Hindustani or Urdu; a language spoken by millions in the Indian subcontinent, the essence of our culture, and yet, almost unsheltered in its own home. The birth and evolution of Urdu have always been a matter of discussion amongst scholars but one thing that could be said is that the birth of Urdu was not, certainly, one dimensional. Urdu received multi-dimensional acceptance in its initial days of growth. Places like markets and military camps, where people of Central and South Asian origins assembled, emerged as the nucleus of its growth. Hazrat Amir Khusrow, a Sufi poet from Delhi, is the first and best-known poet of the fundamental dialect of the Hindi-Urdu complex. He was the first to initiate the use of this language in the royal court of Sultan Alauddin Khilji of Delhi.
When civilizations meet, they do not always meet to clash and try to destroy each other. Destruction happens but it is not the only thing that happens. By the end of the 12th-century, central Asian languages such as Turkish, Arabic and Persian arrived in India with military Generals such as Shahabuddin Ghori, who wished to build an empire and travelled to trade and earn profit. During the Turkish invasion, the Ghurid Army also recruited Indian Soldiers which led to the growth of a mixed central Asian and north Indian language known as Laskari (Lashkar means Army). With these Lashkars, some Sufi saints also moved to India, one of them being Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who moved to India from Sistan (present-day Iran). He settled in Ajmer after the invasion of Ghori and founded the Chistiya Order there.
This particular tariqa (order) became the dominant Muslim spiritual group in medieval India and many of the most beloved and venerated Indian Sufi saints were Chishti in their affiliation. The important characteristic of Chishti order poets was that they wrote in languages spoken by the common population. Two of the most famous poets of the Chisti order are Farid-Uddin Ghanshakar, who wrote his ‘Kalaam‘ in Punjabi, and Amir Khusrow, who experimented with his Persian and Braj Bhasha, a language spoken by the natives of Delhi and present-day western Uttar Pradesh, giving birth to a new language, namely Hindiwi or Khariboli. Hindiwi later evolved as Dakkini in South India, Gujari in Gujarat and Rekhta or Dehelwi in Delhi, which is now known as Urdu. Hazrat Amir Khusrow is thus considered to be the father of present-day Urdu literature, as illustrated by the words of renowned scholar, and founder of Rekhta Foundation, Sanjiv Saraf:
“Urdu started growing as a language of literature the day Hazrat Amir Khusrow wrote Zihal e Miskin Makun Taghaful”
Abu’l Hasan Yamin ud-Din Khusrau, better known as Amir Khusrow Dehelwi, or Amir Khusrow Qalandar, was an Indian Sufi singer, musician, poet and scholar who lived under the Delhi Sultanate. He was an iconic figure in the cultural history of the Indian subcontinent. He was a mystic and a spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi. He wrote poetry primarily in Persian, but also in Hindiwi. Khusrow is sometimes referred to as the “Voice of India” or “Parrot of India” (Tuti-e-Hind), and has been called the “Father of Urdu Literature.”
Khusrow is one of the most influential and transformative figures in the cultural history of Northern India. He epitomizes the coming together of the genius of the South Asian and Central Asian creative processes. He was the first and best-known poet of Hindiwi, which later divided into Hindi and Urdu. These two languages owe a lot to Khusrow. He was born to a Turk father and an Indian mother which is the reason why he wrote in Persian in the initial days of his career, although Indian languages were not unknown to him. Following are some lines of his most renowned Persian kalaam:
“Nami danam chi manzil bood shab jaay ki man boodam; Baharsu raqs-e bismil bood shab jaay ki man boodam. Khuda khud meer-e majlis bood andar laamakan Khusrow; Muhammad shamm-e mehfil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.” (I wonder what was the place where I was last night, All around me were half-slaughtered victims of love, tossing about in agony. God himself was the master of ceremonies in that heavenly court, Oh Khusrau, where the Prophet too was shedding light like a candle.)
Khusrow travelled extensively to Bengal, Multan and other places as an official chronicler with one King or another. He travelled to Punjab with his spiritual guide and Ayodhya as a curious traveller. It was in these expeditions that he picked up words from different languages and used them with great felicity and imagination in his songs, of course, but also in riddles, which have become part of everyday speech in large swathes of South Asia. Many poets of the early medieval time wrote poems in Hindiwi following Khusrow; the prominent ones among them are Mulla Daud’s ‘Chandayan‘ and Malik Mohammad Jayasi’s ‘Padmavat’.
Delhi was home to many Sufi saints including Nizamuddin Auliya, the fourth head of the Chishtiya order. That was the time when Tasawwuf (Islamic Mysticism) or Sufism was becoming popular among the Indian population. The doors of Sufi Khanqah, a monastery, were open to all creeds and classes. The Sufis who mostly spoke Turki, Persian, Dari or Pashto, wished to communicate with the growing number of new adherents of their culture in their language. Those who settled in Punjab chose Multani and Punjabi as the language of their discourse, just as those who travelled to Awadh chose Awadhi. In Delhi, Nizamuddin Auliya asked his favourite disciple, Khusrow, to write in the language of people, so they could “better communicate their message”. As it turned out, the disciple did much more than that. He mixed languages in his exclusive style. For instance, in every stanza of his most discussed Kalaam, Zihal-e Miskin, he has used Persian in the first line, whereas Braj in the second:
“Shaban-e-hijran daraz chun zulf, Wa roz-e-waslat cho umer kotah. Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhun, To kaise katun andheri ratiyan” (Long like curls in the night of separation short like life on the day of our union. My dear, how will I pass the dark dungeon night without your face before.)
Hazrat Amir Khusrow Qalandar died in 1325, and after his death, Hindiwi received the acclaim and patronage it deserved. It was recognised as the court language in the Royal Durbars of Bahmani, Gujarat and Delhi sultanates. However, during the initial days of the Mughal rule, Hindiwi lost its lustre. The main reasons were that the Mughals preferred typical Persian as their court language over Indian or mixed languages. Secondly, they claimed themselves to be descendants of Mongols while Amir Khusrow and other contemporary poets criticized Mongols’ policy of expansion and portrayed them as inhumane plunderers. Nevertheless, Hindiwi evolved again as Rekhta or Urdu around the 18th century in the Mughal Capital of Delhi, which is still one of the most accepted languages in India.
Syed Mohammad Ali is a student pursuing Economics Honours from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Diptarka Chatterjee
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.