Jamia Milia’s Professor Shahzad Anjum provides here not just a short history of the
language, but also sheds his opinions on the politics and misconceptions that Urdu as
a language is tainted with in today’s times. His rich and eclectic interview can
perhaps help us in forming independent views on the tradition of Urdu language,
and of other languages as well.

What is the history of Urdu language? Is the ‘military camp’ myth (since ‘Urdu’ means military camp in Persian) true?
This is not so, this is just a myth. This is not the translation of Urdu. This is a Turkish word and it has come from Turkey.

So, I have heard, that when the Sultanates came from Turkey to India…
No, the language has nothing to do with Muslim religion. Not at all. The thing is, there is a lot of contention regarding the origin of this language. There is a lot of disagreement amongst people of its origin, about the origin, spread of the language. There are three views that are commonly held. One view the some researchers hold is that Urdu language originated in the Punjab region (also including that which in now i n P a k i s t a n ) .

Second view is that it originated in the Deccan – the region around Hyderabad  such as Bijapur, Golconda etc. And Qutab Shah and other royal houses existed. One was Bahmani kingdom.

Where did the poet Vali Dakkani come from…
Vali Dakkani came to Delhi right at the end, very late, around 18th century.  Bahmani kingdom goes back –c. After them eight-nine kingdoms followed, but there were parallel kingdoms of Bijapur and Golconda.

So most people think Urdu originated from here, and this is a view I share as w e l l .

The third view is that, no, Urdu’s origin can be traced to Delhi and its surrounding regions. Such as Meerut, Muradabad etc. Therefore, there three theories of the origin of Urdu language hold. There was no Urdu language as such then, nor was there a Hindi language as such then.

Both got mixed…?
No, neither were any distinct languages only.

What did people speak then?
People spoke Pachali, in Kashmir, Magadhi in the Magadh region, Braj in the Delhi-Mathura-Agra region, and the Dravidian languages in the Deccan. Now when the Delhi Sultanate set up their rule, and after that the Mughals set up their rule. The language of the Mughals was Persian. Their court language, the administrative language, was Persian.

Whichever manuscripts one finds of Urdu, they are in Persian. This Urdu which we speak now, that is a market-language. It was called Rekhta then. But the problem was that market-language meant the common man’s language, not that of the courts and the royalty, and the administrative work. That remained Persian.

However, there is a great force in a common man’s language. So people say that this Urdu prospered in Delhi or wherever. But, there was a mixing of languages, with which Urdu came up. The problem however, is of the script…

Yes, there seems to be a lot of Arabic influence….
No, this script is Persian. And the vowels, which is called ‘Harf’’, most of them are from Hindi, or Devanagiri, such as – ‘bha’ (‘भ’ ), ‘pa’ (‘प’ ), ‘tha’ (‘थ’ ), ‘ka’ (‘क’ ), ‘dha’ (‘ध’ ), – Some letters are Arabic, such as ‘se’, ‘sheen’, ‘zwaad’, ‘zwaal’ all this is also in Arabic. Some are Persian, such as ‘che’, which are not there in Arabic.

Isn’t Persian derived from Arabic?
No, not at all! That is a completely different tongue. (That is a very rich language…) Arabic’s script is different. It’s grammar is different. Urdu language is closest, grammatically, to Hindi. Because these two languages, they came up together…however, the script of one is Devanagiri, and the other’s is Persian.

Was Urdu poetry famous in Arabia? Did the Urdu language travel outside India?
No. The thing is that this language came up slowly-slowly…people call it a sweet-tongue. Because the words in the language, I feel, are close to that in English. For example, in English there is ‘pha’, ‘sha’, ‘za’ – and this adds a layer of beauty. Now in the evolution of the language, you asked of Vali Dakkani

Now Dakkani’s elders said that you go to North India. Whichever language he was using, he was already writing poetry in it. And this language also had Dravid language words (such as Kannada). Currently, I am teaching a text, and coincidentally it is right in front of me…

This tongue is Dakkani, and it is a very old language, of Vali’s time as well. It is Urdu only, but its words are Dakkan, for example –

‘Kata (Keheta) hoon, tujhe pand ki ek baat,
Kai faayada is mane (me) dhaag-dhaag
Mai tumhe naseeat ki baat kehena chahata hoon
Jo berakt bole toh batiyan pachees
Bhala hai toh yak (ek, yak is Persian) baat bole selees
Satasat nahin jis kirebaat (kism) me
Padhiya (padha) jaaye kyun jo lekar haat me
Jis baat ke rak ka faam nai (nahin)
Ushi sher kahane se kuch (kucch) kaam nai (nahin)
Nako kar tu lai bolne ki awas.’

This is a masnavi by Waji, called Qutab Mushtari. Waji was a great poet of the
Dakkan. He also wrote Shab Ras.

This is the same degree of difference that is there, for example, in Hindi and Bhojpuri…

Yes, absolutely, absolutely! Now this is a dictionary…
Aapech – Aap hi
Aadhaar – Sahara
Ala – Aala
Aamd – Aam

I think, that Hindi in Deccan too has words which change their shape. They are pronounced in a different manner. I am from Hazaribagh in Bihar, and my in-laws are from Jharkhand. So what we have to say, the pronunciation changes, even if we have to say the same thing. I say ‘Us’, and they say ‘Oos’.

So this is like a dialect of Urdu?
‘Uparana – Nikalaana’

Now, we say ‘Uparao’. ‘Anaam – Inaam’, ‘Umas – Josh’. In Deccan, till today, ‘kaaf’ is pronounced as ‘khe’. There are some words which are spoken in such a manner, even now. For example, they don’t say ‘ka’, but ‘kha’. This hasn’t yet come down t o t h e m . ‘ C h a a k – C h a k ’ , ‘ K h a s a a l a t – Kha s a l a t ’ .

So this dialect which existed, a lot of great poetry was transcribed in it. There is Waji, and then Vali Dakkani. When Vali Dakkani came to Delhi in the 17th century, there had been huge changes in the Urdu language. Now, words from Persian had come into being, and even those of Arabic. This language was what was existent in Delhi at that time. And the language Urdu, was slowly dying by then. Its relation with Hindi words was strengthening, and the Persian and Arabic influence was lessening.

What was the situation with Hindi then?
At that time, Hindi was not a distinct language as of yet. It was a Braj language. It is from the Mathura -Agra region that Hindi finally emerged.
Thus, in this way, Urdu kept spreading, and it kept evolving and changing. On one side there were poets of Deccan, but even in Delhi, many poets came up from the 17th century onwards, such as Mir and many more. Now, the age of Mir was that of the culmination, the Golden Age of Urdu language. A long time later, emerged Ghalib. He is the epitome of Urdu language.