History of Hindustani

Hindustani is one of the predominant languages of South Asia, with federal status in India and Pakistan, in its standardized forms Hindi and Urdu and is also widely spoken and understood as a second language in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Persian Gulf and as such is considered a lingua franca in the Indian subcontinent.[1] It principally developed in North India during the Mughal Empire, when the Persian language exerted a strong influence on the Western Hindi languages of central India, leading to the creation of Rekhta, or "mixed" speech; which became to be known as Hindustani, Hindi, Hindavi, and Urdu, was elevated to a literary language, and after the partition of British India and independence became the basis for modern standard Hindi and Urdu. Although these official languages are distinct registers with regards to their formal aspects, such as modern technical vocabulary, they continue to be all but indistinguishable in their vernacular forms.


Shah Jahan's court in Delhi

Most of the grammar and basic vocabulary of Hindustani descends directly from the medieval language of central India, known as Sauraseni.[2] After the tenth century, several Sauraseni dialects were elevated to literary languages, or khari boli ("standing dialects"), including Braj Bhasha, Awadhi and the language of Delhi; the latter still goes by the name Khari Boli in the rural areas outside the city of Delhi itself. During the reigns of the Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, where Persian was adopted as the official language and Delhi was established as the capital, the imperial court and concomitant immigration infused the Delhi dialect with large numbers of Persian, Arabic, and Chagatai words from the court; the introduced words were primarily nouns and were employed for cultural, legal and political concepts. The new court language developed simultaneously in Delhi and Lucknow, the latter of which is in an Awadhi-speaking area; and thus, modern Hindustani has a noticeable Awadhi influence even though it is primarily based on Khari Boli.

The term Hindustani is derived from Hindustan, the Persian-origin name for the northwestern subcontinent. The term Ordu, or "camp language" (cognate with the English word, "horde"), was used to describe the common language of the Mughal army. The works of the 13th century scholar Amir Khusro are typical of the Hindustani language of the time:

Sej vo sūnī dekh ke rovun main din rain,
Piyā piyā main karat hūn pahron, pal bhar sukh nā chain.

Seeing the empty bed I cry day and night
Calling for my beloved all day, not a moment of happiness or peace.

The language went by several names over the years: Hindawi or Hindī ("[language] of Hind"); Dehlavi ("of Delhi"); and Hindustani, ("of Hindustan"). The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built a new walled city in Delhi in 1639 that came to be known as Shahjahanabad. The market close to the royal fort (the Red Fort) was called Urdu Bazar ("Army/camp Market", from the Turkic word ordu, "army"), and it may be from this that the phrase Zaban-e-Urdu ("the language of the army/camp") derives. This was shortened to Urdu around the year 1800. The language spread from the interaction of Persian-speaking Muslim soldiers to the local people who spoke varieties of Hindi. Soon, the Persian script in the cursive Nasta'liq form was adopted, with additional letters to accommodate the Hindi phonetic system. Large number of Persian words were adopted, as were even grammatical elements such as the enclitic ezāfe.

The official language of the Ghurids, Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and their successor states, as well as their language of poetry and literature, was Persian, while the official language of religion was Arabic. Most of the sultans and the nobility of the sultanate period were Turkic peoples from Central Asia who spoke Chagatai as their mother tongue. The Mughals were also Chagatai, but later adopted Persian. The basis in general for the introduction of Persian language into the subcontinent was set, from its earliest days, by various Persianized Central Asian Turkic and Afghan dynasties.[3] Muzaffar Alam asserts that Persian became the lingua franca of the empire under Akbar for various political and social factors due to its non-sectarian and fluid nature.[4] However, the armies, merchants, preachers, Sufis, and later the court, also incorporated the local people and elements of the medieval Hindu literary language, Braj Bhasha. This new contact language soon incorporated other dialects, such as Haryanvi, Panjabi, and in the 17th century Khariboli, the dialect of the new capital at Delhi. By 1800, Khariboli had become the dominant base of the language.[5]

When Wali Mohammed Wali arrived in Delhi, he established Hindustani with a light smattering of Persian words, a register called Rekhta, for poetry; previously the language of poetry had been Persian. When the Delhi Sultanate expanded south to the Deccan Plateau, they carried their literary language with them, and it was influenced there by more southerly languages, producing the Dakhini dialect. During this time Hindustani was the language of both Hindus and Muslims. The communal nature of the language lasted until the British Raj, when in 1837 it replaced Persian as the official language and was made co-official along with English. This triggered a Hindu backlash in northwestern India, which argued that the language should be written in the native Devanagari script. This new literary standard, called simply "Hindi", replaced Hindustani/Urdu as the official register of Bihar in 1881, establishing a sectarian divide of "Urdu" for Muslims and "Hindi" for Hindus, a divide that was formalized with the independence of India and Pakistan after the withdrawal of the British, though there are Hindu poets who continue to write in Rekhta to this day.


The poet Wali Deccani (1667–1707) visited Delhi in 1700.[6] His Rekhta or Hindavi ghazals established Hindustani as a medium of poetic expression in the imperial city. Hindustani soon gained distinction as the preferred language in courts of India and eventually replaced Persian among the nobles. To this day, Rekhta retains an important place in literary and cultural spheres. Many distinctly Persian forms of literature, such as ghazals and nazms, came to both influence and be affected by Indian culture, producing a distinct melding of Middle Eastern and South Asian heritages. A famous cross-over writer was Amir Khusro, whose Persian and Urdu couplets are read to this day in the subcontinent. Persian has sometimes been termed an adopted classical language of South Asia alongside Sanskrit due to this role.


Antiquity (Old Indo-Aryan)

Middle Ages

Islamic empires

Islamic empires in India in the late Medieval to Early Modern period.

Colonial period

Further information: Hindi–Urdu controversy

Modern Hindi literature emerges during the Colonial period.


See also


  1. "Jammu and Kashmir Burushaski: Language, Language contact and change" (PDF). Sadaf Munshi, Doctor of Philosophy, University of Texas.
  2. Alfred C. Woolner (1999). Introduction to Prakrit. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 5. ISBN 978-81-208-0189-9.
  3. Sigfried J. de Laet. History of Humanity: From the seventh to the sixteenth century UNESCO, 1994. ISBN 9231028138 p 734
  4. Alam, Muzaffar. "The Pursuit of Persian: Language in Mughal Politics." In Modern Asian Studies, vol. 32, no. 2. (May, 1998), pp. 317–349.
  5. H. Dua, 2006, "Urdu", in the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd edition.
  6. Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-century Muslim India, By Annemarie Schimmel, BRILL, 1976
  7. Barbara A. West (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. pp. 282–. ISBN 978-1-4381-1913-7.
  8. Prem Sagur, English translation online
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