Brief History of Urdu

Urdu is one of the recent language of which inception began with the migration of Persian, Turkish and Arabic speaking Muslims into Indian subcontinent beginning 12th Century. Until then the native language of northern and north western India was Prakrit and its variants, classic Sanskrit was the literary language of elite Brahmins which was used mainly for the religious purposes and official records. While Persian was used as the court & administrative language by the recently migrated Muslims wherever they formed a government, Turkish (& Persian) was the mother tongue of various tribes which were parts of ruling elite, military, businessmen, artisans, religious scholars and Sufi saints. Arabic being the language of Quran, it was widely understood and used for religious purposes by the migrating Muslims.

With the merger of people of these various language groups, a new language was formed over several centuries which was referred with different names by different people in different times. This new language was referred as Hindustani, Hindivi, Dehlivi, Hindi, Reqta, Khari Bolo, Deccani or Urdu. Word “Urdu” itself is derived from Turkish word “Ordo” which means “army” denoting the language of the army camps. For couple of centuries since the beginning of migration, A Persian use to identify his native language as Persian and Turkish as Turkish and Arabian as Arabic but all these people along with the local communities were speaking a different language when they were interacting with each other, that was the language Urdu.

Over following centuries this new language with Prakrit as its base and heavily influenced vocabulary from Sanskrit, Persian, Turkish and Arabic evolved, until the poets of behmani sultanate(Gulbarga) and later Golconda (Hyderabad) Sultanate of Qutub Shahi Dynasti & Sufi Saints across the Indian subcontinent adopted this new language for literary purpose. Poets like Quli Qutub Shah, Mulla Wajhi, Ghawasi & Wali aurangabadi etc. Still Urdu was not recognized as a literary language across the subcontinent. The entire Subcontinent was speaking various variants of this Urdu/hindi/deccani/khariboli as their native language but were still sticked to Persian for Administrative & literary purposes and Sanskrit/Arabic for religious purposes. And by the 17th century, with the capture of Deccan by Aurangzeb (Mughal Kingdom of Delhi), the literary work of Deccan in Urdu reached Delhi Courts, which sparked an interest in Mughal Kingdom (Northern India) to use Urdu for literary purposes which created many such poets like Sauda, Mir, Dard etc.

Urdu can be said to have reached its maturity during the Aurangzeb era of Mughal kingdom when a large number of poets and laureates started adopting Urdu as a language for their works.

Urdu-Hindi Schism
By the arrival of Britishers into Indian subcontinent, Urdu was so popular amongst the masses that Britishers adopted Urdu for administrative purposes and started learning this native language. It was this time that, need to document grammar was felt to learn the local language. Britishers created the “Fort William College” for this purpose and various scholars were hired to document the grammar of native languages & also to impart the local culture and language training to arriving British officials. This was the time when Britishers distinguished (or rather divided) Urdu and Hindi as two different languages (Of course there were voices by a section of Hindu society to give a Hindu/Muslim identity to language). Until then Urdu/Hindi was recognized as a single language spoken (still being spoken) by the entire Indian community irrespective of their religion.