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Barz, Richard and Yogendra Yadav. An Introduction to Hindi and Urdu. Delhi, Munshiram Manoharlal, 2000.


The Development of Hindi and Urdu

  1. The Two Meanings of the Term Hindi
  2. Hindi and English
  3. The Linguistic Situation in Ancient India
  4. Hindi Literature : the Heroic Period
  5. Hindi Literature : the Bhakti Period
  6. Hindi and Urdu Literature : the 17th and 18th Centuries
  7. Hindi and Urdu Literature : the Modern Period
  8. Hindi Dialects and Folk Literature
  9. Hindi Outside of India
  10. Hindi and Urdu Grammars and Dictionaries

As the official language of the Republic of India and as the mother tongue of some 300 million people with an unbroken literary history of at least 900 years, Hindi is in terms of politics, population and cultural tradition one of the world's ten leading languages. Yet, in spite of its important position, Hindi and its literature have until very recently remained relatively little known outside of southern Asia. This peculiar paradox, which is largely due to the political eclipse which India underwent while under foreign domination during the two centuries prior to 1947 and to the concurrent economic and cultural pre-eminence of the English language throughout that period, has left room for many misconceptions and much confusion about Hindi to arise. Since the very name of the language has been a subject of argument and contention, the clarification of the exact meaning of the term "Hindi" provides a good point from which to begin dispelling some of the confusion.

I. The Two Meanings of the Term Hindi

As is also true of the terms "English" and "German", the word Hindi may be used either as the name of a cluster of dialects or as the name of a particular standard speech developed out of one of the dialects of the cluster. In the first sense the word Hindi denotes a cluster of dialects which is generally divided into five groups; these groups, in order of geographical location from west to east and north to south, are: Pahari, Western Hindi, Rajasthani, Eastern Hindi and Bihari. From the point of view of historical linguistics, the dialects of these five groups stem from very similar earlier forms of speech rather than from a single parent. While a few of these local dialects have been important for the history of Hindi literature and will be referred to later, most of them have never been more than unwritten vernaculars limited to rural and household use. Nowadays, all are replaced for use in writing and in spoken communication beyond the domestic and village level by standard Hindi, i.e. Hindi in the second sense of that term.

Standard Hindi, which is always written in the native Indian Devanagari script, has developed out of a Western Hindi dialect called Khariboli which is spoken in the Delhi area. Today, in addition to being the language used for the official business of the central government of India, Hindi is also the medium through which government is carried on in six of the Indian states — Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar — and in the Union Territory of Delhi.

Hindi is not the only name used to designate this standard language. Sometimes it is called Khariboli after its parent dialect. When it is used with a large number of words and phrases borrowed from Persian and Arabic and is written in a modified form of the Arabic script, it is known as Urdu ·YR6d. Although Urdu and Hindi are grammatically identical, the differences in vocabulary may make it difficult for a linguistically unsophisticated speaker of Urdu to understand elegant and flowery Hindi and vice versa. Urdu, with a proud and flourishing literary tradition of its own, is today the official language of the Republic of Pakistan. In India it is recognised in the Constitution as a major language and is one of the state languages of Jammu and Kashmir. In the 18th and 19th centuries the name "Hindustani" — which means the language of Hindustan — was current, especially among Europeans, to designate the non-literary form of Hindi which had for centuries been used as a lingua franca throughout northern and central India. Since this Hindustani lingua franca served and still serves as a trade and bazar language through which speakers of mutually unintelligible languages can carry on the transactions of ordinary life, it has developed a simplified grammar that can strike speakers of Hindi or Urdu as quaint or even barbarous.

In the two or three decades before Indian independence, M.K. Gandhi and others backed Hindustani for the national language in an attempt to bring about a compromise between supporters of Hindi and advocates of Urdu or some other language. The sort of Hindustani espoused by Gandhi employed the standard grammar of Hindi and Urdu but was free of the more unusual words taken into Hindi from Sanskrit and into Urdu from Arabic and Persian. It was hoped that it would, therefore, be acceptable to all communities and ethnic groups. After Hindi in India and Urdu in Pakistan had received national status, the Hindustani movement disintegrated.

Further Reading

Rai, A. 1984. A house divided: the origin and development of Hindi/Hindavi. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Shackle, C. and Snell, R. 1990. Hindi and Urdu since 1800: a common reader. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

II. Hindi and English

Despite the wide gulf of geographical distance and cultural dissimilarity between English and Hindi, both are members of the Indo-European language family and so are linguistic cousins. Some five or six thousand years ago the linguistic ancestors of today's Hindi and English speakers were living somewhere in the borderlands between Europe and Asia speaking dialects of a single language. Perhaps because of climatic changes or population pressures, these Indo-European-speaking peoples expanded outward until eventually their linguistic descendants have come to occupy some two-thirds of the South Asian subcontinent and almost all of Europe, the Americas and Australia. While the ravages of time have distorted most of the vocabulary resemblances between such diverse members of the family as English and Hindi, enough obvious similarities remain to demonstrate the relationship even to the casual observer. For example Hindi måtå means 'mother', pitå means 'father', gåy is 'cow' and do is 'two'. In addition to these very ancient cognate words there has been over the last two centuries considerable mutual vocabulary interchange between English and Hindi. The Hindi speaker has borrowed relve 'railway', digari 'academic degree' or 'legal decree' and bas istend 'bus station' from English and Hindi words like "thug" (from thag 'swindler' or 'robber'), "loot" (from lutna 'to plunder') and "cheetah" (from ciitå, 'cheetah') have become a part of English. In terms of structure, even more than in vocabulary, the two languages still show strong evidence of their kinship. Both languages distinguish nouns, verbs, adjectives and other parts of speech in more or less the same way, both build their verb forms by adding various suffixes to a verbal root and the basic function of the verb in both languages is to indicate whether an action or state of being is completed, uncompleted or in progress. But in spite of these points of similarity the chief fascination of Hindi for the English-speaker, as no doubt is equally true of English for the Hindi-speaker, is that a language so familiar in fundamental grammatical structure can be so alien in terms of cultural context.

Further Reading

Renfrew, C. 1987. Archaeology and language: the puzzle of Indo-European origins. London: Jonathan Cape.

Skomal, S.N. and Polomé, E.C. (eds.) 1987. Proto-Indo-European: the archaeology of a linguistic problem. Washington: Institute for the Study of Man.

For a survey of basic English grammar, see:

Bernard, J.R. 1975. A short guide to traditional grammar. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Nesfield, J.C. 1979 [1912]. Modern English Grammar. London: Macmillan.

III. The Linguistic Situation in Ancient India

From sometime before the 10th century B.C. until around the 12th or 13th century A.D. the Indian cultural tradition was dominated by the Sanskrit language. Because that language in its earlier or Vedic form was the language in which the four Vedas— the most sacred of Hindu scriptures— and the voluminous mass of material appended to them were composed and preserved, it acquired immense prestige in India. As a result of this prestige, instead of being left to follow a normal process of linguistic development, Sanskrit was frozen into a very rigid grammatical mould. This made it into a finely honed and supple tool for the precise expression of elegant and abstract thought but also divorced it from the needs and feelings of every-day human life. Like Latin in medieval Europe, Sanskrit ceased to be anyone's mother tongue and domestic language and, also like Latin, Sanskrit became the preserve of a numerically tiny political, religious and literary elite. The rituals of the Brahman priest, sophisticated discourse at the courts of kings and serious literature were all conducted in Sanskrit.

In addition to Sanskrit, other literary languages emerged from time to time out of the Indo-European forms of speech of northern India. Often these literary languages took shape within non-Hindu religious movements. Earliest of these were the Prakrits, one of which was the Pali language of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures. Considerably later came the Apabhramshas, especially cultivated by writers who were followers of the Jain religion. All of these languages, like Sanskrit, were essentially literary languages and had lost contact with the speech of ordinary life by the time they were considered fit for the attention of educated individuals. The spoken languages and dialects, which were beneath the notice of the sophisticated, were lumped together under the term bhasa, which means simply 'language'. Although something of the history of the spoken languages can be reconstructed through comparison of the Apabhramshas with the Prakrits and Sanskrit, there is no text older than the 10th century which is certainly written in a north Indian bhasas.

Further Reading:

Burrow, T. 1965. The Sanskrit language. London: Faber and Faber.

Masica, C.P. 1991. The Indo-Aryan languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

IV. Hindi Literature: the Heroic Period

Besides linguistic kinship, Hindi and English also share a striking parallel in historical development in that both languages were deeply influenced by precipitous change brought about by the inroads of a foreign military force. The 11th century Norman French conquest led, after a period of cultural recession, to a wonderful enrichment of the English language and a brilliant resurgence of its literature. In the same way, an efflorescence of literary activity in Hindi followed upon the overwhelming of northern and central India by armies of Turks from Afghanistan and Central Asia. Here, however, the similarity ends. While the English and their conquerors shared a common religion and general cultural tradition, the Islamic culture of the Turkic conquerors was quite different from, and in many ways incompatible with, the civilisation of the Indians they subdued. This cultural antagonism has had a profound effect on the Hindi language and has meant that from that conquest until the present day its progress has flowed through two distinct streams, Hindi and Urdu.

Although the Turks who entered India spoke Turkic dialects among themselves and, like all Muslims, cultivated Arabic for formal religious use, they were Persianised in higher culture and had received most of their knowledge of the outside world through the Persian language. From ancient times the Persians had considered the Indus River to be the western boundary of India proper and, from their form of the name of that river, had called the land east of the Indus "Hind". In Persian the speech of the people of Hind was Hindi. Thus, just as the Indians themselves used the term bhasas for any vernacular without concern for distinction in language and dialect, when these Persianised Turks consolidated their control over northern India they referred to the speech of the native people as Hindi. Eventually Nepali on the north, Bengali, Assamese and Oriya on the east, Gujarati and Marathi on the south and Panjabi and Sindhi on the west were all recognised as different languages and the name Hindi was restricted to the speech of the vast area left within the resulting limits.

In 1192 Prithviraja the last Hindu king of the Delhi area, was slain in battle by the invading Turks and in the following year Delhi was captured and made the centre of Turkic rule in India. The Turkic army established itself in a section of Delhi that came to be known as the Urdu district from the Turkic word ordu meaning 'army' or 'military camp' (the word has been independently borrowed into English as "horde"). Since the Turkic soldiers could not speak the Khariboli dialect of Hindi used by the people of Delhi and the local people did not know Turkic or Persian there was a pressing need for a form of speech comprehensible to both groups. As the people of the Delhi area were much more numerous than the foreign soldiers, their dialect of Hindi supplied the grammatical structure and basic vocabulary to which a few Turkic and a great many Persian and Arabic words were added by the soldiers to form a new dialect, the zabån-e-urdu, literally 'the language (zabån) of the camp'. Although very quickly the new dialect, Urdu displaced Turkic as the language of the home and ordinary life, a struggle of several centuries was necessary before it could rival and finally supplant Persian as the literary language par excellence in those areas of India under strong Muslim cultural influence.

While Urdu was emerging as a respectable literary language, other forms of Hindi had already begun to be put to literary use. At the time of the Turkic conquest heroic ballads and epics were being set down in writing in old forms of the Khariboli, Brajbhasha and Marwari dialects of Hindi. It is appropriate that the best-known of these epics standing at the dawn of Hindi literature should be the 12th century poet Cand Bardai's Prithviraj Rasau which is centered on the exploits of that same Prithviraja who died in battle against the Turks. The true flowering of Hindi literature, however, was not a product of the period of heroic poetry but rather of the time between the 15th and 17th centuries which is called the bhakti age because of the dominance of bhakti, religious devotion, in the literature of that period.

Further Reading

McGregor, R.S. 1984. Hindi literature from its beginnings to the nineteenth century. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Nagendra. 1973. Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Delhi: National.

Sukla, R. 1957. Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Varanasi: Nagaripracarini Sabha.

Varmå, D. 1963. Hindi Sahitya Kos. Varanasi: Gyanmandal.

V. Hindi Literature: the Bhakti Period

Many of the Turkic conquerors were so fervid in their zeal for spreading Islam that they were fiercely intolerant of Hinduism and the other religions of India. Considerable numbers of Indians responded to this challenge by conversion to Islam but most seem to have reacted by trying to strengthen and reaffirm their own religious traditions. One of the most powerful currents in the revitalisation of Hinduism was the tremendous surge in devotional enthusiasm for worship of the gods Ram and Krishna that had begun its sweep over northern India by the 13th century and which has not really started to subside until the present day. In three very important ways this bhakti religious revolution within Hinduism worked to undermine the prestige of Sanskrit and the other traditional literary languages while stimulating the production of literature in Hindi and the other major vernacular languages.

1. The bhakti approach to religion teaches that every individual regardless of sex, caste or ethnic group is equally worthy of divine grace. It is, therefore, essential that the techniques for the realisation of that grace be made available to all, including the humblest members of society. As a result of this doctrine the teachings of bhakti sects were transmitted through verse, and later through prose, composed in languages spoken in ordinary life.

2. Since bhakti sects hold that every human being can have direct access to the divine, they replace as far as possible the Brahman priest and his Sanskrit ritual with the individual's own worship through texts and hymns in a familiar spoken language.

3. Finally, a key bhakti tenet is that the primary obstacle keeping the human being from the divine is individual pride and egotism. The ideal for millions of followers of the new religious wave became the devotion expressed by humble cowherds and unsophisticated village girls in speech drawn from everyday life. Those whose caste (jati) and class (varna) was high and who made a great show of their cultivation of Sanskrit were seen by the adherents of bhakti as liable to fall prey to an arrogance very detrimental to a spiritual life.

Together with these three linguistic effects of the bhakti movement came the political events which crippled and impoverished the Hindu aristocracy which had formerly endowed the study of Sanskrit. The result was that Hindi and its sister languages Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and Panjabi became the chief languages both in literary and spoken use in northern and central India.

The Hindi dialects that benefitted most from the bhakti movement were the Brajbhasha dialect of Western Hindi and the Avadhi dialect of Eastern Hindi. The former, as the language of the region around Krishna's home city of Mathura was considered to be the best language for literature in praise of that god while the latter, as the language of Ram's birthplace Ayodhya was held to be especially suitable for verses devoted to that deity. Moreover, the close linguistic kinship that both dialects have to the Hindustani lingua franca made them attractive to bhakti poets intent on reaching the widest possible audience.

The possibility for access to a geographically wide audience also encouraged bhakti poets from outside the Hindi area to write in Hindi. One of the best known of these is Nåmdev (1270-1350), who chose to compose devotional verses in Brajbhasha as well as in his mother tongue Marathi.

The first outstanding native Hindi writer to emerge in the bhakti period was the poet Vidyåpati (c. 1360-c.1460) who composed his poems in the Maithili dialect of Bihari Hindi. Vidyåpati was a devotee of Krishna and his consort Radha. Like the work of many other worshippers of these deities, his verses are both devotional and intensely erotic.

The works of the next great Hindi poet, Kabir, who probably died around 1490, are preserved in a Brajbhasha that is influenced by Khariboli as well as by the Bhojpuri dialect of Bihari Hindi. The following verse is from one of Kabir's poems in the Sri Guru Granth Såhib (Rågu Gauri, Kabir's 8:4). It illustrates the way in which the Hindi language lends itself to the compression of several images and nuances into very few words in order to produce a statement terse and powerful.

hanså saravaru kålu sarira

Råma rasåina piu re Kabira

As the lake is to wild geese, so is the body to death,

O Kabir, drink the nectar of Ram.

The English translation of this verse can never convey more than a hint of the abrupt impact that the nine words of the original have on the Hindi reader. In order to gain some feeling for the concentrated force of the verse it is necessary to sketch briefly the shades of meaning which Kabir has played upon in each word he has chosen.

hanså: the wild goose is one of the most ancient Indian symbols for the human soul in its attempt to transcend its physical limitations; but the wild goose is also famous for the love it holds for its mate and so becomes an image of sexual attraction.

saravaru: since the Himalayan lake Månasarovar is one of the holiest and also one of the most difficult to reach of the Hindu pilgrimage places, it has become a symbol of rest and refuge from the struggle of life; but Månasarovar is also the breeding ground to which wild geese must return once a year in order to mate.

kålu: time, kålu, is in Indian thought the manifestation of the inexorable nature of death.

sarira: the human body

Råma: the supreme being

rasåina: a liquid which, according to Hindu mythology, was supposed to ward off old age and death; also the substance containing ras, the essence of being.

piu: drink

re Kabira: o Kabir; the traditional Hindi poet always "signed" his or her name in the last line of a poem.

With the above ideas in mind, the verse becomes a vivid and startling portrayal of the inevitability of death for every person. Just as the wild goose is driven by the irresistible biological imperative to fly to Månasarovar to mate, so does death inexorably stalk the body and seize it. The soul is locked in a deadly race for the sanctuary of Månasarovar with death in hot pursuit, but the outcome is not in doubt and there is, of course, really no contest. In such circumstances the only hope is to take realisation of Ram into one's self.

Other famous Brajbhasha writers of the bhakti period include: Guru Nånak (1469-1538), the founder of the Sikh religion, whose poetry is in a form of Brajbhasha that is considerably influenced by his native Panjabi; Surdås (1478-c.1585), the author of the Sursågar which is usually regarded as the greatest work of premodern Hindi literature; the noblewoman Miråbåi (1498-1546) who expressed her deep love for Krishna in verses composed in a mixture of Brajbhasha and Rajasthani dialects.

While the bulk of the Hindi literature of this period was religious in inspiration, secular works also exist. One of the most fascinating of these is the Ardhakathånaka, the Brajbhasha autobiography of the merchant Banårasi, which gives a vivid insight into life in northern India in the time of the emperor Akbar.

Among works in the Avadhi dialect the two best-known are the Padmåvat of the Muslim poet Malik Muhammad Jåysi (1494-c.1550) and the Råmcaritmånas, the Hindi version of the Råmåyana and probably the most popular book in northern India, of Tulsidås (1532-1623).

Although most of the literature composed in Hindi before the 19th century was in verse, prose works like the Cauråsi Vaisnavan ki Vårtå written in Brajbhasha by Hariråy (1591-1716) were also produced.

Further Reading

Alston, A.J. 1980. The devotional poems of Miråbåi. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Barz, R.K. 1976. The bhakti sect of Vallabhåcårya. Faridabad: Thompson Press.

Callewaert, W.M. and Lath, M. 1989. The Hindi padåvali of Nåmdev. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Hawley, J.S. 1984. Sur Dås: poet, singer, saint. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Hill, D.P. 1952. The holy lake of the acts of Råma. Bombay: Oxford University Press.

Lath, M. 1981. Ardhakathånaka: half a tale. Jaipur: Rajasthan Prakrit Bharati Sansthan.

McGregor, R.S. 1984. Hindi literature from its beginnings to the nineteenth century. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

McLeod, W.H. 1968. Guru Nånak and the Sikh religion. Oxford: Oxford Univerity Press.

Nagendra. 1973.Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Delhi: National.

Sukla, R. 1957. Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Varanasi: Någaripracårini Sabhå.

Varmå, D. 1963. Hindi Sahitya Kosh. Varanasi: Gyånmandal.

Vaudeville, C. 1974. Kabir. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

VI. Hindi and Urdu Literature: the 17th and 18th Centuries

Because during the 17th and 18th centuries many poets writing in Brajbhasha and Avadhi seem to be more concerned with demonstrating their command over complicated rules of poetics than with the content of their verses, those centuries are called the stylistic (riti) period of Hindi literature. In terms of subject matter, much of the poetry of the stylistic period continued to be focused on such bhakti themes as the love of Radha and Krishna. This sort of poetry was detached and unworldly and gives little evidence of the political and social turmoil that, particularly during the latter half of the 18th century, was preparing the way for the literary upheavals of the 19th century. A noteworthy Brajbhasha poet of this period was Ghanånand (d. 1761).

While the poets of Brajbhasha, Avadhi and Maithili drew their inspiration almost exclusively from the Hindu tradition, those writing in Urdu favoured either Muslim or secular themes. For this reason, Urdu literature is always considered separately from that of the Hindi literary dialects and is not discussed under the heroic, bhakti and stylistic periods appropriate to them. Urdu has a long literary tradition, going back to the time of Khvåjå Bandanavåz Gisdaråz (1321-1422) who lived in central India and composed in the southern form of Urdu known as Dakkhini. Nonetheless, it was not until the 18th century that Urdu literature had its first major flowering. Among the many Urdu writers of that century the satirist Saudå (1713-80), the mystic Khvåjå Mir Dard (1719-85) and Mir Taqi Mir (1722-1810), considered the master of the gazal form of verse, stand out as three of the greatest poets that India has produced.

Further Reading

Barker, M.A and Siddiqi, M.A. 1977. Classical Urdu poetry, 3 vols. Ithaca: Spoken Language Services.

McGregor, R.S. 1984. Hindi literature from its beginnings to the nineteenth century. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Nagendra. 1973. Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Delhi: National.

Russell, R. and Islam, K. 1969. Three Mughal poets: Mir, Sauda, Mir Hasan. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Sadiq, M. 1984. A history of Urdu literature. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Schimmel, A. 1975. Classical Urdu literature from the beginning to Iqbål. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Sukla, R. 1957. Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Varanasi: Någaripracårini Sabhå.

Varmå, D. 1963. Hindi Sahitya Kosh. Varanasi: Gyånmandal.

VII. Hindi and Urdu Literature: the Modern Period

At the opening of the 19th century, which was also the beginning of the modern age of Hindi and Urdu literature, the dialect of Delhi was everywhere dominant in the Hindi-speaking area. In the form of Urdu it was spreading as the language of polite discourse and sophisticated literature among urban people of refined tastes, both Muslim and non-Muslim, all over northern and central India. Under the guise of the Hindustani lingua franca it was spreading through the trading centres of India as the only Indian language wide-spread enough to be used for communication among people from the opposite ends of the subcontinent. Of the literary dialects, only Brajbhasha still retained any significant vitality. But, as the 19th century began, it had become so tightly bound up with a very narrow range of cultural expression that it had very little prospect of becoming the supple, secular, cosmopolitan language necessary for the new age. It is not in any way surprising, then, that modern standard Hindi is, except in wordstock and script, identical to Urdu and owes only a very minor linguistic debt to the Brajbhasha of the 18th century. And this is in spite of the fact that Lallulål the author of the Premsågar, the first book in modern Hindi, was himself a Brajbhasha poet. The story of how Lallulål came to write the Premsågar is also the story of the forces which brought modern standard Hindi into being and so must be told in some detail.

With the rise of British rule in India, both Indian and British leaders became increasingly aware of the vital importance of the creation of a very much larger block of literate, educated people for the progress of the country. One of the most important prerequisites for the necessary spread of literacy and education was the existence of a lingua franca suitable for literature as well as for speech that would be free of strong religious overtones, that would be flexible enough to express a broad range of new ideas in clear prose and that would be easily learned by ordinary people from the Panjab to Bengal and from the Himalayas to the Deccan. Such a lingua franca did, of course, exist as the Hindustani of the bazars of the cities of northern India and it was Hindustani that at the very beginning of the 19th century the British directors of the Fort William College at Calcutta decided to support. Their primary purpose was to provide written materials through which British officials and missionaries could learn this lingua franca. Since the Hindustani lingua franca had not been considered by Indian writers to be refined and elegant enough to be employed for literature, the Fort William College officials had to hire Indian writers to produce the required literature. One of these writers was Lallulål (1763-1835) who between 1802 and 1810 composed the Premsågar in the Devanagari script using Urdu-Hindustani grammar with as few Persian and Arabic words as possible. With the exception of occasional verses in pure Brajbhasha, the Premsågar is entirely in prose. Since the Premsågar is a lively retelling in colloquial language of the events of the life of the ever-popular Krishna, it has gone far beyond its purpose as a language text for foreigners to become loved and respected by Hindi-speaking Hindus as a work of genuine religious inspiration and value. Nevertheless, the Premsågar's prose does have a somewhat Brajbhasha cast that makes it seem slightly awkward and archaic as well as rustic and charming in comparison with modern Hindi. This Brajbhasha veneer is absent from the work of the next great Hindi writer, Harishcandra (1850-1885), who is the first modern Hindi author of outstanding literary talent. The next milestone comes with Devakinandan Khattri (1861-1913), who in 1891 wrote Candrakåntå, the first Hindi novel with mass appeal. Finally, Maithilisharan Gupta (1886-1964) made modern Hindi a respectable vehicle for serious verse, the ultimate hurdle for any Indian literary language. In the novelist and short story writer Dhanpatråy Srivåstav (1880-1936), who is famous under his pen name Premchand, Hindi found its first author who has a firm place in the first rank of writers at the international level. With Premchand Hindi may truly be said to have come of age as a vehicle for literature.

Among the best-known Hindi writers of the contemporary period are the poet Nirala, real name S. Tripåthi (1897-1962); the novelist Yashpal (1903-76); the author and literary gadfly Upendranåth "Ashk" (1910-96); the novelist and poet S.H. Våtsyåyan (1911-87), who wrote under the name Agyey ; the novelist and short story writer Phanisvarnåth "Renu" (Àu5, 1921-77); and the litterateur Rajendra Yadav (b. 1929).

Since both Hindi and Urdu writers were forced to come to grips with the same problems of rapid social change and cultural disorientation that struck India during the 19th century, the histories of the two literatures tend to converge during that period. Furthermore, until the partition of India, Urdu enjoyed tremendous cultural prestige among educated north Indian Hindus and Muslims- as well as among the more conscientious British administrators- and was the first literary language for many of those who also wrote in Hindi. For instance, Premchand and Ashk were both already famous Urdu authors before they began to write in Hindi.

Among Urdu writers of the 19th century the most renowned is Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) whose poetry bridges the gap between traditional and modern India. Of the Urdu novels of the modern period one of the most attractive is the picaresque Umråo Jån Adå, based on the career of a Lucknow prostitute during the grand decadence of that city, by Mirzå Muhammad Hådi Rusvå (1856-1931). Muhammad Iqbal (1878-1938) was the most influential and controversial Urdu poet of the early 20th century. In the field of the short story, one of the most powerful modern Urdu writers was S. H. Manto (1912-55).

Although since the agony of the partition of India in 1947 Urdu has become more and more restricted to use in Pakistan and among Indian Muslims, it is still the primary literary language of many Hindus and Sikhs in India. It is, therefore, not at all strange that one of the most popular modern Urdu writers, Krishan Candar (1914-77), was a Hindu.

Further Reading

Barker, M.A and Siddiqi, M.A. 1977. Classical Urdu poetry, 3 vols. Ithaca: Spoken Language Services.

Barz, R.K. 1990. "Hindi since independence", pp. 95-110 in J. Masselos, India: creating a modern nation. New Delhi: Sterling.

Bhatia, T.K. 1987. A history of the Hindi grammatical tradition. Leiden: Brill.

Gaeffke, P. 1978. Hindi literature in the twentieth century. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

McGregor, R.S. 1974. Hindi literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

—. 1981. A new voice for new times: the development of modern Hindi literature. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University.

Manto, S. H. 1989. Kingdom's end and other stories. New Delhi: Penguin

Nagendra. 1973. Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Delhi: National.

Premchand. 1988. Deliverance and other stories. New Delhi: Penguin.

Rahbar, D. 1987. Urdu letters of Mirzå Asadu'llåh Khån Ghålib. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Renu, P. 1986. The third vow and other stories. Delhi: Chanakya.

Roadarmel, G. 1972. A death in Delhi: modern Hindi short stories. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rubin, D. 1976. A season on the Earth: selected poems of Nirala. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sadiq, M. 1984. A history of Urdu literature. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Schimmel, A. 1975. Classical Urdu literature from the beginning to Iqbål. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Shackle, C. and Snell, R. 1990. Hindi and Urdu since 1800: a common reader. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Sukla, R. 1957. Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas. Varanasi: Någaripracårini Sabhå.

Varmå, D. 1963. Hindi Sahitya Kos. Varanasi: Gyånmandal.

VIII. Hindi Dialects and Folk Literature

The fact that Hindi and Urdu have one of the world's leading traditions of written literature should not be allowed to overshadow the rich oral folk literature that continues to thrive in the Hindi dialects. Only a beginning has been made in recording this fascinating unwritten material. Some of the best collections to have been published so far are from the following dialects:

Pahari dialect group - Kumauni, Garhwali

Western Hindi dialect group - Khariboli, Brajbhasha, Bundeli

Rajasthani dialect group - Marwari, Malvi

Eastern Hindi dialect group - Avadhi, Chattisgarhi

Bihari dialect group - Bhojpuri, Nagpuri, Magahi, Maithili

Further Reading

Barz, R.K. and Thiel-Horstmann, M. 1989. Living texts from India. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Meissner, K. 1985. Målushåhi and Råjulå: a ballad from Kumåun (India). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Thiel-Horstmann, M. 1978. Sadani-Lieder. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

IX. Hindi Outside of India

In the 19th century thousands of Indians were encouraged to migrate as indentured labourers, usually in order to work on sugar plantations. Most of these labourers were sent to colonies in the British Empire, though a few went to areas under Dutch or French rule. After their term of labour had been finished many of these people decided to remain in their new homes as farmers. From time to time they were joined by other Indians who came as small businessmen and shopkeepers. Although conditions for the indentured labourers were often extremely bad with severe social and cultural dislocations, in most places they managed to preserve and transmit their basic Indian cultural heritage. While the Indian workers were drawn from most parts of India, the majority of them spoke one of the dialects of Hindi. Most of them also already knew, or soon learned, some form of the Hindustani lingua franca. As a result, in most of the former plantation colonies a local variety of Hindi has evolved and has become the common spoken language of the descendants of the Indian immigrants. Modern standard Hindi is generally cultivated within these Indian-derived communities for formal speech and literature. Among these communities are:

South Pacific area


In 1990 the estimated population of Fiji was 772, 000, of which 370, 560 people (48%) were of Indian descent. Virtually all of the population of Indian origin speaks Fiji Hindi, the dialect of Hindi that has taken shape in Fiji, as its household language. Although in urban areas the majority of adult Indo-Fijians can speak English as well as Fiji Hindi, in rural areas — where the greater part of the population lives — English is in more limited use. There, Fiji Hindi is the normal means of communication among Indo-Fijians as Fijian, an Austronesian language, is among Fijians. Standard Hindi is used for formal speech, in radio broadcasts and in the two weekly Hindi newspapers published in the country. Hindi commercial films are readily available in cinemas and on video tape. Humorous articles in Fiji Hindi have begun to appear sporadically in the local Hindi press and a Fiji Hindi play has recently been published. Although English is the official language of Fiji and the medium of instruction in schools, standard Hindi and Urdu along with Fijian are recognised subjects of study in primary and secondary education. Fiji Hindi is close in grammatical structure and vocabulary to the Avadhi dialect of the Eastern Hindi group.

Indian Ocean area


In 1990 the estimated population of Mauritius was 1,141,900 people, of whom 68% were Indo-Mauritians. About a third of the country's population speaks Mauritian Bhojpuri, a form of speech which has emerged out of the Bhojpuri dialect of the Bihari group. Not all Indo-Mauritians, however, speak Mauritian Bhojpuri. Mauritian Creole, which is derived from French, is both the first language of a great many Indo-Mauritians and the lingua franca of this multi-racial nation. There is a healthy tradition of writing in standard Hindi in Mauritius and both Hindi and Urdu are used on radio and television and are widely taught in schools. English is the official language of Mauritius but French is the preferred language of formal culture. There is in Mauritian Bhojpuri a small body of published literature consisting of poetry, short stories, newspaper articles and educational materials.

South African area


Some 940,000 Indians lived in the Republic of South Africa, mainly in Natal, in 1989 out of a total estimated population of 30,193,000. Around a quarter of the South African Indian population has some knowledge of South African Bhojpuri, but the language is now in the process of being replaced by English. Standard Hindi is a recognised matriculation subject in schools and is taught at university level but is not spoken as a mother tongue.

Caribbean area


Just over half of the 790,000 people who were estimated to be living in Guyana in 1985 were of Indian origin. Formerly, the Indo-Guyanese were speakers of Guyanese Bhojpuri but at the present time the language is moribund. There is interest in standard Hindi as a language suitable for specifically Hindu aspects of Indo-Guyanese culture.

Trinidad and Tobago

The descendants of Indian immigrants made up some 40% of the 1990 estimated population of 1,270,000 but few speakers of Trinidad Bhojpuri remain. The position of standard Hindi is much the same as in Guyana.


Although people whose ancestors came from India make up only 37% of the 408,000 people in Surinam (1990 estimate), they are the largest single ethnic group in that former Dutch colony. Sarnami, which has grammatical similarities with both Avadhi and Bhojpuri, is the home language of most Indo-Surinamese. A small but dedicated group of writers, several of whom are from the sizeable Indo-Surinamese population settled in the Netherlands, has been publishing novels, short stories and poetry in Sarnami while other Indo-Surinamese have produced poetry in standard Hindi.

Further Reading

Barz, R.K. and Siegel, J. 1988. Language transplanted: the development of overseas Hindi. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Damsteegt, T. 1990. "Hindi and Sarnami as literary languages of the East Indian Surinamese", pp. 47-63 in M. Offredi, Language versus dialect. New Delhi: Manohar.

Moag, R.F. 1977. Fiji Hindi. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Stein, P. 1982. Connaissance et emploi des langues à l'Ile Maurice. Hamburg: Buske.

X. Hindi and Urdu Grammars and Dictionaries

The following list provides a sample of reference works available in the field of Hindi and Urdu grammar:

Hindi Grammars, Readers and Linguistic Studies:

Bahl, K.C. [1974]. Studies in the semantic structure of Hindi. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Bhatia, T.K. 1987. A history of the Hindi grammatical tradition. Leiden: Brill.

Guru, K.P. 1950. Hindi Vyakaran. Varanasi: Någaripracårini Sabhå.

Hook, P.E. 1974. The compound verb in Hindi. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies.

Kachru, Y. 1966. Introduction to Hindi syntax. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Kellogg, S.H. 1965 [1875]. Grammar of the Hindi language. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

McGregor, R.S. 1972. Outline of Hindi grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Shackle, C. and Snell, R. 1990. Hindi and Urdu since 1800: a common reader. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Shapiro, M.C. 1989. A primer of modern standard Hindi. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Sharma, A. 1972. A basic grammar of modern Hindi. Delhi: Central Hindi Directorate.

Snell, R. and Weightman, S. 1989. Hindi (Teach Yourself Series). Seven Oaks: Hodder and Stoughton.

Southworth, F.C. 1971. The student's Hindi-Urdu reference manual. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

van Olphen, H.H. 1975. "Aspect, tense and mood in the Hindi verb" in Indo-Iranian Journal XVI : 4 : 284-301.

Verma, M.K. 1971. The structure of the noun phrase in English and Hindi. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Yadav, Y.K. 1985. Advanced aural exercises in Hindi. Canberra: Australian National University. This book is also available with a set of audio cassette tape recordings.

Zide, N.H. et al. 1962. A Premchand reader. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.

Guides to Hindi Usage:

Varmmå, R.C. 1972. Achchhi Hindi. Allahabad: Lokbhårati Prakåsan.

Jagannåthan, R. 1981. Prayog aur prayog. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Urdu Grammars, Readers and Linguistic Studies:

Bailey, T.G. 1974. Urdu. London: Teach Yourself Books.

Barker, M.A and Siddiqi, M.A. 1977. Classical Urdu poetry, 3 vols. Ithaca: Spoken Language Services. These volumes are also available with a set of audio cassette tape recordings.

Bright, W. and Khan, S. 1958. The Urdu writing system. New York: American Council of Learned Societies.

Hewitt, J.H. 1963. Urdu Course I. Murree: Missionary Language Board of West Pakistan.

Naim, C.M. 1965. Readings in Urdu: prose and poetry. Honolulu: East-West Centre.

Narang, G.C. 1968. Urdu: readings in literary Urdu prose. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Shackle, C. and Snell, R. 1990. Hindi and Urdu since 1800: a common reader. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Tisdall, W.S. 1911. A conversation-grammar of the Hinduståni language. Heidelberg: J. Groos.

Hindi and Urdu Dictionaries:

Anand, I.N. 1991. The Modern English-Hindi Dictionary. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Anonymous. 1963. The student's practical dictionary: Urdu-English. Allahabad: Ram Narain Lal Beni Madho.

Bulcke, K. 1971. Angrezi Hindi Kosh. Ranchi: Catholic Press.

Chaturvedi, M. and Tiwari, B.N. 1983. A practical Hindi-English dictionary. New Delhi: National.

Haq, A. 1937. The Standard English-Urdu dictionary. Delhi: Datta.

Platts, J.T. 1968. Dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi and English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tripåthi, K. 1978. Laghu Hindi Sabdasagar. Varanasi: Någaripracårini Sabhå

Varmmå, R.C. 1966. Manak Hindi Kosh. Allahabad: Hindi Såhity Sammelan.


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The Chintpurni temple is located in Chintpurni village, District Una, Himachal Pradesh.

Topics: Development of Hindi and Urdu languages; Hindi and Urdu literature; Hindi Dialects and Folk Literature ; Hindi Literature - the Heroic Period; Hindi Literature - the Bhakti Period; Hindi outside of India

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