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Urdu


Urdu' is an Indo-Aryan language, one of the major languages of the Indian sub-continent and the national language of Pakistan. Urdu developed in the environs of Delhi over a period of two hundred years (1200-1400) from a mixture of persian, arabic, Turkish and Hindi. This mixed dialect has been variously called Khariboli, Rikhta and Hindustani. An example of Khariboli may be found in the poems of Amir Khasru (1253-1325) and Kabir Das (1440-1518).

The word, Urdu, derives from the Turkish word, ordu, meaning camp. 'Urdu-e-Muaalla' was the name of the cantonment of the Mughal Emperor shahjahan (1628-1658). Soldiers coming from different regions used to speak in Khariboli or Hindustani; Shahjahan called this language after the name of his cantonment.

The people of Bengal were presumably introduced to Urdu during the mid-seventeenth century. In the 18th century dhaka was the centre for the rice trade. Marwari merchants used to speak with Bengali rice merchants in Hindustani. Hindustani was also commonly used in government and non-government offices and in the courts.

In a case filed by the east india company on 8 June 1775 against Maharaja Nandakumar, his advocate made an appeal to the magistrate that both the plaintiff and the defendant should be allowed to make their statements in Hindustani (Urdu), their native language. Urdu was the medium of instructions at aliya madrasa (founded 1780) in calcutta. From the beginning, the Department of Hindustani or Urdu coexisted with the Department of Bengali and Persian at fort william college (founded 1800). During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, workers from Bihar and Orissa came to work in the tea gardens in Bengal, bringing with them their Hindustani mother tongue. Employees of the Eastern Bengal Railways also came from Orissa. They too spoke in Urdu. Thus Urdu spread throughout Bengal.

During the early years of British rule, Urdu was the medium of religious instructions at madrasahs. Books on hadith, Fiqh, and tafsir were mainly written in Urdu. The religious curriculum at the Madrassahs was chiefly responsible for the widespread use of Urdu in both parts of Bengal. Most influential Muslim families practiced Urdu as a mark of aristocracy. Urdu was the mother tongue of many Bengali Zamindars such as Abdul Ghani and Mir Ashraf Ali of Dhaka, Yusuf Ali Chowdhury of Laksam, mohammad ali chaudhury of bogra, Nawab Ali Chowdhury of Dhanbari, Mirza Latif Hossain of bhola and south Shahbajpur, ak fazlul huq of barisal, Ali Haider Khan of Longla (sylhet) and the Mazumder family of Sylhet. During British rule, Muslim leaders used to deliver speeches in Urdu at religious and political assemblies.

Shortly after the creation of Pakistan, its political leaders, including mohammed ali jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its Governor General, proclaimed that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan. In protest, the language movement started in the eastern wing of the country, culminating in the deaths of several young people on 21 February 1952. As a result of this movement, the Constitution of Pakistan recognised Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan along with Urdu. The cultivation of Urdu in East Pakistan decreased significantly from then, with many old families switching from Urdu to Bangla in their speech. A large portion of Urdu speakers subsequently left Bangladesh for Pakistan in the wake of the liberation war in 1971. As a result, the use of Urdu has become very limited. Now it is restricted to a few families, and to a section of people south of the Dhaka railway line, who speak a dialect of Urdu. Once Urdu was an influential Department at Dhaka University, and it is still taught as a subject there, but with a dwindling number of students.

Like the language, Urdu literature also gradually spread from Delhi, its place of origin, and its adjacent localities over different regions of the subcontinent. The 18th century poet Oli Aurangabadi (1668-1744) and his associates first started the culture of Urdu poetry at Delhi. Other 18th century poets, who composed poems in Urdu and Persian, included Fayez (d 1715), Majnun (d 1747), Arzu (d 1748). Islam Khan, the Mughal Governor of Bengal (1608-1613), made Dhaka his capital. In 1713, the capital of Bengal was shifted from Dhaka to Murshidabad. In 1772 the capital was again shifted, this time to Calcutta, which remained the capital of the whole subcontinent until 1912. From 1772-1912, intellectuals and poets settled in Murshidabad and Calcutta. In Bengal, the study of Persian and Urdu literature was first initiated in Murshidabad. During the rules of Murshid Quli Khan, Shujauddin Khan and Alivardi Khan, places such as Murshidabad, Azimabad, Hoogly and Dhaka became remarkable centres of Muslim culture and Persian literature. The study of Urdu gradually evolved along with Persian, the court language. Mohammad Fakih Daradmand (d 1747) wrote Urdu poetry under the patronage of Alivardi Khan.

Nawab sirajuddaula (1733-1757) was a patron of Urdu and Persian literature. Kudratullah Kudrat and Farhatullah Farhat were his court poets. Mir Mohammad Sharaf, an Urdu poet, was patronised by Mir Jafar (d 1765). A number of valuable old manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Urdu are still preserved in the library of Nawab Mahal. Inshallah Khan Insha (d 1818) of Murshidabad earned fame as an Urdu writer and poet in the late eighteenth century. He wrote an Urdu grammar in Persian entitled Dariya-a-Latafat (1808) which is still widely known in the Urdu-speaking community.

Urdu literature evolved gradually in Calcutta. After Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, was defeated in 1799, his family was moved to Taliganj in Calcutta. This family continued to pursue learning in Urdu and patronised it for a long time. Poets and writers such as Taufiq (d 1884), Sultan and Rahim were born in this family. Poets like Abdur Rahim, Tamannah Gorakhpuri, ubaidullah al ubaidi suhrawardy and Abdul Ghafur Nassakh used to visit the house of Taufiq, whose brother, Azimuddin Sultan, composed both Persian and Urdu poems.

Another reason behind the rise of Urdu and Persian literature in Calcutta was the influence of Wajed Ali Shah (1822-1887). Wajed Ali Shah was deposed as Nawab in 1856 and exiled to Fort William College. After living here for about two years, he settled in the area of Matia Buruj, where he died in 1887. Wajed Ali Shah was a distinguished poet and cultured man who wrote about forty books in Urdu and Persian. He was also a renowned musician and composer. Urdu literature and music flourished first in Lucknow and then in Calcutta under his patronage. A number of learned people and poets migrated along with him from Lucknow to Calcutta. As a result, Calcutta became enriched with Urdu literature and poetry, and Matia Buruj was turned into 'Second Lucknow'. Among the poets and litterateurs who flourished here mention may be made of Nawab Fathuddullah, Mirza Mohammad Riza Khan Bark, Mahtab-ud-Daullah and Maulana Abdul Halim Sarker. At this time Mirza Nawab Khan Dag from Delhi and Nizam Tabatabai from the Deccan migrated to Calcutta.

Fort William College played a very important role in the development of Urdu. In order to teach British officials the language, Urdu texts were developed, initially in the form of translations from Arabic and Persian texts. Mir Amman, Sher Ali Afsose and Haider Baksh Haider were entrusted with the task of translating Arabic and Persian texts into easy Urdu. Mir Amman's Bag-O-Bahar (1802), Afsose's Araish-e-Mahfil (1805) and Bag-e-Urdu and Haider Baksh Haideri's Tarikh-e-Naderi occupy an important place in Urdu literature as examples of early Urdu prose. Calcutta may thus be described as the first centre for Urdu prose. The Urdu printing press at Fort William College offered the first opportunity to publish books in Urdu in Calcutta. Jam-e-Jahan Numa, the first weekly Urdu newspaper of this subcontinent was published on 27 March 1822 from Kolkata.

The cultivation of Urdu poetry began in Dhaka in the late 18th century. mirza jan tapish migrated from Delhi along with numerous Urdu poets, and arrived in Dhaka in about 1786 under the patronage of Nawab Shams-ud-daullah (1770-1831). In course of time, a new trend in Urdu poetry emerged. Mirza Jan Tapish spent some ten to twelve years in Dhaka with Shams-ud-Daulla. After Shams-us-Daulla was imprisoned in Calcutta on charges of conspiracy against the British, Mirza Jan Tapish found a job at Fort William College. He wrote a book on Urdu idioms, terminology and proverbs under the title Shamsul Bayan-fi-Mustalahat-e-Hindustan (1792) during his stay in Dhaka. Subsequently, the book was published from Murshidabad (1844). Fort William College published his book of Urdu poems, Kulliat (1812).

Hafez Ikram Ahmed Jaigam (d 1869), born in Rampur (or, as some suggest, Delhi) wrote poems and persuaded others to do so as well. He had disciples in many places in Bengal. Special mention may also be made of Abdul Ghafur Nassakh (Faridpur), Mahmud Azad (Dhaka), Khwaja Abdul Gaffar Akhter (Dhaka), Hafez Rashidunnabi Wahshat (Calcutta) and Hakim Ashraf Ali Mast (Sylhet). Although Aga Ahmad Ali Ispahani (1839-1883) was primarily a Persian writer, he also studied Urdu and wrote Risala-e-Mukhtaserul Ishtekak (1871) in Urdu. There was a literary competition between Aga Ahmed Ali and Mirza Ghalib. Mohammad Ashraf and Fida Sylheti were prominent among Aga Ahmed Ali's disciples.

Maulana Ubaidullah-Al-Ubaidi Suhrawardy (1834-1885), superintendent of the Dhaka Mohsinia Madrassah, wrote poems in Arabic, Persian and Urdu. He edited Guide and durbeen in Urdu and Persian respectively. The number of his writings in different languages is 52. Among them, mention may be made of Dewan (an anthology of poems, 1880), Miftahul Adab (grammar) and Dabistan-e-Danish (physics), all in Urdu. Quite a number of his manuscripts on philology, psychology, women's education, written in Urdu, still remain unpublished. Ubaidulla's daughter, Khujistha Akhtar (1874-1919), wrote a book in Urdu on Miladunnabi under the title Kawkab-e-Durri. She also translated Henry Wood's English text on ethics into Urdu, entitled Aina-e-Ibrat (Mirror of Advice, 1911). Her other writings are Siratunnabi (The Life of the Prophet and Talimunnesa (Women's Education).

Abu Mohammad Abdul Ghafur Nassakh (1833-1889), the younger brother of Nawab abdool luteef, composed poems in Persian and Urdu. He knew Arabic, english and Hindi as well and was a deputy magistrate and deputy collector by profession. Among his numerous books, mention may be made of Ashar-e-Nassakh (1866), Daftar-e-Bemisal (1869), Chashma-e-Fayez (1874) and Armugan (1875). Sukhan-e-Suwara (History of the Poets, 1874) is his most famous contribution to Urdu literature. He also wrote two biographies: Gavj-e-Tawarikh (1873) and Kanz-e-Tawarikh (1877).

Munshi Rahman Ali Tayesh (1823-1908), who came of an aristocratic family of Dhaka, was an Urdu poet and historian. His first work, Gulzar-e-Nat (1880), published from Nizamee Press at Kanpur, was an anthology of Urdu and Persian na'tia kasida (panegyric poems in monorhyme). He also wrote Urdu poems which were collected in Dewan-e-Tayesh. This collection is, however, no longer extant. Rahman Ali is better known as a historian. In his Tawarikh-e-Dhaka (1910), he offered a brief history of Bengal and gave an account of the geographical, archaeological, political and cultural conditions of Dhaka prevailing in the 19th century. syed muhammad azad (1850-1916), born in the zamindar family of Mir Ashraf Ali of Dhaka, was a high official in government. Nawab Abdul Latif was his father-in-law and Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq his son-in-law. He was the first Bengali to write plays in Urdu, among them Nawabi Darbar and Nawabi Khel. He also wrote Urdu articles. He wrote an autobiography, Moulana Azad, as well as a compilation of essays, Kheyalat-e-Azad. Contemporary social and political problems constitute the themes of his writings. Ahmed Hossain Wafi (d 1940) was a teacher at Dhaka Mohsinia Madrassah. He wrote plays as well as poems in Urdu. Among his plays, mention may be made of Bimar-e-Bulbul (1880).

hakim habibur rahman (1881-1947) is remembered for his outstanding contribution to Urdu literature and journalism. He was educated at Dhaka Madrassah and spent eleven years at Kanpur, Lucknow, Delhi and Agra studying tibb (eastern) medicine. The title of Shefaul Mulk was conferred on him in recognition of his expertise as a hakim. He wrote books on literature, history and medicine and gave Urdu the status of a language of research and scholarship. Alfarik (1904), Hayat-e-Sukrat (1904), Asud Nag-e-Dhaka (1946), Dhaka Pachash-Baras-Pehle (1949), Salasa Gassalah, Tazkiratul-Fujala and Masajid-e-Dhaka are among his prominent writings. Hayat-e-Sukrat is a biography of Socrates. Asud-Nag-e-Dhaka describes the famous mazars of Dhaka. Dhaka Pachas Baras Pehle narrates the history of Dhaka during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Salasa Ghassalah is an introductory bibliography on authors and their writings in Urdu, Persian and Arabic. Hakim Habibur Rahman edited two monthly Urdu magazines: Al Mashriq (1906) and Jadu (1923). He introduced Urdu journalism in East Bengal and Assam. He was the founder secretary of an organisation named Avjuman-e-Urdu in East Bengal and Assam, the aim of which was to provide a forum for the cultivation of Urdu. In short, Hakim Habibur Rahman played a multidimensional role in the development of Urdu language in the country.

Syed Sharfuddin Sharf Al-Hossaini of Dhaka (1876-1960) was a poet. His book of poems was published under the title of Gulistan-e-Sharf (1937). Another manuscript of poems, Dabisthan-e-Sharf, remains unpublished. The Khwaja Nawab family of Dhaka played a vital role in the history of Urdu-Persian literature in Bengal. khwaja haider jan shayek, Khwaja Asaduddin Kawkab, Khwaja Abdur Rahim Saba, Khwaja Ahsanullah Shaheen, Khwaja Atiqullah Sayeda, khwaja muhammad afzal and Khwaja Nazimuddin among others cultivated Urdu and Persian literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. Khwaja Muhammad Azam wrote Islami Pavchayet Dhaka (1911) in Urdu. His son, Khwaja Muhammad Adel, co-edited Jadu, a monthly journal with Hakim Habibur Rahman. Khwaja Abdur Rahim Saba (d 1871) wrote Urdu poems. His manuscript, Daste Saba is preserved in the Dhaka University Library.

Khwaja Ahsanullah Shaheen, (1845-1901) Nawab of Dhaka, wrote Urdu poems that have been collected in Kulliat-e-Shaheen. He also wrote a history of his family, Tawarikh-e-Khandan-e-Kashmirian, which is, however, still accessible only in manuscript form. Ahsanullah Shaheen was also a composer and lyricist and composed many thungri songs. Ahsanul Kasas (15 February 1884), an Urdu weekly magazine of Dhaka, was both inspired and assisted financially by him. Poet Syed Mahmud Azad was the mentor of Khaja Muhammad Afzal, grandson of Nawab Abdul Ghani and son of Nawab Khwaja Yusuf Khan Bahadur. Afzal wrote ghazals in both Urdu and Persian.

In this region, Urdu and Persian were cultivated outside Dhaka as well. Nazer Mohammad Abdullah Ashufta of Sylhet was a very famous Urdu poet whose Tasbihul Gafelin (1894), a text on morality, is preserved in the Dhaka University Library. The Urdu poems of Maulvi Forzam Ali Bekhod of Baniachang in Sylhet have been preserved in the asiatic society. Munshi Golam Haider of chittagong, a caretaker of the Fort William College, translated Munshi Mohammad Wasi's Persian poem, Gulshan-e-Ishk, into Urdu as Husn-o-Ishk (1843). Its 300-page manuscript is preserved in the Dhaka University Library.

A number of newspapers and magazines were published from Calcutta and Dhaka during the nineteenth century, such as, Jam-a-Jahan Numa (weekly, Calcutta, 1822), Urdu Guide (weekly, Calcutta, 1858), Mohammadi Akhbar (weekly, Calcutta, May 1877), Natija-e-Sukhan (monthly, Calcutta, 1881), Darus-Sultanat (daily, Calcutta, 1888), Ahsanul Kasas (weekly, Dhaka, 1884). The early years of the 20th century also saw a number of publications, including Al Mashrik (monthly, Dhaka, 1906), Jadu (monthly, Dhaka, 1923), and Akhter (mymensingh, 1924).

The University of Dhaka also contributed to the study of Urdu literature. When the university began in 1921, the Department of Urdu and Persian was one of the twelve departments that was opened. Khan Bahadur Fida Ali Khan, the first head of the department, translated bankimchandra chattopadhyay's Bisbrksa into Urdu under the title Bas Ke Rog. Syed Wajahat Hossain andalib shadani (1904-1969), who taught in this department for a long time and also served as its head, was an Urdu poet, essayist and prose-writer. Among his works are Nishat-e-Rafta (poems), Tahkik Ki Roushani Mein, Sachchi Kahanian, Nush Wa Nish, Payam-e-Iqbal, Insha-e-Abul Fazal (translation), and Rubayet-e-Baba Taher (translation).

The creation of Pakistan saw the arrival of several Urdu poets, including Reza Ali Wahshat (1881-1953) and Salimullah Fahmi, in East Pakistan thus enriching the Urdu literary scene. Regular mushairas were held, during which established and young poets recited their self-composed verses in Urdu. There were also a number of short story writers, such as Rahat Ara Begum, Umme Ammara, Ahmad Sadi, Afsar Mahpuri, Begum Zainab Tasneem, Yusuf Ahmeer. Urdu writers found scope for publication in magazines and journals such as Khawar (Dhaka, 1952), Nadeem (Dhaka, 1960), Karnafuli (Chittagong, 1967), and Dabistan-i-Mashriq (khulna). To cater to the Urdu-speaking minority, Urdu newspapers were also published. Among them are Watan (Dhaka, 1947) and Pasban (Dhaka, 1848). Most schools and colleges which had annual magazines also included a section of Urdu writing. Apart from broadcasting Urdu news, Radio Pakistan, Dhaka, used to broadcast Urdu plays.

With independence, Urdu lost its importance in Bangladesh. Urdu sections in schools were dropped. Urdu journals and newspapers ceased publication; regular Urdu news broadcasts and Urdu plays also stopped being broadcast. However, Bangladesh Radio continues to broadcast in Urdu in its External Service. The Department of Urdu and Persian continues to exist at the University of Dhaka, but more students opt for Persian than for Urdu these days. While mushairas have stopped, singers have started to cultivate the ghazal in Bangla as well as in Urdu. The birthday of the great Urdu poet Iqbal is celebrated annually, though on a quiet note. [Kaniz-e-Butool]

Bibligraphy' Wafa Rashedi, Bangal Mein Urdu, Hyderabad, Pakistan, 1955; TG Baily, A History of Urdu Literature; Rambabu Saxsina, History of Urdu Literature, Lucknow.