The "Camp Language", Part 2
Zaff Syed


In the previous chapter we discussed that the language Urdu was called Hindi in the eighteenth century. To be sure, the monikers Hindi or Hinduvi were used for the language for the better part of the millennium. The renowned Persian poet Khwaja Sa'ad Salman (1046-1121) of Lahore, generally identified as the first "Urdu" poet, is said to have left a deevaan in the language. Although not a single she'er from this deevaan could survive the ravages of time, we have some solid evidence that it did indeed exist. Amir Khusrau (1283-1325), for one, reports in the preface of his magnificent collection of verse, Ghuratul Kamaal (compiled 1294), that "Mas'ud had three collections; in Persian, Arabic and Hinduvi" (Jamil Jalibi, 1984). Some historians have argued that this "Hinduvi" might well be Punjabi but we know that Khusrau clearly identifies various languages spoken in India at that time: he mentions Punjabi as Lahori.

About his own language, Khusrau says in the same book:

Turk e Hindustaniyam, man Hinduvi goyam choo aab (I am a Hindustani Turk; I speak Hinduvi as fluently as the running of water)

In his masnavi "Nuh Sipihr" (Nine Heavens, 1317-18), Khusrau claims that "Due to its mellifluous words, Hindi is superior to Persian and Turkish" (Saleem Akhtar, 1995).

Eminent Urdu scholar Hafiz Mehmood Shirani (father of the poet Akhtar Shirani) concludes that "the oldest name of Urdu is Hindi or Hindvi" (Shirani, 1928).

The name Hindi for Urdu language persisted well into the nineteenth century and, believe you me, even in the twentieth century! Following are some examples of the usage from various eras:

Shah Miranji Shams ul ‘Ushshaaq, in "Khush NaGhz"

yoo dekhat Hindi bol
par ma'anee haiN nap-tol
[died 1496] (Mehmood Shirani, 1928)

Noorud Din Jahangir (the Mughal king, ruled 1605-1627) writes in his Tuzk (autobiography):

"ba kaalaa paanee farod aamadam k ba-zabaan e Hindi muraad aab e siyaah ast."
(Goods were brought to me from Kaalaa Paanee, which means ‘black water' in Hindi."
(Jamil Jalibi, 1984)

Mullah Wajhi in "Sab Ras"

"maiN Hindi zabaan soon (se) lataafat is chhandaaN (prosody) soon nazm hor (aur) nasr milaa kar gilaa naheeN boliyaa (bolaa)
[1653] (Saleem Akhtar, 1995)

Raushan Ali Raushan, in "Aashoor Nama"

ye ‘aashoor naama, ye Hindi zabaaN
kahooN Karbalaa kee laRaa'ee ‘ayaaN
[1688] (Jamil Jalibi, 1987)

Ja'afar Zatalli, in "Zatal Nama"

agarche sabhee kooRaa o kirkaT ast
ba Hindi o rindi zabaaN aT-paT ast
[died 1713]
(Shaukat Sabzwari, 1987)

Mir Asar (the brother of Mir Dard) in "Masnavi e Khaab o Khayaal"

Farsi sau haiN, Hindavi sau haiN
baaqee ash'aar e masnavi sau haiN
[1740]  (Saleem Akhtar, 1995)

Mir Taqi Mir in "Nikaat ush Shu'ara"

"tamaam shud Nikaat ush Shu'araa e Hindi"
[1759] (Saleem Akhtar, 1995)

Mir Taqi Mir
kyaa jaanooN log kehte haiN kis ko sukoon e qalb
aayaa naheeN hai lafz e Hindi zabaaN ke beech

Mus'hafi, "Kuliyaat e Mus'hafi"

Mus'hafi Farsi ko taaq pe rakh
Ab hai ash'aar e Hinduvi kaa rivaaj

Murad Shah, in "Nama e Murad"

vu Urdu kyaa hai, ye Hindi zabaaN hai
k jis kaa qaa'il ab saaraa jahaaN hai

kalaam ab tujh se maiN Hindi zabaaN meN
karooN, shuhrat ho taa saare jahaaN meN
[1788] (Jamil Jalibi, 1984)

Shah Aalam Sani, Ajaaib ul Qasas

aisaa qissa zabaan e Hindi meN ba ‘ebaarat e nasr kahi'ye [jo] ‘aam-fehm aur Khavaas-pasand ho.
[1792] (Jamil Jalibi, 1984)

Shah Abdul Qadir, in Translation of the Quran "avval ye k is jagah tarjuma lafz-ba-lafz zarooree naheeN kyoN k Hindi tarkeeb Arabi se bahut ba'eed hai."
[1795] (Mehmood Shirani, 1928)

And in the twentieth century, none other than Iqbal writes in his Persian collection:

Allama Iqbal, "Israr e Khudee"

garche Hindi dar ‘azoobat shakr ast
tarz e guftaar e Daree sheereeN tar ast

[Although "Hindi" is sweeter than sugar
The manner of speech of Persian is even sweeter]

[Here Iqbal was defending his adopting Persian instead of Urdu for poetry.]

These examples sufficiently prove that the language we call Urdu today was called Hindi/Hinduvi before and throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth century. As far as I know, Murad Shah (example given above) is the first person on record to use "Urdu" alone in 1788 to mean the language. [Some researchers have shown earlier examples (e.g., Muhammadi Maa'il, 1766 and Mus'hafi, 1776) but all of them are dubious at best.]

But even after Shah Murad (who was a resident of Lahore), the word Urdu was used in other senses. We have already seen Insha and Mirza Qateel using it for Delhi in 1807. Here is Anees:

Urdu meN dukaaneN jo lagaate the dukaaN-daar
aaraastaa ho jaataa thaa ik chhoTaa saa bazaar
(Anees, 1802-1874)

Even John Shakespeare's famous "A Dictionary of Hindustani and English", published in as late as 1849, is not familiar with Urdu as the name of a language.

urdu, (p. 0066) T. urdu, s. m. An army, a camp, a market. urdu-i-mu'alla, The royal camp or [p. 0067] army (generally means the city of Dihli or Shahjahanabad, and urdu-mu'alla ki zaban, The court language).

This dictionary is available online; look here

So the question is, how -- and when -- did Urdu replace the appellation Hindi?


As we have already seen, in the eighteenth century, Urdu or Urdu e Mu'allaa was a word meaning the city of Shahjahanabad. Khan e Aarzoo argues that Persian is the language of the royal city but his nephew, Mir Taqi Mir (whose relations had gone sour with the uncle) asserts in his tazkirah that it's actually Hindi that is the zabaan e Urdu e Mu'allaa.(Faruqi, 1999)

Actually, Persian indeed was the official language throughout the Mughal reign, but after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the vast empire started slipping out of the hands of his numerous successors, and by the end of the century the once mighty Mughal Empire was literally confined to the "Urdu e Mu'alla!" A she'er about the state of affairs of the Mughal king Shah Alam II (ruled 1759-1806) aptly describes the situation:

saltanat e Shah e Aalam        
az Dilli taa Paalam!

[The realm of the “King of the World”
Stretches from Delhi to Palam!]

This crumbling of the Empire and the disintegration of the civil infrastructure slackened the grip of Persian and raised the status of the language of the masses, Hindi. So, slowly and surely, Hindi,
instead of Persian, became the dominant language of the royal court and the city. In fact, the Mughal kings Muhammad Shah (ruled 1719-48) and Alamgir II (ruled 1754-59) wrote poetry in Hindi. Shah Aalam II (ruled 1759-1806) was a polyglot: he not only wrote Ghazals in Hindi, Persian, Punjabi and Braj but his "Ajaa'ab ul Qasas" is one of the earliest Urdu prose books of Northern India. All these factors played their respective parts in establishing Hindi as the "zabaan e Urdu e Mu'alla", replacing Persian as "the language of Shahjahanabad." (Jamil Jalibi, 1987; Shams ur Rahman Faruqi, 1999; VD Mahajan)

Now why so much stress on the language of the capital? We have seen Khan e Aarzoo declaring that only the language of a capital can be standard (faseeh). There is an old Arabic saying, "kalaam ul malooke, malook ul kalaam", meaning that "Speech of a king is the king of speeches!" (In Enlgish, the Fowler's "The King's English" is considered an unbeatable classic treatise of English usage). This is because the royal headquarters were the seat of the arts and erudition. The imperial patronage attracted men of learning not only from all parts of the country but, especially during the reign of the earlier Mughal kings, from abroad as well. We see the even in the deteriorating times of Muhammad Shah's rule, renowned Persian poet Sheikh HazeeN had come to Delhi. Ghalib has lamented in "Mihr e Neem Rooz", that Talib Amli, the Poet Laureate of Shahjahan's court, was weighed in gold. (Hali, 1894). Similarly, Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan, is said to have given away one lakh Rupees to a poet on a single couplet! (Jamil Jalibi, 1987)

All these factors chipped in to make Hindi of Shahjahanabad as the only standard language and people started calling it the "zabaan e Urdu e Mu'alla", the standard language of Shahjahanabad. Later on, it became just "Urdu e Mu'alla" or "zabaan e Urdu" and, finally, towards the end of the eighteenth century, simply Urdu. So we see that the global assumption that Urdu, a "lashkari zabaan", developed in the armed forces of the Mughals, is totally wrong. The word Urdu has nothing to do with army as the it was used to mean the imperial encampment and later, the city of Shahjahanabad, and not army. Distinguished Urdu scholar Shams ur Rahman Faruqi has told me that there is not a single reference of the word being used in Persian for army prior to the 19th century! We can summarize the points given above as:

1. Urdu as the name of the language has nothing to do with army.

2. It was given this name because of its association with Shahjahanabad.
3. The metonym of the language came into circulation in the late eighteenth century and the earliest usage cannot be found before the fourth quarter of that century.

4. Prior to this, Hindi was the most common name for this language, which persisted into the twentieth century as well.

Now, if Urdu was Hindi, then what is modern Hindi? We shall tackle this question in the next episode.

Thanks for your patience.