, England. He has
translated the poetry of Mawlana Rum and that of Allama Iqbal into English.
Philip Khuri Hitti (1886-1978) was a Maronite Christian Arab from Lebanon. He
taught at Columbia University and later held the Chair of Arab Studies at Princeton
until his retirement in 1954. Hitti is credited with introducing Arab Studies to the US
Academic circles.
Nicholson, R.A., A Literary History of the Arabs, Cambridge University Press, 1907
and 1979, p. xiv

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 35
O.U.P., 1992 (2) Abdul Jamil Khan, Urdu/Hindi: An Artificial
Divide(Politics of Languge), Algora Publishing, 2006 (3) Christopher King,
One Language Two Scripts, O.U.P., 1999. The Indian scholar of
Allahabad named Giyan Chand Jain wrote a book in Urdu on this topic –
Ek Bhasha, Do Likhavat, Do Adab, Educational Publishing House, Delhi,
2005. This last book caused a lot of controversy in India and Pakistan.
The well-known critic Shamsur-Rahman Faruqi wrote a rebuttal of the
main ideas presented in the book 62.
The third group of languages that is significant for us is the
Dravidian family of languages. These were the languages spoken in India
before the PIE speakers arrived in India as settler/conquerors around
2,500 B.C. The Indus Valley civilization is identified with those
languages. In this group two languages are very important, namely Tamil
and Telgu. Tamil is one of the official languages of India. It is spoken in
Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka and Singapore. There are some 70 million
speakers of Tamil in the world. It has its own script. Telgu is also a
Dravidian language but unlike Tamil it has been overly influenced by
Sanskrit over the centuries. It is also one of the official languages of India
and it is spoken in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Karnatak and on some
islands in the Indian Ocean. Telgu also has its own script.
Indus Valley civilization is considered to be the third of the
three oldest human civilizations. It is significant for us in this study
because the first Muslims landed in this area back in 710 A.D. For
that reason, that area is called Bab-ul-Islam in today’s Pakistan.
Some recent excavations in the area and further research seem to
shed more light on the Indus Valley Civilization.

No longer is the Indus the plain cousin of Egypt and Mesopotamia during
the 3rd millennium B.C.E. Archeologists now realize that the Indus
dwarfed its grand neighbours in land area and population, surpassed
them in many areas of engineering and technology, and was an aggressive
player during humanity’s first flirtation with globalization 5000 years ago.
The old notion that the Indus people were an insular, homogeneous, and
egalitarian bunch is being replaced by a view of a diverse and dynamic
society that stretched from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the
Himalayas and was eager to do business with peoples from Afghanistan to
Iraq. And the Indus people worried enough about the privileges of their

The reason we have mentioned here both names is that we want to emphasize that
the Hindi which had remained strictly Hindi without much relationship to Urdu has
also been influenced by Arabic as we have shown in quoting the poetry of Meera Bai
whose language is Rajasthani Hindi. And now in the last sixty years the language that
is spoken in India and also used in the media has been deliberately overloaded with
made-up words from Sanskrit to make it as much different from Urdu as possible.
Similarly, in Pakistan, the language that is spoken and used in the media has been
over-loaded with Arabic. The famous episode of the late dictator Zia-ul-Haq forcing
people to say Allah-Hafiz instead of the more popular and fluent Khuda Hafiz (as a
parting greeting) is a typical example of that. However, as long as the Bollywood film
industry flourishes, the common language will flourish.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 36
elite to build thick walls to protect them. “This idea that Indus was dull
and monolithic --- that is all nonsense,” says Louis Flamm, an
archeologist at the City University of New York who has worked in
Pakistan. 63

It is now an accepted view among the western scholars that the

PIE speakers came to India around 2500-1500 B.C. and pushed the
original inhabitants (aadi basi) down south and established themselves
in the Northern part of the country. These invaders are called Aryans or

The Aryan group of IE languages consists of Sanskrit and the other IE

dialects of India, Iranian and the Kafir languages of North-west India.
The original homeland of the Indians, or rather of the IE tribes who had
penetrated into India, can be traced to a region outside India, north-west
of India itself. From here, probably around the middle of the second
millennium BC, the fore-bearers of the Indians moved into India,
conquering the non-IE native peoples. These people had a flourishing
civilization, the so-called ‘Indus Valley Civilization,’ whose most
important archeological remains have been recovered by the excavation
of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. 64

Very similar ideas are expressed by Nicholas Ostler, a more recent writer.

Sanskrit first appears to us, as do most of its Indo-European

sister languages, as the speech of conquering warriors, well capable of
using horses and wheeled vehicles to establish domination over their
neighbours and turn them into serfs and subjects. The way of life is
familiar from heroic poetry of Indo-European peoples in every direction:
men who fought from chariots, speak forth rightly, and care for their own
personal honour more than life itself. 65

However, our learned friend professor Gabriela Ilieva 66 of New York

University maintains that this was a gradual settlement over a time and
there was no sustained warfare between the settlers and the original
inhabitants. In support of that view she presents the statements in the
Rig Veda which speak of the destruction of the areas in the Indus Valley
in the past tense. There is no statement saying that “we destroyed such
and such,” etc.


Unmasking the Indus, article in SCIENCE, 6 June 2008, Vol. 320, p. 1276
Lazzeroni, Romana; Sanskrit, article in Ramat and Ramat, The Indo European
Languages, Routledge, London, 1998, p. 98
65 Ostler, N.; Empires of the Word, Harper Collins, New York, 2005, p. 195
Gabriela Nik Ilieva has done her Ph.D. on the feminine voices recorded in the Rig
Veda. She is a historical linguist and teaches Hindi at NYU.(private conversation)

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 37
The oldest Indo-Aryan linguistic samples are found in the four
Vedas, which form the basis of the various sects found within the Hindu
religion of India. The oldest of those is the Rig Veda which consists of
hymns dedicated to gods Indra 67 and Agni 68. The language of this
document is the Vedic Sanskrit. Its period has been estimated as 1700-
1100 B.C. It has strong resemblances to the oldest Iranian religious
document the Avesta which has been dated to be of 2000 B.C. Avesta is a
sample of the Proto-Indo-Iranian language that derived from the PIE as
did the Vedic Sanskrit.
The next two of documents from the point-of-view of linguistic
history are Mahabharata and Ramayana, both written in a later version
of Sanskrit. Mahabharata’s date is estimated to be between the 8th and
the 4th century B.C. It is the longest epic in the known world literature
comprising of some 74,000 verses/stanzas. Ramayana’s date is
estimated to be between 400 and 200 B.C.
The PIE speakers who came to the Indian subcontinent formulated
an elaborate social system and a very formal religion that was kept inside
the temples and was administered to the common folk by an elite class of
priests who named themselves as the Brahmans. The theory they created
was that the human society consisted of four classes, each in turn was
produced from the four parts of the body of god – the Brahmans were
from the mouth of the god, therefore, they claimed to be the speakers of
god’s language and His commands, the Chhatris or the warriors from His
chest, the Vayshyas or the business class from His stomach and the
Shudras from His feet. Thus the fourth one were the lowest in class
distinction. The Brahmans called their language or the Divine language
Sanskrit meaning ‘perfect,’ ‘complete,’ or ‘cultured.’ Being the custodians
of the temples and of the religion, only they could recite the devotional
hymns to the gods. And only they could speak the divine language
Sanskrit. In fact they were afraid that if they allowed the common folk to
speak the divine language it would be polluted. To protect the language
from that corruption, a priest by the name of Panini authored his much
celebrated Sanskrit Grammar called asht-adhyaye or ‘eight lessons.’ He
claimed to have been inspired by the Lord Shiva in that authorship. It is
the oldest work on descriptive linguistics in the world, and is amazingly
modern in its approach. He lists consonants and vowels and all parts of
speech with their respective definitions. Panini describes his various
rules of grammar as modern day mathematicians give the derivation of a
mathematical function. Panini’s time is estimated to be around 400 B.C.

Master of the Garden of Paradise, a superior god in Hindu mythology
The god of Fire in Hindu mythology

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 38
The priests considered Vedic Sanskrit as sacred. This is shown by
the fact that Panini is obviously writing his grammar of the Sanskrit
language in Sanskrit, but he uses a different Sanskrit to describe the
rules. It is not Vedic Sanskrit which he uses to document Vedic Sanskrit.
It is a coded and abbreviated Sanskrit 69.
This was the beginning of the post-Vedic classical Sanskrit.
It is not certain whether or not the Vedic Sanskrit was ever spoken
outside of the temples. Since the common folk were not allowed to use
Sanskrit in their every-day social communication 70, yet another spoken
language came into being, which nevertheless, was a PIE dialect. It was
definitely influenced by Sanskrit. The Brahmans, out of their pride and
in extreme derision and contempt, called that spoken language Prakrit
meaning ‘natural’ (as opposed to Divine), ‘less perfect’ or ‘corrupted.’
What the Brahman of that day did not understand was that
languages are not like gold and silver, in that they are not reduced in
value or stature by extensive use neither do they get spent like money. If
anything, languages are enhanced and expanded as their user base
expands. In their protective attitude and narrow-mindedness the priests
imprisoned Sanskrit inside the temple. That suffocated the language.
Sanskrit is one of the most perfect languages of the world if not ‘the’
perfect one. But the Brahman’s protective attitude killed the language of
that suffocation.
If Sanskrit would have been used extensively in the past, then with
the Vedic literature in view, it would have been accepted as the first
religious language of the world. Arabic cannot be truly called a religious
language because a large part of its literature was already in existence
before Islam emerged in Arabia. This short note here, will work as a
preamble to our theory that Urdu is the world’s first religious language.
With time, the Prakrit kept evolving. At some later time it was
called apabhransh or ‘badly corrupted’ and yet later it came to be known
as ‘shor seni 71.’ We do not have sufficient data to be able to pinpoint the

exact timing of these changes in nomenclature. Linguists have identified

some eight different dialects of ancient India which are collectively called
Apabhransha dialects.
As further time passed and people of the PIE origins continued to
spread across the geographical area, Prakrit developed local variations.
But across the belt from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea shores

For example, see for details: Bhate, Saroja and Kak, Subhash; Panini’s Grammar
and Computer Science, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Vol. 72,
1993, pp. 79-94, also available at:
70 In fact, if a person of the common class tried to speak Sanskrit, the priests would
subject the offender to severe punishment
This is derived from ‘Surasena,’ which was the name of an ancient kingdom in north

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 39
between the Himalayan range on the north and the Vindhyachal range
on the south a common language was understood. Eventhough the
vocabulary developed its own peculiarities in each locality; the grammar
remained the same – even to this day. On the two extremes, Bangla
broke off into its own script and language in the East, and Gujrati and
Marathi into their own dialects and scripts in the west.
Four of those branches of the original Prakrit have survived to this
day and those four actually form the basis of modern Urdu/Hindi.


Those branches are as follows:
(1) Braj Bhasha – this dialect developed around Mathura 72 on the
western shores of the Yamuna river. The area of the influence of
this dialect spread up to Agra. During the period 800-1900 A.D.
this dialect was spoken by the largest population in the western
Uttar Pradesh. The poetry of Sur Das that he wrote in praise of
Lord Krishna has been written in this dialect.
(2) Avadhi – This, as the name suggests, was the language spoken in
the province of Avadh. It was also spoken in the area where today’s
city of Kanpur is located. The Ramayana 73 of Tulsi Das in which he
chronicles the heroic exploits of Lord Rama is written in this
dialect. Both Braj and Avadhi show borrowings from and a base in
Sanskrit in their respective vocabulary.
(3) Bundel Khandi or Bundeli – as the name suggests this dialect
developed in the Bundel Khand area. The well known folk epic
Alha-Udal is written in this dialect. This is an epic chronicling the
heroic exploits of two brothers. It is sung in gatherings in villages
of Uttar Pradesh and mostly people have memorized the long poem
for those recitals. Bundeli seems to be influenced from both
Sanskrit as well as the ancient Dravidian dialects.
(4) Khari Boli – this dialect developed in the northern part of Delhi
including some parts of Uttar Pradesh. This was the language of a
minority in the beginning. During the 18th and the 19th centuries
its popularity increased under the influence of Arabic and Farsi,
and by the end of the 19th century it had become the language of
the majority in and around Delhi and some parts of Uttar Pradesh.
It took a long time for the Khari Boli to become an accepted
language for literary compositions. The first Khari Boli work which
was written in Nast’aleeq script is Fazl-e-Ali Fazli’s Karbal Katha.
This was written during the period 1730-1750 74 A.D. and it is the
According to the epic Mahabharat, the city of Mathura was the capital of the
Surasena Kingdom of the ancient times. From this we have the name Shoraseni for the
second name of the Prakrit dialects that we have mentioned above.
This is a different Ramayana from the Sanskrit Ramayana that we mentioned earlier
74 Mukerji, Sujit, A Dictionary of Indian Literature, Orient Longman, 1999

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 40
first Urdu (or in Hindi) prose text to be produced. Other early Khari
Boli works are Lallu Lal’s PremSagar 75 which was written in the
early 1800’s and Insha Allah Khan’s Rani Ketki ki Kahani. Both
those works were originally written in Dev Nagari Script.


As we explained above the early Brahmans had monopolized both
the religion in the temples as well as the language Sanskrit. Obviously,
this was not liked by the larger population. The embargo on the language
caused the creation of the Prakrit dialects. The monopolization of religion
caused the public to find other avenues to form the basis of their prayers
and worship. Two very influential leaders emerged in this midst. Gawtam
Buddha (Real name: Prince Siddhartha) lived around 563-483 B.C. He
was born a prince in the kingdom of Kapilvastu (in today’s Tibet) but
renounced his throne and left the palace living and a wife and a child. He
went into wanderings in search of eternal peace. He taught reflection and
introspection to his followers. In effect he taught against the adoration of
stone idols and other physical objects. The second reformer was
Mahavira who lived around 599-527 B.C. He is the progenitor of the Jain
religion in India. The most essential tenet of Jainism is Ahimsa or non-
The effect of the reforms of these two great sages was that god had
been taken out of the temple and brought to a more tangible level. The
general public felt that they had come closer to god by way of these
reforms. Even though the teachings of both these religions were
originally documented in classical Sanskrit, their movements encouraged
people to tell the divine stories which had so far been limited to the
Vedas, in their own popular languages. Consequently the Prakrits were
made popular as a side effect of those two reformers’ works. The Prakrits
were not just means of social intercourse; instead they had become
languages of the religion too.
That helped the Bhakti movement which actually began in the
800s A.D. The word Bhakti means devotion. The movement made sure
that poets of all the dialects of the Prakrits began composing devotional
songs in their own dialects. That basically made the Vedas redundant
because all those stories told in the four Vedas were now being told in
the popular dialects. In the Vedic scriptures God was shown to be
behaving much like the humans. The Bhakti movement brought those
Vedic concepts in a popular language that the majority of the people
spoke or could speak.
The beginning of the Muslim conquests is also the early 800s. So
we can see that the arrival and settlement of Muslims in India and

75 This was translated into modern English in 1818 by Capt. Hollings of the British
Bengal regiment. This is available on:

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 41
beginning of the Bhakti Movement are simultaneous phenomena.
Eventhough they appear to be unconnected, they both had profound
effect on each other.
We also saw that the beginning of the Prakrit dialects in northern
part of India was a natural consequence of the elitist view of a privileged
class about the language Sanskrit. The majority of the population felt
resentful because of the caste system perpetuated by the Brahmans.
Both the movement of Buddha as well as that of Mahavira attracted large
number of followers since the followers of those two religions were all
considered equal. In fact the majority of Indians became Buddhists. After
several centuries of prosperity Buddhism began to decline in India and
the old Hindu religion began rising again. The Hindu priests declared
Buddha as a Mahatma (great soul) and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
That facilitated a mixed set of beliefs to be popularized. By the end of the
11th century Buddhism was pushed to China and Afghanistan and
Hinduism was re-established in the Indian society. That meant the re-
establishment of the old caste system in the society once again.
When the Muslim Sufis came to India they preached the message
of human brotherhood. As a result of that a large number of the lower
class Hindus converted to Islam.
During the 1400s and 1500s the Bhakti Movement flourished
greatly. The clearest indication of that is the literature produced during
that period. However, the Bhakti movement bifurcated in two parallel
streams. One was the Nirgun and the other was the Sagun. Sagun
preached the bodily representation of god. The leader of this movement
was Sur Das. He sang the songs of praise of Lord Krishna. In Sur Das’
poetry, the child Krishna is seen eating butter by stealth in the kitchen
and then telling his mother that he had not done it. The youthful
Krishna is seen frolicking with the Gopis (the cowgirls) of Vrindaban,
teasing them and then leaving them. So, basically, Sur Das depicted the
Divine figure doing everything a human being would do, including
amorous encounters with the opposite sex. Tulsi Das on the other hand
shows a chivalrous hero in the figure of Rama who is a just and
benevolent ruler. He is always ready to sacrifice for the good of his
subjects. Rama has a devoted brother in Laxman and an equally devoted
wife in Seeta. However, much as he loves both, when Seeta is abducted
by the Raxus(demon) Rawana and subsequently recovered, Rama fails to
protect Seeta against the onslaught of the courtiers who question her
chastity. She has to tread on fire to prove her purity. The highpoint of
both works is that woman is shown in a subservient position. We will
discuss this again when talking about Meera Bai. Nirgun meant and
preached that god had no physical body, age or place. And man can find
god in himself. This notion was much closer to the basic ideas of Islam.
The leader of that movement was Kabir Das. Kabir had originated in
Benares but had travelled the length and breadth of northern India. His
language therefore is a mix of all dialects.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 42
The Muslim Sufis injected the idea of mysticism in this flourishing
Bhakti movement of India. That notion seeped into both forms of the
Bhakti movement. In the Nirgun Bhakti movement Kabir Das’ poetry is
replete with those ideas. On the Sagun side, Meera Bai’s poetry is filled
with ideas of mysticism.
Let us look at some of that poetry.
Kabir lived during the time 1440-1518. Kabir’s poetry shows more
than once that the actual leitmotiv of the Bhakti movement was to
discredit the caste system of the Indian society.

Consider the following lines of Kabir:

साधू �ा�ण, साध छ�ी, साधे जाित बिनयां ‫ﺳﺎﺩﻫﮯ‬،‫ ﺳﺎﺩﻫ ﭼﻬﺘﺮی‬،‫ﺳﺎﺩﻫﻮ ﺑﺮﺍﮨﻤﻦ‬
साधन मां छ�ीस कौम ह� , टे ढ़� तोर ‫ﺟﺎﺗﯽ ﺑﻨﻴﺎ‬
पुछिनयाँ ‫ ﮢﻴﮍﻫﯽ ﺗﻮﺭ‬،‫ﺳﺎﺩﻫﻦ ﻣﺎں ﭼﻬﺘﻴﺲ ﮐﻮﻡ ﮨﻴﮟ‬
साधे नाओ, साधे धोबी, साध जात है ‫ﭘُﭽﻬﻨﻴﺎ‬
‫ ﺳﺎﺩﻫ ﺟﺎﺕ‬،‫ ﺳﺎﺩﻫﮯ ﺩﻫﻮﺑﯽ‬،‫ﺳﺎﺩﻫﮯ ﻧﺎﺋﻮ‬
‫ﮨﮯ ﺑﺮﻳﺎں‬
साधन मां रै दास संत ह� , सपुच ऋ�ष सौ
‫ﺳﭙُﭻ ﺭِﺷﯽ‬،‫ﺳﺎﺩﻫﻦ ﻣﺎںﺮے ﺩﺍﺱ ﺳﻨﺖ ﮨﻴﮟ‬
‫ﺳﻮ ﺑﻬﻨﮕﻴﺎں‬
�हं द ू तुरु दईु द�न बने ह� कछु नह�ं
‫ﮨﻨﺪﻭ ﺗُﺮُک ﺩﻭﺋﯽ ﺩﻳﻦ ﺑﻨﮯ ﮨﻴﮟ ﮐﭽﻬﻮ ﻧﮩﻴﮟ‬
पह्चिनया ‫ﭘﮩﭽﻨﻴﺎں‬

Trans: Brahman is a Sadhu, Chhatri is a Sadhu, the grocer too is a

Sadhu/there are thiry-six tribes among the sadhus, your question is
crooked/the barber is a Sadhu, the washer-man is a Sadhu and carpenter
too is among them/ Ray Das the sage is also a Sadhu and the well known
ascetic who is known as a Bhangi/ Hindu and Muslim have been made
into two separate religions, but in effect there is no difference(between

In these lines Kabir seems to be making naught of various different

religions let alone sects and castes within one religious system. In effect
he espouses the mystic view of man seeking his Lord irrespective of
religion, caste and creed. The word ‘sadhu’ has been used as a generic
term for a devotee of God. The number 36 was used as an idiom to show
a multitude and in today’s Urdu/Hindi this expression is still used in
that meaning.

Consider also the following lines also by Kabir:

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 43
इस घट अन्द बाग बगीचे इसी म� सजर् ‫ﺍﺱ ﮔﻬﭧ ﺍﻧﺘﺮ ﺑﺎگ ﺑﮕﻴﭽﮯ ﺍﺳﯽ ﻣﻴﮟ‬
हारा ‫ﺳﺮﺟﻦ ﮨﺎﺭﺍ‬
इस घट अन्त सात समन्द इसी म� नौ ‫ﺍﺱ ﮔﻪٹ ﺍﻧﺘﺮ ﺳﺎﺕ ﺳﻤﻨﺪﺭ ﺍﺳﯽ ﻣﻴﮟ ﻧﻮ‬
लख तारा ‫ﻟﮑﻪ ﺗﺎﺭﺍ‬
इस घट अन्त पारस मोती इसी म� पखर्
‫ﺍﺱ ﮔﻬﭧ ﺍﻧﺘﺮ ﭘﺎﺭﺱ ﭘﻮﺗﯽ ﺍﺳﯽ ﻣﻴﮟ‬
‫ﭘﺮﮐﻬﻦ ﮨﺎﺭﺍ‬
‫ﺍﺱ ﮔﻬﭧ ﺍﻧﺘﺮ ﺍﻧﺤﺪ ﮔﺮﺟﮯ ﺍﺳﯽ ﻣﻴﮟ ﺍُﮢﻬﺖ‬
इस घट अन्द अनहद गरजे इसी म� उठत
‫ﮐﮩﺖ ﮐﺒﻴﺮ ﺳﻨﻮ ﺑﻬﺌﯽ ﺳﺎﺩﻫﻮ ﺍﺳﯽ ﻣﻴﮟ‬
कहत कबीर सुनो भई साधू इसी म� सांइं ‫ﺳﺎﺋِﻴﮟ ﮨﻤﺎﺭﺍ‬

Translation: In this body are gardens, also the gardener lives herein/
In this body are the seven seas, and in this very body there are nine lak
stars/In this body there are pearls and jewels and so is the jeweler/In
this soul is the thunder of the Almighty and from this also flow fountains/
Kabir says: Listen O sage, in this soul lives our Lord.

These lines combine the message of pluralism as well as the typical

mystic notion of ‘Existence in One Union,’ or Wahdat-ul-Wajood 76. 75F

Kabir lived in the 15th century. He was a Sufi poet in the long line
of many such poets who are considered to be the followers of the Bhakti
movement. The Bhakti movement ended around 1700. However, the
thinking that gave rise to the poetry in mysticism has continued to this
our day.

Consider the following lines by Iqbal:

‫ﺯﺍﮨﺪِ ﺗﻨﮓ ﻧﻈﺮ ﻧﮯ ﻣﺠﻪے ﮐﺎﻓﺮ ﺟﺎﻧﺎ‬
‫ﺍﻭﺭ ﮐﺎﻓﺮ ﻳہ ﺳﻤﺠﻬﺘﺎ ﮨﮯ ﻣﺴﻠﻤﺎں ﮨﻮں ﻣﻴﮟ‬
‫ﺩﻳﮑﻪ ﺍے ﭼﺸﻢِ ﻋﺪﻭ ﻣﺠﻪ ﮐﻮ ﺣﻘﺎﺭﺕ ﺳﮯ ﻧہ ﺩﻳﮑﻪ‬
‫ﺟﺲ ﭘہ ﻓﻄﺮﺕ ﮐﻮ ﺑﻬﯽ ﮨﮯ ﻧﺎﺯ ﻭﮦ ﺍﻧﺴﺎں ﮨﻮں ﻣﻴﮟ‬

The narrow-minded priest considers me an infidel/And the infidel

thinks I am a Muslim/Listen my enemy! Do not look at me with derision/I
am that human, on whom Nature takes pride.

The famous Muslim mystic Ibn Arabi (1165-1240 A.D.) is credited with this concept
– the only reality in this universe is God Almighty, everything else is temporal, so when
man dies he becomes one with his Lord.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 44
Also look at the following poem which says the same thing in more
definite terms.
‫ﺳﭻ ﮐﮩہ ﺩﻭں ﺍے ﺑﺮﮨﻤﻦ ﮔﺮ ﺗﻮ ﺑﺮﺍ ﻧہ ﻣﺎﻧﮯ‬
‫ﺗﻴﺮے ﺻﻨﻢ ﮐﺪﻭں ﮐﮯ ﺑُﺖ ﮨﻮ ﮔﺌﮯ ﭘﺮﺍﻧﮯ‬
‫ﺍﭘﻨﻮں ﺳﮯ ﺑﻴﺮ ﺭﮐﻬﻨﺎ ﺗﻮ ﻧﮯ ﺑﺘﻮں ﺳﮯ ﺳﻴﮑﻬﺎ‬
‫ﺟﻨﮓ ﻭ ﺟﺪﻝ ﺳﮑﻬﺎﻳﺎ ﻭﺍﻋﻆ ﮐﻮ ﺑﻬﯽ ﺧﺪﺍ ﻧﮯ‬
‫ﺗﻨﮓ ﺁ ﮐﮯ ﺁﺧﺮ ﻣﻴﮟ ﻧﮯ ﺩﻳﺮ ﻭ ﺣﺮﻡ ﮐﻮ ﭼﻬﻮڑﺍ‬
‫ ﭼﻬﻮڑے ﺗﺮے ﻓﺴﺎﻧﮯ‬،‫ﻭﺍﻋﻆ ﮐﺎ ﻭﻋﻆ ﭼﻬﻮڑﺍ‬
‫ﭘﺘﻬﺮ ﮐﯽ ﻣﻮﺭﺗﻮں ﻣﻴﮟ ﺳﻤﺠﻬﺎ ﮨﮯ ﺗﻮ ﺧﺪﺍ ﮨﮯ‬
‫ﺧﺎکِ ﻭﻃﻦ ﮐﺎ ﮨﺮ ﺫﺭّﮦ ﻣﺠﻪ ﮐﻮ ﺩﻳﻮﺗﺎ ﮨﮯ‬
‫ﺁ ﻏﻴﺮﻳﺖ ﮐﮯ ﭘﺮﺩے ﺍک ﺑﺎﺭ ﭘﻬﺮ ﺍُﮢﻬﺎ ﺩﻳﮟ‬
‫ﺑﭽﻬﮍﻭں ﮐﻮ ﭘﻬﺮ ﻣﻼ ﺩﻳﮟ ﻧﻘﺶِ ﺩﻭﺋِﯽ ﻣﮣﺎ ﺩﻳﮟ‬
‫ﺳﻮﺋِﯽ ﭘﮍی ﮨﻮﺋِِﯽ ﮨﮯ ﻣﺪّﺕ ﺳﮯ ﺩﻝ ﮐﯽ ﺑﺴﺘﯽ‬
‫ﺁ ﺍک ﻧﻴﺎ ﺷﻮﺍﻟہ ﺍﺱ ﺩﻳﺲ ﻣﻴﮟ ﺑﻨﺎ ﺩ ﻳﮟ‬
‫ﺩﻧﻴﺎ ﮐﮯ ﺗﻴﺮﺗﻬﻮں ﺳﮯ ﺍُﻭﻧﭽﺎ ﮨﻮ ﺍﭘﻨﺎ ﺗﻴﺮﺗﻪ‬
‫ﺩﺍﻣﺎﻥِ ﺁﺳﻤﺎں ﺳﮯ ﺍﺳﮑﺎ ﮐﻠﺲ ﻣﻼ ﺩﻳﮟ‬
‫ﮨﺮ ﺻﺒﺢ ﺍُﮢﻪ ﮐﮯ ﮔﺎﺋِﻴﮟ ﻣﻨﺘﺮ ﻭﮦ ﻣﻴﮣﻬﮯ ﻣﻴﮣﻬﮯ‬
‫ﺳﺎﺭے ﭘﺠﺎﺭﻳﻮں ﮐﻮ ﻣﮯ ﭘﻴﺖ ﮐﯽ ﭘﻼ ﺩﻳﮟ‬
‫ﺷﮑﺘﯽ ﺑﻬﯽ ﺷﺎﻧﺘﯽ ﺑﻬﯽ ﺑﻬﮕﺘﻮں ﮐﮯ ﮔﻴﺖ ﻣﻴﮟ ﮨﮯ‬
‫ﺩﻫﺮﺗﯽ ﮐﮯ ﺑﺎﺳﻴﻮں ﮐﯽ ﻣﮑﺘﯽ ﺑﻬﯽ ﭘﺮﻳﺖ ﻣﻴﮟ ﮨﮯ‬

Meer Bai, on the other hand, comes in the Sagun tradition of the
Bhakti movement. As we have pointed it out above, Meera was born in
Rajasthan at a place which was very close to the Ajmer Shrine of Khwaja
Mo’een-ud-Deen Chishti. She was born in 1498. By that time the shrine
had been there for nearly three centuries. It is our contention that in that
time a strongly influenced linguistic-cultural tradition must have evolved
around the Shrine. That tradition, on the one hand, was instrumental in
the new language being evolved, and on the other hand it was deeply
influenced by the Muslim tradition. Our emphasis here is on the
linguistic tradition. For that we will present some brief examples.
Two things are strikingly apparent in Meera’s poetry: (1) Use of
Arabic an Farsi words and idioms, and (2) A strong underpinning of
women’s lib. We shall leave the women’s lib aspect for the time since it is
not germane to our discussion here.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 45
सुनी हूँ म� हर� आवन क� आवाज ‫ﺳﻨﯽ ﮨﻮں ﻣﻴﮟ ﮨﺮی ﺁﻭﻥ ﮐﯽ ﺁﻭﺍﺝ‬
महल चढ़ चढ़ जोऊँ मेर� सजनी ‫)ﻣﺤﻞ( ﻣﻬﻞ‬
‫ﭼﮍﻫ ﭼﮍﻫ ﺟﻮﻭں ﻣﺮی ﺳﺠﻨﯽ‬
----------------------------------- ----------------------------
माई र� ! महािलयाँ गो�बन्दा िलया ‫ﻣﺎﺋﯽ ﺭی۔ ﻣَﻬﺎﻟﻴﺎں ﮔﻮﺑِﻨﺪﺍ ﻟﻴﺎ ﻣﻮﻝ‬
थे क�हय्या छाड़े महां कां चोडडे ‫ﺗﻬﮯ ﮐﮩِﺎﺋﻨﻴﺎں ﭼﻬﺎڑے ﻣﮩﺎں ﮐﺎں ﭼﻮڈ‬
िलया बजंता ढोल ‫ڈے‬
थे क�हय्या मुन होधो महां सस्त ‫ﻟﻴﺎ ﺑﺠﻨﺘﺎ ڈﻫﻮﻝ‬
िलया र� तराजा तोल ‫ﺗﻬﮯ ﮐﮩﺎﺋﻨﻴﺎں ﻣﻨﻮ ﮨﻮ ﺩﻫﻮ ﻣﮩﺎں ﺳﺴﺘﺎ‬
तन वारां महां जीवन वारां
‫ﻟﻴﺎ ﺭی ﺗﺮﺍﺟﺎ ﺗﻮﻝ‬
बरां अमोलक मोल
‫ﺗﻦ ﻭﺍﺭﺍں ﻣﮩﺎں ﺟﻴﻮﻥ ﻭﺍﺭﺍں‬
‫ﺑﺮﺍں ﺍَﻣﻮﻟﮏ ﻣﻮﻝ‬
Notice the Farsi word AWAAZ (sound, voices) rendered as AWAAJ,
because there is no ‘Z’ sound in the Indo-Aryan languages. Also notice
the use of the Arabic words MAHAL (palace) and a deformed TARAJA
which is basically the Arabic TARAZOO.


Nearly a century after Khwaja Mueen-ud-Deen Chishti arrived in

India, another Sufi of great significance lived in India. Khwaja Banda
Nawaz Gesu Draz was born in Delhi in 1321 A.D. He grew up in Delhi.
By that time the period of Khusro and Nizam-ud-Deen was coming to an
end. However, the Sufi tradition had been well established in Delhi. Gesu
Daraz grew up in that environment and was initiated into the Sufi
Tareeqa by many of his teachers. When Muhammad Tughlaq decided to
move the seat of the government from Delhi to the Deccan, people of all
professions moved to that area. Gesu Daraz also moved to Deccan in that
period. He finally settled down in Karnatak and passed away in 1422
A.D. His shrine in Gulbarga is a place of pilgrimage for the devotees.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 46
Enterance-Gulbarga Shareef Dargah


Historians have given various reasons for the decision by Tughlaq
to move the capital 700 miles down south from Delhi to Devagiri which
was renamed Daulatabad. Some have said that the Tughlaq wanted
greater control of the southern part of the kingdom. Others have said
that the Tughlaq had a very tolerant policy towards his non-Muslim
subjects and the ulema disagreed with him. He moved away from Delhi
to avoid the ulema’s wrath. Anyway, the capital had to move back to
Delhi after a two-year experiment for lack of amenities in Daulatabad. As
we observed earlier on, that whole disastrous process caused a lot of
damage to the development of the new language. No work could be done
in Delhi due to the upheaval and neither was any work done in the
south. However, Khwaja Banda Nawaz Gesu Darz stayed on in the
Deccan and he died there. The Khwaja had produced voluminous work in
Arabic, Farsi as well as in the new language. His most well-known work
is M’eraj-ul-Ashiqeen. Ram Babu Saksena thinks that M’eraj-ul-Ashiqeen
has no literary value. Ali Jawad Zaidi has said that it is not certain who

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 47
wrote M’eraj-ul-Ashiqeen 77. Unfortunately we have not been able to get
hold of any works by Gesu Daraz. With those doubts we cannot really
rule that M’eraj-ul-Ashiqeen is the first literary work in Urdu. Perhaps
some new student, scholar or teacher will do some more research on this
topic and ill this gap in the information.

Hazrath Khwaja Bandanawaz Gesudaraz(Rh)

Born on the 13th of July 1321 / 4th ::
Passed away on the 1st of November 1422 / 16th Dhu al-Qadah 825

However, Gesu Daraz did provide the platform on which the first
literary work in Urdu was produced. Gesu Daraz was a Sufi of the
Chishtiyya order. These Sufis were always involved in Ashoora
observances 78. It is strongly likely that when Gesu Daraz moved to
Deccan, he introduced the Ashoora ritual and its accompanying rites to
the Muslims of the south. This was a way to introduce the Prophet of
Islam and his progeny with a lot of emotionalism. The general Muslim
population must have got involved in the practice.
As we noted earlier, the Muslim presence in Kerala has been there
all the same. But no development on the new language took place in that
area in spite of the 500 year long Muslim presence. Why was that?
Our theory about this is simple. Kerala and the rest of that area is
a Malyalam speaking area. Malyalam is a Dravidian language. Even
though when Muslims came they brought there language which was
Arabic, with them, the new growing population of Muslims remained
Malyalam-speaking. All Muslim chronicles in Kerala are documented in

Zaidi, p. 37-38
Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas; A Socio-Intellectual History of the Isna Ashari Shi’is in
India, Ma’rifat Publishing House, Canberra, 1986, p. 294-295

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 48
Malyalam. They accepted the holy Qur’an in Arabic but documented
their own affairs in their local language.
As opposed to that, the Muslim conquerors who came to Delhi,
Punjab and other northern areas, were Farsi speaking, whether they
came from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iran or even from Turkish regions.
Farsi is a language from the Indo-Iranian sub-branch of the Proto-Indo-
European family of languages. The northern parts of India were speaking
one or another dialect of the Prakrit, which we have identified as a set of
dialects in the Indo-Aryan sub-branch of the Proto-Indo-European family
of languages. That linguistic affinity helped ameliorate a mixed local
language that we now know as Urdu/Hindi.
So, how could a tradition of the new language grew and flourished
in the Deccan in Hyderabad area? After all, that area that we know today
as Hyderabad is within a Dravidian influenced area.
The answer to that question lies in the fact that the early rulers of
the Deccan helped create and popularize the new language.
The first Bahmani kingdom was established in 1347 during the
reign of Muhammad Tughlaq at Delhi by a Tajik-Persian commander.
Nearly a hundred years later when the Bahmani kingdom became weak,
more new Muslim kingdoms were established in those areas. The most
prominent of them all was the Qutub Shahi kingdom of Golcunda which
was established in 1518 A.D. The rulers of the Qutub Shahi kingdom
were from the Turkic tribe of Qara Quyunlu. There were two common
things between the Tajik-Persians and the Turkic Qara Quyunlu. They
were both Farsi-speaking and they were Shi’a Muslims. Thus both
became instrumental in establishing the Ashoora observance in their
kingdoms. This practice, as we noted, may have continued from the time
of Gesu Daraz. Quli Qutub Shah was one of the rulers at Golcunda. His
year of death is 1611 79. Quli Qutub Shah wrote Marsiyya for Imam
Husayn in a language which was a mix of Farsi with local dialects(both
from the south as well as from the north). He thus popularized a new
dialect for this poetry. The poetry had appeal in the masses due to its
passion and it had the royal patronage. The city of Hyderabad is in the
same vicinity. That is how a tradition of Deccani Urdu took roots in that
area which we know as such today. This is the beginning of literary
Marsiyya in this context includes every type of lamentation poetry.
The modern Urdu Marsiyya that we know today as it consist of six-line
stanzas took shape after nearly two hundred years of Quli Qutub Shah’s
Marsiyya moved from Deccan to Delhi and then to Lucknow where
it was perfected by Meer Anees and Mirza Dabeer.

Zaidi, Ali Jawad; A History of Urdu Literature, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi 1993, p.39

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 49
The first poet of Urdu Ghazal is Vali Dakani, or more correctly, Vali
Gujrati. His year of death was considered to be 1747. However, modern
research has shown that Vali had died at a younger age in 1707 80.
Vali stands as the connection of Urdu that developed in the Deccan
with the north, specifically Delhi.
In the previous sections we have explored the origins and early
development of Urdu, both as a vernacular as well as a literary language.
We have shown the religious background of the language and have noted
the influence of the Sufis in India on the evolving language. WE have also
noted the development of Urdu Marsiyya in the Dakani dialect which
forms the first documented Urdu poetry.
Can all this make a case for Urdu as a religious language? We will
answer that and bring our discussion to a conclusion in the next section.

We began this study with the question: IS URDU A RELIGIOUS
LANGUGAE? In that pursuit we explored the origin and early beginnings
of the languages of India and where they actually came from.
Let us first say a few words as to how and why did we formulate
that specific question.
As we saw in our travels through history, Urdu took shape in the
Indian sub-continent after the arrival of Muslims in this part of the
world. The very basic conclusion from that fact is that Urdu as a
language had been labeled from the day of its very inception 81 as the
language of Muslims (of India). People, scholars and the laity both, have
been questioning that premise for the last two hundred years.
Because of that inherent nature of that debate, people on both
sides have argued their case with strong feelings – more feelings and
sentiments than rational argumentation based on historical and
scientific evidence.
In this study we have tried to present to our readers a more
rational view of that debate. The language issue, most of the time,
becomes emotional and heated debates result from any such discussion.
We have tried to stay above any emotionalism in this study. Only our
readers will decide as to how successful we have been in that effort.
The basic observations that we have made in this exploratory
article can be summarized as follows:

Sadiq, M.; A History of Urdu Literature, O.U.P., 1964, p.60
As we have discussed, the idea of ‘inception’ of a new language as if it was the result
of a big bang, is not appropriate. But the expression here wants to give an impression of
the earliest beginnings.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 50
(1) Urdu is a language of India-Pakistan. It is a language of the Indo-
Aryan family, with borrowings from Farsi, Arabic and some other
languages. Its grammar is based on KhaRi Boli, a dialect which
came off the Prakrit of western Uttar Pradesh in north India.
(2) The basic reason that the new language came into being was a
religio-cultural clash between the settler-invaders and the local
population, back in the 800s and 900s.
(3) The influence of the early Muslim holy men, the Sufis, is very
apparent on the language.
(4) The language began as a spoken language and then over the years
the literary form of the language took shape.
(5) The early Urdu literature is predominantly religious in nature, or,
it documents religious ideas, practices and emotions.
(6) Politics had played a very significant role in the evolution of the
language, both the spoken word as well as the literary form.
(7) In spite of its very clear religious underpinnings, the language does
carry a very strong current of pluralism in it. Not only that, the
language was adopted by a very large non-Muslim population in
India. That helped the pluralistic and tolerant nature of the Indian
(8) Because of the political changes in the society, the pluralistic
cause of the language suffered a number of set backs. One of those
setbacks was that the new language was perceived as a religious
language, or, at least a language belonging to a particular religious
group, in some quarters.

Let us see what the causes of that perception were. I am going to

use the term “perception” from now on for that sentiment, because it is a
controversial issue.
The very first indication of that perception came from a statement
that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had made in the late 19th century.
Sir Syed was born in Delhi(1819) when the Mughal Sultanate had
already begun its slippery downfall. He saw how the British were
destroying each and every cultural and religious institution that had
been established by the Muslim civilization of India over a period of 800
years. He realized that there was no chance that the Indians would be
able to get rid of the British by force of arms – a very direct result of 1857
disaster. He appealed to his people to adopt the new language Urdu as
their national identity.
This statement was read in two major groups of the population of
India totally differently, while Sir Syed himself had meant it somewhat
differently than the two groups had perceived it, and the ruling British
used it to their own advantage.
Sir Syed’s initial intent in that statement was to show
inclusiveness of the Indian Muslims as Indian nationals. For the past
800 years Muslim’s language of the royal court as well as their national

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 51
language had been Farsi. Sir Syed was trying to persuade his community
to forsake that foreign language in favour of a local Indian language
which incidentally, had been accepted as the vernacular of the educated
middle class irrespective of their religion. At the same time, he was trying
to create some kind of solidarity within the larger Muslim community of
India via a common language – this was the same sentiment under which
the Quaid-e-Azam would choose Urdu as the national language of
Pakistan nearly fifty years later. In addition to that, Sir Syed had made
yet another statement which, though in his mind was a reasonable
statement, was taken negatively by the non-Muslim majority of India. He
had said that while Urdu was the language of the Shurafa, Hindi was the
language of the lowers classes, the farmers and labourers. It was very
true. The educated class of Indians (irrespective of their religious
preferences) spoke strictly Urdu while the lower classes spoke the
various dialects of Braj, Avadhi, Maithli, Poorbi and many other such
like. The anti-Urdu quarters rose up against that statement and labeled
it sectarian.
The Muslims of India felt gratified by their language being rated so
highly and honourably. The non-Muslim majority felt resentful at that
development and derided the statements made by Sir Syed. They
perceived the Muslim leadership as separatists on the language issue.
The British saw this as a golden opportunity to execute their
divide-and-rule policy in India. They initiated the project of Fort William
College at Calcutta 82 which would publish books on Indian subjects
printed in both Devnagri as well as Nast’aleeq – thus giving rise to two
separate languages out of the common Indian vernacular and putting a
stamp of the government’s approval on it 83.
These and other related forces worked together to create the
perception at the popular level that Urdu was a language exclusively of
the Muslims. When Pakistan was created in 1947 and Urdu was declared
as the national language of Pakistan, that perception hardened on both
sides of the border. After all, Pakistan was created as an Islamic country.
All those things hurt the cause of Urdu in multiple ways:
(A) Since Pakistan was created as an Islamic country, and the
language of Islam is supposed to be Arabic, the Pakistani
authorities, teachers and scholars worked overtime to intensify the
relationship of Urdu with Arabic. Many scholars, mainly from

Actually the Fort William College was established in Calcutta in 1800. The purpose
of the college was to train the East India Company officers in Indian languages and
Indian affairs in general. Sir Syed is reported to have made those statements in the late
1800s. The college seems to have intensified its activities in the twin languages after
This topic has been thoroughly treated by Dr. Abdul Jamil Khan; Urdu/Hindi: An
Artificial Divide(Politics of Languge), Algora Publishing, 2006. Dr. Jamil is actually a
medical doctor. He was involved in children’s speech therapy. His professional work and
studies led him into working on Indian languages and their evolution

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 52
Punjab, seriously argued that Urdu had no relationship with other
Indian languages and that it was derived from Arabic (they present
the Nasta’aleeq 84 script as the evidence to that). That effort is still
active in some quarters of Pakistan and more and more Arabic
words and terms are being pushed down into Pakistani Urdu. At
the same time, local Indian words are being dropped from use.
That is the main reason that no substantial work has been done in
Pakistan in the field of linguistics. Urdu is being driven away from
its roots. Teachers, students and researchers in Pakistan have to
realize that much as learning of Farsi and Arabic is necessary to
know good Urdu, without a basic knowledge of Sanskrit and the
Indian Prakrits no substantial work can be done on Urdu. There is
no effort at college level in Pakistan to learn and teach Sanskrit or
even the Prakrits.
(B) On the other side of the border, right after the partition, the
perception hardened that Urdu was a foreign language, a language
of the Muslims who had already separated in a new country called
Pakistan and therefore, they had taken their language with them
to the new country. A new effort took shape to do away with Urdu
completely. The main targets for that process were the provinces of
U.P., Bihar and Delhi. Urdu was banished overnight from schools.
Teaching of the Devnagri script was made compulsory. The irony
of the situation was that the education minister of the central
government was Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad, a great proponent of
the Urdu language. He remained in that position until his death in
1958. Obviously the policy was aggressively executed by other
people such as Vallabh Bhai Patel and Pandit Vallabh Pant. Of
course, Gandhi ji’s protective hand patronized that policy. In spite
of the fact that Azad himself had declared Gandhi as his mentor,
he could not do a thing to protect Urdu in India. The language was
completely obliterated at the high school level in those three states
during the same eleven years that Azad held the ministry of
education. My own schooling up to higher secondary level was
done at Jubilee College, Lucknow. Older teachers at the institution
used to tell me that there were two professorships in the college,
one for Urdu that was held by the famous Urdu poet Hamidullah
Afsar and the other for Hindi that was held by Shri Dhar Singh.
They were both seen like brothers and would arrive together every
morning riding the same Tonga. When I joined Jubilee Collge in
1954 in 9th grade, Hamidullah Afsar had already retired, the Urdu
chair had been abolished and Shri Dhar Singh had become the
Principal of the college where he remained until I graduated.

We have written elsewhere under a different context on this topic and have shown
that the actual script for the Indo-Aryan languages is the Devnagari not Nasta’qleeq
which is a borrowed script.

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 53
The only sane institution in India, that has preserved the language
to a certain extent is the Bombay film industry. That is why I have
included a section on that topic in this article. A sort of a revival did take
place in India in the 1980s for bringing back Urdu at a popular level.
However that anti-Urdu campaign of nearly four decades had created
such a gap in Urdu education and the politics had changed so much that
now Urdu graduates in India go unemployed – there are no jobs where
the Urdu graduates can fit in India. The other aspect of the situation is
that my nieces come from Delhi and they know all the Urdu poetry but
cannot read a word of Nast’aleeq. Boys and girls coming from India are
seen reciting, Nawha, Marsiyya and Qaseeda written either in Devnagri
or in Latin script.
Pakistan tells a totally different story. After three generations, the
young men and women of the country are now speaking fluent Urdu.
Even the Karachi Khojas and Memons are speaking Urdu without any
Gujrati accent. But it is a new kind of Urdu. At the popular level it has
been corrupted by bad grammar and inaccurate pronunciation under the
influence of local dialects and the high register of the language has been
overloaded with Arabic words and expressions. Everyone speaks their
own language and they insist on its correctness. They feel it is their right
to modify the language as they wish and feel. The Urdu that is being
used in Pakistani newspapers and TV channels is really pathetic. The
main reason for that is that anchors and chat-show hosts are appointed
in business interests under the influence of nepotism. Most of them do
not have proper education in the art and science of communication
neither in language skills.
The situation in India is somewhat more hopeful. It appears that
Urdu in India is hard to die. More substantial literature is being
published in India. Various institutions are reprinting the great classics
such as The Complete Works of Prem Chand.
I was listening to an Indian TV news report. This is how the report

जैन कम्युिनट को अल् संख्य कम्युिनट करार दे �दया

गया असेम्बल ने मंजरू � दे द�

‫ﺟﻴﻦ ﮐﻤﻴﻮﻧﮣﯽ ﮐﻮ ﺍﻟﭗ ﺳﻦﮐﻬﻴﮏ ﮐﻤﻴﻮﻧﮣﯽ ﻗﺮﺍﺭ ﺩے ﺩﻳﺎ ﮔﻴﺎ۔ ﺍﺳﻤﺐﻟﯽ ﻧﮯ‬
‫ﻣﻨﻈﻮﺭی ﺩے ﺩی۔‬
Jayn community ko alp-sankhyak community qaraar de diya
gaya assembly ne manzoori de di

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 54
In this whole item the only word that can be said to be purely
Hindi is the term ALP-SANKHYAK, which translates as ‘a minority.’ The
rest of the language is all Urdu, except the words “community” and
“assembly,” which are both English but have since long been fully
absorbed in Urdu. In fact, QARAR and MANZOOR both are Arabic words‫۔‬
Obviously, those who wanted to Hindi-ize the Indian language had
no other recourse but to fall back on Braj and Avadhi dialects (more Braj
and less Avadhi). For higher register words they had to go back and
search in Sanskrit (as the example above shows). That has made the
language difficult and less supple. And that is why we see people using
KITAB instead of POTHI or PUSTAK, WAQT instead of SAMAY and such
words as KAGHAZ, QALAM and GARM extensively. In fact the Hindi
speakers have forgotten certain words from the old Indian languages and
use the Arabic or Farsi words more extensively. Much as when I hear a
younger Hindi speaker call me on the telephone I feel like my local grocer
in Lucknow is calling me, that gives us a lot of hope for the language. Is
it linguistic chauvinism? May be – but that is not of great concern, not to
Urdu in India has been accepted as an Indian exotica. Weddings
and other such parties are usually rounded up with an item of Ghazal
recitals. Pakistan’s case does concern me. Why?
To answer that question we have to go back to our original
question. Is Urdu a religious language? That is what a majority of
Pakistanis think. It is their country and their language – they own both.
They will twist and turn both every which way they want.
And that is how the early leaders in India had looked at the
language. Otherwise there was no reason for embarking on an aggressive
campaign to obliterate Urdu from schools at the governmental level. The
Congress leaders in the 1940s and 50s felt insecure in that Urdu was a
Muslim language and its cultural influence was much too strong because
of its religious character. It had to be replaced with a Hindu language.
An episode, interesting though it is, I have not found any
documented evidence to its authenticity, is worth quoting here. A central
minister was traveling by train from Delhi to Calcutta. The Howra Mail
(the name of the train) used to stop for an hour at Lucknow Chahar
Baagh Station on its way from Delhi to Calcutta. The minister’s daughter
was a student at Lucknow University. When she heard that her father
was on the train, she came to the Railaway Station to meet him. They
met. And then she said: “Achcha Pita Ji, Khuda Hafiz,” and left. The
minister was incensed and turned to his aid saying: “That is why I hate
Urdu, it has the potential to change people’s faith.”
This story may or may not be true but it captures the sentiment
carried by the political elite of India in the 1950s.
A very simple fact of sociology is that languages do not have
religions. People do. Languages can be used to document religious

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 55
literature – some languages do it better than others. A language can be
influenced by a particular religion, and conversely, a language can
influence the face of a religion. We saw both those phenomena during
our study of the history of evolution of Urdu. In fact there are some
specific elements in the evolution of Urdu which are unique to that

(1) Urdu is the only language of the world which came into being due
to a religio-cultural clash between two communities.
(2) The community who felt Urdu as their language, owned it.
(3) But the entire population of north India had wholeheartedly
accepted Urdu as their language until political forces came into

Given those facts, even if we accept, beyond all reason, that Urdu
is a religious language and Muslims created it, which is definitely not
true; that does not give the Muslims of India-Pakistan a monopoly right
on the language. Language is like a mother. Anyone who loves a
language and adopts it as his/her own, the language becomes his or her.
I will give two examples here. Look at Vladimir Nobokov. He came
from Russia. Went to Cambridge and became an excellent English writer.
Just one of his works ‘Lolita’ is sufficient to show that. It stands at par in
its quality of language with any modern classic of fiction in England or in
the US. Look at Edward Saeed. He came from Palestine. Was educated at
Princeton and spent all his life teaching English at Columbia in New
Logically a language cannot belong to a single person because
language is a means of communication between two parties. Those who
want to limit Urdu belonging to a particular community or religious,
ethnic, political or geographical group are actually denying the
universality and pluralism of the language.
The reason we wrote all this is the fact that on both sides of the
border where Urdu is being used as a vernacular, strong feelings exist
that Urdu belongs to this community and it does not belong to that
When we began writing this in the forum, everyone (at least most
of the ones who wrote) was of the opinion that it was a useless debate,
that it was already settled that Urdu was not a language belonging to
Muslims only.
Perhaps within a limited circle of intelligent and educated people
that is so. It is all right for a group of like minded people to come
together and have dinner, shake hands and part agreeing with each
other. But on this issue we have 170 million people on one side of the
border who believe that Urdu is a Muslim language so they want to twist
and turn it every which way they want; and on the other side of the

URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 56
border there are several hundred million people who hate the language
only because it is perceived as a Muslim language.
Even if we all agree in this forum on this point, it does not solve
the problem of Urdu’s decline both as an instrument or preserving an
international literary database as well as communication vehicle.
We have got to work relentlessly on preserving the language by
insisting on the correct grammar and accurate idiom. We have to
condemn, on the one side, the unnecessary and unnatural move to load
the already developed language with the import of 800 year old Prakrit
words and idioms, and on the other side we must discourage the
Punjabi-ization of the language in Pakistan. We have to encourage the
import of new terms into Urdu to enhance its ability to document
technology and science. At the same time, we have to stop using
Arabicized terms for European names and terminologies fro which
correct sounds exist in Urdu. For example, why should we call Plato
Aflatoon with a soft Arabic ‘T’ and with an ‘F’ instead of the ‘P’ when we
have the correct sound for both ‘P’ and ‘T’ in Urdu?
Is it linguistic chauvinism? May be. But that kind of criticism and
labelling by liberals does not bother me, because I care much more about
linguistic accuracy and correctness than about political correctness.
There are things which please the eye, such as a blossoming rose,
and there are things which don’t, such as a heap of stinking dung. There
are no two ways about it.
I will therefore, conclude this with a few lines of Iqbal:

‫ﺍﭘﻨﮯ ﺑﻬﯽ ﺧﻔﺎ ﻣﺠﻪ ﺳﮯ ﮨﻴﮟ ﺑﻴﮕﺎﻧﮯ ﺑﻬﯽ ﻧﺎﺧﻮﺵ‬

‫ﻣﻴﮟ ﺯﮨﺮِ ﮨﻼﮨﻞ ﮐﻮ ﮐﺒﻬﯽ ﮐﮩہ ﻧہ ﺳﮑﺎ ﻗﻨﺪ‬
‫ﻣﺸﮑﻞ ﮨﮯ ﮐہ ﺍک ﺑﻨﺪﮦ ﺣﻖ ﺑﻴﻦ ﻭ ﺣﻖ ﺍﻧﺪﻳﺶ‬
‫ﺧﺎﺷﺎک ﮐﮯ ﺗﻮﺩے ﮐﻮ ﮐﮩﮯ ﮐﻮﮦِ ﺩﻣﺎﻭﻧﺪ‬
Apne bhi khafa mujh se haiN begane bhi na khush
Mai.N zahr-e-halahal ko kabhi kah na saka qand
Mushkil hai k eek banda-e haq been-o-haq andesh
Khaashaak k etude to kahe koh-e-Damavand

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URDU- The First and the Last Religious Language: by Syed-Mohsin Naquvi 57