In this article we will discuss about the origin of Urdu language in India during the medieval age.

The origin of the Urdu language like most of other languages is quite obscure. A number of theories have been put forward by the scholars to explain the origin of the Urdu language.

Some of the prominent theories are as follows:

According to Muhammad Husain Azad, Urdu language was born as a result of grafting of Persian elements on the Brijbhash a, a dialect of western Hindi. This theory is difficult to accept because the author has offered too simple an explanation for the Urdu. Brijbhasha, though linguistically allied to the dialect spoken in the neighbourhood of Delhi, is quite different in construction and morphology.


The second theory has been advocated by Mahmud Sherwani who holds that the Urdu language was born as a result of the first contact between the Muslims and the Hindus after the conquest of Punjab and Sindh by Mahmud Ghaznavi. He says that during the period of over 170 years when Ghaznavi rulers were in occupation of Punjab, a number of Persian, Turkish and Afghans came there and settled down in Punjab.

As a result of this close contact bet­ween the Punjabi speaking people and the Persian speaking people, the two languages got mingled up and resulted in the evolution of a new language. In short, Prof Sherwani holds that Urdu grew out of contact between Punjabi and Sindhi on the one hand and Persian on the other hand.

He discusses the structure and mor­phology of the Urdu language and shows a grammatical affinity between Punjabi language and the new language.

The third theory regarding the origin of Urdu language has been offered by Dr. Masud Husain of Aligarh. He says that the Urdu language was evolved as a result of the grafting of Persian language on Hariani, a language which was spoken in Delhi in the early days of Sultanate.


With the passage of the time, the Persian words and idioms were so interwoven with Hariani, that the duality of the language was annihilated. Dr. Masud Husain also makes a comparative study of the grammatical structure of Hariani and Urdu and tries to prove the affinity of the two languages.

Prof. Yusuf Hussain also seems to be inclined to accept this view and says that Delhi was ideally situated for the development of a synthetic language. Dr. A L. Srivastava has also expressed the view that Urdu language, which was for a long time called Dehlavi, must have been connected with the language spoken around Delhi rather than with Punjabi.

He further says that for a several hund­red years (from 1200 to 1700 A.D.) Urdu and western Hindi were identical. Certain scholars like Amir Khusrau who wrote in this language were considered as poets of both Urdu as well as Hindi.

These two languages had not only a common history and vocabulary but also an identical grammatical structure. One thing which is certain that the development of Urdu language was slow and took many years before it became a fit vehicle of expression by the times of Amir Khusrau.


The language used by Khusrau and other writers has been claimed as Hindi as well as Urdu by the scholars of the two langu­ages. Amir Khusrau made liberal use of the Hindi words in his works particularly in his couplets and riddles.

Amir Khusrau called the language used by him Hindawai or the Dehlavi. He composed ghazals etc. in mixed language with alternate hemistich’s in Persian and Hindi, which went a long way in the development of Urdu language.

This fashion of using mixed languages is best demonst­rated from the following couplet of Khusrau:

Shabane hijran daraz chun zulf o ruze waslate cho ‘umr kotah

Saki Piya ko jo main na dekhun to kaise katon andheri ratain.


This fashion of writing mixed poetry was followed by other scholars also. For example Amir Hasan Ala Sijzi, a welt known Persian poet, also employed Hindi words in his ghazals Although Khusrau is considered to be a great poet of Persian language, he himself claimed that he wrote his poetry in the Hindawi language.

In the preface to his third diwan, he says: “I have scattered among my friends a few chapters of Hindawi poetry also, but I would be content here with a mere mention of this fact.” Again he says: ‘As I am a parrot of India ask me something in Hindawi that I may talk sweetly.”

Amir Khusrau is also considered as the first Muslim poet of Hindi language.

According to the well accepted traditions, it is said that Khusrau recited the following cuplet, composed in pure Hindi verse, on the death of Shaikh Nizam-ud-din Aulia:

Gori sowe Saij par.

Mukh par dale kesh,

Chal Khusrau Ghar apne,

Rain bhai chahun desh.

(The fair one sleeps on the bed with the tresses scattered on his face. O Khusrau come home now, for night has fallen all over the world.)

It may be noted that the language known as Hindawi or Delhvi, which was spoken in Delhi and the surrounding districts combined both Hindi as well us Urdu languages. As a result there is great controversy among the scholars whether it should be designated Hindi or Urdu. While the Hindi writers have called it as Hindi, the modern Urdu writers would prefer it to name it as Urdu.

The only thing which distinguished the two was script. While the Muslims used Persian script, the Hindus employed Devnagari script. Another criteria which distinguish the two languages was the preponderant use of Sanskrit or Persian words. Whenever a writer made preponderant use of Sanskrit, the language was known as Hindi, but when more Persian and Arabic phrases were used the language was known as Urdu.

The Sufi saints and the Bhakti saints also played an important role in the evolution of the Urdu language. The Sufi saints realised that it was futile to preach Islam through Persian, a language which the masses of India could not understood. Therefore, these Sufis started making use of a large number of Hindawi words in their conversation with their disciples and the common people.

The various Muslim mystics rendered their works in mixed language which was popularly known as apabhramsa. Some of the notable works composed in this language were Mullah Daud’s Chandayan, Kuthan’s Mrigawait, Manjhan’s Madhu-Malati, and Malik Muhammad Jaisi’s Padmawat written in the last quarter of the 14th century.

All these works were written in Uttar Pradesh, a Hindi speaking area. The Bhakti saints also rendered a valuable service to the evolution of Hindi-Urdu language. Like the Sufi saints they also made use of this language in preference to Sanskrit, because it could be easily followed by common people.

It may be noted that Urdu language was neither patronized by Sultans of Delhi during the Sultanate period nor by the Mughals until the times of emperor Muhammad Shah. Throughout the Medieval period, the Persian continued to be the court language, which was considered to the language of culture and scholarship.

The Indian Muslims, however, could not retain Persian as their mother-tongue and started using Hindawi in their homes. Initially it was only a spoken language, but gradually it was reduced in writing and became a language of culture.