by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
In 1700, there came to Delhi a man whose takhallus or pen name was Wali; his real name is a matter of dispute. Wali was born in 1665 or 1667, and almost certainly died in 1707-08. The first account of his advent upon Delhi is from the tazkira (biographical dictionary of poets) Nikat al-Shu`ara (circa 1752) by Muhammad Taqi Mir (1723-1810), the second from Makhzan-i Nikat (circa 1756), another tazkira, by Qa`im Chandpuri (1724/25-95). This is what they say about Wali:
[Wali] is from Aurangabad. It is said that he came to Delhi too and presented himself before Miyan Shah Gulshan and recited [before him] some verses of his own. Miyan Sahib observed, 'There are all those Persian themes lying unused; bring them into use in your own Rekhta/1/; who is there to challenge you if you do this?'/2/Ignoring the inconsistency between the two accounts, it only needs to be pointed out that both stress the Delhi origin of Wali's poetry, which became so popular that master poets in Delhi began to compose in Wali's mode: but for the Delhi saint's advice to him, Wali would have remained an occasional poet in Persian, or a negligible poet in Rekhta. Although the two accounts do not match and were recorded much after the event, Wali undeniably transformed Urdu poetry.
In the forty-fourth regnal year of King `Alamgir, he [Wali] came to Jahanabad/3/, accompanied by …Abu al-Ma`ali….He used occasionally to compose a verse in Persian, praising Abu al-Ma`ali's beauty. On arrival here [in Delhi], when he had the auspicious occasion to present himself before Hazrat Shaikh Sa`dullah Gulshan, may his grave be hallowed, he commanded him to compose poetry in Rekhta, and by way of education, gave away to him the following opening verse that he composed:Were I to set down on paperIn sum, it was due to the fortunate presaging by the saint's tongue that…he wrote Rekhta with such expressive power and grace that most of the Masters of that time began deliberately to compose verses in Rekhta./4/
The praises of the beloved's beauty,
I would spontaneously
Convert the paper into the White Hand
Ghulam Hamadani Mus'hafi (1750-1824) reported an eyewitness account of Shah Hatim (1699-1783), a major Delhi poet:
One day he [Shah Hatim] mentioned to this faqir that in the second regnal year of him who rests in Paradise [Emperor Muhammad Shah, r.1719-48] Wali's diwan arrived in Shahjahanabad,/5/ and its verses became current on the tongues of young and old./6/Historians of Urdu literature, while crediting Wali with having revolutionized Urdu poetry, have maintained that it became possible only because Wali came to Delhi and learned his literary savoir faire from a Delhi-based master. The interpretation that Wali's role in the development of Urdu poetry was in fact Delhi-inspired has been challenged by some scholars, but seems still to occupy its authoritative position.
There was very little Urdu literature in the North before Wali. Mas`ud Sa`d Salman of Lahore (1046-1121) is reputed to have produced a diwan in Hindi or Hindvi. It no longer exists. Amir Khusrau of Delhi (1253-1325) reported that he had 'presented to friends a few quires of [my] Hindvi verse too'./7/ Nothing of those verses exists now. Urdu literature in the North never really began before the seventeenth century, and didn't take off until the advent of Wali. Khusrau's poetics and literary theory must have influenced Urdu poets, but his Hindvi poetry did no such thing.
After Khusrau, there are only two prominent names: Muhammad Afzal, (d.1625) who left a longish poem called Bikat Kahani (A Dire Tale), and Mir Ja`far Zatalli (1658?-1713), long neglected by literary historians because of his savage, pornographic satires. Afzal wrote almost entirely in the rekhta mode. Rekhta was the name of the language then also known as Hindi, Hindvi, Gujri, and Dakani, and later known as Urdu. It was also a genre, a macaronic verse where Hindi/Hindvi or Rekhta (language) was freely mixed with Persian in different proportions. Zatalli wrote some of his poetry and one small piece of prose in plain Hindi. The rest is in the rekhtah mode and genre.
Around 1720, Delhi seems suddenly full of Urdu poets: Shah Mubarak Abru (1683/5-1733), Sharaf al-Din Mazmun (d.1734/5), Sadr al-Din Fa`iz (1690-1737/8), Ahsanullah Ahsan (d.1737/8), Muhammad Shakir Naji (1690?-1744/47?), Mirza Maz'har Jan-i Janan (1699-1781), Shah Hatim (1699-1783), to mention only the most prominent. Some of them had been exclusively or mainly Persian poets, and had switched to Urdu later. The inference is inescapable that while the soil must have extremely rich, it was Wali who provided the seed through his diwan, which reached Delhi in 1720.
The Urdu literary environment in Delhi benefited by the presence of Siraj al-Din `Ali Khan-i Arzu (1689-1756), who was a Persian poet, linguist, critic, and lexicographer. For Urdu poets he was a literary philosopher and mentor. Even senior Urdu poets like Abru gathered around him for instruction. Prose made its appearance in the Delhi area with Fazl-i `Ali Fazli, who prepared the first version of his Karbal Katha, a religious text, around 1731-2.
The questions why there was almost no Urdu literature in the North before the eighteenth century, and why and when the language came to be called "Urdu," haven't engaged much attention. The latter question was first discussed, somewhat inadequately, by Grahame Bailey (1872-1942)./8/ A little later, Mahmud Sherani (1888-1945) made extensive observations on the fact that the word "Urdu" as a language name was of recent use, but didn't go into the historical and linguistic implications of the phenomenon./9/ John Gilchrist (1759-1841) was almost the first to observe that 'Rekhtu' [Rekhta] was a 'mixed dialect, also called Oordoo or the polished language of the Court'/10/ and thus provide a clue to the origin of the name: Urdu means 'royal court or camp' and the language began to be called zaban-i urdu-i mu`alla or 'the language of the Exalted Court' sometime in late 1770's, after Emperor Shah `Alam (r.1759-1806) returned to Delhi in 1772 and took up residence in the Red Fort. There is evidence to suggest that the title zaban-i urdu-i mu`alla was previously used for Persian./11/
Persian may have delayed Urdu's emergence as a literary language in the North. Urdu literature originated in early-fifteenth-century Gujarat and the Deccan through the sufis who interacted with the people in the local language variously called Dihlavi, Hindi, Hindvi, Gujri, or Dakani. In and around Delhi at about that time, Persian seems to have been very nearly the koine, if not the lingua franca. So the sufis there used Persian almost as a local language.
Literary activity on a viable scale began in Gujarat with the sufi poetry of Shaykh Baha al-Din Bajan (1388-1506), who composed meditative song-like poems in a genre called jikri, apparently from dhikr (remembering, speaking [of God]). He was followed by a host of sufi, and then some non-sufi, poets including Shaykh Khub Muhammad Chishti (1539-1614), whose long poem-sequence Khub Tarang (Waves or Exuberant Imaginings of Khub, or Excellent Waves, 1578) is a great poem as well as a sufi tract. Space permits naming only some of the major Urdu poets from Gujarat up to1800: Qazi Mahmud Darya'i (1419-1534), Shaikh `Ali Muhammad Jiv Gamdhani (d.1565), `Alam Gujrati (fl.1670's), Amin Gujrati (fl.1690's), Raja Ram (late 1600's), and `Abd al-Wali `Uzlat (1692/93-1775), who was only the second poet from Gujarat after Wali to have his work recognized outside Gujarat.
The language of these poets was originally called Dihlavi. The name changed to Gujri and remained so until about the first half of the eighteenth century, when the name Hindi seems to have supervened. Themes were mostly sufistic-didactic with occasional bits of praises of Gujarat and of the sufi masters. One exception was Khub Muhammad Chishti, who wrote a verse tract on Persian and Sanskrit prosody called Chhand Chandan (Metre and Metres) and another on figures of speech called Bha'o Bhed (Discernment of Meaning). The first is an attempt to synthesize Sanskrit and Persian prosody. The other defines the figures of speech in Persian and Gujri, followed by examples from Gujri. It is likely that Chishti's ideas influenced Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the Deccani king (r.1580-1611) who was the first Urdu poet to put together an Urdu diwan of his own.
During its Dakani-Gujri phase, the language shows an abundance of Sanskritic words drawn from modern North or South Indian languages, many of which are no longer recognizable as Urdu; old Urdu words based on Arabic and Persian, many of which are now obsolete; and a generous sprinkling of Persian and Arabic words. There is a comparative lack of idioms and proverbs, which form a significant component of the Delhi register up until the nineteenth century. The syntax is clearly Urdu. As the language passes into its Hindi/Rekhta mode, it gradually becomes closer to the Delhi register of the early eighteenth century, shedding more words derived from neighbouring dialects like Braj Bhasha.
Dihlavi/Hindi/Hindvi may have travelled South with the great exodus from Delhi forced by Muhammad Tughlaq in 1327. Sayyid Muhammad Gesu Daraz (1321-1422) accompanied his father to the Deccan in 1327. He returned to Delhi in 1337, but went back in 1398 to settle in Gulbarga in modern Karnataka. Though literary works originally attributed to him are now known to be of later dates, he must have used Dihlavi/Hindi for his discourses, and there was plenty of literary activity in the Deccan from his successors and followers. His presence, and also that of numerous secular and religious notables who settled in the South, must have caused the language to spread through the territories that now form parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. Some speakers of the language must also have come from Gujarat, because native South-India-born writers too have described their language as Gujri. One example is the work of the sufi Shah Burhan al-Din Janam (d.1582?).
The first known Urdu literary product from the Deccan is a long masnavi of more than 4000 lines. It doesn't show any sufi influences. Only one manuscript exists, and the poem has been internally dated between 1421-1434. The manuscript is incomplete, so the poem must have been longer. It has no name, and has been labelled Kadam Rao Padam Rao after its chief characters. The author's name has been determined as Fakhr-i Din Nizami. He is not a better poet than Bajan, but he wrote his poem in a regular Persian metre, as against Bajan who almost exclusively employed indigenous, folky metres. Although Sayyidah Ja`far says that 'the idioms and proverbs used by Nizami are with some changes still well understood and spoken in the rural Deccan',/12/ Kadam Rao Padam Rao is extremely hard to follow because Nizami's language is full of words derived from many South Indian languages and also Sanskrit.
Jamil Jalibi finds traces of even Panjabi, Saraiki, and Sindhi in Kadam Rao Padam Rao, and says that despite this medley of languages, the syntax of the poem is clearly Urdu./13/ Sayyidah Ja`far believes that it could not have been the first poem of its kind./14/ The poet's handling of both metre and theme has a maturity which only the experience of similar poetry engenders.
Shah Miran ji Shams al-Ushshaq (1407-1498) came to India in the 1450's, and somewhat unwillingly adopted Dakani for imparting sufi thought and instruction to the people. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the rise and the apogee of Urdu literature in the Deccan. The breakup (1483-1518) of the Bahmanid empire into five kingdoms apparently benefited literary growth by creating more centres of patronage and economic development. At least three kings stand out as poets. The non-ghazal poetry of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (r.1580-1611) is marked with a lively interest in local customs and festivals. His ghazals are often lightly erotic and full of the jouissance and ecstacy of love. Ibrahim `Adil Shah Shah II (r.1580-1626) was passionately interested in music, and compiled Kitab-i Nawras (The Book of Nine Essences, or The Newly Matured Book, before 1600), a collection of songs and poems to be set to music. `Ali Adil Shah Shahi (r.1638-74) left a fine diwan of Urdu ghazals.
Miran ji's son Shah Burhan al-Din Janam wrote abstract sufi tracts in prose and verse. The ghazal of Hasan Shawqi (1541?-1633) influenced Wali, perhaps because of its sensuousness. Janam's son Amin al-Din `Ali A`la (1599?-1675) wrote better prose than his father on sufi themes. Shaykh Ahmad Gujarati (b.c.1539) came to Hyderabad at the invitation of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah and wrote Yusuf Zulaikha, a long romantic masnavi, during 1580-85. He devoted many verses to discussion of what good poetry is, and of how he trained and educated himself before embarking upon a poet's career.
Mulla Waj'hi, or sometimes Wajihi (d.1659? 1671?) celebrated a love affair of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah's in a long masnavi called Qutb Mushtari (Qutb and Mushtari, 1609) which rivals the king's own work in depicting erotic themes and momemts. He followed this up nearly half a centry later with Sab Ras (The Essence of All, 1655-6), one of the most enduring prose allegories in Urdu literature. Waj'hi also made interesting points of literary theory in his Qutb Mushtari.
The `Ali Nama (Ali's Book, c.1670) of Mulla Nusrati Bijapuri (1600-1674) is a long masnavi that contains a qasida at the head of each section. It celebrates the military campaigns of `Ali `Adil Shah II, and is the most powerful razm poem in Urdu, just as Hasan Shauqi created in Mezbani Nama (The Book of Hospitality, circa 1630's) the best bazm poem in the language./15/ Nusrati also produced a masnavi called Gulshan-i `Ishq (Love's Garden, 1658). To Nusrati should also go the credit of introducing perhaps the most far-reaching concept in Urdu literary theory, namely, a distinction beteween ma`ni (meaning) and mazmun (theme). This enabled poets to look for new themes, and construct literary utterances that meant more than what they seemed to say. The influence of Sanskrit literary thought on this development cannot be ruled out.
Hashimi Bijapuri (d.1697) wrote a long love masnavi to which he gave the plain name of Masnavi-i `Ishqiya (A Love Masnavi) with a delightful double plot involving the King of Kashmir and the great Persian poet Sa`di (1213?-1292). Hashimi's greatest claim to fame is in the fact that in his ghazal the speaker is almost invariably female; she is beautiful and seductive in her own right, but she is the lover, and her beloved is male. This is not uncommon in ghazal up to the late seventeenth century, but Hashimi uses the device with an erotic panache and verve which suggests that he in some way adopted the female voice as his own, and wasn't just observing a convention.
The Dakani impulse was played out by the mid-eighteenth century. The cultural authority of the Delhi register of language, and of the Persianate (or, in modern parlance, the sabk-i hindi or 'Indian Style') mode introduced by Wali are the two main reasons for this. Maulana Baqar Agah (1745-1806), the last great figure in premodern Dakani Urdu, wrote in both modes, and lamented that while the Delhi poet Sauda (1706-81) was known from 'Hind to Karnataka', the greatness of Nusrati wasn't recognized./16/ Lachhmi Nara'in Shafiq Aurangabadi (1745-1808) wrote that he was obliged, against his inclination, to leave Persian in favour of Rekhta, because of the latter's great popularity./17/ The poetry of Siraj Aurangabadi (1714?-1763/4), who never took a step northward and wrote like the poets of Delhi, only better, proves Shafiq's point.
If Wali took Delhi by storm, Delhi took the rest of the Urdu world by storm; and very soon Delhi became the chief seat of Urdu literature. Only a hint can be given here of the main things that happened.
The distinction between meaning and theme (ma`ni and mazmun) was exploited further. The search for new, even outré, themes (mazmun afirini, that is, creating new themes), and verbal structures with multiple meanings (ma`ni bandi, or depicting meanings) became important in poetry. Wordplay and sophisticated or playful double entendre, or iham, became extremely popular. Here again, the influence of Sanskrit poetics cannot be ruled out. Marginal genres like ruba`i, qit`a, marsiya, and verse chronogram were refined. New genres like the shahr ashob (poems lamenting the decline of order and of professional classes, or the world turning upside down), and wasokht (The Lover's Complaint) were introduced. Autobiographical poems, or poems depicting personal experiences, were popular. Humour, satire, scurrilous, and adversarial poems achieved stunning heights. Themes of homosexuality, or boy love, became common, more so in some poets than in others. There had been no humour, satire, or homosexuality in Gujri or Dakani.
Creative language became bolder and more colourful. The ghazal became more inward-looking and also more aware of the world. Prose began to be employed for literary discourse, Qur'anic translation, history, and romance. This prose was without verbose embellishments, much like the prose later propagated at the College of Fort William. Mention must be made here of Shah Muradullah Sambhali's partial translation and commentary on the Qur'an called Tafsir-i Muradiya (1771), Qissa wa Ahwal-i Ruhela (The Story and Circumstances of the Rohillas, 1776) by Rustam `Ali Bijnori, and the unfinished though still voluminous `Aja'ib al-Qasas (The Most Wonderful of All Tales, 1792) by Shah `Alam. Names of two other historians, Hari Har Parshad Sambhali and Bindraban Mathravi, also appear, but nothing else is known of them.
The new Urdu literary community in Delhi was extremely self-aware. Tazkiras, initially in Persian, and then from 1801 in Urdu also, were written in large numbers. Tazkiras included as many contemporary poets as possible, with the occasional polemical or critical comment and literary or biographical anecdote thrown in. While sufis, noblemen, and the royals continued to be active in poetry, the entry of women and professionals from non-elite classes into the poets' ranks was the new phenomenon. Hindus, who had been concentrated in Persian so far, turned now to Urdu. The first great Hindu names in Urdu poetry date from this time, Sarb Sukh Divana (1727?-1788/9) being the most notable among them. The society became more conscious of poetry as a worthwhile activity.
The first woman poet with a diwan of her own was Mah Laqa Chanda (1768-1820), a 'nautch girl' of great beauty and wealth in Hyderabad. Another notable woman poet was Gunna Begam (d.1773), daughter of a famous Iranian poet and married to `Imad al-Mulk, one-time Prime Minister to Emperor Ahmad Shah. Hayat al-Nisa Begam, a daughter of Shah `Alam, was also a poet. Europeans appear on the literary scene in the last years of the eighteenth century.
With so many newcomers and with so little in the history to provide models, it was natural that aspirants should turn to the knowledgeable for advice. The institution of ustad and shagird (Master and Pupil) thus came into existence, and was well in place by the 1760's in Delhi and elsewhere. Chanda had Sher Muhammad Khan Iman, a Delhi poet, for her ustad.
Muhammad Taqi Mir (1723-1810) was perhaps the greatest Urdu poet, and certainly the greatest of the eighteenth century. His poetry has the same fullness and variety that marked his century, though his reputation seems to have rested generally on unauthenticated anecdotes presenting him as a self-regarding curmudgeonly individual. There are moods of extreme sadness in his poetry, but there are also the joys of love and life, sufistic ideas presented with unsurpassable grace and puissance, satire, humour (which could be bawdy or directed against himself), and a miraculous feel for words.
Mir went to Lucknow in 1782, and spent his life there in reasonable comfort. Mirza Muhammad Rafi Sauda and Sayyid Muhammad Mir Soz (1720/21-1798/9) had preceded him there. According to an anecdote, Mir declared that there were only two full poets, himself and Sauda, and one half-poet, Sayyid Khwaja Mir Dard (1722-1785). When asked about Soz, he scowled: Okay, so let the number of poets be two-and-three quarters. The story, if true, reflects not so much Mir's egotism as a critical judgement: Sauda was an excellent poet equally at home in all the genres of Urdu poetry. Dard was excellent too, but he had nothing to offer in qasida and masnavi, two of the triumvirate of the genres, so he was only half a poet. Soz, plainly, wasn't in the same class as the other three.
These judgements have more or less abided. But there were many other meritorious poets with fine contemporary reputations: `Abd al-Hayy Taban (1715-49), In`amullah Khan Yaqin (1727?-1755), Mir Athar (1735/35-94), Mir Hasan (1736/7-86), and Nazir Akbarabadi (1740-1830), whom S. W. Fallon compared to Chaucer and Shakespeare./18/ Shah Hatim, Qa`im Chandpuri, Divana, and Mus'hafi have already been mentioned. By 1755 Hatim was claiming that he wrote in the language of the mirzas (gentlemen) and rinds (liberal bons vivants) of Delhi. He is credited with launching the so called islah-i zaban (language reform) movement. While there was no such movement, a certain privileging of Persian (which term included Arabic) words and usages began to appear throughout the Urdu world in the second half of the century, and persists to a certain extent even today.
Mus'hafi, Divana, Qalandar Bakhsh Jur'at (1748-1809), and Insha'allah Khan Insha (1756-1817) settled in Lucknow. Sa`adat Yar Khan Rangin (1758-1834/5) spent long periods of time there. Rangin is credited with inventing the Rekhti, a genre of poetry expressing female sentiments and experience, using women's vocabulary. These poets helped establish Lucknow as a rival to Delhi. Centres of literary activity sprang up in many other places like Allahabad, Banaras, Baroda, Calcutta, Murshidabad, Patna, Rampur. Hyderabad was already there, and had attracted Delhi's major poet Shah Nasir (1755?-1838), who left behind him numerous shagirds in Delhi.
In 1800, the British established a College at Fort William in Calcutta for training British civil servants. The dynanism of John Gilchrist helped produce many works there which gained wide reputability. The College also became famous as the virtual creator of modern Urdu prose. This is not quite true, but the works produced at the College, particularly Bagh o Bahar (Garden and Spring, 1805) by Mir Amman (1750-1837), gained far wider currency than the work of Muradullah Sambhali and others. The College printed Mir's Kulliyat (Collected Verse) in 1811. Mir had died in 1810 in Lucknow. A railway line passes through the area where his grave used to be.
/1/ This was one of the
many names used for Urdu at that time. The word "Urdu" came into use as
language name much later.
/2/ Mir, Nikat al- Shu`ara, p. 91.
/3/ One of the popular names for Delhi at that time.
/4/ Qa`im Chandpuri, Makhzan-i Nikat, pp. 21-23.
/5/ Another popular name of Delhi at that time.
/6/ Mus'hafi, Tazkira-i Hindi, p. 80.
/7/ Khusrau, Dibacha, Ghurrat al-Kamal, p. 63.
/8/ Bailey, Studies in North Indian Languages, pp. 1, 3, 6.
/9/ Sherani, Maqalat-i Sherani, Vol. I, pp. 10-44.
/10/ Gilchrist, A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language, p. 261.
/11/ Khan-i Arzu, Musmir, p. 32.
/12/ Gyan Chand and Sayyidah Ja`far, Tarikh-i Adab-i Urdu, Sattarah Sau Tak, Vol. II, p. 14.
/13/ Jamil Jalibi, 1979 , pp. 25, 38.
/14/ Gyan Chand and Sayyidah Ja`far, Tarikh, p. 14.
/15/ Razm (literally, 'combat') in literary terms means descripton of battles and conquests. Bazm (literally, '[colourful]assembly') in literary terms means description of wine-drinking, dancing, singing, love.
/16/ Preface to Gulzar-i `Ishq, included in `Alim Saba Navidi, pp. 144-45.
/17/ Chamanistan-i Shu`ara, p. 9.
/18/ S. W. Fallon, Dictionary, p. x.
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