Sunday, 5 February 2012


Speech Delivered On 8.2.2011 By
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Markandey Katju, Judge, Supreme Court Of India
I wish to thank Professor Akhtarul Wasey for having inviting me here today.  Jamia Millia is a prestigious Institution and I regard it a great honour to be invited here to speak before you.
The topic for today’s talk is ‘What is Urdu’?  I have chosen this topic for a special reason which I would like to mention.
Today our country, India, is facing great difficulties, such as poverty, unemployment, price rise, casteism, communalism, corruption, etc.  It is, therefore, important for the intellectuals to come forward now and show the correct path to the Indian people for overcoming their difficulties.
Intellectuals are the eyes of society, and without intellectuals a society is blind.  You are a section of the intellectuals of India, and therefore a heavy responsibility lies on you to show to the Indian people the path by which they can overcome their problems and advance forward.  However, in order to do so, you first have to clarify your own ideas and get a proper understanding about India and its culture.  How can you guide the people when you yourself are not clear about these matters?
I have mentioned in the recent judgment given by me in Kailas & Others  vs.  State of Maharashtra2011(1) JT 19 that India is  broadly a country of immigrants, and this explains its tremendous diversity.  As I mentioned in that judgment, while North America is a country of new immigrants where people came mainly from Europe over the last four or five Centuries, India is a country of old immigrants where people have been coming in for ten thousand years or so.    Probably about 92% people living in India today are descendants of immigrants, who came mainly from the North-West, and to a lesser extent from the North-East. Since this is a point of great importance for the understanding of our country, it is necessary to go into it in some detail.                                     
People migrate from uncomfortable areas to comfortable areas.  This is natural because everyone wants to live in comfort. Before the coming of modern industry there were agricultural societies everywhere, and India was a paradise for these because agriculture requires level land, fertile soil, plenty of water for irrigation etc. which was in abundance in India.  Why should anybody living in India migrate to, say, Afghanistan which has a harsh terrain, rocky and mountainous and covered with snow for several months in a year when one cannot grow any crop?  Hence, almost all immigrations and invasions came from outside into India (except those Indians who were sent out during British rule as indentured labour, and the recent migration of a few million Indians to the developed countries for job opportunities). There is perhaps not a single instance of an invasion from India to outside India.
India was a veritable paradise for pastoral and agricultural societies because it has level & fertile land, hundreds of rivers, forests etc. and is rich in natural resources. Hence for thousands of years people kept pouring into India because they found a comfortable life here in a country which was gifted by nature.
As the great Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri wrote:
“Sar zamin-e—hind par aqwaam-e-alam ke firaq
 Kafile guzarte gae Hindustan banta gaya
Which means –

“In the land of Hind, the Caravans of the peoples of
The world kept coming in and India kept getting formed”.

Who were the original inhabitants of India ? At one time it was believed that the Dravidians were the original inhabitants. However, this view has been considerably modified subsequently, and now the generally accepted belief is that the original inhabitants of India were the pre-Dravidian aborigines i.e. the ancestors of the present tribals or adivasis (Scheduled Tribes).
It is for this reason that there is such tremendous diversity in India.  This diversity is a significant feature of our country, and the only way to explain it is to accept that India is largely a country of immigrants.
There are a large number of religions, castes, languages, ethnic groups, cultures etc. in our country, which is due to the fact that India is broadly a country of immigrants.  Somebody is tall, somebody is short, some are dark, some are fair complexioned, with all kinds of shades in between, someone has Caucasian features, someone has Mongoloid features, someone has Negroid features, etc. There are differences in dress, food habits and various other matters.
We may compare India with China which is larger both in population and in land area than India.  China has a population of about 1.3 billion whereas our population is roughly 1.15 billion.  Also, China has more than twice our land area.   However, all Chinese have Mongoloid features; they have a common written script (Mandarin Chinese) and 95% of them belong to one ethnic group, called the Han Chinese.  Hence there is a broad (though not absolute) homogeneity in China.
On the other hand, as stated above, India has tremendous diversity and this is due to the large scale migrations and invasions into India over thousands of years. The various immigrants/invaders who came into India brought with them their different cultures, languages, religions, etc. which accounts for our tremendous diversity.
My friend Mr. Salman Khurshid, Hon’ble Union Minister, has written a play ‘Babur Ki Aulad’ which was produced recently.  Now I request him to write another play which should be called ‘Baahar ki aulad’, to depict India.
As I have already mentioned, India is broadly a country of immigrants, which explains its tremendous diversity.  The question now arises is whether these immigrants who came into India have all preserved their original different identities, or a common culture has emerged by their intermingling?  In my opinion, despite all our diversities, a common culture has emerged in India which may broadly be called the Sanskrit-Urdu culture, which is the common culture of India.  This culture revolves around great two languages which our country has produced, namely Sanskrit and Urdu.
I do not mean to denigrate or disparage the other languages of India.  Great literature has been written in several of our languages.  For example, in my opinion, the best prose in modern India is in Bengali (particularly the works of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya).  There has been also great literature in Tamil (the ‘Tiruppavai’ of Andal is reminiscent of the poetry of Surdas and Mirabai), Marathi, Gujarati, Oriya, Assamese, Punjabi, Telugu, Malayalam, Kashmiri (see the verses of Habba Khatoon), etc.  All languages in our country deserve equal respect.
However, having said that, we must understand that Sanskrit and Urdu stand on a different footing from these other languages.  Sanskrit and Urdu are our two great national cultural languages (while other languages are regional).
There is a great misunderstanding about both Sanskrit and Urdu. Sanskrit is often regarded as a language of rituals and Pooja Paath among Hindus, although I have shown in my speech entitled ‘Sanskrit as a Language of Science’ delivered in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore as well as in Banaras Hindu University (which you can see on Google under that caption) that 95% of Sanskrit literature has nothing to do with religion or religious rituals, and instead deals with philosophy, science, mathematics, medicine, literature, grammar, interpretation, etc.
Similarly, there have been a lot of misconceptions about Urdu e.g. that it is a foreign language or it is a language of Muslims alone.
I will speak on Sanskrit on some other day which Professor Akhtarul Warsey may fix for that purpose.  Today I will be speaking on Urdu.
As I have already mentioned, our country’s culture is the Sanskrit-Urdu Culture.  We have, therefore, to understand Urdu in order to understand our country.

Two false notions were propagated, particularly after 1947 about Urdu by certain vested interests (1) that Urdu is a foreign language, and (2) that Urdu is a language of Muslims alone.
The first idea is palpably false.  Arabic and Persian are no doubt foreign languages (though I have great respect for them also, as I have great respect for all languages).  But Urdu is a language which is totally indigenous.  It was born here in India as the language of the Lashkar (camp) and of the market.  In its simplified form (as Khariboli or Hindustani) it is the language of the common man in large parts of urban India.  Its prominent figures all lived in India, and they have made an outstanding contribution to our culture, dealing with the problems of the people, sympathizing in their sorrows, and touching the human heart.  Only ignorant people can call Urdu a foreign language.
The second notion, that Urdu is a language of Muslims alone, is also false.  In fact upto the last generation in our country Urdu was the language of all educated people, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, in large parts of urban India.  In my own family upto my father everyone was highly proficient in Urdu.  It is only from my generation that Urdu has disappeared, which I regard as unfortunate.

The notion that Urdu is a language of Muslims alone can only be attributed to the policy of `divide and rule’.  Certain vested interests wanted Hindus and Muslims to fight with each other, and hence they give birth to the false notion that Hindi is the language of Hindus while Urdu is the language of Muslims.  As a matter of fact the spoken language of the common man (in urban areas) is Khariboli (or Hindustani), Urdu being Persianized Khariboli, and Hindi being Sanskritized Khariboli.
Urdu has a national following in our country as it is spoken in 13 States of the country, and is in the 8th Schedule to the Constitution.
All of you gathered here today would be lovers of Urdu poetry.  In my opinion the best poetry in modern India is in Urdu (the best prose, in my opinion, being in Bengali).  But what is Urdu?
I am sure that even many Professors in Urdu Department or Urdu Poets will not be able to give the correct answer to this question.  Therefore, I will attempt to do so.

Urdu is the language which was created by the superimposition of some features and vocabulary of the Persian language on a Hindustani (Khariboli) foundation.  Thus, Urdu is a language created by the combination of two languages, Persian and Hindustani.  It is for this reason that at one time it was called `Rekhta’ which means hybrid*.
Since Urdu was created by the combination of Persian and Hindustani,   the question   arises   whether  Urdu  is a special kind of

* Ghalib calls Urdu rekhta.

 “Rekhta ke tumhi to ustaad nahin ghalib
Kahte hain agle zamaana me koi Mir bhi tha”

Persian or a special kind of Hindustani?  The answer is that it is a special kind of Hindustani, not a special kind of Persian.  This needs to be explained.
What determines the language to which a sentence belongs is the verb used in it (and not the noun, adjective, etc.).  For example, if I say : “Mr. Ram, you and your wife aaiye tomorrow night for dinner at my home at 8 p.m.” this sentence is a Hindi sentence and not a English sentence, although 15 out of the 16 words used in it are in English.  Why?  Because the verb (aaiye) used in it is a Hindi word, not an English word.
In Urdu all verbs are in simple, colloquial Hindi (which is called Hindustani  or  Khariboli).  Many  of  the nouns and adjectives in Urdu are from Persian (or Arabic**), as are many of the forms of poetry e.g.

** Arabic words came into the Persian language after the conquest of Persia by the Arabs.  The great Persian poet Firdausi (author of Shahnama) sought to remove Arabic words from Persian but he failed.  In fact by accepting foreign words a language becomes stronger, not weaker.  For example, English has become stronger by accepting many foreign words.
ghazal, masnavi, qaseeda, masriya, etc. but the verb will always be from Hindustani.  If the verb is from Persian it would become a Persian sentence, not an Urdu sentence, and if the verb is Arabic it would become an Arabic sentence.We may take any Urdu sher (couplet) of any Urdu poet and we will find that the verb is always in simple Hindi (though many nouns and adjectives may be Persian or Arabic).

Thus Urdu is a special kind of Hindustani (or Khariboli), not a special kind of Persian.  I am emphasizing this because had Urdu been a special kind of Persian it would have been a foreign language.  The fact that it is a special kind of Khariboli (or Hindustani) shows that it is a desi or indigenous language.  This answers the criticism of those who call Urdu a foreign Language.
Arabic and Persian are foreign languages, but Urdu is an indigenous language.
We must, now, first understand something about Khariboli (or Hindustani) which is the foundation on which Urdu was built.
Khariboli is simple or spoken Hindi, as contrasted to literary Hindi which is used by many writers and public speakers***.
Khariboli is an urban language.  It is the first language of the common man in the cities of what is known as the Hindi speaking belt (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, etc.) and is the second language in the cities of many parts of the non-Hindi speaking belt, not only in India but also in Pakistan.****
How did Khariboli come into existence?

***For instance, in Khariboli (or Hindustani) we say “udhar dekhiye”, while in Hindi we say “udhar avlokan keejiye”.
****I may relate a personal experience.  I was traveling in a taxi from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh to Gulbarga in Karnataka where I had to attend a function.  The taxi driver was a Telugu speaking person while the Professor of Gulbarga University who came to fetch me was a Kannada speaking gentleman, but they spoke to each other in Hindi.  I was surprised, since both these persons were South Indians, and I asked them why they were speaking in Hindi.  They said that that was because Hindi was the link language for them both.

Almost all cities in the world originated as market places (mandis).  This was only possible when the productive forces had developed to an extent that people were producing more than they could themselves consume, and hence the surplus had to be sold or exchanged.  In other words, commodities (i.e. goods for sale or exchange,  and  not  for  self  consumption)  began  to be produced.
Since the seller and the purchaser had to have a known place where the transaction of sale and purchase could take place, market places (mandis) were created, which later became cities.
Now the seller and purchaser must have a common language, otherwise the transaction of sale would not be possible.  Hence Khariboli arose as that common language of the market.
To give an illustration, in Allahabad (where I have mostly lived) Khariboli is spoken in the city, but in the rural areas around Allahabad city the dialect spoken is Avadhi (in which Tulsidas wrote his Ramcharitmanas).  In Mathura city Khariboli is spoken, but in the rural areas around Mathura Brijbhasha (the language of Surdas) is spoken.  In Benaras city or the other eastern cities of U.P. Khariboli is spoken, but in the rural areas around these cities Bhojpuri is spoken.  In parts of northern Bihar Maithili is the rural dialect (in which the great poet Vidyapati wrote) but in the cities there also Khariboli is spoken.  In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Khariboli is spoken in the cities, but in the rural areas local dialects (e.g. Mewari amd Marwari in Rajasthan) are spoken which an outsider cannot understand.
This shows that in vast areas of north India the rural population speaks different dialects, but the urban population had a common language, Khariboli.  How did this happen?
This happened because a vast common market had been created in India (due to the development of the productive forces) even before the coming of the Mughals.  A trader traveling from Bihar or Madhya Pradesh could easily sell his goods in a city in Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan or Punjab because there was a common language, Khariboli, which both seller and purchaser knew (apart from knowing their local dialects).  Thus Khariboli is the common language of the cities in large parts of India.  Even in many parts of the non-Hindi speaking belt Khariboli is understood and spoken as a second language.  Thus, if one goes to Kolkata or Bangalore or Gujarat or Lahore or Karachi or even in many parts of south India he can converse in Khariboli with people living in the cities (though there might be difficulty in rural areas).
Having understood the nature of Khariboli, we can now proceed to understand Urdu.
As I have already mentioned, Urdu is the language created by Persian superimposition on a Khariboli foundation.  This, too needs to be explained.
For centuries Persian was the court language of India.  This was because Persian had been highly developed in Persia by writers like Firdausi, Hafiz, Sadi, Roomi, Umar Khayyam, etc. as a language of culture, grace and sophistication, and it spread to large parts of the oriental world.  Persian poets developed highly sophisticated forms of poetry e.g. ghazal, qaseeda, masriya, rubaiyat, etc.  Urdu poetry is in a sense continuation of Persian poetry but in  a totally different setting and a different language.
Of all these forms, the ghazal is the most popular.  It is in fact a marvel of condensation, and most Urdu writers have used it in most of their poetry.  It is characterized by qaafiya, radeef, matla and maqta (see their meanings on Google).
To explain, let us take the following verses of the great Urdu poet Firaq :

“Har zarre par ek kaifiyat-e-neemshabi hai
 ai sake-e-dauran yeh gunahon ki gharee hai
 maaloom hai sairabiye sar chashma-e-haivan
bas tashnalabi tashnalabi tashnalabi hai”

Here ‘hai’ is the radeef, and neemshabi, gharee etc. are qaafiya.  Thus qaafiya precedes radeef.  Radeef is the last word (or words) at the end of a sentence, and is repeated, qaafiya is not a repetition but a rhyming word.
The Mughals were Turks, not Persians, but though their mother tongue  was Turkish, they accepted Persian as the court language as
it was more developed than Turkish.*****  Thus, though Babar wrote his autobiography, Tuzuk-e- Babri, in Turkish, his grandson Akbar got it translated into Persian and called it Babarnama.  His own biography, Akbarnama, written by Abul Fazl is in Persian, and so is the autobiography of his son Jehangir (called Jahangirnama) and the biography of Shahjehan (called Shahjehanama).
This phenomenon of a foreign language being accepted as the language of the upper class or the court is nothing unique.  For instance, French was the language of the Russian and German (and
indeed much of European) aristocracy upto the 19TH Century.  Thus
in Tolstoy’s `War and Peace’, we find that the Russian commanders (who were all aristocrats) often spoke to each other in French, although their enemy, Napoleon’s army, was French.  Similarly English is the language of the elite in India even today.

***** Akbar’s finance minister Raja Todarmal got all the revenue records throughout the Mughal Empire written in Persian.
Persian was the court language of India for several centuries, and hence it exerted its influence on the common language of the cities, which as already mentioned above, was Khariboli.
How, then was Urdu created?  This is a fascinating question, and I will try to answer it.
            While the Mughal Emperors from Akbar to Aurangzeb were strong rulers, having control over large parts of India, their successors, the later Mughals, who ruled from 1707 (when Aurangzeb died) to 1857 (when the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah  Zafar,  was  deposed), were mere phantoms or shadows of the
departed glory of their ancestors.  Thus it is said :

“Saltanat-e-Shah Alam
Az Dilli ta Palam”

i.e. “the Empire of Shah Alam extends from Delhi to Palam”.
These later Mughals were Emperors only in name, they were in fact pauperized, they had lost their Empire to the Britishers, the Marathas, and their Governors, who had really became independent rulers (like the Nawabs of Awadh or Nizam of Hyderabad). In their reign the court language gradually ceased to be Persian and instead became Urdu.
Why did the court language which was Persian in the reign of the great Mughals become Urdu in the reign of the later Mughals?  This was because the later Mughals were not real Emperors but had become nearer to commoners or paupers with all the difficulties of the common man.  Hence they had to take recourse to a language nearer the common man.  Why then did their court language not become Khariboli, which was the language of the common man in the cities?  That was because these later Mughals, and their Lieutenants, the Nawabs and Wazirs, while having become pauperized retained their dignity, culture and self respect.  They still prided themselves in being Shahzade-Timuria i.e. descendants of Timur, the great conqueror, (who was Babar’s grand father’s great-grandfather) and descendants of the great Mughals.  Thus despite having become paupers they were not prepared to be treated as commoners.  Hence while they gave up Persian and adopted Khariboli, this was not the Khariboli of the common man but Khariboli of a special type, borrowing from the sophistication, polish and culture of the Persian language.  In other words they spoke a Khariboli which was coupled with the graceful features, sophistication and some vocabulary of Persian.
Urdu is thus the language of aristocrats who had become pauperized, but who retained their dignity, pride and respect.
The well known story of Urdu’s greatest poet Ghalib is that despite being in great financial distress he refused a job simply because when he went to offer his services no one was there to receive him.
The dignity of Urdu speaking people is best exemplified in the following lines of Josh :

“Hashr mein bhi khusrawana shaan se jaayenge hum
Aur agar purshish na hogi, to palat aayenge hum ”
(Even on judgment day I will go in style
And if not given respect, will turn back)

Thus Urdu is both an aristocratic language as well as the commoner’s language.  It is the commoner’s language because in fact the later Mughals had become almost (though not quite) commoners, having lost their Empire.  It is at the same time not the common man’s language, since the common man’s language is Hindustani, not Urdu.  The later Mughals, despite being pauperized refused to be treated like paupers and insisted on being treated with respect as aristocrats. Urdu has the graces, polish and sophistication of an aristocratic language.  Thus Urdu has a dual nature; it is both the common man’s language (aawaam ki zubaan) and also the aristocrat’s language (the common man’s language being Hindustani or Khariboli).  This may sound a paradox, but it is true, and in fact this is the beauty of Urdu, that while it is the language of the common man, expressing all the problems, worries, sorrows and hopes of the common man, it is also a language of grace, polish, sophistication and dignity.

It has been mentioned above that Urdu is basically a combination of two languages, Hindustani (or simple Hindi) and Persian, the former being the common man’s language, while the latter being the aristocrat’s language.  It has also been mentioned that Urdu is a special kind of Hindustani, not a special kind of Persian (because the verbs in it are all in Hindustani).  Continuing this analysis it may be stated that the content of Urdu i.e. the feelings and ideas expressed therein are that of the common man, but its form of expression is aristocratic.  In other words, Urdu expresses the troubles, sorrows, anxieties and hopes and aspirations of the common man, but its style (andaz-e-bayan) is not that of a common man but that of an aristocrat.
For instance, the greatest Urdu poet Ghalib had a horror of the commonplace in the mode of expression in poetry.  Regarding himself an aristocrat, he had an intense desire to be different from the common masses, and his poetry is marked by its originality and unconventionality.  Ghalib was of the firm view that the language of poetry should not be the same as the spoken language.  Hence he often expresses his thoughts not directly but indirectly, by hints and suggestions.
The same is true of many other Urdu poets.  They often express their thoughts and feelings not in simple, direct language but by insinuations, allusions, indications, and in a roundabout way, the aim being to appear sophisticated and elitist, instead of being common place.  This sometimes makes the work difficult to understand (the great Urdu critic and biographer Hali regarded one-third of Ghalib’s verses too recondite to be regarded as being in Urdu), and sometimes several meanings can be attributed to the same verse.
However, the aristocratic style and sophistication (andaaz-e-bayan) of Urdu is what makes it powerful, and enables the emotion and thoughts of the common man to be expressed forcefully and robustly.  Hindi does not have that power as it lacks that degree of sophistication.
As long as there were strong Mughal Emperors in India (i.e. upto 1707 when Aurangzeb died), Persian was the court language, and such was its domination that Urdu was never given respectability, and could never become the court language in North India, but instead found its haven or sanctuary in South India and Gujarat (where it was the language of the elite).  In a sense Urdu originated in South India and became popular there during the reign of the great Mughals, receiving patronage in the Southern kingdoms of Golkunda, Bijapur, Ahmednagar, etc. where it became the court language.  Thus it is interesting to note that Urdu became the court language in South India and Gujarat during the reign of the Great Mughals but it could never displace Persian in the North as long there were strong Mughals.
Urdu got respect in South India because there it was a foreign language (the local languages being Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, etc.).  And as I have already mentioned, the elite in a society often prefers to speak a foreign language (to distinguish itself from the common people).
In fact at that time Urdu was frowned upon in the North and looked down upon as an inferior language, the ideal language being regarded Persian, while in South India and Gujarat it became widespread (among the elite) and got patronage.  In this connection it is interesting to note that when the great South Indian Urdu poet Vali Dakhkhini****** came to Delhi in 1700 A.D. in the reign of Aurangzeb, he found that his fame had preceded him and he was very popular in Delhi because his poetry could be understood as it was written in Urdu which the common man of Delhi could understand, while the Delhi poets were all writing in Persian, which the common man could not understand.  Vali, though a South Indian is often regarded as the father of Urdu because he revealed to the Delhi poets the possibility of writing poetry in Urdu, a language which the common man could understand, and he made Urdu respectable in North India.
It was only when the era of the later Mughals began (after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707) that Persian was gradually displaced by  Urdu  as  the  Court language (for the reason already mentioned above), though this was done very grudgingly,******* and an example

****** Some people regard him as the father or founder of Urdu.  There is a dispute about his place of origin, some regarding him as Gujarati.

******* The firmans of the Mughal Emperors, including those of the later Mughals, were always in Persian, never in Urdu.  Thus, when I went to Chamba in Himachal Pradesh and visited the museum there, which was the former palace of the Hindu Kings, I found the firmans of the Mughal Emperors recognizing the Chamba kings all in Persian, not Urdu.of this is Ghalib who preferred his Persian poetry and looked down upon his Urdu poetry (though his greatness is entirely due to the latter).  Thus, in a letter to his friend Munshi Shiv Narain Aram Ghalib writes “My friend, how can I write in Urdu?  Is my standing so low that this should be expected of me?”  Thus, writing in Urdu was regarded infra dig, and all respectable writers at that time wrote in Persian.     
I may give another example.  My ancestor who came from Kashmir around 1775, Pandit Mansa Ram Katju, has made an entry in the register of the Panda of Kurukshetra which reads :


which  means  “I  have  come  in  quest  of  bread”  i.e. looking  for employment (which he got in the court of the Nawab of Jaora in Western Madhya Pradesh).
The interesting thing is that he has written in Persian, not Urdu.
It was Persian which was used by the educated class in those days for writing.  Urdu may have been the spoken language, but the written language was Persian.
Ghalib who prided himself in his Turkish ancestry, was very reluctant to write in Urdu, and preferred Persian.  Even his early Urdu poetry is highly Persianized and hence difficult to understand, and his best verses are his later ones when he began using more Khariboli.
The collapse of the Mughal Empire on the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 was a blessing in disguise for Urdu, for only then could it displace Persian as the Court language.  The heydays of Urdu was in the days of the later Mughals, and the high noon was in the time of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Right upto 1947 Urdu was the language of the courts, and of the educated people in large parts of India.  At the same time, due to its dual nature, it was also (as Khariboli) the common man’s language in urban areas.
Being the common man’s language in large parts of urban India Urdu borrowed from every language, and never objected to words of other languages.
Since Urdu was the common man’s language it was loved by the common man, and is loved even today.
This can be demonstrated by three facts :

(1) Even today Hindi film songs are in Urdu, for the voice of the heart will be in one’s own language, however, much some people may try to suppress it.  I remember when I was young my generation used to sing -
                        “ae dil mujhe aisi jagah le chal jahan koi na ho”
                        “dil dhoondata hai phir wahi fursat ke raat din”
and we never realized at that time that these film songs are verses from the great poet Ghalib.
We also sang ‘Jinhe naaz hai hind par wo kahaan hain’ which is the simplified form of Sahir Ludhianvi’s verse ‘Sanaa khwaan-e-taqdees-e-mashrik kahaan hain’ (song in the Hindi film ‘Pyaasa’).  Today the young generation sings ‘Munni badnaam hui’ and ‘Sheela ki jawaani’, which I regard as nonsense.

(2) In railway bookstalls the books which get sold are works of  Ghalib, Mir, Faiz, Josh, Firaq, Hali, Dag, Majaz, Zauq, etc. (nowadays in Devnagri script) and not the works of Hindi poets.
We are told that Hindi, not Urdu, is the language of the people.  Then why are works of Hindi poets like Mahadevi Verma or Sumitra Nandan Pant not sold in railway bookstalls, where the common people buy books, and instead Hindi speaking people buy Urdu poetry books?

(3) Hindi writers who have an Urdu background e.g. Premchand, Kishan Chand, Rajender Singh Bedi, Prof. Gopi Chand and Malik Ram are most accepted even in the Hindi world.
Urdu is loved by the people of India because it has grown among the people.  Urdu literature is a literature of protest, protest against the afflictions of the common man and against injustice.  We may consider this poem of Faiz (who, with Ghalib, is my favourite Urdu poet):

“Nisaar main teri galiyon pe ae watan ki jahaan
chali hai rasm ki koi na sar utha ke chale
jo koi chahnewala tawaaf ko nikle
nazar chura ke chale jism-o-jaan bachaa ke chale”

The above is an example of protest against despotism and tyranny during martial law in Pakistan.
Urdu is also the language of patriotism.  Everyone knows the famous lines of Ram Prasad Bismil :

Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai”

Urdu poetry has protested against ritualism, formalism, and oppressive or antiquated social customs (in this sense it can be said to be a successor to Kabir’s poetry, though of course it is much more sophisticated).  Thus Ghalib writes :

“Nahin kuch subha-o-junnaar ke phande mein geerayi
 wafadaari mein sheikh-o-barhaman ki aazmaaish hai”

i.e. “The amulet (of a Muslim) or the sacred thread (of the Hindu) is not very material.  The test of a Sheikh or Brahman is his loyalty (to his ideals or principles)”.
We may here also refer to the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto, particularly about the horrors of partition e.g. `Thanda Gosht’, ‘Tithwaal ka kutta’, ‘Khol do’, etc.
Being the language of the common man in modern India Urdu is almost entirely secular.  Some of the greatest Urdu poets are almost anti-religious.
Thus the great poet Mir writes :

“Mir ke deen-o-mazhab ko tum poonchte kya ho unne to
kashka kheencha dair mein baitha kab ka tark islaam kiya”

Similarly Ghalib writes :

“Imaan mujhe roke hai to kheenche hai mujhe kufr
kaaba mere peeche hai, kaleesa mere aage”

i.e. “Faith is stopping me, while atheism is pulling me forward.  Kaaba is behind me, the Church is in front.”
Here the word `Kaleesa’ only ostensibly means `Church’, but its real meaning is modern civilization.  Thus Ghalib, like many Urdu writers, is opposed to feudal civilization and commends modernism.
Urdu literature has Sufi influence.  The Sufis were the liberals among the Muslims, and not the bigoted.  They spread the message of universal love among all humans, whatever their religion, caste, etc.  Also since Sufis communicated with the laity in the common man’s language, they contributed to the growth of Urdu.
Among the modern Urdu poets Sahir Ludhianvi is outspokenly atheistic.  Consider the following lines :

“Aqaayad vaham hai mazhab khyaal khaam hai saaqi
Azal se zahen-e-insaan bastaa vaham hai saaqi

which means :
“Creeds are a delusion and religions merely false notions; From the beginning man’s mind has been a slave to superstitions” 
and again:

“bezaar hai kanisht-o-kaleesa se ek jahaan
Saudagaraan-e-din ki saudagari ki khair

which means :

“The world is sick of temples and churches;
pray for the safety of the traffickers in religion”

I venture to submit that no poetry in the world has expressed the voice and sorrows of the human heart in a manner Urdu has done.  Consider the sheer pathos in these simple words of Ghalib :

“Ranj se khoogar hua insaan to mit jaata hai ranj
mushkilen itni pari mujhpar ki aasaan ho gayeen”

i.e. “When a person is habituated of sorrows Then sorrows disappear So many difficulties fell upon me
That everything became easy”.
Some of the Urdu writers like Mir and Nazir have written beautiful poems on Holi, Diwali, Raakhi and other Hindu festivals and customs, which shows that Urdu was not the language of any particular religion.  A large number of Hindus have made their names in the front ranks of Urdu literature e.g. Firaq, Chakbast, Ratan Lal Sarshar, Ram Prasad Bismil, etc.  In Vali’s poetry the words Ganga, Jamuna, Krishna, Ram, Saraswati, Sita, Lakshmi, etc. appear frequently.
The greatest damage to Urdu was done by the Partition of India in 1947.  Since then Urdu was branded in India as a foreign language, as a language of Muslims alone, so much so that even Muslims stopped studying Urdu to show their `patriotism’ and solidarity with their Hindu brethren.  After 1947 Persian words which were in common usage were systematically sought to be replaced by Sanskrit words which were not in common use.  For example ‘zila’ was changed to ‘janapad’.  In a case which I was hearing in the Allahabad High Court an application entitled “Pratibhu Avedan Patra” was moved before me.  I asked the learned counsel what is the meaning of this word “Pratibhu”.  He said it meant a bail application.  I told him he should have used the words `bail’ or `zamanat’ which all understand instead of the word ` Pratibhu’ which no one understands, not even Khariboli speakers.  On another occasion when I was on a morning walk I saw a board on which were written the words “Pravaran Kendra”.  I could not understand the meaning, and I looked further up where in English it was written `Selection Centre’.  In my opinion the words used in Hindi should have been `Bharti Daftar’ or `Rozgar Daftar’ instead of  “Pravaran Kendra” which nobody understands.
This policy of hatefully removing Persian words which were in common use in Khariboli and replacing them by Sanskrit words which are not in common use resulted in creating an unnecessarily Sanskritized Hindi which the common man often finds it difficult to understand.  In our Courts of law it is often difficult to understand the Hindi used in Government Notifications.  Also this policy of hatred for Persian words resulted in almost genocide for Urdu.
The famous Urdu critic, Shamshur Rahmaan Farooqui, in an interview to Dr. Athar Farooqui, said “It is a sad thing for me, just as it is for others like me, that Urdu literature has ceased to be a living reality for our generation.  It has become dead and buried in books.”
With respect, I cannot agree.
Despite all hostile efforts the language which speaks the voice of the heart can never be stamped out as long as people have hearts.  The evidence that Urdu lives in the hearts of Indians even today can be seen from the surprisingly large crowds which `mushairas’ attract, from all sections of society and in all parts of the country, north, west, south and east.  If Urdu is a foreign language it is very surprising that the people of India love it so much, they buy Urdu poetry books, sing Urdu songs, etc.
I suggest that the Devanagri script be also used in publication of works of Urdu poets, (as was done by Prakash Pandit and others) since that will enable those who do not know the Persian script to read it.  In my opinion one should not be too rigid about the script.*******
 Some ‘Progressive’ writers wanted that all Urdu should be written in Devanagri script, but I do not agree with this view.  A flexible approach should be adopted leaving it to the individual to choose whatever script he wants.
What can be done is that in the left hand page the text can be published in the Persian script, while on the right hand page it can be published in the Devanagri script, with meanings of difficult words explained below in simple Hindi (Hindustani).
The great Urdu writer Josh once said that Urdu suffered badly after 1947 because it was cut away from bread and butter.  This is true.  One main reason why people stopped learning and reading Urdu was because it would not help them in their livelihood (as it did before 1947).
In this connection I have a suggestion to make.  While a Judge of Allahabad High Court I had given a judgment,Ramesh Upadhyaya  vs.  State of U.P., Writ Petition No.29290 of 1990 decided on 18.1.1993 in which I recommended that Sanskrit and Urdu, our two great cultural languages, be made compulsory in all schools for five years (from class 3 to class 8).  As yet this recommendation has not been accepted, but if it is accepted it will mean that thousands of people knowing Urdu will get jobs in schools in many parts of India.  In this way Urdu will get connected to bread and butter, and also, our children will get a foundation of this great cultural language, which they can later build upon if they wish.  They will thereby also learn the Persian script.
All lovers of Urdu can request the Central and State Governments to implement my recommendations.  I am attaching that judgment to this paper.
I would like to appeal to Urdu (and Hindi) writers to use simple language.  Often on reading some Hindi or Urdu work one finds it difficult to understand it.  But if what is written is not even understandable what use is there of such literature ?  Today the Indian people are facing terrible problems like poverty, unemployment, price rise etc.  Literature must contribute to the people’s struggles in the face of these problems, and that it can do by using simple language which the people can understand, like the war time speeches of Winston Churchill, or the stories of Premchand and Sharat Chandra.
It must be remembered that Mir and Ghalib wrote for select gatherings comprising of aristocrats and the educated elite.  In the modern age Urdu writers must write for the masses, and for that they must use simpler language.
I also appeal to my brother Judges in all Court in India to quote Urdu poets on appropriate occasions in some of their judgments, as this will give encouragement to Urdu.
In this connection I may mention that Mr. Justice Mahmood, the celebrated Judge of the Allahabad High Court of the 19th Century often quoted from Urdu poetry e.g.

“Jo chup rahegi zubaan-e-khanjar
Lahoo pukarega aasteen ka”

He used the above couplet in a judgment while deciding a murder appeal.
Why cannot our other brother and sister Judges do the same?  I sometimes hear shairi in Parliamentary speeches, but never in Court judgments.
In the end I would like to quote a sher (couplet) from one of my favourite Urdu poets, Faiz :

“Gulon mein rang bhare bade-naubahar chale
Chale bhi aao ki gulshan mein kaarobar chale”

What does this sher mean?
 Ostensibly it means :

“Among the flowers the coloured breeze of a new spring is blowing,
Come forward, so that the garden may function.”

In Urdu poetry, however, many shers have an inner meaning, apart from the ostensible one.
In my opinion the above sher really means that the objective conditions in our country are inviting the patriotic people in India to come forward now, so that the country, which is facing huge problems, may move forward.  


  1. Thank you Mr. Katju for providing such succint history of Urdu language and its importance in the Indian culture. Many things you mentioned were unkown to me and I am grateful for the information.

    I have a little story to tell you about the Sanskritization of Hindi. Many years ago, when I was a student in India, I was visiting Delhi and riding a bus. I noticed a sign in Hindi, which said "Sankat Nikas" and also "Emergency Exit" in English, so I knew what it meant. I was curious if others knew what it meant. I asked my the person next to me if he could read what it said, and he said correctly, "Sankat Nikas". He did not know any English, so I asked him what it meant? He said, "I don't know!". I was shocked that our government had adopted a policy of using words that people did not understand and that would endanger their life - if "sankat" came, there would be no "nikas" for them.

    Unfortunately, as you point out, things have become worse since, and I am glad there are enlightened people in India like you who have the vision to correct the hostorical record.

    With very best regards,
    Khursheed Ahmed
    (Living in Canada, but grew up in India)

  2. Thanks Mr Katju, indeed one of the smoothest article I have ever read.

    1. It seems you are not a well read person.

    2. Yeah, smoothest it seems.!! :D :P

  3. Sir,

    This is a very timely call for revival of a language that is pride of India. i visited MP and Chattisgarh recently and was shocked to hear sanskritised hindi. Inspite of being a sanskrit student, i found it difficult to follow that language.
    Your suggestion of bilingual books is very sensible indeed.
    Regards and Best Wishes,
    Dr. Bhooshan Shukla

  4. Sir,

    I am a South Indian Tamil Brahmin born and raised in karnataka. My Grandparents are tamilians from Bihar and yet i have a very strong interest in urdu ghazals. I have never been able to understand why i connected more to this language inspite of studying Sanskrit and Hindi in School. Your essay is an Eye Opener. Thank you very much. This has helped me understand myself..

  5. Sir,

    Question on the script used for Urdu.. inspite of Urdu being persianised khadiboli why is the script not devanagiri and more like persian?


    1. I have my self made theory here as answer. One day I too was pondering on the same question that you have stopped at.
      The only logical conclusion I could made is as follows-
      Rulers from the North-West invaded India. This invasion method to gain control over a land was the way it was done at that time. So, after invading and becoming ruler of a part of the land, the ruling class needs to blend and communicate with the inhabitants....right? The problem they would have at that time was that the rulers knew one language (Persian) and the inhabitants knew another (sanskrit/hindi). So to bridge this communication gap the ruling class would have come up with Urdu....which takes common works like verb, conjugation from hindi but adjective, nouns and expressive word from persian.... :)
      With this theory, the choice of script is very logical....since urdu was made by native persian speakers they chose the script they already knew...their interest was only in bridging the communication gap....if urdu would have been invented by local inhabitant then they would have naturally chosen devanagiri script (the way hindi evolved from sanskrit).....
      I could only speculate this theory as I cannot go back in time and prove it....I just tried to put a common sense thinking.... :)

    2. Easy to write and less stringent rules. No half alphebets. No aa ii oo....more or less. Quick to grasp and smooth flow, less convolutions.

      What more?

  6. Very nice article Sir. Urdu is indeed the sweetest language.

  7. We have an old tendency of admiring foreign and other's things, goods, language, culture, etc. otherwise which language can match Sanskrit and Hindi. One intellectual has defined this tendency very rightly and beautifully - "We Indian would ignore and reject our HALWA if we get GOBAR from foreign country.

    1. plz be free from ur biased views...
      HALWA is also a gift of our hindavi language, it's not a sanskrit word.
      Even u'll not find the word HINDU, HINDI or HINDUSTAN in any our SHASTRA, PURAAN OR GEETA.
      These words are given us only by the parsian invaders.

  8. urdu is not language, it means hoardes or orde of turkish people who came here to fight wars, in mediaval world. Their spoken language came to be known as urdu. They used to speak chagtai khanate language. And also, turks were more of warrior people, not like arabs. Khan was a title of warrior people which was pre-islamic. We actually lost empire in central asia.

  9. A beautiful effort on your part and great writing. Beautiful. Ab baat jab urdu ki chali hai toh zikr-e-Chakbast bhi hona chahiye...

    I quote my per-nanaji here as he was an urdu poet...

    "Zarra Zarra hai mere Kashmir ka mehmaan nawaaz,
    raah mein pathar ke tukdon ne diya peene ko pani mujhe."

    Chakbast on Kashmir

    Further he said...

    "Bekaar ta-al-li se hai nafrat mujhko
    lun daad-e-sukhan nahin yeh aadat mujhko,
    Kis waaste justju karun shohrat ki
    Ek din khud dhundh legi shohrat mujhko."


    Looking forward to reading more.
    Geetanjali Kaul.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Katju Sir,
    Thank you so much for all the learning and literary enlightenment. My love for Urdu only doubles with all the historical facts mentioned. Would love to read from you about Hindi too.


  12. Very nice article Sir. Urdu is indeed the sweetest language.
    Thank you Mr. Katju for providing such succint history of Urdu language and its importance in the Indian culture. Many things you mentioned were unkown to me and I am grateful for the information.

  13. Though my father tried his best to teach us Urdu, we foiled all his attempts at that time. I am now learning Urdu from and "google translate".
    Love you Urdu. is a labor of love, and is in three scripts, Devnaagari, Persian, and Roman. Have a look.

    Language is not a monopoly of any set of people. Language has no religious color, you mean English is a Christian language?

    The word "Hindu" is of Persian language :-)

  14. But that is the language of Pakistan period lol ! Hate mongers did such a good job that no one reasons or apply logic. They are disowning a treasure which originated, took its form in this location. Hate just got better of us and we have abandoned whats rightfully ours.

    Reminds me of "Gadhey ko Zafran ki kya qadr" loosely Translated as"What would donkey know the value of saffron"

    You still choose to be blind.
    You still choose to ignore everything while judging things.
    You have eyes to see and brain to think
    so why don't you apply your mind.
    Truth is out there just waiting for you to find.
    Herd's mentality is easy but why be of that kind ?

    Let not the hate forsake you love. Its not exaggeration but love is urdu and sweet is urdu.

    1. Brothers hate Mongers are at both sides and idiots as well, the level of idiocacy is greater in pakistan than India, atleast Indians are not denying their history. Pakistani people are not even ready to accept their past and even hate their forefathers.

  15. during census when i told my mother tongue is urdu the official cleverly marked it hindi nd hid it bt father was observnt enough ,he gave a good scolding to the person.. i came to know later dis is their way to eliminate urdu frm country

  16. during census when i told my mother tongue is urdu the official cleverly marked it hindi nd hid it bt father was observnt enough ,he gave a good scolding to the person.. i came to know later dis is their way to eliminate urdu frm country

  17. during census when i told my mother tongue is urdu the official cleverly marked it hindi nd hid it bt father was observnt enough ,he gave a good scolding to the person.. i came to know later dis is their way to eliminate urdu frm country