Category Archives: India

The Beginnings of Hindi-Urdu Literature (Part II: From Delhi to the Deccan)

Nizamuddin

Early Hindi-Urdu poetry emerged around the 14th century. During this time, Hindustan (Northern India) was ruled by the Delhi Sultanate. With Persian as the language of the court and classical poetry at the time, Hindi-Urdu developed as an oral art and as a popular poetry of Delhi.

Written in the Khari Boli (the dialect of Delhi), Hindi-Urdu poetry was rooted in the metaphors and imagery of Hindustan  – the rivers and meadows of the countryside, the rainy season, the water pots and bangles of girls about the village. It was recited as riddles and proverbs and sung as women’s folk songs at weddings and as qawallis at the shrines of Sufi saints like Nizamuddin Auliya (1238-1325):

By making me drink the wine of love-potion,
You’ve intoxicated me by just a glance;
My fair, delicate wrists with green bangles in them,
Have been held tightly by you with just a glance.
I give my life to you, Oh my cloth-dyer,
You’ve dyed me in yourself, by just a glance.
I give my whole life to you Oh, Nijam,
You’ve made me your bride, by just a glance.

Hindi-Urdu would not remain confined to Delhi. Beginning in the 14th century, it began expanding with the Delhi Sultanate to different parts of India. In 1297, the Delhi Sultanate annexed Gujarat bringing Hindi-Urdu speakers from Delhi into Western India. The invasion and sack of Delhi by Tamerlane (1336-1405) likewise saw an exodus of Hindi-Urdu speakers out of Delhi into Gujarat.

By the fifteenth century, Gujarat had a substantial community of Hindi-Urdu speakers. It was from the descendants of these migrants from Delhi that Hindi-Urdu produced its first historical poet, Sheikh Baha Ud-Din Bajan (1388-1506).

Born in Ahmedabad, Sheikh Bajan was a prominent Gujarati Sufi poet. He wrote and compiled Sufi poetry in his anthology, Khaza’in-e Rahmatullah (‘Treasures of Divine Mercy’). Written in Indic and Persian metres, Khaza’in appealed to the common man in the style of the Bhakti and Sufi poetry of the day:

There’s a frenzied one,
Openly so; another wanders
The desert, mad, unknown.
One, drunk with love,
Raves and yells,
And another falls
Unconscious.
A wandered, with long and
Matted hair, and black
And dark as night;
Another madman gets the
Shivers, shaves his head
And says only Your name.

Other prominent Sufi poets in Gujarat writing in Hindi-Urdu included Shaikh Mahmud Darya’i (1419-1534) and Shaik ‘Ali Muhammad Jiv Gamdhani (d. 1565). Their Hindi-Urdu eventually became known with “Gujari,” a Hindi-Urdu inflected with Gujarati words, phrases and idioms.


Hindi/Urdu Literature in South India (‘Deccani’)

daulatabad (hilltop-fortress)

The Daulatabad Fortress

Hindi-Urdu was becoming a cosmopolitan language, transplanting itself in and assimilating itself to the soil of lands far from Delhi. “Gujri” was one such example. Another, was “Deccani,” that Hindi-Urdu of the Deccan which maintained its Khari Boli roots while absorbing words and phrases from languages like Telugu and Marathi.

Like Gujri, Deccani came about through the expansion and conquests of the Delhi Sultanate. In 1327, the Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughluq (r. 1325-51) conquered the Deccan Peninusla and shifted the capital city from Delhi to Daulatabad (present day Maharashtra). In stream upon stream, Delhi’s royal families, armies, traders, administrators and religious preachers flowed into the Deccan.

Crucial to the development of Hindi-Urdu literature in the Deccan was its association with the court. In Delhi, Hindi-Urdu poetry had essentially been the poetry of Sufi shrines and the bazaar. In the Deccan, however, Deccani was patronized as a language of the court alongside Persian. In the process, it absorbed the Persian script, vocabulary and verse forms (like the ghazal and the masnavi).

Deccani began to flourish after the Delhi Sultanate’s withdrawal from the Deccan in 1347. The  Bahmani Sultanate (1347-1527) produced some of the first major works in Deccani. For instance, Kadam Rao Padam Rao was written by Fakhruddin Nizami during the reign of Ahmed Shah Wali Bahmani (1422-1436). Written as a masnavi, Kadam Rao Padam Rao is a Sufi-style magical romance on the journey of a king’s soul to salavation.

India-Deccan_Map-Dalrymple-062515

One of the great poets of Deccani was Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (r. 1580-1611), a sultan of the Golconda Sultanate.  Qutb Shah wrote ghazals on love, nature, music, and the common people. This marked a turn in Hindi-Urdu toward secular poetry in contrast to its largely spiritual and mystical tone hitherto. Quli Qutb Shah continued the tradition of adapting Persian poetry into Deccani, and is credited with writing the first deewan in Hindi-Urdu on the Persian model.

In fact, Quli Qutb Shah may be considered the first major poet in the classical Hindi-Urdu tradition. His more secular style of Hindi-Urdu poetry was adapted and polished by Wali Deccani (1667-1707), setting the standard for classical Hindi-Urdu poetry.

Further Reading:

Early Urdu Literary Culture and History (S.R. Faruqi): http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00fwp/srf/earlyurdu/srf_earlyurdu.html

Early Hindi-Urdu Poetry: http://www.angelfire.com/sd/urdumedia/lyrics.html
Quli Qutb Shah (Poems): https://rekhta.org/poets/quli-qutub-shah/ghazals

 

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India’s Supreme Court Ruling

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On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was unconstitutional. The section – enacted in 1861 when India was still a British colony – effectively criminalized gay sex.

India’s LGBT communities erupted in euphoria. The Indian and international press joined in the jubilation with one BBC headline ringing, “India’s Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Sex … ”

The Supreme Court’s decision marks an important beginning for India’s LGBT and for the country. For India’s sexual minorities, it represents a victory in a long struggle against an inhumane and draconian law. For India, the ruling holds the promise of a new era where India starts to step out from the shadows of its colonial past.

I too was euphoric after reading the headlines only to confront a few sober realities.

First, the Supreme Court of India ruling has not legalized gay sex. It has declared that the law discriminated against LGBT sex is unconstitutional. The law is still in force and cannot be repealed or amended except by an act of Parliament.

Second, as long as it remains on the books, the section will continue to be invoked. Certainly, a better off and well-informed gay Indian will now challenge a policeman who tries to lay a charge. But those LGBT Indians who are poor, working class or villagers are less likely to contest the enforceability of the law.

Third, the ruling leaves untouched the more basic challenges facing India’s LGBT communities. In particular, the ruling does not recognize India’s LGBT communities as legal persons who can claim basic rights or freedoms as any other Indian. It has brought India’s LGBT persons out of the shadow of criminality, without making them persons under the law.

If anything, the Supreme Court ruling stands for the same principle that Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made back in 1967 that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Tushar Mehta, the Assistant Solicitor-General for the Government of India, has otherwise made it clear that the Government of India will construe the ruling narrowly so as not to accord legal status to the LGBT citizens of India in terms of marriage, property rights, government benefits or inheritance.

India’s LGBT communities have just won their first battle against the state, but their war for recognition as equal citizens under the law has yet to begin.

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The Beginnings of Hindi-Urdu Literature (Part I: The Delhi Sultanate)

QUTUB-MINAR

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.

ghaznavid-empire

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

amirkhusro

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).”[1]

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.

[1] 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.

 

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Filed under Hindi, History, India, Language, Literature, Uncategorized, Urdu

A Tale of Two Indias

Indus Valley

In a recent paper, scientists from the United States, Russia and India, have concluded that the Indus Valley Civilization was the result of a mixing of South Asians and Iranian peoples.

The study also concludes that the group previously known as “Aryan” were in fact pastoral communities from Central Asia which moved south from the steppe into the Indus Valley.

The study examined the DNA of 612 ancient individuals from across Central Asia, Iran and South Asia. This data was then compared with the DNA of 246 distinct groups in South Asia.

The study identified the Ancestral North Indian and the Ancestral South Indian as the result of the mixing and combination of three potential groups of peoples:

  1. The South Asian hunter-gatherers, the indigenous inhabitants of the subcontinent;
  2. The Iranian agriculturalists who migrated into the subcontinent, and;
  3. The Steppe pastoralists who were also migrants into the subcontinent.

The study provided the following outline based on this genetic data:

  1. The Indus Valley Civilization arises through the mixing of South Asians and Iranians;
  2. The “Aryan” civilization arises through the migration of Steppe pastoralists into the Indus Valley around the 2nd millennium BCE;
  3. Some of the Indus Valley moves further south where they mix with more South Asians, creating the Ancestral South Indian population;
  4. In the North, the Steppe pastoralists mix with the remaining Indus Valley population, creating the Ancestral North Indian population.
  5. Subsequent South Asians are a result of mixing between Ancestral North Indians and Ancestral South Indians.

The implication of this is that there was an “Aryan migration” into the subcontinent from the outside and not vice-versa. That suggestion will anger with the Hindu Rights with its inference that their ancestors and ancestral religion (including the Vedas) originated outside of the subcontinent.

This would undermines the Hindu Right’s claims that they are the original inhabitants of India vis-à-vis those following foreign religions. It also suggests that modern South Asians are a mix of what we previously called “Aryan” and “Dravidian,” with no such thing as a “pure race” or “nation” which is basic to Hindutva.

The Hindu Right is already rewriting history books in India. It is already censoring any views and ideas that would suggest India is the creation of anything but the primordial Hindu Nation. This paper will not affect the momentum of that project, but it does throw to the wind some of the theories on which Hindutva rests.

– Thanks to Satdeep, for inspiration across continents 

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The Causes We Cherish

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Jagmeet Singh was interviewed yesterday on CBC Radio. The leader of the federal NDP was asked about a seminar he attended with the National Sikh Youth Federation in the U.K. in 2016. The organizer of the National Sikh Youth Federation, Shamsher Singh, was heard discussing the legitimacy of armed struggle by Sikhs in the creation of Khalistan.

In his radio interview, Singh condemned terrorism without condemning the Khalistan movement. He expressed sympathy with the pain and trauma suffered by Sikhs, while dodging any suggestion that the Khalistan movement was a terrorist movement.

Within hours, the internet was awash headlining Mr. Singh’s name with phrases like “Sikh separatist,” “blood hatreds” and “strange loyalties.”

The Khalistan movement was a violent and divisive movement. It bloodied the towns and villages of the East Punjab for nearly a decade. Its leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, turned Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, into a military stronghold. And the movement turned a generation of young Sikhs into militant separatists.

Murderous and divisive as its legacy has been, the Khalistan cause has long since fallen on the losing side of history. The Canadian media is right to question such causes or, as in the case of Singh, its suspected supporters. Yet the same also fails repeatedly to question those politicians who support “winning” causes like Israel, Saudi Arabia or Canada’s policies towards its own Aboriginal peoples.

Justin Trudeau illustrated this point last month when he visited India. Trudeau met with India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, a man whose government has become perhaps the worst violator of human rights in independent India’s history. In 2002, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi presided over the worst anti-Muslim program in India since 1947. Since his becoming Prime Minister in 2014, India has witnessed widespread and repeated abuses of human rights and civil liberties.

Trudeau failed to condemn any of this, and the Canadian media failed to question Trudeau. His “loyalty” to Canadian values like human rights weren’t scrutinized. For Trudeau, unlike Singh, was on the winning side.

 

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The Buddhist Diwali

 

diwali

Diwali is the festival of lights for only a few Buddhists in India and Nepal. There are reasons though why their brethren should look at Diwali in a new light.

Buddhists celebrating Diwali do so in remembrance of Emperor Ashoka (r. 268-232 BCE). Around the year 260 CE, Ashoka embraced Buddhism and adopted the principles of the Dharma as the basis for his governance of his empire.

The practice of government should not tolerate suffering.[1] Ashoka in his edicts emphasized the importance of humane government and the welfare of his people. His state built infrastructure and provided free medical care to his subjects. He advocated religious tolerance and called for harmony and respect between all sects in the empire.

He is considered by many Buddhists as the ideal cakravartin,[2] the universal sovereign who rules benevolently. Ashoka unified the subcontinent and and his policy of Dharma applied equally to all of his subjects. In preaching virtue and benevolence in government, he can be seen as a political counterpart to the Buddha.

In today’s darkness, the light of Diwali deserves to shine in Ashoka’s example.

 

[1] Mencius

[2] Skr. “wheel turner”

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The 70th Anniversary of the Partition of India

h1

Seventy years on, there’s still hope.

On October 6, Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad spoke on the 70th anniversary of the Partition.[1]

Ahmad’s argued that the truth about the Partition must be known before there can be any meaningful reconciliation between India and Pakistan. Only if Indians and Pakistanis confront and accept what happened in 1947, can there ever be light.

For instance, many Sikhs revere the Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh (1914-1974) as the icon of a bygone age. Some have suggested that he even gave sanctuary to Muslims during the violence of the Partition.[2]

 

yada

Ahmad’s research in the The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (which includes eye-witness accounts from Patiala including from members of the Sikh community), shows a Maharaja who planned to cleanse his kingdom of his Muslim subjects.[3]

This was a shock even for some of my better educated friends in Patiala to learn. Maybe it’s time to pierce the veil of lies and illusions both India and Pakistan have woven these past seven decades. The Partition has scarred the subcontinent. Now it’s time to heal. Seek the truth. Study extensively, inquire carefully, sift clearly, and practice earnestly.[4]

 

Notes

[1] The lecture was part of a conference presented by the South Asian Film Education Society and the South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy presented at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University between October 5th to the 8th.

Dr. Ahmad is a now retired professor who taught Political Science at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. He was also a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

[2] This last point is suggested by filmmaker Sara Singh in The Sky Below.

[3] Ahmad’s research has also been cited and excerpted in magazines and editorials like in the Hindustan Times, Frontline and Caravan.

[4] The words of the Chinese philosopher, Zhu Xi (1130-1200)

 

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Filed under India, Muslims, Pakistan, Partition, Punjabi, Sikhs, Uncategorized, Violence