I. The Historical Context
In 1001, the Turkic ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni, invaded Northern India. The sultan of an empire centered in Afghanistan, Mahmud’s invasion of India marked the beginning of the Turkish era of Indian history.
The Turks were a nomadic people originally from the steppe of Central Asia. In the eight-century, many of them began migrating to the great Islamic empires of the Middle-East. There, they served as slaves and soldiers (Mamluks) under the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258) and the Seljuk Empire (1037-1114).
With the decline of the Baghdad Caliphate in the ninth century, many of the Turkic Mamluks began establishing their own kingdoms or sultanates. Mahmud’s father, Sabuktigin (942-977), was just one example.
The Turkish invasion of India culminated in the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526). The Delhi Sultanate united Northern India for the first time since Emperor Harsha (r. 606-647). It integrated India into the international trading networks and cosmopolitan civilization of the Islamic world and made Delhi one of the great capitals of the world. The Delhi Sultanate also introduced new ideas in art, architecture, law, economics and religion to India as well as paper-making and cotton-spinning technology.
II. The Delhi Sultanate and Indian Languages
During the Delhi Sultanate, the regional languages of North India began developing into their modern form. The decline of Sanskrit saw these regional languages (Hindi, Punjabi, Kashmiri) develop their own literatures. The Bhakti Movement, for example, stimulated new poetry in these languages and the Sufis (who entered India during this period) began writing the first poetry in Punjabi and Khari Boli (the Delhi dialect of Hindi-Urdu).
The language of these poets was remarkable. In his poem Zihal-e-Miskeen, Amir Khusrow (1253-1325) wrote one couplet in Persian, another in Khari Boli and another in Braj Bhasha. In the Guru Granth Sahib (compiled 1604), the first five Sikh Gurus wrote in a Khari Boli blended with Braj Bhasha and Punjabi:
“Shaban-e-hijran daraz chun zulf,
Wa roz-e-waslat cho umer kotah.
Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhun,
To kaise kaTun andheri ratiyan (Khusrow).”
Hindi-Urdu ultimately became a cosmopolitan literature and the lingua franca over much of India. How this happened under the Delhi Sultanate will be explored in the second part of this essay.
 Long like curls in the night of separation
short like life on the day of our union.
My dear, how will I pass the dark dungeon night
without your face before.