Urdu Language – History and Facts

Urdu Language – History and Facts

The Urdu language came into existence in Central Asia around the 1600s. Both Hindi and Urdu are two variants of the same language, which came from the Indo-European and Indo-Aryan language families. The word ‘Urdu’ is derived from the Turkish word ‘ordu’ which means ‘army’ or ‘camp’. Urdu is one of the official languages in states like Kashmir, Telangana, UP, Bihar, New Delhi, and West Bengal and among one of India’s 22 official languages.

In India, Urdu is spoken in places with large Muslim communities or cities that were once power centers of Muslim Empires. They include parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Kashmir, Bhopal, and Hyderabad. Some Indian schools teach Urdu as a first language and have their own syllabus and exams. Urdu is the second most spoken language in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.


Standard Urdu language is known as a variant of a Hindustani language combining the Sanskrit words of Hindi with words brought to India from Persian, Arabic, Portuguese, Turkish and other languages. Urdu contained 70% Farsi and 30% of an Arabic and Turkish mix.

Arabic, one of the principal languages that make its presence felt in Urdu, began to make inroads in the Indian subcontinent with late first-millennium Muslim conquests in the region. A few centuries later, Central Asian Turks and Afghans who had migrated to the area set up consecutive and sometimes competed for dynasties that were heavily influenced by the sophisticated Persian court of the time, thus bringing Persian to the subcontinent.

The Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate, a powerful, well-known dynasty, naturally declared Persian as its official language. This tradition was continued by the mighty Mughal Empire, whose influence spread over much of Northern South Asia from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The fact that Persian was the official language of this incredibly powerful Empire made the ever-deepening influence of Persian over developing Indian languages, such as Hindi and Urdu, that much stronger.

According to Muhammad Husain Azad, the Urdu language was born as a result of the grafting of Persian elements on the Brijbhash. A dialect of western Hindi, and Mahmud Sherwani advocated that the Urdu language was born as a result of the first contact between the Muslims and the Hindus after the conquest of Punjab and Sindh by Mahmud Ghaznavi.

As a result of this close contact between the Punjabi-speaking people and the Persian-speaking people, the two languages got mingled up and resulted in the evolution of a new language. According to other popular beliefs of Dr. Masud Husain of Aligarh, he says that the Urdu language was evolved as a result of the grafting of the Persian language on Hariani, a language that was spoken in Delhi in the early days of Sultanate.

During the British rule in India (when India and Pakistan were considered one territory), a regime that spanned almost two centuries from the arrival of British traders representing one of the world’s first corporations. The British East India Company, to the takeover of British-controlled territories by Queen Victoria during the British Raj.

These rulers took a bit of inspiration from their predecessors, the Mughals, in promoting Urdu as one of their languages of administrative communication. The Britishers tried to replace the local, official languages of North and Northwestern India with English for communication and official business.

It was during this period of British Rule in India that the controversy we now think of between Hindi and Urdu began. Although Hindus at this time commonly learned both scripts, Nastaliq and Devanagari (descended from Sanskrit), in primary school, it was the scribe caste of Hindus, known as Kayastha who truly benefited from the British promotion of Hindustani in Nastaliq.

They were the most highly literate Hindus at the time and were able to take up government employment that required such high levels of literacy in numerous scripts and languages easily. Similarly, they made up the vast majority of Hindu scribes during the Mughal Empire as well. Many great writers we think of today, such as Hindi writer Mahadevi Varma and Hindi-Urdu author Munshi Premchand, hailed from this caste.

However, the highest caste of Hindus, the Brahmins, were snubbed by these policies and suffered due to consistently low literacy rates, especially in Nastaliq. Thus, it was primarily this group, especially in Northwestern India, that argued for a change in policy that administrative business is conducted in Devanagari, a script with which they were more comfortable, instead of Nastaliq. Gradually, many groups became involved in a push toward a division between the Hindi and Urdu components of Hindustani, with Hindi becoming progressively more Sanskritized (and thus supposedly “purified”) and Urdu becoming more heavily influenced by Arabic and Persian.

In 1881, a new literary register of Hindi (what we now refer to as “Modern Standard Hindi”), which was heavily Sanskritized, replaced traditional Hindustani as the official language of the Northwestern Indian state of Bihar. Gradually, an association between Urdu and Islam and between Hindi and Hinduism, a rather arbitrary religious connotation that was previously not present to the same extent, became concretized and is symbolized in the division of the Indian territory into the separate nations of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Difference Between Urdu and Hindi

Urdu and Hindi are two variants of the same language with different writing systems. Both languages are derived from the Sanskrit language, because of which they have the same Indic base and have similar phonology and grammar. Hindi is spoken among Hindus, the native and leading population of India, while Urdu is spoken by Muslims,

Hindi is the national language of India and Urdu is one of the state’s official languages. Both Hindi and Urdu contain influences of Persian, Arabic, and Turkic. However, the percentage differs in each language. Urdu has a lot of foreign influences and loanwords while Hindi has a lower application of the same foreign vocabularies. The two languages share many common words and lexicons from native, Arabic, Persian, and the English language.

In Hindi and Urdu, there are only two forms for gender (male and female). In terms of grammar, the verbs fall after the subject. Also, verbs agree with objects, not the subjects.

At the colloquial level, speakers of both Urdu and Hindi can understand each other. However, the political vocabulary and highbrow level of both languages are completely different.

Hindi is written in Devanagari script and is written from left to right while the Urdu writing system is called Nastaliq. It involves some Persian and Arabic scripts. Nastaliq is written from right to left. Hindi and Urdu are used spontaneously and sound almost the same, but the language’s political vocabularies are different.

The British occupation aggravated the rift between Hindi and Urdu and in extension the Hindi and Muslims. According to the Britisher’s divide and rule policy they propagated the idea that Hindi is the language of Hindus, and Urdu of Muslims. This led to the division of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Hindi and Urdu are considered to be the national language of their respective countries, but it is often not the native language of its people.

Suggested Read: Languages in India State Wise

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Simmi Kamboj

Simmi Kamboj is the Founder and Administrator of Ritiriwaz, your one-stop guide to Indian Culture and Tradition. She had a passion for writing about India's lifestyle, culture, tradition, travel, and is trying to cover all Indian Cultural aspects of Daily Life.