Early Hindi-Urdu poetry was an oral art. Poems were sung as folk songs or recited and sung as qawallis at the shrines of Sufi saints like Nizammuddin Auliya in Delhi. Many of those songs and poems (traditionally attributed to Amir Khusrao) have long since been assimilated into the folk and classical culture of Delhi and Hindustan:
You’ve taken away my looks, my identity, by just a glance.
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.
The first recorded poet in Hindi-Urdu was Sheikh Baha Ud-Din Bajan (1388-1506). Born in Ahmedabad, Sheikh Bajan was a prominent Sufi in Gujarat. His grandfather had moved from Gujarat to Delhi as part of a migration of Hindi-Urdu speakers which took place in the 14th century following the annexation of Gujarat by the Delhi Sultanate in 1297 and, again, following the sack of Delhi by Tamerlane in 1398.
Sheikh Baha Ud-Din wrote Sufi poetry which he compiled in his anthology, Khaza’in-e Rahmatullah (‘Treasures of Divine Mercy’). Written in both Indic and Persian metres, the Khaza’in appealed to the common man in much the style of the Bhakti and Sufi poetry of the period.
There’s a frenzied one,
Openly so; another wanders
The desert, mad, unknown.
One, drunk with love,
Raves and yells,
And another falls
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 included Shaikh Mahmud Darya’i (1419-1534) and Shaik ‘Ali Muhammad Jiv Gamdhani (d. 1565). They wrote in a Hindi-Urdu that was inflected with Gujarati words and idioms, which became known as “Gujri.”
Hindi/Urdu Literature in South India (‘Deccani’)
The Daulatabad Fortress
As Gujri emerged in Western India, Hindi-Urdu moved southward with the conquests of the Delhi Sultanate into the Deccan Peninsula. In 1327, the Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughluq (r. 1325-51) made Daulatabad (in present day Maharashtra) the new capital city of the Sultanate. This move saw many of Delhi’s royal families, armies, traders, administrators and religious preachers migrate to and settle in the Deccan.
Like Gujri in Western India, the Hindi-Urdu of the Deccan became “Deccani” (‘Southern’), coloured with words and phrases from regional languages like Marathi and Telugu. As in Northern India, Hindi-Urdu in the Deccan was heavily influenced by Persian and its literary conventions, including verse forms like the ghazal and the masnavi. Unlike its situation in Northern India, however, Hindi-Urdu in the Deccan was patronized alongside Persian as a language of the court.
Deccani flourished under the patronage of the successor sultanates to the Delhi Sultanate in the South. The Bahmani Sultanate (1347-1527) patronized works like Kadam Rao Padam Rao, a masnavi on magic, kingship and the soul’s journey to salvation written by Fakhruddin Nizami in the fifteenth century.
The Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (r. 1580-1611) of the Golconda Sultanate was a poet in his own right. He wrote ghazals on more secular subjects such as of love, seasons, nature, music and the common people in contrast to the earlier more spiritual and and mystical tone of Hindi-Urdu poetry. He adapted Persian verse forms, imagery and metaphor into Hindi-Urdu and wrote the first diwan in the language.
For these reasons, Quli Qutb Shah is considered the first major poet in the classical Hindi-Urdu tradition. His more secular style of Hindi-Urdu poetry was emulated and polished by Wali Deccani (1667-1707) who took it back to Delhi in the eighteenth century. From there, it would develop as the basis of classical Hindi-Urdu literature.