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Urdu: Language of poets and nawabs

Brief Description

Urdu refers to a standardised register of Hindustani that emerged as a standard dialect. The grammatical description in this article concerns this standard Urdu. In general, the term "Urdu" can encompass dialects of Hindustani other than the standardised versions.

Regions where spoken

Standard Urdu has approximately the twentieth largest population of native speakers, among all languages. It is the national language of Pakistan as well as one of the 23 official languages of India.

Development & Spread

It is an Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-Iranian branch, belonging to Indo-European family of languages. It developed under Persian and Arabic, to some lesser degree also under Turkic influence in South Asia during the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire (15261858 AD).


Urdu is often contrasted with Hindi, another standardised form of Hindustani. The main difference between the two is that Standard Urdu is written in Nastaliq calligraphy style of the Perso-Arabic script and draws heavily on Persian and Arabic loanwords, and has inherited significant vocabulary from Sanskrit. Linguists, therefore consider Urdu and Hindi to be two standardized forms of the same language.

Important Writers or works

Shamsuddin Waliullah a famous poet of the Dakhni actually started the North Indian Urdu. Other poets also joined in this new literary upsurge and came to Delhi subsequently. Delhi Urdu as a Muslim language thus took birth. Court circles, Persian and Arabic scholars and especially the Muslims of Delhi adapted this language with much eagerness, and from the end of the 18th century the Mughal house turned only to Urdu.

For the first 60 years or so influence of the Dakhni poets, Sufi thinking and an Indianness of diction prevailed over Urdu.

The term Four Pillars of Urdu is attributed to the four early poets: Mirza Jan-i-Janan Mazhar (1699-1781) of Delhi, Mir Taqi (1720-1808) of Agra, Muhammad Rafi Sauda (1713-1780) and Mir Dard (1719-1785).

During this time Lucknow became a rival centre for the patronage of Urdu literature, and masters of Urdu poetry received support from the court of the Nawab.

The most illustrious poets of the pre-modern period were Muhammad Ibrahim Zauq (1789-1854) of Delhi and Nazmuddaulah Dabiru-i-Mulk.

However, Urdu literature can never be complete without the mention of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869). A Sufi mystic, Ghalib wrote both in Urdu and Persian and through his letters he brought in literary history and criticism. His humane feelings, Sufi sentiments, simplicity of his lines and the depth of his observations made Ghalib the greatest Urdu and Persian poet.

Modern Urdu literature covers the time from the last quarter of the 19th century till the present day and can be divided into two periods: the period of the Aligarh Movement started by Sir Sayyid Ahmad and the period influenced by Sir Muhammad Iqbal. However, Altaf Husain Panipati (1837-1914), known as Hali or the Modern One, is the actual innovator of the modern spirit in Urdu poetry.
Hindu writers of Urdu were not far behind, and among the earliest writers was Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar (author of Fisana-e-Azad) and Brij Narain Chakbast (1882-1926).

One of the most famous poets of modern Urdu is Sayyid Akbar Husain Razvi Ilahabadi (1846-1921) who had a flair for extempore composition of satiric and comic verses. After 1936, Urdu picked up a progressive attitude and leaned more towards the problems of life.

Poetry, novels, short stories and essays were the avenues of the liberal expression. The main exponents of this new line of approach were the short story writers Muhammad Husain Askari, Miranji, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sardar Ali Jafari and Khwajah Ahmad Abbas. Munshi Premchand, the greatest novelist of Hindi, began writing in Urdu and later switched to Hindi.

Inspite of Urdu being considered a little tilted towards Islamic lines, there were some great Hindu writers who made Urdu their very own, like Krishan Chandar, Rajindar Singh Bedi and Kanhaiyalal Kapur. Unfortunately, the lyrical language of Urdu no longer enjoys the same position that it used to in the Mughal courts. However, Urdu is still encouraged in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Hyderabad. Present day Hindi borrows a lot from Urdu for grammar, diction and idiom.

Source: http://www.linguaindia.blogspot.com

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