Before The Divide (Hindi and Urdu Literary Culture)

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About the Book Today, Hindi and Urdu are considered two separate languages, each with its own script, history, literature canon and culture orientation. Yet, pre-colonial India was a deeply multilingual society with multiple traditions of knowledge and if literary production. Historically the divisions between Hindi and Urdu were not as sharp as we imagine them today. Rethinking the aspect of the literary histories of these two languages, the essays in this volume reassess the definit...

About the Book

Today, Hindi and Urdu are considered two separate languages, each with its own script, history, literature canon and culture orientation. Yet, pre-colonial India was a deeply multilingual society with multiple traditions of knowledge and if literary production. Historically the divisions between Hindi and Urdu were not as sharp as we imagine them today.

Rethinking the aspect of the literary histories of these two languages, the essays in this volume reassess the definition and identity of language in the light of this. Various literary traditions have been examined keeping the historical, political and cultural developments in mind. The authors look at familiar and not so familiar Hindi and Urdu works and narratives and address logics of exclusion and inclusion that have gone into the creation of two separates languages (Hindi and Urdu) and making of the literary canons of each. Issues of script, religious identity and gender are also considered.

Before the Divide: Hindi and Urdu Literature Culture is different in that it provides a new body of evidence and new categories that are needed to envisage the literary landscape of north India before the construction of separate Hindi-Urdu and ‘Muslim-Urdu’ literary traditions.

This volume looks into the re-articulation of language and its identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and will be useful for students of modern Indian history, language studies and cultural studies.

About the Author

Francesca Orsini is Reader in the Literature of North India at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.


Pre-colonial India was a deeply multilingual society, with multiple traditions of knowledge and of literary production conducted in specific languages and a marked ,diglossia between ‘classical’ languages and the ‘vernaculars’. Yet the first histories of north Indian literatures, written during the colonial and nationalist periods and deeply involved in crystallising communities around language and cultural identity, rewrote literary history in terms of separate, single-language traditions as the competitive and teleological histories of (‘Hindu’) Hindi and (‘Muslim’ or secular) Urdu. As a consequence, these literary histories have been marked by ‘appropriation, neglect and exclusion’ (Bangha in this volume). So far, the alternative to this fractious history of Hindi vs Urdu has been a narrative of ‘composite culture’, where selective syncretic traditions have been taken as definitive evidence that culture acted.

This essay has benefited from prolonged discussions with the participants in the workshop I organised on ‘Intermediary Genres in Hindi and Urdu’ held in Cambridge (UK) on 15 September 2004 and the panel on ‘North Indian literary Cultures Before the Divide’ set up by Vasudha Dalmia and myself at the 18th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies in Lund

wed en) on 8 July 2005. I am also indebted to Daud Ali, Sudipta Kaviraj, Imre Bangha, Lalita du Perron, Samira Sheikh, Katherine Brown and Iessica Bath, who took part in a monthly reading group that commented on the essays In heldon Pollock 2002 as a great cohesive force in the mixed Indo-Muslim polity. Both narratives have had to exclude much of literary production to prove their point.

The myth-making and exclusions that were involved in the construction of separate ‘Hindu-Hindi’ and ‘Muslim-Urdu’ literary traditions have been discussed at length by scholars in recent years, but an alternative to those flawed narratives is yet to emerge. This volume is the first attempt to rethink aspects of past Hindi and Urdu literary production outside the straitjacket of Hindi and Urdu literary histories. Some of the names and genres taken up by the individual authors will be familiar ones to students of Hindi and Urdu literary history-Keshavdas, Malik Muhammad Iayasi, Tulsi, Sauda, Upadhyay, ‘Hariaudh’, Braj Bhasha riti poetry, Avadhi epics and Urdu marsiyas-others, such as Vajid, Makhdoom Sarvarhalai or Maqsud, will be less familiar. But even the familiar inhabitants of the Hindi-Urdu literary terrain have been considered in an unfamiliar light. The authors move beyond the constraints of teleological narratives of Hindi and Urdu to explore the more spacious framework of ‘north Indian literature’. These re assessments of canonical texts and poets, and explorations of less familiar works and genres will prove to be crucial in reconstructing the multilingual and multi-dimensional literary world ‘before the divide’.


The first problem faced by nineteenth and early-twentieth century works on ‘Hindi’ and ‘Urdu’ linguistic and literary history, and in the debates that suffused the era of their composition, was that of language definition.’ As scholars have pointed out in recent years, the issue of language definition was first recognised as a ‘problem’ by colonial linguists, and the suggestions they put forward, often carrying the stamp of official authority, either became commonplace or provoked long-lasting debate and resentment. The problem centred on the obvious differences in script and vocabulary in what seemed to be the same language, and also on the uncertainty surrounding the correct name of the language(s). John Borthwick Gilchrist, the influential writer of language textbooks, professor of Hindustani at Fort William College in Calcutta and, as a consequence of that position, patron of Hindi and Urdu writers, thought of it as a continuum, in which ‘Hindi’ was the rustic, un Persianised bottom register, Persianised Urdu the top register, and Hindustani the preferred middle level. Gilchrist was also perhaps the first to identify language with script and religion, suggesting that Urdu and Hindustani, in the Persian script, were largely the language of north Indian Muslims, while Hindi in the Devanagari script was that of Hindus. As such, Gilchrist has been reviled in Hindi and Urdu literary histories as a classic proponent of the colonial policy of divide and rule. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can see that he was both reacting to the social and cultural hierarchy of north India at a time in which Persianised speech was prized, and to the need of identifying the one ‘common vernacular of Hindustan’, i.e. north India. His identification of language with script was no doubt problematic and opened a veritable can of worms for both colonial officials and Indian intellectuals. As far as language definition is concerned, we believe, with Imre Bangha (this volume), that Hindi and Urdu are names fora multitude of north Indian vernacular dialects that from an outsider’s point of view were simply called Hindavi (language of India), or Bhakha, (simply, the spoken language), to distinguish them either from Persian and Arabic or from Sanskrit and Prakrit’.

As new ideas about language met with a new sense of history and cultural identity centred around ‘community’, and as Indian intellectuals felt the need to rearrange literary traditions into literary histories, they also immediately confronted the problems of script and language definition. Was everything written in the Urdu (Persian) script automatically Urdu (or Hindustani), and everything written in Devanagari automatically Hindi? Or did an attribution of language depend on the religious identity of the author, or on the content of the work? What happened when the same texts had been copied in manuscripts in both scripts, not to speak of the other scripts current in north India (Gurumukhi, Kaithi)? Frances Pritchett and S.R. Faruqi’s work (2001) on Muhammad Husain Azad’s seminal Urdu literary history, Ab-e haym (1880), and King’s work (1974) on the literary-historical policy of the Nagari Pracharini Sabha (est. 1893), the most important Hindi literary institution of the time, suggest that several logics of exclusion and inclusion were at work. Script, the religious identity of the author, the content of -the work and its quotient of literariness were the main standards. Literariness, of course, meant the literary standards of nineteenth-century intellectuals, who operated in milieux that viewed ornate (riti) or devotional poetry and the ghazal as the distinctive features of, respectively, Hindi and Urdu literature. This meant that, to give just a few examples, the devotional Kabir and Iayasi became part of Hindi literary history ‘despite’ being Muslims, Raskhan was praised for his ‘love for Hindi’ because he wrote poetry on Krishna, and scores of Hindu poets of Urdu were marginalised or excluded from Azad’s influential account.



Acknowledgements   vii
A Note on Transliteration   viii
1 Introduction 1
2 Rekhta: Poetry in Mixed Language 21
  The Emergence of Khari Boli Literature in North India  
3 Riti and Register 84
  Lexical Variation in Courtly Braj Bhasha Texts  
4 Dialogism in a Medieval Genre 121
  The Case of the Avadhi Epics  
5 Barahmasas in Hindi and Urdu 142
6 Sadarang, Adarang, Sabrang 178
  Multi-coloured poetry in Hindustani Music  
7 Looking Beyond Gul-o-bulbul 205
  Observations on Marsiyas by Fazli and Sauda  
8 Changing Literary Patterns in Eighteenth Century North India 222
  Quranic Translations and the Development of Urdu Prose  
9 Networks, Patrons, and Genres for Late Braj Bhasha Poets 249
  Ratnakar and Hariaudh  
  Contributors 277
  Bibliography 279
  Index 297


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Item Code: NAH318 Author: Francesca Orsini Cover: Paperback Edition: 2011 Publisher: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 9788125042631 Language: English Size: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch Pages: 320 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 360 gms
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