How Several Languages Took Flight in Delhi

Traditional forms of poetry, both of the Persian and South Asian traditions, left their impact on the language of Hindavi.

A few years before the death of Aurangzeb, Delhi had emerged as a major centre of Persian poetry. The leading lights of this school of poetry – that was to be later recognised as the Indian Style of Persian Poetry or Sabk-e-Hindi – were ‘Haatim’, ‘Aabru’, ‘Aarzoo’ and Abd-u-Qadir ‘Bedil’. They were all great masters of the language and had strong views about the language in which they expressed themselves.

They all believed that Persian was the only language that could express the nuances of human emotions, and deal with questions of being and non-being and such weighty issues, with precision and subtlety.

It is in such an exclusive atmosphere that the poetry of Wali Mohammad ‘Wali ’Daccani arrived in Delhi in 1700. This was the same language that had travelled out of Delhi as Dehlavi, Hindavi or Zaban-e-Dehli in three phases between the 14th and 15th century that was now returning as Deccani to the land of its birth.

During these three hundred odd years, Hindavi borrowed words, phrases, expressions from Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu and other local languages and dialects, even as it left its vocabulary and its own phrases and expressions with these languages. In the process, Hindavi evolved into Daccani.

In the process all the traditional forms of poetry both of the Persian and South Asian traditions left their impact on this language and when it eventually returned to the land of its birth it brought with it, the Ghazal, the Qasida (panegyric), the Marsia (elegy) Masnavi (ballad) all this had happened when the Qutub Shahi and Adil Shahi kings of Golconda Bijapur began encouraging the use of Daccani in their courts. Most of these kings were patrons of literature and were themselves poets of standing.

Also read: The Languages of Delhi – A Microcosm of India’s Diversity

So when Daccani, in the shape of the poetry of Wali Daccani arrives in Delhi, the great masters of Persian sit up and take notice. Here is a language that they derisively called Rekhta (mixed language) – in other words impure language – that demonstrates its ability to tackle not only secular issues of love between humans and all its attendant travails but also its capacity to handle issues dealing with questions of spirituality and to show that the language of the streets had the capacity to hold its own in the sphere of high culture.

Even as Hindavi is getting enriched and is being transformed into Dakkani, in the North several languages of the people, especially Maithili, Braj and Awadhi, had begun to ford across these divides. The Sufi and bhakti poets, both Nirgun and Sagun, Hindu as well as Muslims had been composing their verses in these languages.

Vidyapati, the Maithili poet of the 14th Century and Kabir lead this impressive procession. Kabir, according to legend was born to Hindu parents but was brought up by a poor childless Muslim couple. Kabir, who lived in the times of the Lodi kings, wrote in Awadhi; Ravidas – popularly known as Raidas – believed to be a contemporary of Kabir, also wrote in Awadhi; Malik Mohammad – a contemporary of Kabir who died in 1542 in the reign of Humayun and Sher Shah Suri – wrote in Awadhi.

Surdas, who died in 1573, during the reign of Akbar wrote in Braj. Goswami Tulsidas who died in 1623 in the reign of Jahangir wrote in Awadhi; Keshavdas, a follower of the Vaishnav tradition, who lived near Orchha and died in 1617, during the reign of Jahangir, wrote in Braj; Abdul Rahim Khan-Khanan or ‘Rahim’ who died in the same year as Jahangir in 1627 wrote in Braj. Syed Ibrahim ‘Raskhan’ who died in 1628, the first year of the reign of Shahjahan, lived and died in Brindaban and wrote in Braj.

It is the same with Daccani, now known more commonly as Rekhta, Poetry that celebrates the beauty of the beloved with as much panache as it tackles love for the divine and merges the two with as much ease as Meerabai’s poetry that unites her love for Krishna as beloved and as God.

Also read: The Changing Face of Delhi: Redesigned and Redefined Through the Ages

Just as Hindus and Muslims are writing in Awadhi and Braj and just as they straddle across the religious divide so do the poets of Daccani and Rekhta; they are borrowing symbols and metaphors from both religions because the poets also belong to both religions. It is this syncretic tradition, this inclusiveness of Daccani or Rekhta that it very soon begins to replace Persian as the language of literary discourse.

The 18th-century trio of Sauda, Dard and Meer Taqi Meer were to place Rekhta on a footing from where the 19th century Greats of Ghalib, Momin and Zauq could launch it on its flight into the limitless horizons of poetic expression that was to encompass India’s journey into modernity.

Recounting that journey will however have to wait for another occasion.

Sohail Hashmi is a filmmaker, writer and heritage buff.