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Old Tuesday, September 01, 2009
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Default Languages And Literature In Mughal Era


Under the Mughals all form of literature flourished, from poetry to popular Sufi verses to learned prose and historiography .16th and early 17th century literature in the Persian Language is relatively well known ,and the historical works of that period have long since been studied ; however there ha been a tendency to over look the fact that there was literature in languages other than Persian , much of which is first written down in Akbar’s time .Arabic has always played an important role ,being the language of Quran ,of theology and philosophy. Elegant prose and poetry were also composed in Arabic, not only in the southern India but also in the north.

The Turkish Language or rather the Chaghatay Turkish ,Babur’s mother tongue also played an important role .Until the early 19th century it was still spoken to some extent in the ruler’s palace and also by many of the nobility .

In the 16th century, regional languages appeared for the first time in literature , then mystical writings ,followed by secular ones.

Sindhi, Punjabi and Pushto came into prominence during this time and Bengali and Kashmiri which had long been literary languages are also noteworthy.
Hindi -including the various dialects spoken in northern India, such as Braj and Purabi ,played an important role and thanks to the translation project initiated by Akbar and his great grandson Dara Shikoh ,Sanskrit also became and important literary language in the Muslim world .

Finally towards the end of Aurangzeb’s era Urdu became the quintessential literary language of Indian Muslims.


In general poetical forms which has been developed in classical Arab literature and to even greater extent those in Persian Literature, were transposed into Perso-Turkic Urdu Poetry during the Mughal Era.
They follow the same strict rules with regard to meter and include the

Ghazal (lyric) form, which is short lyrical poem with a single rhyme at the end of each line, usually expressing sacred of profane love. The first two half-verse rhyme, setting the tone, or the mood. Alternatively it commence with “ qit’a” , ‘a bridge’ ,which was popular in the case of descriptive and topical verses (prayers , chronograms,etc).

The Qasida (ode), which had the same rhyming patterns but which was longer and more strongly orchestrated, was usually employed in panegyrical poems, whether religious or profane.

The Mathnawi (narrative) is an epic or romantic poem in rhyming couplets , which can run to thousand of lines, a fairly short mathnawi ,which often commences wit ha plea for pardon but which can be used to treat any theme ,is called a Saqinama.

The Rubai(quatrain) with the rhyming pattern aaba , was often used. Overtime the juxta position of other forms became popular ,for instance , a number of ghazals would be connected by means of interim verses, which either changed or remained the same strophic poem .

This lead to the development of poems with five or six lien stanza s at most, each with its own rhyme. Verses with all kinds of themes were composed in this form, for instance “sarapa” “from head to foot” which were usually for description of beauty and “shahrashub”,’to excite the city people’ ,which might describe ‘heart-rendingly’ ,beautiful people or else cruel ones or it could deal with theme of artisans and their work or politics.

In the last lines of Ghazal and Qasidas, the poet would refer to himself by his nom de plume, which could either be given to him by his teacher or might be derived from his father’s Occupation.
• Hafiz ; he who knows the Quran by heart
• Urfi ,he whose father was a knight, who rode out in defense of law and order,urf.

Often specially in the early years the names were of elevated kind such as “Fayzi”,’touched by Grace of God’.

However over the course of the Mughal era ,these became increasingly pessimistic and melancholy such as ‘bedil’ (heartless ,dull),’Bikas’ ( friendless).
Sometimes the entire history of a piets family or a chain of events could be traced from these names: the poet Gul (Rose) names his pupil gulshan (Rose Garden) ,his pupil was Andalib (Nightingale) and his son was called Dard (pain –as felt by the nightingale when deprived of the rose)and Dard’s brother was called Athar “Trace Effect”.

Poetry in regional languages followed the traditional form of its place of origin.In Hindi and in early Sindhi ,the two line’ doa or sorath’ form was often used. In Pashto the ‘tappa and landey ‘form were often used ,rhymed distichs of 9+13 syllables, which had been introduced from Persian. There were also hybrid forms, especially in Sindh and in the Punjab : siharfi: thirty- letter poems ,are a kind of ‘Golden Alphabet’ :barahmasa “twelve month poems” express the longing of a lover for her beloved in a different way for each month of the year. Both types are found in varying long or short forms .

Popular poetry which was written down at a relatively late stage .was almost always intended to be sung, hence the frequent repetitions and the alliterations, of which singers are so fond..

Source Book : The Empire of the Great Mughals by Annemarie Schimmel
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Default Arabic


It has been the language of Islam from its very beginning and a vast number of works on theology and jurisprudence have been written in Arabic from the time Muslims first arrived on the subcontinent.

Hadith literature – the sayings of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and traditions of His (Peace be upon Him) life – flourished and India has remained a thriving center for Hadith studies.

The same was true for Sufi works and for the Arabic grammars used by the students at madrasas, the Arabic text books often rhymed, and the students often had to learn them by rote.

The great works of Al-Ghazali and the introduction to Sufi ethics, Adab –al-Muridin ,by Abu Najib as-Suhrawardi were in circulation at the time. During the course of the 15th century , the writings of the great theosophist Ibn ‘Arabi especially the Fusus al-hikam , ‘Ring stones of words of wisdom’ ,achieved great popularity in India.The most important Sufi Work written in Mughal India was ‘The Five Jewels ‘ by Muhammad Gauth Gwaliari , a Sufi primarily associated with Humayun.His complex works, which weaves together elements such as astrology , kabalah and name invocations , had a great influence on popular Islam in India .There are still copies in today in both Arabic and Persian .

Less influential albeit far more remarkable was the Sawati al-ihlam by Akbar’s poet laureate Fayzi.This commentary on the Quran is an immensely difficult work ,because it is written in Arabic entirely without dots ,which are normally essential to differentiate most of the consonants, which other wise look exactly the same.If they are omitted many verb forms cannot be distinguished,gioing rise to innumerable possible misreading of the text.

Fayzi’s commentary was dismissed as an ‘utterly irrelevant work’.However , his purpose was to demonstrate his absolute mastery of the Arabic language .Bada uni countered that Fayzi must have written the commentary whilst in a state of ritual impurity and therby committed a grave sin .

Despite Akbar’s attempt to limit the scope of the language of the Quran, the theologians continued to compose works in Arabic.Infact, the important Hadith collection of ‘Ali al-Muttaqi from Burhanpur, titled Kanz al-ummal, which remained in circulation for centuries,was firmly rooted in the Mughal tradition.A letter send by Ahmed Sirhindi to the Mughal Nobles was also partly written in Arabic.Further more , the writings of his contemporary ‘Abdu’l Haz Dihlawi’(died 1642) were written partly in Arabic and partly in Persian .

Great works in Arabic started to appear once more in Aurengzeb’s time ,when the ruler began taking an interest in reviving traditional Islamic education,which was neither mystical nor syncretistic in orientation.

The writings of Mullah Jiwan (died 1717) are relevant in this connection.Jiwan and the ruler read together Ghazzali’s groundbreaking work Ihya’’ulum ad-din’ –Revivication of the sciences of Religion’.

His contemporary Muhibullah Bihari (died1707),the Chief Qazi, was a distinguished writer in Arabic ,whose Musallam ath-thubut (Chronogram AH 1109 = 1697 ) is considered to be one of the most important of the later text books on usul al-fiqh,’the laws of jurisprudence’, whilst his Sullam al-‘ulum,’Sceintific Manual ‘,is regarded as the book on logic ever written in India.

Also noteworthy is the great collection of legal precedents, Fatawa-yi alamgiri ,which was compiled for Aurangzeb and which provides an important insight into Muslim law at the end of 17th century.Many new Arabic commentaries on the Quran and works on Quranic recitation,appeared in Aurengzeb’s time ,also Arabic prayer books ,as well as an index to the Quran,Nujum al-furqan(1691).

Arabic theological literature flourished in 18th century .The pre-eminent work from this period was the Hujjatullahil Baligha, ‘Conclusive proof of the Eloquence of god ‘. By Shah Walii ullah (1703-1762) of Dehli, which dealt with Islamic problems and possible solutions.(Inspite of its idiosyncratic Arabic style, the book is still studied.Al –Azhar university in Cairo)

Waliullah’s numerous Arabic and Persian works draw on his great bredth of knowledge,which was derived both from his family traditions (his father was among the people who worked on the Fatawa-yi ‘alamgiri). And also His experiences in Mecca at the very time when new ‘fundamentalist’ were arising ther.In Arabic poems in praise of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) , he made use of the full range of classical Arabic vocabulary to great effect,as did some of his learned contemporaries.

One of these ,’Abdu’l Aziz Bilgrami (dies 1726) who worked as an official in various provinces of the Mughal empire ,wrote eulogies of Muhammad (Peace be upon Him),whilst his nephew Azad Bilgrami composed work which merits careful study,titles Subhat-al Marjan, ‘The Coral Rosary’.In this books he attempted to present India as the true homeland of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) , to find connections between Sanskrit and Arabic poetry and to show that many good Muslim especially Sufi’s came from India.

Azad had made a pilgrimage to Mecca,somewhat later ,Sayyid Murtaza,a pupil of ahah Walliulah also went to Mecca.Syed Murtaza wa later called as Az-Zabidi after the city of Zabid in yemen .He was a author of great Arabic dictionary,Taj al-‘arus ,’The Bride’s Crown’,and also an indispensable ten-volume commentary on Ghazzali’s Ihya’ulum ad-din.He never returened to India bu tdied in Cairo in 1798.

The relationship between the Deccan states especially Golconda and the Arabic world culminated I na gathering of Arabic poets and writers at the court of Golconda in the 17th century.
A Dehli declined with gradual weakening of Empire towards the end of the 18 th century ,the court of Awadh became a cultural center.During this period ,an Arab aesthete staying at Awadh by the name of ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Yamani ash-Shirwani composed a work in Arabic in the style of the famous ’Maqamat of al-Hariri’,the acme of classical Arabic .His Manaqib al-hadariyya ,dedicated to the ruler Ghaziuddin Haydar of Lucknow,was first work to be printed on an Arabic printing press and showed Muslims interest in Arabic. (it was first in Arabic type because The first printing press --- the Portuguese had brought one to Goa during Akbar’s reign .)

Every Muslim is supposed to have atleast a rudimentary knowledge of Arabic, and so it is no wonder that Arabic verses, flowery phrases, clauses, even whole sentences, should appear in popular poetry in regional languages as well as Persian and Urdu literature. Even when Pakistan was founded, it was suggested to have Arabic language as its national language.
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