by Zafar Syed


The Heart of the Matter

An unimaginable terror burst out of the Central Asian steppe in the early 13th century and rocked the very foundations of the civilization. Inspired by the brutal genius of Genghis Khan, the Mongols were a whirlwind of death and destruction. Like dominoes, kingdom after kingdom, state after state and city after city fell to them. In a matter of a few decades — razing, torching, slaying and pillaging — they held sway from Beijing to Moscow to form the largest contiguous empire in the history of mankind.


Before the reader starts wondering what all this has to do with Urdu, let me quickly append here that this cataclysmic upheaval of the world disseminated the word “Urdu” across the known globe. But first, some background etymology.


It has become almost a gospel that the word Urdu, meaning a “lashkar” or army, is of Turkish origin. This article is intended to add a new twist to this universal belief. For starters, let me offer a rather wild speculation: Urdu may have been derived from a Sanskrit word!


Actually, there is a word in ancient Turkish, “urta”, meaning the center or core. The word later changed into “ordu” and came to be used as a palace or a capital. Now the Sanskrit word “hridai” — heart — is curiously close to both “urta” and “ordu” not only phonetically but also in meaning. I suggest that the words “urta” or “ordu” may have been derived by the Central Asian nomads either from Sanskrit hridai or a pre-Sanskrit language root. [If you are wondering that the Central Asia is too far away from India for this exchange to take place, consider this: most of the pre-Islamic Turkish texts deal with Buddhism. (Erkan Turkman, 1987)]. Moreover, the Sanskrit root “ur” also means heart (Brajmohan Kaifi, 1966), which further supports our case.


Now we focus on the transmission of the word. The oldest extant sample of written Turkish is found on a monument in Mongolia, called the Kul-Tegin Inscriptions. This monument was erected in 732 in memory of a king of the same name by his brother. Written in the Gokturk script, there are 66 lines in 13 columns on all three faces of the 12 feet high triangular column (in case you are curious, here is an English translation <…>

The thing relevant for us here is that the inscriptions contain both “ordu” and “ortu” several times. The glossary given in the above-mentioned website defines the word as:


Ordu: kaghan’s residence, capital (kaghan, king; “Khaaqaan” in Persian)


Ortu: middle, central part


Three and a half centuries later, Yusuf Khas Hajib uses the word in two senses in his book about statecraft Kutadgu Bilig (The Blessed Wisdom, 1072. This monumental work is available online). Translations from an Urdu version:


1. Every city, country and “urdu” had a different name for this book. [Dr. Erkan of the Saljuk University, Turkey, states that here urdu means a palace but IMHO, it could be a capital also]


2. [They] were the inhabitants of another “urdu” [city].


3. The world is like a prison; don’t fall in love with it. Yearn for the bigger “urdu” and country so that you’re in peace. [According to Dr. Erkan, palace, but could be city/capital again]


4. Death has devastated many “urdus” and countries [cities]. (Dr. Erkan Turkman, 1987).

Many people might not be familiar with the way the word Urdu has been used in Kutadgu Bilig, but it is interesting to note that there is a province in Turkey with the name Ordu and whatsmore, the capital of this province is also called Ordu! Situated along the Black Sea amid lush green mountains, Ordu is one lovely place.


But this Ordu is not entirely unique; there are many other examples of city names using the word Urdu: the Mongolian name of Kashgar (a Chinese city along the Pakistani border) was “Urdu qand.” There was another city called “Urdu Baleegh”, which later came to be known as “Korakoram” (Shirani, 1929).



Since there was a lot of intermixing between the Turk nomads and the Mongols during the first millennium (as you can judge by the presence of the Kul-Tegin in Mongolia), the Mongols borrowed the word from Turkish (belonging to the Altaic group of languages, Turkish and the Mongolian are close kins), and used it chiefly as “palace.” Modern Mongol dictionaries describe the word as “ordo” (plural ordos) and mean a palace (For example,

[Note how the words are written in the unique Mongol script. I wonder if this is the only script where not only the sentences but the words also are formed from top to bottom]


The place where the remains of Genghis Khan were preserved is called Ordos and is considered as one of the most sacred places of the Mongols. (Oyunbilig, 1997). But since the Mongol were a nomadic people and spent their lives in tents, the word came to be used as a “camp” or “tent.”


In 1235, Ogodei Khan, the successor of Genghis, dispatched a special army on a mission to Europe under the command of Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. In a matter of a few years the Mongols overran Russia, Poland and Hungary. During the whole campaign Batu Khan used a dazzlingly embroidered golden tent, due to which the whole camp came to be known as Altun Ordu (Altun, Mongolian for golden). Batu established an empire in the Eastern Europe in 1241, which lasted till the fifteenth century. During the same time the word Ordu entered many European languages: becoming “orda” in the old Ukranian and Italian, morphing into “horda” in Polish and Spanish, transforming into “hord in Swiss and, marching farther westward, finally entered English in 1555 and French in 1559 as “horde”. Richard Eden’s “Decades of the New World” is the first English book to use the word. The Altun Ordu is now generally referred to as the Golden Horde! (<>)


Similar Ordus (tents) are still in vogue in Mongolia and are called a “ger” nowadays. An excerpt from National Geographic:


Somewhere out there, you will also see a ger, as Mongols call their round tent. We stopped at one to ask for hot water for tea. A woman named Gunga [Ganga?] hospitably put a kettle on her stove.


I asked if she wouldn’t rather live in a house. “You can’t move a house,” she answered, as if that were all that mattered. “You can’t take it here and” – gesturing with her hands – “here and here.” To me, Gunga’s home looked pretty permanent, with beds and chests, even pictures on the felt walls. But she told me that she and her family had moved three times that year to find good pastures for their animals. To collapse a ger takes only an hour or so. (Mike Edwards, 1996).


When the Mongols settled down in Persia, the word found its way into Persian. The oldest book containing the word is believed to be “JahaaN-Kushaa” by Alauddin Ata (Shirani, 1929).



Although some intermittent pre-Mughal examples of the usage of the word urdu do exit but there is evidence that the texts might have been tampered with later. However, the word was definitely in vogue during Babur’s reign (1526-30) and he used it himself in his autobiography, “Tuzk e Babari.” During the era of Akbar the Great (1556-1605), we come across the word most of the times in phrases like “urdu e mu’alla”, “urdu e uliyaa”, “urdu e hazrat”, “urdu e buzurg” and, even, “urdu e lashkar!” All these terms mean “royal encampment.” (Shirani, 1929) In “Aaeen e Akbari”, 1593, the official chronicle of Akbar’s life and deeds, the distinguished scholar Abu ul Fazl has described one of the imperial encampments, “Urdu e Zafar QareeN” in great detail. Some excerpts:


A plain, 1530-yard long tract was selected for the royal residence and the harem. The foremost is the “gulaal baaR”, a fortress-like, foldable, wooden quarters, measuring 100 by 100 yards. South to it is the court with 54 sections, each measuring 14 by 24 yards. In the center is a two-story wooden palace where the king prays at mornings. Women of the palace cannot enter this place without permission. Next to it are 24 wooden “rowties” (quadrangular tents), each of 10 by 6 yards, where the women of the royal family live … In the center is the great court, made of wood, measuring 150 by 150 yards. One thousand servants install it. It has 72 doors and has the seating arrangements for 10,000 people. Here the courtiers and the military officers meet the king.


This movable city, which is spread on several miles, is Akbar’s Urdu e Zafar Qareen. (Shirani 1929).


Fredrick Augustus documents in “The Emperor Akbar” (I used an English translation; the original is in German):


Each encampment such as has been described required for its transport 100 elephants, 500 camels, 400 carts and 100 bearers . . . One thousand tent pitchers were employed, 500 pioneers, 100 water carriers, 50 carpenters, tent makers and torch-bearers, 30 cord-wainers and 150 sweepers. (Augustus, 1885).


This Urdu had even a mobile mint, also called Urdu e Zafar QareeN. This mobile mint was in use in Jahangir’s and Shah Jahan’s time also and was called just Urdu. (Shirani 1929). Numerous coins from each period are extant on which “zarb e Urdu e Zafar QareeN” (struck in Urdu e Zafar QareeN) is inscribed. Some of these are enlisted in online catalogs as well, such as here


(Look closely for the name of the mint on the 12th and the 13th pairs of coins.)



Apart from Babar, the earlier Mughal kings did not like Delhi much, ditching it in favor of Agra, Fatehpur Sikri or Lahore. Akbar the Great – who spent more time in Lahore than in any other city – had never set foot on Delhi’s soil; in fact, the closest he ever got to Delhi was Panipat, some 80 miles away! It was Shah Jahan who got tired of both Lahore and Agra and ordered his engineers to select a place between the two for a new city. They chose a tract adjacent to Delhi on the bank of the Yamuna River and after a decade of extensive construction work, this new city, christened Shahjahanabad, was made the official capital. The date was April 18, 1648. Some of the important structures constructed here were the Red Fort, Jamia Masjid, Bagh e Hayat Bakhsh, Imtiaz Mahal and a two-story covered bazaar. (Shah Jahan Nama, 1660).


Shortly after the settling of the king in the new capital, the Red Fort and its surroundings, and later the whole of Shahjahanabad come to be known as “Urdu e Mu’alla” and sometimes, just “Urdu”. For example, Khan e Aarzoo, the illustrious linguist and the “ustaad” of a whole generation of poets, including Mir, Mir Dard and Sauda (by the way, he was also the step-uncle of Mir Taqi Mir), writes in his dictionary Navaadir e Alfaaz (1747-52), under the headword “chhanel”:

“We, who belong to Hind and live in Urdu e Mu’alla, are not familiar with this word.” (Navaadir e Alfaaz, 214). Similarly, he writes in another book, Mismir (1752):


“And thus it is proven that the language of Urdu is the standard language. The Persian of the same place is reliable . . . the poets of various cities of every country, like Khaqani of Shurvan, Nizami of Ganja, Sinai of Ghazni and Khusrau of Delhi used to write in this standard language. And this language is none other than the language of the Urdu.”


Two things are clear from this excerpt:


1. Urdu is used not as a metonym of a language, but for the city of Shahjahanabad.

2. Khan e Aarzoo says that the language of Shahjahanabad is Persian! This means that as late as mid-eighteenth century, the phrase zabaan e Urdu e Mu’alla [Shahjahanabad] is being used for Persian! But again, this is not surprising as we see that Persian was the official language of India throughout the Mughal rule.


Even in early nineteenth century, Insha ullah Khan Insha and Mirza Qateel write in “Dariyaa e Lataafat” (1807):


“The residents of Murshidabad and Azeemabad (Patna), in their own estimation, are competent Urdu speakers and regard their own city as the “Urdu.” (Tr. by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, 1999.) Very obviously, by “Urdu” the authors mean Shahjahanabad. The language Urdu in those times was called – gasp – Hindi . . . but more about it later.



1. Urdu is a Turkish word which might have been derived from Sanskrit.


2. The word, across centuries and continents, assumed many meanings and evolved along many lines.


3. One course that is relevant to this article can be depicted as:

Heart –> Center –> Palace –> Capital –> City –> Encampment –>

Tent –> Encampment –> City –> Language




In the previous chapter we discussed that the language Urdu was called Hindi in the eighteenth century. To be sure, the monikers Hindi or Hinduvi were used for the language for the better part of the millennium. The renowned Persian poet Khwaja Sa’ad Salman (1046-1121) of Lahore, generally identified as the first “Urdu” poet, is said to have left a deevaan in the language. Although not a single she’er from this deevaan could survive the ravages of time, we have some solid evidence that it did indeed exist. Amir Khusrau (1283-1325), for one, reports in the preface of his magnificent collection of verse, Ghuratul Kamaal (compiled 1294), that “Mas’ud had three collections; in Persian, Arabic and Hinduvi” (Jamil Jalibi, 1984). Some historians have argued that this “Hinduvi” might well be Punjabi but we know that Khusrau clearly identifies various languages spoken in India at that time: he mentions Punjabi as Lahori.


About his own language, Khusrau says in the same book:


Turk e Hindustaniyam, man Hinduvi goyam choo aab (I am a Hindustani Turk; I speak Hinduvi as fluently as the running of water)


In his masnavi “Nuh Sipihr” (Nine Heavens, 1317-18), Khusrau claims that “Due to its mellifluous words, Hindi is superior to Persian and Turkish” (Saleem Akhtar, 1995).


Eminent Urdu scholar Hafiz Mehmood Shirani (father of the poet Akhtar Shirani) concludes that “the oldest name of Urdu is Hindi or Hindvi” (Shirani, 1928).


The name Hindi for Urdu language persisted well into the nineteenth century and, believe you me, even in the twentieth century! Following are some examples of the usage from various eras:


Shah Miranji Shams ul ‘Ushshaaq, in “Khush NaGhz”


yoo dekhat Hindi bol

par ma’anee haiN nap-tol

[died 1496] (Mehmood Shirani, 1928)


Noorud Din Jahangir (the Mughal king, ruled 1605-1627) writes in his Tuzk (autobiography):


“ba kaalaa paanee farod aamadam k ba-zabaan e Hindi muraad aab e siyaah ast.”

(Goods were brought to me from Kaalaa Paanee, which means ‘black water’ in Hindi.”

(Jamil Jalibi, 1984)


Mullah Wajhi in “Sab Ras”


“maiN Hindi zabaan soon (se) lataafat is chhandaaN (prosody) soon nazm hor (aur) nasr milaa kar gilaa naheeN boliyaa (bolaa)

[1653] (Saleem Akhtar, 1995)

Raushan Ali Raushan, in “Aashoor Nama”

ye ‘aashoor naama, ye Hindi zabaaN

kahooN Karbalaa kee laRaa’ee ‘ayaaN

[1688] (Jamil Jalibi, 1987)

Ja’afar Zatalli, in “Zatal Nama”

agarche sabhee kooRaa o kirkaT ast

ba Hindi o rindi zabaaN aT-paT ast

[died 1713]

(Shaukat Sabzwari, 1987)


Mir Asar (the brother of Mir Dard) in “Masnavi e Khaab o Khayaal”

Farsi sau haiN, Hindavi sau haiN

baaqee ash’aar e masnavi sau haiN

[1740]  (Saleem Akhtar, 1995)

Mir Taqi Mir in “Nikaat ush Shu’ara”

“tamaam shud Nikaat ush Shu’araa e Hindi”

[1759] (Saleem Akhtar, 1995)

Mir Taqi Mir

kyaa jaanooN log kehte haiN kis ko sukoon e qalb

aayaa naheeN hai lafz e Hindi zabaaN ke beech

Mus’hafi, “Kuliyaat e Mus’hafi”

Mus’hafi Farsi ko taaq pe rakh

Ab hai ash’aar e Hinduvi kaa rivaaj


Murad Shah, in “Nama e Murad”

vu Urdu kyaa hai, ye Hindi zabaaN hai

k jis kaa qaa’il ab saaraa jahaaN hai

kalaam ab tujh se maiN Hindi zabaaN meN

karooN, shuhrat ho taa saare jahaaN meN

[1788] (Jamil Jalibi, 1984)

Shah Aalam Sani, Ajaaib ul Qasas

aisaa qissa zabaan e Hindi meN ba ‘ebaarat e nasr kahi’ye [jo] ‘aam-fehm aur Khavaas-pasand ho.

[1792] (Jamil Jalibi, 1984)

Shah Abdul Qadir, in Translation of the Quran “avval ye k is jagah tarjuma lafz-ba-lafz zarooree naheeN kyoN k Hindi tarkeeb Arabi se bahut ba’eed hai.”

[1795] (Mehmood Shirani, 1928)

And in the twentieth century, none other than Iqbal writes in his Persian collection:

Allama Iqbal, “Israr e Khudee”

garche Hindi dar ‘azoobat shakr ast
tarz e guftaar e Daree sheereeN tar ast

[Although "Hindi" is sweeter than sugar
The manner of speech of Persian is even sweeter]



[Here Iqbal was defending his adopting Persian instead of Urdu for poetry.]

These examples sufficiently prove that the language we call Urdu today was called Hindi/Hinduvi before and throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century. As far as I know, Murad Shah (example given above) is the first person on record to use “Urdu” alone in 1788 to mean the language. [Some researchers have shown earlier examples (e.g., Muhammadi Maa'il, 1766 and Mus'hafi, 1776) but all of them are dubious at best.]

But even after Shah Murad (who was a resident of Lahore), the word Urdu was used in other senses. We have already seen Insha and Mirza Qateel using it for Delhi in 1807. Here is Anees:

Urdu meN dukaaneN jo lagaate the dukaaN-daar

aaraastaa ho jaataa thaa ik chhoTaa saa bazaar

(Anees, 1802-1874)

Even John Shakespeare’s famous “A Dictionary of Hindustani and English”, published in as late as 1849, is not familiar with Urdu as the name of a language.

urdu, (p. 0066) T. urdu, s. m. An army, a camp, a market. urdu-i-mu’alla, The royal camp or [p. 0067] army (generally means the city of Dihli or Shahjahanabad, and urdu-mu’alla ki zaban, The court language).

This dictionary is available online; look here


So the question is, how — and when — did Urdu replace the appellation Hindi?




As we have already seen, in the eighteenth century, Urdu or Urdu e Mu’allaa was a word meaning the city of Shahjahanabad. Khan e Aarzoo argues that Persian is the language of the royal city but his nephew, Mir Taqi Mir (whose relations had gone sour with the uncle) asserts in his tazkirah that it’s actually Hindi that is the zabaan e Urdu e Mu’allaa.(Faruqi, 1999)

Actually, Persian indeed was the official language throughout the Mughal reign, but after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the vast empire started slipping out of the hands of his numerous successors, and by the end of the century the once mighty Mughal Empire was literally confined to the “Urdu e Mu’alla!” A she’er about the state of affairs of the Mughal king Shah Alam II (ruled 1759-1806) aptly describes the situation:

saltanat e Shah e Aalam
az Dilli taa Paalam!

[The realm of the “King of the World”
Stretches from Delhi to Palam!]

This crumbling of the Empire and the disintegration of the civil infrastructure slackened the grip of Persian and raised the status of the language of the masses, Hindi. So, slowly and surely, Hindi,

instead of Persian, became the dominant language of the royal court and the city. In fact, the Mughal kings Muhammad Shah (ruled 1719-48) and Alamgir II (ruled 1754-59) wrote poetry in Hindi. Shah Aalam II (ruled 1759-1806) was a polyglot: he not only wrote Ghazals in Hindi, Persian, Punjabi and Braj but his “Ajaa’ab ul Qasas” is one of the earliest Urdu prose books of Northern India. All these factors played their respective parts in establishing Hindi as the “zabaan e Urdu e Mu’alla”, replacing Persian as “the language of Shahjahanabad.” (Jamil Jalibi, 1987; Shams ur Rahman Faruqi, 1999; VD Mahajan)

Now why so much stress on the language of the capital? We have seen Khan e Aarzoo declaring that only the language of a capital can be standard (faseeh). There is an old Arabic saying, “kalaam ul malooke, malook ul kalaam”, meaning that “Speech of a king is the king of speeches!” (In Enlgish, the Fowler’s “The King’s English” is considered an unbeatable classic treatise of English usage). This is because the royal headquarters were the seat of the arts and erudition. The imperial patronage attracted men of learning not only from all parts of the country but, especially during the reign of the earlier Mughal kings, from abroad as well. We see the even in the deteriorating times of Muhammad Shah’s rule, renowned Persian poet Sheikh HazeeN had come to Delhi. Ghalib has lamented in “Mihr e Neem Rooz”, that Talib Amli, the Poet Laureate of Shahjahan’s court, was weighed in gold. (Hali, 1894). Similarly, Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan, is said to have given away one lakh Rupees to a poet on a single couplet! (Jamil Jalibi, 1987)


All these factors chipped in to make Hindi of Shahjahanabad as the only standard language and people started calling it the “zabaan e Urdu e Mu’alla”, the standard language of Shahjahanabad. Later on, it became just “Urdu e Mu’alla” or “zabaan e Urdu” and, finally, towards the end of the eighteenth century, simply Urdu. So we see that the global assumption that Urdu, a “lashkari zabaan”, developed in the armed forces of the Mughals, is totally wrong. The word Urdu has nothing to do with army as the it was used to mean the imperial encampment and later, the city of Shahjahanabad, and not army. Distinguished Urdu scholar Shams ur Rahman Faruqi has told me that there is not a single reference of the word being used in Persian for army prior to the 19th century! We can summarize the points given above as:

1. Urdu as the name of the language has nothing to do with army.

2. It was given this name because of its association with Shahjahanabad.

3. The metonym of the language came into circulation in the late eighteenth century and the earliest usage cannot be found before the fourth quarter of that century.

4. Prior to this, Hindi was the most common name for this language, which persisted into the twentieth century as well.


Now, if Urdu was Hindi, then what is modern Hindi? We shall tackle this question in the next episode.




A brief overview of other names for modern Urdu:



The Urdu ghazal was called Rekhta. As Qaim Chandpuri (1722?-1794) confirms:

Qaim maiN Ghazal-taur kiyaa ReKhta varna

ik baat lachar see ba-zaabaan e Deccani thee!

[Qaim, I raised the Rekhta (Urdu Ghazal) to the level of Ghazal (Persian Ghazal)

Or else, it was just a vulgar form in the Deccani tongue!

Moreover, the Urdu Ghazal recitations were generally called "MaraaKhtas", compared to "mushaa'iras" for the "Ghazal."

(Jamil Jalibi, 1987)


The dialect spoken in the South.


The ancient name used in the times of Amir Khusrau.


Some sporadic examples of the usage of this name by the natives can be found but, by and large, the name was used by the Europeans and could never catch on with the Indians.


All these names were occasionally employed but as we have seen, Hindi was the most common name of Urdu. I've already provided sufficient examples in the previous post, but let me quickly add one more here:

Some scholars consider the period 1750-1800 as the Golden Period of Urdu poetry and I for one cannot agree more. The reason being that no other era, before or after, has seen such plethora of great poets living at the same time: Mir (generally considered the greatest ghazal poet), Mir Dard (generally considered the greatest Sufi poet), Sauda (generally considered the greatest qaseeda-gau and hijv-nigaar) and Mir Hasan (generally considered the greatest masnavi-nigaar). Even the comparatively "minor" poets of the time -- Mus'hafi, Aatish, Jur'at, Inshaa, Qaa'im - dwarf the giants of other periods.

Now consider this: Sheikh Hamdani Mus'hafi (1750-1824), who is one of the greatest Urdu poets of all time, wrote an important "tazkira" (a memoir+anthology) of important Urdu poets in 1794. And what name did he chose for this book? "Tazkira e Hindi GoyaaN," (A Tazkira of *Hindi* Poets!)

This brings us back to the important question: How did the name got changed from Hindi to Urdu?



When the British came to India, they found that the lingua franca of India, regardless of religion, was Hindi - a local language with the vocabulary enriched by Persian and Arabic and written in the Perso-Arabic script. The British were surprised to see that because they thought of Muslims and Hindus as two separate nations and in their estimation, they ought to have separate lingoes. Writes John Gilchrist, one of the founders of Fort William College at Calcutta:

"The Oriental Linguist"

[Hindustan] is chiefly inhabited by Hindoos and Moosalmans: whom we may safely comprise, as well as their language, under the general, conciliating, comprehensive term Hindoostanee, and which I have adopted for the above and the following reasons.

This name of the country being modern, as well as the vernacular tongue in question [Hindustani], no other appeared so appropriate as it did to me, when I first engaged in the study and cultivation of the language. That the natives and others call it also “Hindi”, Indian, from Hind, the ancient appellation of India, cannot be denied; but as this is apt to be confounded with Hinduwee, Hindooee, Hindvee, the derivative from Hindoo, I adhere to my original opinion, that we should invariably discard all other denominations of the popular speech of this country, including the unmeaning word Moors, and substitute for them Hindoostanee, whether the people here constantly do so or not: as they can hardly discriminate sufficiently, to observe the use and propriety of such restrictions, even when pointed out to them.

Hinduwee, I have treated as the exclusive property of the Hindus alone; and have therefore, constantly applied it to the old language of India, which prevailed before the Mooslaman invasion. [1796] (Cited in Shams ur Rahman Faruqi, 1999)

Look how superciliously Gilchrist treats the “natives”, and goes on to decide for them by which name they should call their mother tongue! Two years later, in “The Oriental Linguist”, Gilchrist confidently predicted:

“the Hindoos will naturally lean to Hindwee, whiele the Moosulmans will of course be more partial to Arabic and Persian; whence the two styles arise.” (p 2, cited in Faruqi, 1999)

And in order to help develop the two “styles”, Gilchrist joined Fort William College, Calcutta.

This college was established to teach the British officials the vernaculars. Since no prose texts of Urdu, the lingua franca of the period, were available that could be used in the syllabus, the college hired several authors to write new textbooks [It is said the Mir Taqi Mir also appeared for an interview in Lucknow, but the interviewer refused his on the grounds that the job was too paltry compared to his status! (Personal communication with Dr. Gauhar Naushahi of the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad)]. This college was abolished in 1853 after compling 147 book, 53 of which could not be published (Dr. Sameeullah)

Mir Amman Dehlivi wrote “BaaGh o Bahaar” (Garden and Spring) in 1802 for the college, which has now considered a literary classic. Other Urdu writers were Haidar BaKhsh Haidari (Aaaraa’ish e Mehfil), Kazim Ali Jawan (Urdu translation of Shakuntala) and Bahadur Ali Hussaini, etc.

Alongside Urdu (which the authorities of the College were bent upon calling Hindustani instead of Hindi), the College also hired some Devanagri experts, who started writing books in *Modern* Hindi, that is, a language similar to Urdu but written in Devanagri and with a heavy dose of Sanskrit words. Lallo Lalji in 1803 wrote the first modern Hindi book, Prem Since Lallo Lal had no model before him, he imitated the language of Mir Amman, deliberately avoiding Persian and Arabic words. Writes Ramchandr Shukla:

If Lallu Lal didn’t know Urdu, he would not have been that successful in keeping the Pero-Arabic words out of Prem Sagar. So many of these words had been intermixed in to day-to-day language that it they were difficult to identify for somebody familiar only with Sanskrit-Hindi.” (Hindi Sahitiya kaa Itihaas”, cited in Gyanchand Jain, 1981)

Another prominent New Hindi writer of the College was Sadal Mitr. Says he:

“Gilchrist ne … aik din aagyaa dee k adhiyaa tum Ramayun ko aisee bolee meN karo jis meN Faris, Arabi na aave. tab se maiN is ko KhaRi Boli meN karne lagaa.”

Note that the moniker “KhaRi Boli” was also *invented* by Gilchrist, in an attempt to translate the phrase “Sterling Tongue of India.” The year was 1798 and this is what he said:

“Shankuntalaa kaa doosraa tarjuma ‘KhaRi Boli’ yaa Hindustaan kee Khaalis boli (sterling tongue of India) meN hai. Hindustani [that is, Urdu] se muKhtalif ye sirf is baat meN hai k Arabi o Farsi kaa lafz chhaanT liyaa jaataa hai.” (cited in Gyanchand Jain, 1981)

Notes FE Key in “A History of Hindi Literature” (1920), “A literary language for Hindi speaking people which could command itself more to Hindus was very desirable and the result was obtained by taking Urdu and expelling from it words of Persian or Arabic origin and substituting for the words of Sanskrit or Hindi origin.” (Cited in Farman Fateh Puri, 1978).

Similar theories have been put forth by other scholars: “High Hindi is a book language evolved under the influence of the English who induced native writers to compose works for general use in a form of Hindustani in which all the words of Arabic and Persian origin were omitted, Sanskrit words being employed in its place.” (William Frazer, A Literary History of India, 1893).

Dr. Tarachand reports in “A Problem of Hindustani”, 1944: “At Fort William College, Calcutta, which was established to teach British Officers Indian Languages, besides other subjects, a number of them were taken up for study. Among them were Braj+Urdu, as has been indicated above was the language of poetry and did not lend itself readily for the purposes of prose. Urdu, which was studied by both Hindus and Muslims, was naturally the common language of India.

Unfortunately, the zeal of finding distinctions led the professors of the college to encourage attempts to create a new type of Urdu from which all Persian and Arabic words were removed and replaced by Sanskrit words. This was done ostensibly to provide the Hindus a language of their own. But the step had far-reaching consequences and India is still suffering from this artificial bifurcation of tongues.”


George Grierson, the head of the committee for the monumental “The Linguistic Survey of India”, writes in the foreword of a book of Lallu Lal in 1896 (reconverted into English from an Urdu translation – I hope I have not mangled the text too much — cited in Gyanchand Jain, 1981):

“No such language existed in India before, so when Lallu Lal wrote Prem Sagar, he was actually inventing an entirely new language.”

And finally, the verdict by Suniti Kumar Chatterji, often considered the father of Indian linguistics (again, reconverted from Urdu, cited in Gyanchand Jain, 1981):

“Historically and linguistically, Urdu is not an Islamic form of Hindi or Sankritized KhaRi Boli; the truth is to the contrary. Actually the Hindus adopted the Persianized Hidustani, which came into being in the royal court and its circles (we come across its beginning earlier in the Deccani tongue and in the Southern Muslim states of Ahmed Nagar, Bijapur and Golkonda). Since the Persian and the Arabic words were of useless for them, they embraced the Devanagri script and Sanskritized the language, shunning the alien vocabulary of Persian and Arabic . . .. The above-mentioned theory that the Sanskritized Hindi was fashioned in the mode of Persianized Urdu was first proposed by Dr. Tarachand. I was against it then but now I admit that Tarachand was right.” (A Polyglot Nation and Its Linguistics, 1973)


And now the big question whether these are different languages *now*. And my humble opinion is, I don’t think so! Various scholars have written extensively written on the subject but the simple linguistic principle is that languages are evaluated, categorized and compared by their “verbs”, not “nouns.” The reason being that the nouns-universe of any living language is extremely volatile; nouns enter and leave at a break-neck pace. On the other hand, the verbs stay fairly constant and are accepted/modified/replaced/rejected over a much longer period of time. Also, verbs are the most commonly used words in any language.

Let’s see where modern Hindi and modern Urdu stand when viewed from this point of view.


Stanislav Martynyuk’s excellent study, A Statistical Approach to the Debate on Urdu and Hindi dies&hl=en&ie=UTF-8  has already been discussed. He took 441,153 Hindi words and 440,929 Urdu words from modern sources and conducted a frequency of occurrence analysis. What he found out was that 70 out of 100 most common words in both languages were the same. Here are the top 20 most common words in Hindi and Urdu (in order of frequency of occurrence).


ka hona meN ne karna ko se jana ki yah aur ve par kahna dena bhee rahna naheeN ek keli’ye


ka hona meN karna ne aur se ko jana par keh dena yah kahna voh keli’ye naheeN ek rahna jo


I guess this list prvides ample that these are the words of one and the same language.


In any event, the nouns in both modern Hindi and Urdu, in both India and Pakistan, are being replaced by English words. A very common sentence:



Hamaaree responsibility hai k ham har situation meN apnee national language use kareN aur foreign words ko avoid kareN.



Hamaaree responsibility hai k ham har situation meN apnee national language use kareN aur foreign words ko avoid kareN.


So see? One language, two scripts!