Sanskrit the great language of the Aryans and of their Vedas and epics died its natural death and ceased to be a spoken language, leaving behind a variety of dialects in and around the present region of Uttar Pradesh which comprises Ayodhya, Varanasi Mathura and Allahabad, and Lucknow. These dialects which were in only a [...]

Sunday Times 2

From Sanskrit to Bojhpuri to Urdu and Hindi

An etymological analysis of the subcontinent's major languages

Sanskrit the great language of the Aryans and of their Vedas and epics died its natural death and ceased to be a spoken language, leaving behind a variety of dialects in and around the present region of Uttar Pradesh which comprises Ayodhya, Varanasi Mathura and Allahabad, and Lucknow.

Amir Khusrau teaching his disciples

These dialects which were in only a spoken form became the language of communication in the present “Hindi Belt” — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh; freely mixing with the local dialects. The one that emerged stronger and most popular is called by different names as Bojhpuri, Brijbasha, Khadi boli and also by the name of “Dihadti” meaning village language. These dialects did not have a proper grammatical pattern gender, number, parts of speech and hence disorganised. Verbs did not have well defined derivations like present, future and past tenses, so as to make it a developed language. This language is being spoken in Eastern UP places like Ghonda, Ghorakpur, Basti and the whole of Bihar and the border of Nepal. Even though Pali sprang up from Sanskrit in these regions, it too had to die after having accumulated vast volumes of treatise on Buddhism.

The Mughals who were essentially of Afghan and Persian origin having contingents of Turkish army reached Delhi and established their sultanate. They spoke Persian and made it the court language. Further consolidation of the sultanate was not possible due to lack of communication, as the dialect spoken locally was strange to them. Hence the necessity arose to create a link language. The result was the beginning of the existence of Urdu.

Amir Khusro
It was in this period close up on 11th century there emerged the many-faceted genius Amir Khursro in the scene. He had been fortunate to have had an Indian mother and Turkish father, from whom he inherited all that was good in Indian and all that was good in Moghuliya. At that time he was serving in the court of Alla-Uddin Khiji; later went on to serve in the courts of eight emperors. Besides a great Vazeer, he was a gifted poet and musician. Amir Khursro was immaculately articulate in as many as four languages: Persian, Arabic, Turkish and of course in the local dialect which he inherited from his Indian mother. He was an inspired poet and started writing poems in these languages. At the early stages he wrote couplets in Bojhpuri and Persian: a unique experiment, but extremely successful.

Many such poems composed by Khusro gave birth to the popular Ghazal form in Urdu literature. It is later when he mastered the local dialect Bhojpuri that Khusro composed couplets in pure Bhojpuri. Amir Khusro wrote Bivah, Bidayi and suhag geets which are still sung in villages and kept alive in marriage and other ceremonies in the Northern part of India.

Amir Khusro found the dialects Bhojpuri inadequate and incomplete to express his ability. He was highly handicapped by the absence of advanced grammatical pattern in the dialect, and the restriction in the usage of verbs to indicate tenses posed further problems. He was thoroughly unhappy that Brijbhasha does not yield its self to accommodate his creative perfectness. This is where he experimented with the local dialect particularly with the verbs (fa’al).

Amir Khusro realised that sophistication of a language mainly depends on various derivatives of the verb rather than the vocabulary. Further he decided to recreate the verbal pattern and leave the vocabulary to the rich Persian, Arabic and Turkish languages. Once this exercise is done the language will be wholesome and complete, and will have distinct character.

Khusro did exactly the same, picking up all the verbs and giving them well defined tenses viz, present, future and past then division as simple, continuous and perfect and their combinations. He brought in adverbial, adjective clauses and various other embellishments in grammar. Further the entire local vocabulary underwent a complete change. Literally, speaking a new language was born URDU with Persianised Arabic script.

The development of the Urdu language was a meteoric one. It blossomed like a flower. Persian, Arabic and Turkish contributed so much to enrich and embellish the language. It was brought to the royal Durbar. Persian which gave the royals grandeur, ceremoniously withdrew yielding its place to Urdu. Hosts of poets of the high calibre composed Ghazals, Quawalies, Na’ats, Nohas and Marsias in abundance. In such a short time Urdu acquired a place of among the literacy languages. Next to Arabic, Urdu possesses the largest amount of collection of Islamic work. Urdu was fortunate to have had poets of the calibre of Amir Khusro himself. Insha, Faiz Ahmad, Daag, Mir, Taqi Mir, Dard, Moulana Hali,Ghalib and last not least Allama Iqbal, who had filled the Khazana with gems of poetry. Hindu poets like Firaq Ghrkhpuri (real name Raghunath Rai) and Kishanchand Bedi too joined the list of poets. British rulers too took to writing poetry in Urdu. John Thomas (Thoma), Joseph (Ashiq) George Fantom (Shaiq) Daniel Gardners (Shukr) many more were among the contributors. Urdu now occupies a high position among the international languages. Urdu remained the court languages during the Moghul period and continued to be so even during the British period. Even today the legal jargon in the Indian law courts is predominantly and freely drawn from the Urdu vocabulary.

However, it is amazing the Brijbhasa nee Bhojpuri, Khadi Boli, Dihati, continues to be spoken in the villages in the UP and Bihar. It has not lost its rural charm. Many films were made in this language and became instant hit in India. “Ganga Jamuna”, “Lagi nahi choote Ram” to mention a few, enjoyed high popularity. It is also worth mentioning that Sufi poets like Kabir Das, Sur Das and Meera Bai sang popular Bhajans in this language.

No language called Hindi existed until the latter part of 19th Century. Brijbhasha and Urdu were the two languages spoken in the “Hindi Belt” the former among the villagers and the latter among the literate and in the urban areas, Urdu became the status symbol. When nationalistic feeling were running high and reached its peak, in India, a necessity arose for the majority community Hindus to adopt another language, as Urdu was identified with the Musalmans. This feeling gave birth to a new language called “Hindi”; retaining the original “Devanangiri” script. Making of Hindi language did not acquire any serious effort on the part of the linguistics. The existing grammar of the Urdu was adopted. This is why both Urdu and Hindi in the spoken form sound similar; thus causing some confusion.

Hindi differs from Urdu in the usage of words (nouns), Hindi borrowed its entire vocabulary from Sanskrit while Urdu from Persian and Arabic. Hence in the literary works these two languages are different from each other. Therefore Hindi replacing the Persian and Arabic words with Sanskrit words acquired a new flavor, and became totally a new language altogether.
Some examples are: zamin=dharthi; aasman=akash; insan=manush; kitab=pustak; izzat=Adarsh; sabah=mah filaarambh=shru; imtihan=pariksha; mohabbat=preet.

Hindi films, songs
The film industry in India from its inception used the commonly understood vocabulary i.e. Urdu, for its popularity. Writers, actors and lyricists, were specialists in Urdu. Hence the films and songs contain largely Urdu words.

At this juncture an anecdote comes to my mind. In the 1950s, All India Radio was airing its evening news bulletin in “Sanskritised Shudha Hindi Language” keeping to the government policy. It so happened that India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was listening to this programme. To his dismay he could not understand it. The next day he called his information Minister, Keskar, a hardcore nationalist, and inquired as to what was going on the air at that time. Mr. Keskar proudly answered “sir, it was the evening news”. An angry Nehru retorted: “Keskar! I myself could not understand even a single word and you expect the ordinary man to understand it. Please go instruct all the broadcasting stations to use the day-to-day language that is mixed with URDU words, so that man on the street may understand.”

In September 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the United Nations in Sankscritised Shudh Hindi. Neither the Indian delegation in the UN nor the public in India could understand what their Prime Minister was telling the UN. There was a big hue and cry in India that Indians could not understand what their Prime Minister was telling the UN. “This is Hindi”.
It is said the Indian Sangh Parivar is going to resurrect Sanskrit. The Sanskrit left behind in Vedas, Puranas, and epics of Maha Bharat and Ramayan was of a classical category, which like Latin has only bones.

There is a clan of people called Brahmin priests, who at one time had the sole authority to the access to these religious works.
Non Brahmins, Chatriyas and Sudras were punished severely if they ever attempt to even hear the chanting of these verses. This clan of people lives in the district of “Mathura” near Varanasi and Allahabad. A few speak a distorted form of Sanskrit. The grammatical formation is confusing and complex. Hence it lost its place among the ordinary people as a spoken language. I visited them during my college days in Lucknow with my little Sanskrit according to the curriculum which I learnt in the university as a student of linguistics, detected many grammatical mistakes in their dialect. It remains as a dialect rather than a full fleshed language. I wish the Indians all the luck in reviving this dead and buried language.

Urdu and Hindi are now two different languages, but having a common grammar, and also being influenced by Persian/Arabic and Sanskrit respectively. They are great languages to reckon with distinctively differentiated by their own scripts viz. Persianised Arabic Sanskritised Devangjri.

(The writer, a veteran broadcaster, served the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. He holds a special degree from University of Lucknow; and a Diploma in Linguistics)

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