Languages and Literature

With the arrival of the Muslims and later the British, India witnessed rise and fall of many foreign languages both as official and widely spoken national and regional languages. From Indian "Sanskrit" script to Arabic and Persian and later English and then revival of indigenous languages is a journey of more than a thousand years. This transition brought to fore one distinct change: Hindi for Hindus and Urdu ( a new language) for the Muslims, while English being common to both as official or "Daftari" language. Continuing with the British system of official language of, English continues to be the official language of Pakistan till date , while Urdu is the national language and lingua franca.

"Urdu", a language that has originated between the 11th to 13th centuries became a language for the invaders who came from different language regions. Later it also became the language of the Muslims. Although it is spoken as a first language by only 8% of the population, upon partition was recognised as the national language of Pakistan for its easy understanding by majority of the population.
Urdu derives its origin from the Turkish ""Orda" (camp). With he emergence of the Turkish and the Persians, a need was felt to have a common language which could be equally understandable by both the foreigners and the natives. So by combining the Hindi, Persian and Turkish, a new language was born. Camp followers, traders and native soldiers working with the invaders all helped to shape the original lingua franca, which is why Urdu is also known as the 'Lashkari (camp)' language. Urdu thus owes its syntax to the subcontinent as English does to Anglo-Saxon Dom. Like English it is harmonious and musical without being monotonous. Initially it was a more of a literary language, specially in poetry, than its household application. Mir Taqi Mair a renowned Muslim poet of 18th century once remarked that Urdu was the language that was spoken at the doorsteps of the Dheli's great red mosque. Hyderabad Daccen, which had a Muslim ruling class fostered Urdu culture. The language continued to be patronized more by the Muslims than Hindus and thus was adopted as the "National" language of Pakistan at the time of independence. Generally, the majority of Pakistanis can speak or understand two or more languages, one being Urdu which is widely understood and spoken in all parts of Pakistan, in addition to the native languages of each area.

The Regional Languages

"Sindhi" is the language widely spoken in the lower Sind province and is one of the oldest native languages of the subcontinent. With its unique spoken accent and four dots, it is very pleasant to listen to. 12% people, mainly in Sind speak Sindhi. Sindhi word is derived from the river Indus Called Sindh or Sindhu which runs from Ladakh to Arabian Sea. Sindhi language is an Indo-Aryan language which has mixed with Arabic Sanskirit and Persian with course of time. It has its own script which is similar to Arabic but with lot of extra accents and phonetic. There are 52 characters in Sindhi language. Quraan was first time translated into Sindhi in back in 12th century or earlier.

"Punjabi", is the language of Punjab and adjoining areas. As a first language, about 48% people all over Pakistan speak Punjabi. In addition to this, "Saraiki" a variance of Punjabi is spoken by around 10%. "Hindko" yet another regional language, mainly spoken in NWFP closely associates with Punjabi and about 2% speak this language. Punjabi, Hindko and Seraiki, all mutually intelligible, are classified by linguists as dialects of Lahnda. Added together, speakers of these mutually-intelligible languages make up nearly two-thirds of Pakistan's population. These are also, to a lesser extent, mutually intelligible with Urdu, and it can easily be understood by even those whose mother tongue is not Punjabi.

"Pushto" is the language of most of the people living in the NWFP and is also widely spoken in adjoining areas of Afghanistan. Although a little hard to speak has it own charm. 8% people of Pakistan speak Pushto, mainly in the NWFP and Balochistan.

"Balochi" is the language of the Balochistan province. Brahwi and Pushto languages are also spoken in the province. The ratio of Balochi and Brahwi is 3% and 1% respectively. Balochi and Pushto draw their roots from the Persian language.

The Literary Heritage

Urdu, with its Arab-Iranian scripture, became the vehicle for the Indo-Muslim culture and its gradual development in prose and poetry surpassed development in all other languages of the sub-continent. By its very nature and status it soon became the language of urban sophistication, classical tradition and scholarship and a link between various diverse linguistic groups. This perhaps explains the fact that Pakistani society has three cultural levels represented by Urdu as its national language, regional languages and the local folklore.
Besides religion, the only other aspect binding Pakistan together is Urdu language. Thus Urdu has stuck deep into the roots of Pakistani soil and environment and has come to be known as Pakistani Urdu, distinct from Indian Urdu in accent, tone, spirit and idioms. While it draws great influence from poets like Ghalib, Mir Dard, Mir Taqi Mir, the influence of poetry of Altaf Hussain Hali and Iqbal makes it different and rich, since Hali and Iqbal's themes have close relevance with our religious bonding. The Arabic, which once had been the official language after the Arabs in sub-continent and later the Persian have had tremendous effect on the development of Urdu. In fact the literary heritage of Pakistan has been enriched by Arabic, Persian and all regional languages of Pakistan. After independence, the rise and development of Urdu continues and men of letters like Ashfaque Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Saadat Hasan Minto, Pitras Bukhari, Munno Bhai, Jamil ud Din Aali, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and like contributed in prose while Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ibn e Insha, Ahmad Faraz, Nasir Qazmi, Parveen Shakir and Jaun Elia are some of the great names in poetry.

(Poetry to the left is that of Faiz Ahmed Faiz) Each of the regional languages of Pakistan is rich in treasure and tradition of high literature with mystical, romantic and heroic deeds. Baloch and Pushto draw great influence from the Persian language. In Balochi, there are a number of ballads narrating the heroic deeds of the tribal or Islamic heroes while popular songs display a remarkable tenderness of feelings and observation of nature. Balochi became a written language only recently and now modern Balochi literature is emerging. Pashto has a longer history as a language and its first written poem by Amir Karore is dated somewhere as back as 750 AD. Khushal Khan Khattak is great name in the development of Pushto (17th century) and the zenith of Pushto poetry reached in 17th / 18th centuries. This was the time when the Mughal Empire was its lowest and time for Urdu and other regional languages to flourish.
The greatest masterpieces in Punjabi and Sindhi were produced during this time and both languages share many tales and legends with rural tinge and mystic overflow. Punjabi has had a spoken tradition since middle ages and its first written work is found somewhere in 13th century in the form of mysic poetry of Baba Farid Shakar Ganj, Peelo in 16th century when he wrote famous "Mirza Sahiban". Madhu Lal Hussain is considered to be the first literary figure of Punjabi in 16th century. His contemporary Damodar was the first poet to versify the tragic love story of "Heer Ranjha". Then came Sultan Bahu with his famous "Si-harfi", followed by Baba Bullehsha, still known as great name in Punjabi poetry. Later Waris Shah developed the "Heer Ranjha" in 18th century to make it more close to hearts of all Punjabi speaking people.
Sindhi has been a literary language in 18th century and flourished since then. However ballads of Pirs Nurridin, Shamasuddin and Sadaruddin from 14th century indicate richness of the language. The mystic poets used the folklores of "Yusf-Zulikha, Saif-ul-Muluk and Sassi Punu" for the initial development of the language. The great name in Sindhi language is Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, contemporary of Bulleh Shah, whose book "Shah jo Risalo" is somewhat treated as a religious book both by Muslims and Hindus of Sind. Sachal Sarmast is yet another great name in the development of Sindhi. Later Mirza Qalich Beg in the British times contributed a lot in the development of modern Sindhi language. In contemporary Sindhi poetry, Sheikh Ayaz figures out prominently who skilfully adopted old poetry into modern themes.
Folklores are though anonymous, but are very indigenous and natural growth of soil, projecting the life styles of rural people. Although, with more concentration on modern form of literature, specially poetry, folklores and folktales are being forgotten and are under serious threat.


(from Left to Right) Ibn-e-Insha - Munno Bhai - Munir Niazi - Ashfaque Ahmed - Nasir Kazmi - Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Ibn-e-Insha was great humorist who wrote light poetry and fiction that not only pleased the readers, but also had hidden meanings for those who could understand the depth of his writings. Here is translated excerpt from his book "The Final Book", which is a parody of a child's elementary Urdu textbook:

Shahjahan and the Taj Mahal

Shahjahan was the son of Jahangir and the grandson of Akbar. He was not the apple of the eye of some architect or building contractor, nor was he the chief heir of a Public Works Department employee, as many people have assumed on account of the fact he erected so many buildings.

Of his buildings, the Taj Mahal is the most famous. It took twelve years to build and cost millions of rupees. It took just as many years and just as much money to build the Qaid-e Azam's [i.e., Muhammed Ali Jinnah, 1876-1948] Mausoleum in Karachi. If there is any difference in the construction and beauty of these two edifices, the reasons are obvious. By Shahjahan's time, such great advances had not been made in architecture and draughtsmanship. Lifting, dragging and polishing stone was done according to old fashioned principles, and took a great deal of time. Automatic vehicles and high-speed electronic machinery had not yet been invented. Another factor to bear in mind is that there were millions of people who adored the Qaid-e Azam, while Mumtaz Mahal was adored only by one person. Nevertheless, taking its period into acount, we can say that the Taj Mahal is a very nice building.

Shahjahan was very far-sighted. If he had not built the Taj Mahal, India's tourist industry would not be so far advanced, and much less foreign exhange would be earned. There are other far reaching consequences. If there was no Taj Mal, there would be no Taj Mahal batteries, no Taj Mahal slippers, no Taj Mahal butter, a blend of healthy ingredients, never touched by human hand in the process of its manufacture. It might even be said that there would be no Taj Mahal soap for washing clothes clean. Another thing worth thinking about is that, if there was no Taj Mahal, what pictures would people put on their calendars?

Shahjahan also built several mosques - the Pearl Mosque and Delhi's Jami Mosque etc. He also build the Red Fort, where the last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar, used to hold his poetic symposia. It was also Shahjahan who made the Peacock throne, which at his own expense he had studded with diamonds, jewels etc. But unfortunately his successors did not care for it. Muhammad Shah threw it out and gave it to the cowherd, Nadir Shah, who took it to Iran [this is a joke: Nadir Shah sacked Delhi, and took the throne (and the Koh-i-noor diamond) as part of his booty].

Shahjahan's reign was a time of peace, but even so he managed to fit in a few conquests. Historians write that during his age there was no stealing or theft, nor did bribery exist. God knows how civil servants managed to eat. Shahjahan also built Jahangir's tomb. It is wrong to suppose that Sher Afghan had it built (another joke: Emperor Jahangir married Noor Jahan after having her first husband, Sher Afghan, killed).

Munir Niazi: One great name in Urdu as well as Punjabi poetry - known for his close to life verses, that pierce into the soul of the listeners, leaving an eternal impact. Herein under are few verses of his famous Punjabi poetry:

The mention of Pakistan's literary heritage would be utterly incomplete if mention of Dr Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal is not made. V G Kierman in his introduction to "Poems of Iqbal" writes, " Like all great poets of affirmation, Dante, Milton and Goethe, Iqbal was no abstract thinker. Like them he was closely involved with affairs of the world around him, and for the Muslims of the sub-continent, he has been not the unacknowledged, but the acknowledged law giver of their social, religio and political thinking." Read More about this poet philosopher.

Iqbal came in a time when the Muslims all over the world in general and in the British India in particular were on the decline and mostly subjugated. The once mighty Ottoman Empire had crumbled and no ray of hope was in sight for their rising again on their own. There was also a need for the liberation of the Muslim minds from the sterility of social torpor and the tyranny of backward-looking anti-intellectual orthodoxy. With this theme in the backdrop, Iqbal chose to be a poet to revive the lost ego of the Muslims or the self - Khudi to meet the challenges of creation, the human self has to be fortified both by perceptual knowledge of the physical world and intuitive passion for the realization of higher values and ideals. His poetic works like the "Asrar-e-Khudi (insight to selflessness), Payam-e-Mashriq (Message from the East) and a number of collections like the "Baal-e-Jibreel, Zaboor-e-Ajam, Bang-e-Dara, Zarb-e-Kaleem".

All his poetical works were philosophical, but aimed at rejuvenating the lost spirits of the Muslims to make them stand up before the demagogues for their rightful rights. His work to the cause of the Muslims got him accepted as the leading thinker in Muslim community and was thus later elected member of Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1926. He also became the President of All India Muslim League and it was he who invited Muhammad Ali Jinnah to join the League and lead the Muslims in their struggle for a separate independent homeland, Pakistan.
Having sown the seeds of Pakistan and shown the ray of hope, Iqbal didn't live longer and left for the eternal abode on 21 April, 1938 - 9 years before his dream could come true. For his love for Lahore, a city from he graduated and taught for many years, he was buried at the foot of the grand Badshahi Mosque. Read More in the exclusive section about Iqbal.

Related Links: | Urdu Poetry |

This page was created on 1 January 2005 /  1 February 2007

Copyright©JalalsPages - 2005