From Turkish, meaning military camp, a language born of India’s multi-cultural environment, blending Brajbhasa, Persian and Arabic. First appeared as literature in the 16th century courts of Bijapur and Golconda. Earliest specimens are mystic, rhymed poems called mashairs by Shah Miranji, a Bijapur Sufi and Mulla Vajhi of Golconda who wrote on the romance of his royal patron, Ibrahim Qutb Shah and the dancer Bhagmati.
Later poets like Gavvasi developed the mashair in works like Saif-ul-mulue-e- Badi-ul-jamal, Tuti Nama and Maina Satwanti, the last based on the Sanskrit poem Suebasaptati in which a parrot relates 70 stories. Mirza Muhammad Muqim wrote of local warfare in his Fateb Nama Bakberi (1646) and Muhammad Bin Ahmad Aziz wrote Indianized versions of the romances Yusuf-Zulehba (1634) and Laila Majnu(1636), while Mulla Nusrati documented the rule of Ali Adil Shah Sani in Ali Nama.
The ghazal or short poem-song with Sufi meaning took off as a new genre in Urdu poetry in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its early champions were Wali, a mystic poet (1688-1744), who went to Aurangabad after Aurangzeb’s sack of Bijapur and his successor Siraj Iham (double meaning). Sufi symbols of a garden, a bird or water and Persian lyricism combined to foster the Delhi School’ of Urdu poetry, sparked by the arrival of Wali Dakani (Wali of the Deccan) in 1700.
But it was Mir Taqi ‘Mir’, the great ghazal composer, Khwaja Mir Dard (1720-84), a Sufi writer of short poems and Mir Muhammed Rafi Sauda (1713-80) who wrote qasidahs (panegyrics) and satires on his age, Qayamuddin Khan ‘Qairn’ and the witty ‘Insha ‘ who best typified the Delhi School. Their work enriched Urdu language, its structure and semantics. This period ended brutally and abruptly with the sack of Delhi by adir Shah and the death of the Mughal Mohammad Shah ‘Rangila’ in 1748. Mir Taqi ‘Mir’ turned up in rags at Lucknow and was jeered at. His rejoinder, that he hailed from a city that was ‘Alam-e-Intikhab’ (honoured in the world) was an epitaph to the Delhi School.
The cultural focus of urdu shifted to Lucknow under awab Asaf-ud-daula’s patronage. The Delhi tradition of poetry was continued by Insha, Mir, Hasrat, Mushafi and Jurat. By the first quarter of the 19th century, an ornamental metaphorical school of poetry arose, in which’ asikh’ and ‘Aatish’ discarded the conventions of the Delhi School. They perfected a mode of elegiac poem called ‘marsiya.’ The best known Lucknawi patron and poet was Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who developed Kathak as an operatic dance form, wrote ‘Bani and ‘Najo, the first books on Kathak and Thumris or lyrical songs. This glittering period ended rudely with the deposition and exile to Calcutta of Wajid Ali Shah when the British annexed Lucknow in 1858.
Urdu poetry had another brilliant spell in the declining years of the Mughal empire. Poets like Zauq, Mirza Ghalib, Momin and even the Mughal, Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ wrote with longing and melancholy for a vanishing era. Zauq wrote of moral precepts in idiomatic language. His pupil, Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ wrote ghazals, as did Momin, while Ghalib, the maestro, wrote intellectually and emotionally profound poetry that is revered today as the best of its time.
The 19th century pushed Urdu prose in new directions. The East India Company commissioned Mir Amman of Delhi who wrote the Bagb-o-Babar to teach Urdu to its officers. The establishment of the Vernacular Translation Society in 1843 led to Urdu translations of English books. Ghalib’s letters, Saiyid’s writings and Urdu newspapers used simple, direct prose, unlike the ornate writing of Lucknow.
The Lucknow flourish was introduced in prose by Mir Rajab Ali Beg in his Farsana-e-Ajeeb, in contrast to Mir Amman’s primer, Bagb-o-Babar. Beg’s ornate style was popular in Lucknow for nearly 50 years and ended in 1857 with the Revolt and the consequent establishment of the Urdu Press by Munshi Naval Kishore. The first Urdu novel appeared in 1869 (Nazir Ahmad’s Mirat-ul-Utrus). Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar’s Fasana-e-Azad described Lucknow’s decadence, while Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa wrote Umrao Jaan Ada (1899) on a Lucknawi courtesan. Social realism was carried further by Munshi Premchand in the 20’s, in novels like Gausa-e-Afiat, Cbaugan-e- Hasti and Maidan-e-Amal and in short stories like Kalan.
The turn of the century also saw the emergence of nationalistic writing and a new, direct tone in poetry with the work of Hali Hubb-e-vatan. Ummid-ki-Khushi). Azad, Sayyid, Shibli, Durga Sahai, Braj Narain Chakbast, Suraj Narain ‘Mehor’ and especially, Akbar Allahabadi challenged western values and dominance but satirically rather than as a reformer.
Incandescent verse flowed from Mohammed ‘Allama’ Iqbal (1877-1938) who had a tremendous following of young people including novelists like Mulk Raj Anand. Stirring nationalist poetry formed a strong component of Iqbal’s work. His Tarana-e-Hind(Song of India) with the refrain Saare jahan Se Achha, Hindostan Hamara (There is no land like India in the whole world) is played at almost all nationalist gatherings. The old literary tradition of Mushaira, or gathering of poets, still flourishes and fosters Urdu verse. Urdu drama goes back only to Wajid Ali Shah’s Radba Kanbaiya Ka Qissa in the 19th century and Amanat’s Inder Sabba, while plays like Anarkali by Imtiaz Ali Taj, and by Muhammed Mujid and Ishtiaq Qureishi were the sole early experiments in drama. It was the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) that dynamised Urdu drama, decrying feudal and class oppression in plays like Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s Zubaida (1943), while later playwrights like Sagar Sarhadi, Zahida Zaidi and Anwar Azeem dealt with universals in human relationships.
The modern ghazal, through the writings of Hasrat Mohani, Asghar Gondhri, Jigar Moradabadi and Fani Badayuni sang of modem attitudes to love, beauty and social protest, while retaining a classical structure. Essential concepts like secularism, nationalism and equality were vocalized by Josh Malihabadi, Hafiz jullundri, Saghar NizamiJosh and Anand Narain Mulla.
The -October Revolution of 1917 affected later poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Majaz, Ali Sardar jafri, Kaifi Azmi, jan Nisar Akhtar, Sahir Ludhianvi, Makhdum Mohiuddin and Akhtar Amari, while the progressive movement of the 40s threw up novelists and short story writers like Krishna Chander, Ismat Chugtai and Sadat Hasan Manto who vividly chronicled the socio-political upheavals of their time, especially Partition.
Other modern Urdu novelists of note are Qurrat-ul-ain Hyder taag-ea-Darya or River of Fire), and Rajinder Singh Bedi (Ek Cbadar Maili si),Anwar Azeem ,Iqbal Matin, Upendra Nath Ashik, Balwant Singh and Suhel Azimabadi.