Urdū, the premier language of Islamic religious and cultural expression inmodernSouthAsia. In its contemporary significance in the wider Islamic world, it may be ranked immediately after Arabic and English. Urdū is the national language of Pākistān and it has official status under the eighth schedule of the Constitution inIndia, the home of the majority of its native speakers. Its great geographical range is now extended to the South Asian diaspora, notably in Arabia and the Gulf states, in the United Kingdom and in North America. The first part of this article traces the peculiarly complex historical evolution and current sociolinguistic situation of Urdū, then outlines some features of the language most likely to be of interest to Islamicists. The second part is intended to supplement previous articles on individualgenres and authors by providing a summary overview of Urdūliterature, whose main phases of development are characterised with reference to leading authors and the defining genres of belles-lettres.


Urdū is most simply defined by its combination of a vocabulary very extensively derived from Persian and Arabic with a linguistic base which is firmly Indo-Aryan in terms of its core word-stock as well as its phonology, morphology and syntax.

This combination clearly owes its genesis to the peculiar circumstances of the Muslim dominion over the Indian subcontinent, which was both profound and long-lasting without ever completely attaining either religious or linguistic hegemony. Urdū may be said, however, to have become fully self-defined only when this dominion was eventually ended by the British conquest of India, resulting in the most sustained exposure of any part of the dār al-islām to Western colonial rule. It was then that the constellation of forces between the colonial state, the Muslims of South Asia and the majority Hindū population had profound linguistic as well as political effects. These have endured since 1947 and continue to shape the profile of Urdū in Pākistān and in independent India. Modern definitions of Urdū and understandings of its history are consequently liable to be confused by the partisan views characteristically associated with language issues in modern South Asia, particularly when, as in this instance, these are intimately related to questions of religious identity. Besides these factors and the difficulty of assembling and analysing the necessary textual materials, the need for further caution is signalled by the inconsistency with which overlapping labels are applied to overlapping varieties of language, in particular to the highly-charged modern distinction between Urdū and Hindī [q.v.].

Throughout the period of Muslim rule in South Asia, the principal written standard language was Persian, with the numerous Indo-Aryan languages [see hind . iii. Languages] having rather restricted literary functions, typically as vehicles of popular religiousverse. Little concerned with distinctions between the genetically related indigenous languages of North India, most Muslim writers were content to refer to them simply as “Hindī” or “Hindawī”, i.e. “Indian”as opposed to Persian (or Arabic). These labels are used indifferently not just for varieties of language which would now be described as early forms of Urdū or Hindī, but also for others which are clearly different, e.g. Pand̲j̲ābī or Rād̲j̲asthānī. Contemporary terminology is thus no guide to mediaeval linguistic realities, which must be reconstructed largely by supposition from such evidence as is available. Fragments of speech embedded in Ṣūfīmalfūz̦āt and other Persian texts from northern India are usually much distorted by the scribal tradition, but are sufficient to support the commonsense inference from historical data that the Muslim conquests had brought into being a spoken lingua franca which incorporated many Persian loanwords and was probably based chiefly on the Khaŕī bōlī dialect of the Dihlī region. Although this language later achieved some literary currency in the popular verse of the nirgun bhakti tradition of Kabīr [q.v. in Suppl.] and Nānak [q.v.], it was otherwise largely disregarded before the 18th century in northern India. The courtly literature produced under Mug̲h̲al patronage was chiefly in Persian, but also included the cultivation of “Hindī” poetry in the then fashionable Brad̲j̲ bhās̲h̲ā, distinguished where necessary as “Bhāk(h)ā”.

The situation was, however, quite different in the Dakhan [q.v.], where the conquests of the Dihlī Sulṭāns [see dihlī sultanate] in the early 14th century had established a Muslim colonial presence in the linguistically alien territory of Telugu and other Dravidian languages. This presence found its linguistic expression in the successor states of the Bahmanī kingdom, at Bīd̲j̲āpūr under the ʿĀdil S̲h̲āhīs (895-1097/1490-1686 [q.v.]) and at Golkon/a under the Ḳuṭb S̲h̲āhī dynasty (918-1098/1512-1687 [q.v.]). As a clearly deliberate cultural policy, these rulers patronised not only Persian letters but also the production of an extensive literature in the language of (northern) India, then usually termed “Hindī”, but which is normally distinguished by modern authorities as “Dakhinī” (in Urdū more usually written “Dakanī”). This largely poetic literature in Classical Dakhinī Urdū (CDU) provides most of the available direct evidence for the earlier history of the language. This evidence is not altogether straightforward, since CDU is attested in a wide range of texts dating principally from the 17th century (although including significant earlier examples), whose language is far from being fully systematic in orthography and is distinguished from later varieties of Urdū both by archaisms and by innovations peculiar to itself.

The quite broad dialectal base on which CDU collectively rests has also permitted the development of theories, usually perceived to carry a more or less explicit modern contemporary relevance, which suggest a more westerly origin for this older Urdū than the Khaŕī bōlī which underlies the modern standard. Thus the relative prevalence of forms cognate with modern Pand̲j̲ābī encouraged S̲h̲ērānī to suggest that Urdū could be dated back to the settled Muslim military presence first established in northern India by the G̲h̲aznawids of Lāhawr. This theory naturally continues to enjoy considerable popularity in Pākistān, from whose territory it suggests the national language first sprang, whereas in India greater favour is given to Masʿūd Ḥusayn Ḵh̲ān’s later suggestion of an origin in Hariyānawī, a geographical compromise between Pand̲j̲ābī and Khaŕī bōlī which does more convenient justice to the variety of the CDU evidence. But modern dialect studies are not always sufficiently precise to support any definitive explanation of Urdū origins, and the task is further obscured by the phonetic imprecision of the Perso-Arabic script and by the scarcity of critically edited texts in CDU or in other relevant literary traditions.

The conquest of the Dakhan under Awrangzīb (r. 1658-1707) was followed around 1700 by a major literary and linguistic shift away from the poetry in CDU cultivated alongside Persian in Bīd̲j̲āpūr and Golkon/a. The Mug̲h̲al court now for the first time itself became the centre of a poetic literature in Urdū. This northern Early Modern Urdū (EMU) is sometimes referred to as “Hindī” by the writers of the late Mug̲h̲al period, but they more commonly term it “Rēk̲h̲ta” (i.e. “mixed [language]”). It is only later that the term “Urdū” itself first comes to be used as the name of the language, as a shorthand for the earlier zabān-i urdū-i muʿallā “language of the Imperial Camp” (< Turkish ordu), the first such attested use being in a verse of Muṣḥafī (1750-1824 [q.v.]), kahēñ kis muñh sē ham ay Muṣḥafī urdūhamārī hay “How can I dare to assert, Muṣḥafī, that Urdū is my language?”, Bailey, 1938, 3). Cultivated first in Dihlī, then also in Lakhnaʾū (Lakhnaw), capital of the Nawwāb-Wazīrs of Awadh, Urdū came increasingly to replace Persian as the preferred vehicle for courtly poetry, doubtless in part as a nativist reaction to the devastation wrought by the Persian-speaking Nādir S̲h̲āh and his successors. The concern of the early apologists for Urdū as a poetic medium seriously able to rival Persian, like the influential Ḵh̲ān-i Ārzū (d. 1756), had the paradoxical effect of bringing it into closer line with the latter. Nevertheless, the EMU of 18th-century poetry, although considerably closer than CDU to the modern standard, shows a number of archaic features and others now regarded as vulgarisms as the result of their successful proscription by later linguistic purists (see further under 2. below). These more extreme Persianising trends reached their apogee in early 19th-century Lakhnaʾū under the poet Nāsik̲h̲ (d. 1838 [q.v.]) and his contemporaries. Thus by the time of the collapse of the Kings of Awadh in Lakhnaʾū in 1856 and of the vestigial Mug̲h̲al court in Dihlī in 1857, a standardised literary language had become fully established in poetry, and was also beginning to be used alongside Persian in prose belles-lettres.

This was also the initial period of establishment of British rule in northern India after the victories at Plassey (1757) and Baksar (1764). While the East India Company’s legalistic exercise of executive power (dīwānī) on behalf of a titular Mug̲h̲al sovereign was accompanied by a continuing use of Persian as the language of official record until 1837, the practicalities of direct administration demanded the use of a lingua franca. It was “Hindustānī” [q.v.], the preferred British name for Urdū, which came to fulfil this role as the spoken language of the Mug̲h̲al aristocracy and service classes with whom British officials had most dealings. The latters’ needs were catered for both by native instructors (muns̲h̲ī [q.v.]) and by European language teachers, of whom the best known was John Borthwick Gilchrist, author of a Hindustānī dictionary (1787-90) and grammar (1796) before a brief but influential official appointment as principal of Fort William College in Calcutta (1800-4), where he sponsored a series of translations from Persian into an easy Urdū suitable for elementary textbooks which long remained in use in British India.

When Persian was removed from official use after 1837, its place in the law courts and government offices came to be taken by Urdū over much of the Bengal Presidency, including Bihār, the North-Western Provinces later joined with Awadh as the United Provinces (U.P.), together with the Pand̲j̲āb after its conquest in the 1840s. Urdū thus came to play a central role in the workings of the colonial state, and a continual stream of textbooks and grammars written in English besides bilingual Urdū-English dictionaries (culminating in Platts, 1884) serviced this role, which was crucial in fully fixing the character of Modern Standard Urdū (MSU) as it entered its heyday in the later 19th century. With the abolition of the major Muslim courts, Urdū came to be increasingly identified with the traditional urban service classes, including both the educated Muslimas̲h̲rāf [see s̲h̲arīf] and those Persianised Hindūs closely identified with them in culture, notably the scribal caste of Kāyasths and certain Brahmin groups. The strong economic interests of these groups in preserving the official status of Urdū came, however, to be challenged with increasing success by the protagonists of Modern Standard Hindī, a language consciously evolved from exactly the same linguistic base as a mirror-image rival to Urdū which would be true to Hindū cultural tradition in using the Nāgarī script and Sanskritic vocabulary. This pressure resulted in the official replacement of Urdū by Hindī in Bihār (1880) and the accord of equal status to both in U.P. (1900), leaving Urdū unchallenged only in the Pand̲j̲āb.

Concomitant with the vigorous development during these decades of journalism and modern literary styles, the growing strength of this challenge from Hindī provoked the Muslim leaders of northern India into an increasingly explicit association of religious and linguistic identity. A particularly important role in this identification of the Urdūcause with that of Islam was played by the modernist Sayyid AḥmadḴh̲ān (1817-98 [q.v.]), under the auspices of whose followers the And̲j̲uman-i Taraḳḳī-yi Urdū came into existence in 1903. Under its leader Mawlawī ʿAbd al-Ḥaḳḳ(1870-1961), whose tireless achievements earned him the deserved sobriquet “Bābā-yi Urdū”, it became the leading organisation devoted to the promulgation of Urdū in British India. ʿAbd al-Ḥaḳḳwas also associated with the patronage of Urdū by the Niz̦ām of Ḥaydarābād, where Urdū was the official language of the state and was for the first time developed from 1918 as a medium of higher education at ʿUt̲h̲māniyya University. Like all subsequent attempts to develop the language in India and Pākistān, this initiative relied heavily on loans and coinages from Arabic and Persian, since the sociolinguistic situation of Urdū in South Asia largely precludes the exploitation of native word-building resources on the model of modern Turkish or Persian.

Despite the further expansion of Urdū in the last years of British India into the new media of films and radio, the partition of 1947 proved to be a severe reversal for its cause in India, where its position was much weakened by the emigration of many Urdū-speaking Muslims to Pākistān. As the national language, Hindī has been actively promulgated at the expense of Urdū in the latter’s historical areas of strength in Bihar and Uttar Pradēs̲h̲, with the result that many younger Urdū-speaking Indian Muslims are literate only in Nāgarī. Urdū has full official status as a state language only in Ḏj̲ammū and Kas̲h̲mīr. The 1981 Census records 35 million speakers (5% of the total population), sufficient to constitute the largest linguistic minority as against the majority Hindī in Uttar Pradēs̲h̲ (11 million: 10%) and Bihār (7 million: 10%), to Marāt́hī in Mahārās̲h̲t́ra (4 million: 7%), and to Telugu in Andhra Pradēs̲h̲ (4 million: 8%), where modern Dakhinī continues to be spoken as the urban colloquial most different from MSU norms.

In Pākistān, the position of Urdū has been defined by its unresolved relationships with English, which it has yet fully to displace as an élite language, and by the claims of the country’s indigenous languages. Before Banglādēs̲h̲ī independence in 1971, Urdū had been first displaced as the sole national language by prolonged pro-Bengālī agitation, but Urdū had been imposed as the official language of the whole of West Pākistān since 1954. At the national level its status as a medium of administration and education was enhanced under the Islamicising regime of Zia (Ḍiyāʾ al-Ḥaḳḳ, 1977-88 [see ziyā al-ḥaḳḳ]), which further encouraged its development through such initiatives as the establishment in 1979 of the National Language Authority (Muḳtadira Ḳawmī Zabān). Urdū is, however, a learned second language for most Pākistānīs other than the Urdū-speaking migrants (muhād̲j̲irūn) from India and their descendants, who numbered only 7 million in 1981 (some 8% of the total population), chiefly settled in the cities of Sindh, especially Karāčī, where they form a majority (54% in 1981). While this continuing diglossia between spoken and formal languages remains largely accepted in the Pand̲j̲āb, where it has had important effects on the developing character of the local languages [see lahndā; pand̲j̲ābī], ethno-linguistic tensions have surfaced elsewhere, particularly between Urdū and Sindhī [see sind. 3 (a)].

Peculiar therefore both in its unique relationship to Hindī and in being now chiefly cultivated as the national language of a country other than that inhabited by most of its native speakers, Urdū is also more fixed in its standard form than most South Asian languages with their proliferation of regional dialects. Regional deviations from the standard language of educated native speakers, the proudly self-proclaimed ahl-i zabān, the MSU for which Dihlī usage is the traditional standard, are generally quite minor, e.g. the treatment of the infinitive-gerundive in -nā as invariable in the rival Lakhnaʾū standard, or the preference among Pand̲j̲ābī speakers for the subjunctive over the imperative in -iyē. The greater divergence of Dakhinī in such characteristic features as its avoidance of the ergative construction and weak marking of the feminine gender can be attributed to the prolonged diglossia with Telugu. In contrast to MSU with its high awareness of Perso-Arabic norms, uneducated Urdū speech everywhere naturally displays a higher proportion of South Asian linguistic features, e.g. in the avoidance of final consonant clusters (thus ʿilam “knowledge” for MSU ʿilm).

Since its phonetic repertoire and its script are generally recognised by its speakers as being the chief defining characteristics of Urdū in South Asia, these two features deserve a summary profile here. The Urdū vowel system is of the familiar North Indian type with the same ten members as pre-modern and Indian Persian, viz. a ā i ī u ū ē ay ō aw, with phonemic contrast between simple and nasalised long final vowels. But it is the consonants which provide the main shibboleths of Urdū. Aspiration and voicing distinguish the four members of the basic Indo-Aryan five-term set, written as velar k kh g gh, palatal č čh d̲j̲ d̲j̲h, retroflex t́ t́h d́ d́h, dental t th d dh, labial p ph b bh. The chief phonetic distinction between all cultivated registers of Urdū and most other South Asian languages is the careful distinction in pronunciation of the fricatives k̲h̲ g̲h̲ z (= written d̲h̲ ḍ ẓ) f, originally loan-phonemes from Persian and clearly distinguished in the script, so that strict observance of the contrasts k̲h̲/kh g̲h̲/g z/j f/ph (also s̲h̲/s), though seldom phonemically crucial, is an important sign of educated Urdū speech. A further shibboleth is provided by the loan-phoneme ḳ, both in Arabic words and in others of Turkish origin adopted through Persian, e.g. ḳulī “porter”. This is carefully distinguished in the cultivated Urdū of northern India as a voiceless uvular plosive in phonetic contrast with k. But the contrast is lost in many other educated regional pronunciations, so graphic ḳ in words of Arabic or Persian origin is pronounced as k in the Pand̲j̲āb and most of Pākistān, as k̲h̲ in the modern Dakhinī of Ḥaydarābād.

While older manuscripts attest the original use of the unmodified Persian script to write Urdū, a series of additional signs and other adaptations introduced from the 18th century onwards have resulted in the modern orthography, which has become fully standardised since the early 20th century. Three new letters are added to the Persian alphabet to represent the retroflex set t́ d́ ŕ. Placed alphabetically after t d r respectively, these letters are distinguished as a set by the use of the same diacritic over the base forms, long standardised as a small superscript ṭ (formerly either four superscript dots arranged in a square, or a horizontal line above two superscript dots). Graphic variants of three other letters have been evolved to denote different phonetic values. Final n is written without its dot to indicate nasalisation of the preceding vowel (called nūn g̲h̲unna, here transcribed ñ), thus māñ “mother” versus mān “pride”. In most styles of Urdū writing, distinctive use is made of two forms of the letterh, the antepenultimate letter of the Urdūalphabet, where it is placed between w and hamza, which like written ʿayn has no independent phonetic value in Urdū. The independent aspirate is indicated by the straight form of h with subscript hook (s̲h̲ōs̲h̲a), while the curled form (called dōčas̲h̲mī hē) is used to denote the aspirate consonants bh ph th t́h d̲j̲h čh, etc., which are single phonemes in the language and are written as distinctive single consonants in the Nāgarī alphabet. Thirdly, while there is no agreed convention for distinguishing ū from ō, or medial -ī- from -ē-, the normal form of final y is reserved for repre-sentation of final -ī, while final -ē (also final -ay) is represented by a variant form of y with straight reverse stroke (called baŕī yē), thus enabling the distinction in writing of the important grammatical contrast between masculine plural -ē and feminine -ī, e.g. aččhē laŕkē “good boys” and aččhī laŕkī “good girl”. Since the Persian id̓āfa is normally pronounced as -ē in Urdū, it is written with this baŕī yē after final -ā and -ū.

Urdū handwriting styles are typically based upon Persian nastaʿlīḳ. Though formerly also widely used for both official and informal purposes, s̲h̲ikasta has become obsolete over the last fifty years. The introduction of hot metal printing into India in the early 19th century was followed by the British-sponsored production of numerous Urdū textbooks and other printed materials in nask̲h̲-based types. This style was, however, never to find the same level of favour as it quickly attained in the Middle East for the printing of Arabic, Turkish or Persian. Most Urdū publishers and readers have continued to prefer nastaʿlīḳ, traditionally reproduced lithographically from the calligraphy (kitābat) of a professional scribe (kātib). Lithography gave way to photo-offset reproduction, before this was itself overtaken by the more recent successful development of computer-generated nastaʿlīḳ fonts.

While the core Indo-Aryan vocabulary of high-frequency items like verb stems and basic syntactic markers is common to Hindī and to Urdū, the latter is distinguished by its very large number of Perso-Arabic loans, amounting to some 70% of the vocabulary of most formal writing. There has long been a considerable literature on this defining component of the language, with much nice pedantry devoted to such points of pronunciation as the Urdū (and also Persian) preference for -i- in the third syllable of maṣdars of the third form (e.g. mus̲h̲āʿira “poetic contest” [q.v.]), or to such vexed questions of orthography as the correct spelling in Urdū of nas̲h̲ā “development” (< Arabicnas̲h̲ʾa).

Most of these Arabic and Persian loans are adjectives and nouns, with the latter becoming subject to Urdū rules of gender and inflection, so that e.g. kitāb “book” is feminine (by analogy with Sanskritic pōthī), with plural kitābēñ, and so too all maṣdars of the second form are also feminine e.g. taʿlīm “education”. Arabic nouns with final tā marbūṭa are fixed through Persian as having either final -a, assimilated to the indigenous class of masculines with final -ā, plural -ē, or else final -at in which case they are feminine, with indigenous plural -atēñ, e.g. ʿimārat “building”, plural ʿimāratēñ. The Arabic sound plural ʿimārāt is also common in Urdū, where the formation is freely extended to other classes, e.g. makānāt barā-yi farōk̲h̲t by direct analogy with English “houses for sale”). Loans are also abundant even in such core lexical classes as postpositions (kē bāʿit̲h̲ “because of”), conjunctions (lihād̲h̲ā “therefore”), pronouns (k̲h̲ud “self”), and numerals (hazār “thousand”). While there are only a very few nativised verb stems like farmānā “to command” (< Persian farmā-), the Persian model of compounding loans with a few native stems like karnā “to do” and hōnā “to be” is very freely used, yielding many such pairs as transitive maʿlūm karnā “to inform”, intransitive maʿlūm hōnā “to be known”. Arabic in particular, which has become increasingly exploited as a direct source of loans with the disappearance of Persian from the education system in both India and Pākistān, furnishes enormous numbers of words to the modern written language. These relate not just to obviously Islamic contexts but embrace a vast range of abstract vocabulary and institutional terminology, as often as not calqued on a English word which will be in more common colloquial use. A superfluity of synonyms is thereby created, with many Arabo-Persian coinages of more than doubtful currency helping to make up the inflated lists promulgated by officially sponsored word-manufacturing agencies.


Most South Asian literatures developed as products of the interaction between local folk elements and adaptations of the Sanskrit or the Persian learned tradition. Urdūliterature, by contrast, owes much less to indigenous cultural patterns. Four main phases in its evolution may be usefully distinguished, naturally with some overlap between the approximate dates indicated:

(1) Dakhinī Urdūliterature of the independent Muslim kingdoms of peninsular India (1500-1700);

(2) classical Urdūliterature of northern India with its twin centres in the semi-independent courts of Dihlī and Lakhnaʾū (1700-1860);

(3) early modern Urdūliterature of the colonial period produced in many cities of British India (1860-1940);

(4) modern Urdūliterature increasingly centred in Pākistān (1940-present).

Apart from writings on Islamic subjects which have always looked naturally to Arabic, the largely poetic classical literature of the two pre-British periods was produced under the overwhelming influence of Persian, while from the later 19th century English literature has been an increasingly dominant model. This is particularly true of prose belles-lettres, where Persianate styles were less well established in Urdū than in the long poetic tradition which continues to be the literature’s chief cultural marker, and which therefore forms the principal theme of the following summary outline.

Driven mainly by philological concerns, the 20th-century re-discovery of the Dakhinī Urdūliterature, which became isolated from later developments owing to its separate geographical location and its archaic language (see 1. above), has yet to lead to comparable critical insights. In terms of literary history, the 16th century is marked by a remarkable variety in the types of poetry produced first by Ṣūfī authors then also at the royal courts, embracing both popular and sophisticated styles, with the latter including poems very similar in language and character to the important contributions being made by northern Indian Muslims to the literature now unambiguously classed as Hindī [q.v.]. But Persianate genres became increasingly dominant, with systematic royal patronage encouraging a remarkable flowering of the mat̲h̲nawī on both historical and romantic subjects [see mat̲h̲nawī. 4]. Although these achievements in narrative poetry were hardly matched in the g̲h̲azal, a particular interest attaches to the extensive dīwān of the Ḳuṭb S̲h̲āhī ruler Muḥammad-ḳulī Maʿānī (1566-1611) as the poetic creation of an unusually gifted royal ruler, whose largely direct and unsophisticated lyrics are typical of the Dakhinī style.

This was the style cultivated towards the end of this period in Awrangzīb’s new capital at Awrangābād in the northern Dakhan, most notably by the poet Walī Awrangābādī (1688-1707). Walī’s later g̲h̲azals are the first to show significant cross-fertilisation from the sophisticated Persian models then in vogue in Dihlī, with sufficient success as to help inaugurate the development there of courtly poetry in Urdū. Wholesale adoption of the fashionable rhetoric of thesabk-i hindī [q.v.] elaborately cultivated by the Persian poets of the Mug̲h̲al court made it possible for the latters’ artistic achievements to be matched in the Urdū poets of the next generation. The canonical “four pillars” (čahār sutūn) of early classical Urdū poetry include besides Maz̦har Ḏj̲ānd̲j̲ānān (1700-81 [q.v.]) the three great poets Dard (1720-85 [q.v.]), the Naḳs̲h̲bandī s̲h̲ayk̲h̲ who was the unrivalled master of the Urdū mystical g̲h̲azal; Mīr Muḥammad Taḳī (1713-1810 [q.v.]), the immensely prolific master of the amatory g̲h̲azal and the short romantic mat̲h̲nawī; and the even more creative Sawdā (1713-81 [q.v.]), unrivalled in the ḳaṣīda, both panegyric and satirical, as well as in such strophic genres as the s̲h̲ahr-ās̲h̲ōb [see s̲h̲ahrangīz. 3], elegies inspired by the devastation of Dihlī.

The impoverishment of the Mug̲h̲al capital forced both Mīr and Sawdā to seek new patrons in Awadh, and Lakhnaʾū became the chief centre of Urdū poetry in the following generations, in which the leading rivals were first Ins̲h̲āʾ (ca. 1756-1818 [q.v.]) and Muṣḥafī (1750-1824 [q.v.]), then Ḵh̲wād̲j̲aḤaydar ʿAlī Ātis̲h̲ (1785-1847) and Nāsik̲h̲ (d. 1838 [q.v.]). In significant keeping with the effective political emasculation of the Awadh kingdom, all these were primarily g̲h̲azal poets. Although often displaying a remark-able inventiveness in surface ornamentation, as in the titillating rēk̲h̲tī style of “women’s Urdū” developed by Ins̲h̲āʾ and Rangīn (1736-1835 [q.v.]), most later critics have found the Lakhnawī g̲h̲azal excessively artificial in its elaborate word-plays and conceits and over-trivial in its concern with meeting purely technical challenges, like those imposed by awkward combinations of metre and rhyme (sanglāk̲h̲ zamīnēñ). The strongly S̲h̲īʿī atmosphere of Lakhnaʾū encouraged the deployment of a similarly elaborate sabk-i hindī rhetoric to nobler effect in the strophic mart̲h̲iya (see mart̲h̲iya. 4), whose magnificent development by Anīs (1801-74 [q.v.]) and Dabīr (1803-75 [q.v.]) constitutes the most significant exception to the two general rules of classical Urdū poetry, that it is very closely modelled on Persian originals and that it appears to best advan-tage in the g̲h̲azal. Prose is generally very much less significant during this period, although the all-round development of the literature is signalled by the rapidly increasing momentum of both prose and verse translations from other languages, including not only many Persian classics but also Arabic Islamic texts, most notably the first Urdū translations of the Ḳurʾān (see ḳurʾān. 9.b.2, also the final section of the bibliography below).

At the end of the classical period, there was a final flowering of the Dihlī court under the titular last Mug̲h̲al sovereigns Akbar II (r. 1806-37) and his son Bahādur S̲h̲āh II (r. 1837-58 [q.v.]), himself a well-known g̲h̲azal poet under the pen-name Ẓafar, though hardly one of the same calibre as his laureate Ḏh̲awḳ(1790-1854 [q.v.]), chiefly remembered for his ḳaṣīdas, or his ingenious contemporary Muʾmin (1800-51 [q.v.]). All these have, however, been far surpassed in subsequent reputation by G̲h̲ālib (1797-1869 [q.v.]), whose own pride in his neo-classical Persian verse has been largely forgotten in his posthumous elevation to absolute supremacy in the classical Urdū pantheon. Few Urdū poems have achieved such enduring currency as the best known examples from G̲h̲ālib’s slim Urdū dīwān, while in prose his Urdū letters reveal both the workings of his great poetic intelligence, and the progressive collapse of the culture which had nurtured the poetic art he lived to practise.

The classical period of Urdū poetry was marked by an ever stricter codification of rules, both linguistic and prosodic. Thus many of the colloquial Indian words and forms common in the poetry of Mīr and Sawdā (e.g. t́uk “just, a little”, nidān “at last”, sahī “correct”) came to be replaced by Perso-Arabisms in later verse (d̲h̲arā, āk̲h̲ir, ṣaḥīḥ). This reinforced the general favouring of Persianisms as a marker of poetic language (e.g. čas̲h̲m, dast, s̲h̲ab, besides āñkh “eye”, hāth “hand”, rāt “night”) and was paralleled by ever stricter insistence on the scansion of words being governed by classicising rules, e.g. in the preservation of final consonant clusters.

Urdū prosody shows a similar relationship to Persian ʿarūd̓ rules as that of Ottoman Turkish, with special adaptations hardly masking a fundamental identity. Apart from the special case of the rubāʿī [q.v.], the same few metres are used for the vast majority of poems. Probably the most popular is the almost symmetrically regular form of mud̓āriʿ (illustrated below) scanned mafʿūlu fāʿilātu mafāʿīlu fāʿilun according to the afāʿīl system generally preferred to the elaborate terminology of the prosodists, closely followed by ramal—both maḥd̲h̲ūf and mak̲h̲būn, hazad̲j̲—usually mut̲h̲ammansālim, mud̲j̲tat̲h̲t̲h̲, k̲h̲afīf and mutaḳārib. But whereas Turkish phonetic patterns yield an excess of short vowels, the reverse is true of Urdū, where there is correspondingly rather greater cultivation of symmetrical longer metres which are less popular in Persian or Ottoman Turkish, e.g. the twenty-syllable kāmil with four feet of mutafāʿilun, or the formally similar metre with four feet scanning , where the absence of classical precedent necessitates awkward analysis as mutaḳārib s̲h̲ānzdah-ruknī, or four repetitions of the sequence faʿal faʿūlun. Written quantities are carefully observed in the scansion of Arabic and Persian words, but for native words a general licence permits all written final long vowels to be scanned as either long or short, and the same license applies to several of the commonest monosyllables like the possessive kā (kē), sē “from”, vōh “that”, hay “is”. Poetic doublets taken over from Persian like gar for agar “if” also include such common native shortened forms as ik for ēk” “one” pa for par “on”, tirā for tērā “thy”, vāñ for vahāñ “there”. The following verse from Muʾmin in mud̓āriʿ illustrates the operation of several of these licences:

kūčē sē apnē g̲h̲ayr kā muñh hay hat́ā sakē

ʿās̲h̲iq kā sar lagā hay tirē naḳs̲h̲-i pā kē sāth

Not quite all metrical Urdū poetry is composed according to these adaptations of Persian ʿarūd̓ with their carefully prescribed patterns of long and short syllables, since use is sometimes made in the g̲h̲azal of metres of the usual South Asian type which rely instead upon the count of metrical instants (mātrā), one to a short syllable and two to a long. The commonest type has 30 instants per line, divided by a strong caesura as 16 + 14. The free substitutions of two shorts for a long are illustrated in the alternations of dactyls and spondees in the following well-known maṭlaʿ by Mīr:

ult́ī hō gaʾīñ sab tadbīrēñ kučh na dawā nē kām kiyā

dēkhā is bīmārī-yi dil nē āk̲h̲ir kām tamām kiyā

These metres are often loosely termed “Hindī metres”, certainly a more appropriate designation than the prosodists’ attempts to analyse the above example as mutadārik s̲h̲ānzdah-ruknī. This single intrusion of a South Asian element apart, however, both the prosodic and the rhetorical structures of classical Urdū poetry are exactly modelled on Persian patterns.

The g̲h̲azal was by far the most significant genre of the classical period, when the production of poetry rested upon the established system of courtly patronage, with the ruler and his laureate (malik al-s̲h̲uʿarāʾ) at its apex, and with the craft of versifying transmitted from master (ustād) to pupil (s̲h̲āgird). Besides extensive informal circulation, both orally and in manuscript until the advent of lithography after the 1820s, public performances of the g̲h̲azal took place either at the formalised poetic contests called mus̲h̲āʿara [q.v.] or in the entertainments (maḥfil) whose chief attraction was the performance (mud̲j̲rā) of song and dance by trained courtesans (ṭawāʾif).

While this aristocratic style continued to be practised by poets like Dāg̲h̲(1831-1905 [q.v.]), laureate to the Niz̦ām of Ḥaydarābād, the onset of the early modern period was marked by substantial shifts in the institutional basis of Urdūliterature as well as in genres, styles and themes, where prose writing and English models are of ever increasing significance. The advent of print capitalism gave enormous new significance to major publishers, especially to the press founded at Lakhnaʾū in 1858 by Muns̲h̲ī Nawal Kis̲h̲ōr (1836-95), a Bhārgava Brahmin from a Persianate cultural background. His publication of so many original and translated Urdū titles performed a vital role in preserving major parts of the old oral culture, like the vast dāstān stories of the Amīr Ḥamza cycle, while his new initiatives helped support Urdū prose writers in the new style, like Ratan Nāth Sars̲h̲ār (1845-1903), author of the sprawling modern picaresque Fasāna-yi Āzād (1880), or ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm S̲h̲arar (1860-1926), pioneer of the Urdū historical novel and memorialist of the old Lakhnaʾū, who were both editors of Nawal Kis̲h̲ōr’s newspaper Awadhak̲h̲bār.

Most of the major Urdū writers of the period were drawn at some stage into the service of the colonial state or into the new-style private or princely organ-isations it called into being. Thus the remarkable translator and moralistic novelist Nad̲h̲īrAḥmad(1836-1912 [q.v.]) owes his title “Deputy” to his quondam appointments in the education and finance departments, while the noted Islamic historian and critic of Persian literatureS̲h̲iblī Nuʿmānī (1857-1914 [q.v.]) worked for a while as a teacher, and the restless Ruswā (1858-1931 [q.v.]), whose Umrāʾō Ḏj̲ān Adā (1899) is a matchless memoir of the life of a courtesan in pre-Mutiny Lakhnaʾū, found eventual refuge in the ʿUt̲h̲māniyya Bureau of Translation in Ḥaydarābād. Service in the Pand̲j̲ābeducation department in Lāhawr was crucially influential both for MuḥammadḤusaynĀzād (1834-1910 [q.v.]), whose pioneering Āb-i ḥayāt (1881) remains central to the historiography of classical Urdūliterature, and for Alṭāf Ḥusayn Ḥālī (1837-1914 [q.v.]), the literary critic and biographer who was the leading poetic spokesman of Sayyid Aḥmad Ḵh̲ān’s ʿAlīgaŕh movement and whose Musaddas (1879) in the revolutionary new style of “natural poetry” (nēčaral s̲h̲āʿirī) is the most important Urdū poem of the late 19th century. Even on the conservative side, the anti-ʿAlīgaŕh satirist Akbar Allāhābādī (1846-1921 [q.v.]) worked for many years as a judge.

Many of the characteristic tendencies of this first part of the early modern period of Urdūliterature, its seriousness of purpose and content, its sober exploitation of new stylistic resources, above all its central concern with re-interpretations of the Islamic past capable of addressing the issues raised by the colonial present, find their culmination in the linguistically varied output of Muḥammad Iḳbāl (1879-1938 [q.v.]), whose undoubted intrinsic importance as a philosopher-poet has been much inflated by the subsequent official cult of him in Pākistān. In spite of the international repute of his lengthy Persian mat̲h̲nawīs, his most vital poetic achievements are in his Urdū collections, particularly the great poems in the second part of Bāng-i darā (1922) and in Bāl-i Ḏj̲ibrīl (1935). Consisting of both g̲h̲azals and strophic forms, these deploy to nobly rhetorical effect a grandiloquently Persianised diction which proved far more successful than Ḥālī’s bare style in articulating the elevated sense of a truly national poetry, however that Muslimnation (ḳawm) was to be defined in South Asia.

Iḳbāl’s literary presence was of that overwhelming kind which ends an era rather than directly inspiring new beginnings. The modern period proper of Urdūliterature, which can here be described only in very summary outline, dates from the 1930s and 1940s, when a new vogue for social realism was set by the many talented authors associated with the Progressive Writers Movement (Taraḳḳī-pasand Taḥrīk). As in many other literatures of the period, those who fairly soon developed ideological differences with the movement’s prescriptive Marxism generally produced artistically more successful work than those who stayed closest to the party line.

Two outstanding writers associated early in their careers with the Progressives of the time characterise both through their own work and through their influence on their successors the different dynamics of poetry and of prose in modern Urdūliterature. The leading young poet of the war years was Fayd̓Aḥmad Fayd̓(1910-84), born like Iḳbāl in Siālkōt́ in the Pand̲j̲āb, but whose style looked back past the latter to G̲h̲ālib while also drawing on English examples. Using both the g̲h̲azal and free verse (āzād naz̦m) toexplore the modern conflict between private sensibility and public engagement, Fayd̓’s poetry soon acquired an extraordinarily enduring popularity both in Pākistān and amongst the Indian Urdū public (which continues to extend far beyond the circles of self-proclaimed Urdū speakers). Fayd̓’s influence remains palpable in the work of most contemporary poets throughout the international Urdū literary world, where young littérateurs continue to be drawn to trying their hands at composing g̲h̲azals in his style.

While the g̲h̲azal maintains its popularity as the prime genre of Urdū poetry, especially in musical performance by both male and female singers, the leading genre of modern prose is the short story. Earlier developed by the Kāyasth Prēm Čand (1880-1936 [q.v.]), who combined a keen human observation with an often sentimental Gandhian idealism, the Urdū short story was given fresh life by the Progressive writers, who particularly welcomed the opportunities it provided for an often brutal social realism. The leading early exponent of this modern style was the Pand̲j̲āb-born SaʿādatḤasan Mant́ō (1912-55), whose still very popular stories vividly embrace both the louche 1940s demi-monde of Bombay (whose film industry has been a major patron of many modern Urdū writers) and the horrors consequent on the Partition of the Pand̲j̲āb. It is, however, a significant pointer to the varied subsequent growth and development of later Urdū creative prose, the varied product of both historical and social realism as well as more avant-garde types of modernism (d̲j̲adīdiyyat) that Mant́ō is in no sense comparable in authority to those defining figures of the Urdū poetic succession, G̲h̲ālib, Ḥālī, Iḳbāl and Fayd̓.

(C. Shackle)

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