History of Hindi

A friend of mine from Bihar told me what we considered as the national language Hindi was indeed a form of the Khariboli of Delhi. The Hindi they spoke was different, not a dialect but a different language altogether. I was surprised and perplexed. The article tries to find out all about Hindi language and literature.

The article is verbatim from the History and Culture of Indian People published by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. After that I compared notes with The Cultural Heritage of India published by the Ramakrishna Mission.

Round about 500 AD there were regional Prakrits which were the source of modern Indo-Aryan languages and the authors can think of these Prakrits as –

1.    Eastern Prakrit or Magadhi.
2.    Central Prakrit or Ardha-Maagadhi.
3.    Northern Prakrit, which may be called Khasa or Himalayan Prakrit.
4.    Sauraseni Prakrit as current in Western U.P. and parts of Eastern Punjab as well as of Rajasthan.
5.    Possibly a special Prakrit of Western Rajasthan, Saurashtra and Gurjara.
6.    A Prakrit embracing Northern and Western Punjab and Sind.
7.    Possibily there was another Prakrit, which was current in Malava. But it might have just been a variety of Sauraseni.
8.    We have the Prakrit current in Maharashtra, which was this time confined only to the northern districts of the present day Maratha country.

By the end of 1300 a.d. the following Modern Indo-Aryan languages or groups had become established.

1.    Bengali-Assamese which inspite of differences in pronunciation came upon to be looked upon as one language till 1500 a.d.
2.    Oriya, which remained close to Bengali but had its own development.
3.    Maithili, the speech of North Bihar became fully established by 1300.
4.    Magahi, the speech of South Bihar, which was very close to Maithili and although was different in many ways did not create much literature.
5.    Bhojpuri is an important language of Eastern India.
6.    Kosali dialects, these became differentiated into its present day descendants, Awadhi, Bagheli, Chattisgarhi. Kosali seems to have been cultivated very early and we have a Sanskrit work that indicates that there was an attempt to teach Sanskrit through the Old Kosala speech, goes back to the 1st half of the 12th century.
7.    Brajabhasa speech is connected with Bundeli and Kanauji; this is parts of modern day Western U.P., parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
8.    Old Western Rajasthani, which after 1500 got bifurcated into Western Rajasthani or Marwari and Gujarati on the other.

9.     Sindh speech derived out of the Old Vrachada Apabhramsa of Sind.
10.     Lastly we have the incipient Punjabi language, mainly on a Western Punjabi basis.

We also have Kashmiri as a Dardic speech profoundly modified by Indo Aryan, which was taking shape by 1300.

Assamese – Bengali which may be taken as two languages, considering that the political history of Assam and Bengal were quite independent of each other from very early times, Oriya – Maithili and Magahi as a wholly developed though connected dialect, Bhojpuri – Kosali, also known as Gahwari, Brajabhasha with Kanauji and Bundeli, perhaps not yet fully differentiated, the Rajasthani dialects, of which the most important was the Marwari, largely used in literature and Gujarati which went along with Marwari, Marathi and the connected Konkani dialects, and then Punjabi both Western and Eastern and Sindhi.

Besides there was a group of North Indian or Himalayan dialects, coming from the old Khasa Prakrit of which the authors have no specimen until very late times. Excepting Bengali-Assamese-Oriya-Marathi-Gujarati-Sindhi-Punjabi the speeches of the North Indian plains have had a restricted literary employment during the last one hundred years and people from the beginning of the 20th century have accepted a form of Western Hindi (the Khariboli speech of Delhi) as their language of education, literature and public life. It has become the national language while Maithili, Magahi, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Bagheli, Brajabhasa, Chattisgarhi with other Central and Western Himalayan dialects being described as dialects of Hindi. But that was not the case till about 150 years ago.

The vocabulary of Hindi is chiefly derived from Sanskrit. Like other Indo-Aryan languages Hindi in its present shape began to take shape around the 10th century a.d. But before the 14th century it was highly influenced by the Sauraseni Apabhramsa. Interestingly Sauraseni also gave birth to Punjabi. (refer the article on Punjabi).

Oldest Hindi Mystico – Devotional Poetry    - The padas and vanis of Gorakh Natha 1150, the great Natha Pantha teacher, and other contemporary Yogis preaching the philosophy and practice of hatha-yoga are also ascribed to this period. But their language is very changed and it is difficult to decide how much of these compositions are genuine. These poems emphasize the need for a pure life, detachment from material prosperity, and real knowledge, which prepared the ground for the bhakta poets of a later period.

The article has two chapters –
1.    Covers development of Hindi from 1300 to 1947.
2.    Scripts in India of the Present Day

1300 to 1526

Western Hindi
The Khariboli form of Hindi which was accepted as the Official Language of India is one of the youngest of the Indian languages. As such it did not come into any literary use before 1800 a.d. and its effective literary employment started after 1850. When we said Hindi literature it meant Brajbhasa the most important form of Western Hindi prior to 1850. It is customary to include in this expression Awadhi although it is genetically of a different Prakrit origin from Western Hindi. Since we assumed other languages to be dialects lots of literature written in other languages became part of Hindi literature. For example devotional songs of Mirabai were written in Rajasthani or Bhojpuri, Maithili, Garhwali speeches.

During 1000 to 1300 a.d. Western Hindi was evolving out of Apabhramsa. It was during this period that a kind of linguistic hesitancy, that the first drafts of great Rajput heroic romances like Prithvirajarasau took shape. They were mostly in Western Hindi and they stand at the base of what may be described Hindi literature as also of Rajasthani literature. The Brahman scholars were busy composing works in Sanskrit, both stories and philosophical works but the revival initiated by them on the basis of translations from the epics and Puranas was to come later.

Amir Khushrav 1253 to 1325 a well-known Persian poet was one of the earliest writers of Hindi as well. Although the actual mass of Hindi compositions written by him is quite small he was fully alive to the importance of Hindi. He was also the author of Khaliq-Bari which is a brief dictionary in verse of Pers-Arabic and Hindi. The book did a lot to spread Perso-Arabic words among the people of North India and helped bring about the development of Urdu.

Between 1300 to 1400 a.d. we do not find any writer in Hindi though compilation of Apabhramsa texts and their study in a mixture of Rajsathani and Apabhramsa appeared to have continued in the courts of Rajput chiefs and North India. Hindi literature during the 15th century was dominated by Kabir.

The abandon of faith in and love of God was a new strain in Indian religious experience for which the North is indebted to the South. The Saints of Tamil Nadu, Saivites or Vaishnavites had a deep love for God, which in turn formed the basis of the Bhakti school. Two noted Vaishnava Acharyas Ramananda 1400-1470 and Vallabhacharya 1473 to 1531 inspired many great personalities during this period.

They included Kabir. The former was an ardent devotee of Lord Ram, a great Sanskrit scholar who wrote in Hindi too. The latter was a Sanskrit scholar who was a devotee of Lord Krishna. He came from Andhra but made Mathura his main seat of teaching. One of his disciples was Surdasa.

This new Bhakti movement revolutionized Hindi language and literature. The language became free from the unnecessary inhibitions and shackles of the Apabhramsa tradition. The poets came from the masses, sincere in thought and behavior. They used language that was familiar to the people.
A number of Kabir’s dohas found in the Kabir canon is in pure Bhojpuri his native language. But most of his writings are now available in a mixed language. This is popularly known as sadhukkada boli or the speech of wandering sadhus. It is basically Western Hindi – Braja –bhasa and occasional forms of Awadhi. Guru Nanak wrote in Western Hindi tinged with Punjabi.

Kosali or Awadhi or called Eastern Hindi
At present there is little literary endeavor in Eastern Hindi since most speakers have adopted western Hindi. However, Awadhi has been one of the earliest Indo Aryan languages to be cultivated for literature. The oldest specimen of Awadhi is found in Ukti-vyakti-prakarana of Damodara Pandita who flourished during the first half of the 12th century. He wrote this book to teach Sanskrit through his mother tongue which was a kind of old Awadhi. The Sufi tradition which became established in India in the 14th century found a series of writers mostly Muslim who took a number of poems of medieval Hindu inspiration and wove them into poems in Awadhi, Maulana Daud was probably the first of them. The manuscripts of these poems in Awadhi are mostly Persian in character due to the Muslim influence existing at that point of time.

1526 to 1707     
The greatest Hindi writer during this period was Gosvami Tulsidasa, born in U.P. sometime in 1523. He wrote his masterpiece Rama-charita-manas sometime in 1574 in his native Awadhi dialect. It narrates the story of Rama and through it propounds the story of the Bhakti Cult. Besides its literary importance it rendered a great service to the Hindus of North India who were submerged under the flood of Islamic conquest.

Quote Dr S K Chatterjee excerpts “ Tulisdasa with his books did the greatest service in strengthening the Hindus of North India in their old ways, culture which seemed to be overwhelmed in the flood-side of an aggressive Islam and by the side attacks on Hindu cultural life through covert preaching against orthodoxy, which inculcated the study of Sanskrit books, going to places of pilgrimages and performance of various religious rites. If a writer’s popularity is to be gauged by the number of quotations from him known to the masses, then there is none else in the range of Hindi to stand before Tulsidasa”.

One of the important characteristics of the Indian civilization is the strength we derive from the characters in Mahabharata and Ramayana. As a child my mother read out these epics to me from the Amar Chitra Katha, sub-consciously they seem to have impacted my mind, whenever in trouble I draw inspiration from one of the characters therein. Interestingly I saw a movie ‘Lord of the Rings’, big hit, that to my mind was totally inspired from the Mahabharata. I could actually identify similar characters, Arjun, Bhim and Ghatotkach to name a few.

Tulasi-dasa wrote many other devotional works of which Vinaya-Patrika (letters of Prayer) is most well known. He preached pure devotion of God but believed in a personal God with attributes as was represented by Rama, an avatar of Vishnu. He died on 1623.

The spirit of Tulasi-dasa encouraged many writers like Agra-dasa and Nabhaji-dasa who wrote in Braj-bhasha, the famous Bhakti-mala (the garland of saints) that gives accounts of Vaishnava saints from the early period down to 1600. Another set of poets worshipped Krishna and drew inspiration from Bhagavata Purana instead of the Ramayana, Surdasa was one of them lived between 1503 to 1563 and wrote thousand of lyrics on the different stages of Krishna’s life. His Aura-sagara is a collection of songs mainly devoted to the lilas of Krishna as a child and as a youthful lover of the gopis, the most important being Radha.

Another poet of this school was Mirabai (1498 around to 1546) a Rajput princess married to the prince of Mewar. She was devoted to Krishna. Her songs were originally composed in Marwari, but their language has been largely altered to Braj-bhasa dialect of Hindi in order to make them popular outside Gujarat and Rajasthan. Several works attributed to her are Narsiji Ka Mahero, Gitagovinda Ki Tika, Ragagovinda, Garva-gita.

The Awadhi dialect of Hindi was enriched by a number of Sufi writers who wove some romantic tales of the folklore type into beautiful allegorical plays by way of elucidating the characteristics of Sufi doctrines. Maulana Daud is the author of the oldest work of this type Chandayan. But the greatest writer of this school was Malik M Jayasi whose poem Padumavati composed between 1520 to 1540 is a detailed Sufi allegorical treatment of the famous story of Padmini of Chitor.

Literature in Braj-bhasha flourished under Akbar and was enriched by poets/musicians of his court like Tansen who wrote highly poetic and sometimes profound songs on various topics, devotional and descriptive. Another Kesava-dasa (1565-1617) introduced a deliberately and artificially rhetorical and artistic type of literature.

Roughly from the beginning of the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century Hindi literature took a new turn. This period is called Rita-kala, a name given to it by Ramchandra Shukla.

Many talented poets in this period tried to write books on various aspects of Indians poetics such as rasa, alankara and nayaka-nayika-bhela, on the lines of Sanskrit rhetorical tradition. Some of them were Chintamani Tripathi 1609 who wrote Kavya-viveka etc, Kesavadasa who wrote Rasika-priya in 1591 were poets of a high order comparable to classical lyrists like Amaru, Govardhana and Jayadeva.

Bhusana 1613 to 1712 wrote heroic poetry of a beautiful type. His panegyrics on Shivaji in the most musical Braha-bhasa were amongst the most stirring things in the domain of medieval Indian poetry. His poetry gave hope to the Hindus of that age when everything seemed lost.

The most popular poet of the Riti school was Biharilal 1600-63 the court poet of Jay Singh the Raja of Amber for his 700 verses. Its popularity can be judged from the fact that it was translated into various Indian languages including Sanskrit. His minute observations of the behaviors of lovers and their physical / mental expressions attracted men of culture in the middle ages.

The last great Hindi poet during this period was Lal Kavi who in 1707 wrote Chhatra-prakasa, a beautiful biography of Chhatrasal, the Raja of Bundelkhand. Guru Govind Singh composed some important works in Hindi mostly in Apabhramsa style including the autobiographical poem Bichitra Natak. His Krishna-katha 1688, Rama-katha 1695 reminds us of Surdasa and Tulasidasa respectively. To read more the Guru’s attitude to Hindi please go to the article on Punjabi.

The Hindi literature described above is mostly in verse. Good modern Hindi prose did not make its appearance before the 18th century.

1707 to 1818     
Hindi literature during this period continued the style and tradition of the previous period though several writers gave evidence of high style and perfection. Reference must be made to Bhushana who wrote works on Shivaji in most musical Braj bhasha marked by ardent patrioticism of a Hindu.

Hindi prose in Khari Boli and Braj bhasha whose beginnings go back to the 16th century a.d. was highly developed. Very good progress in Khari Boli i.e. Delhi Hindi is evidenced by the prose rendering of Yagavasishtha Ramayana completed by Ramprasad Niranjani in 1741 as one example.

The development of modern Hindi from the beginning of the 19th century is dealt with below.

1818 to 1905

The epoch of modern Hindi literature started at the beginning of the 19th century but its progress was very small until the middle of the 19th century. There was a beginning of a prose literature but its language – Khari Boli – was roughly the standard speech of Delhi identical in grammar (though not in script, higher vocabulary and sometimes syntax) with Urdu, the Muslim form of Hindi. The extent of this prose was very meager but there was a vast literature in Brajbhakha, Awadhi and Rajasthani. But there was hardly any poetry in Khari-Boli, which was employed in prose. This disparity gradually disappeared in the second half of the 19th century and one common form of Hindi came to be used in prose and verse, though a few authors wrote in Brajbhakha and Awadhi.

Like Bengali Hindi prose owes its origin partly to the efforts of the Christian missionaries to translate religious texts Bible and of the authorities of Fort William College in Calcutta to prepare suitable textbooks for students. The first such author was Lalluji Lal of Agra who wrote Prem Sagar in 1803 on the story of Krishna’s life as described in the Bhagvata Purana. It is one of the earliest Khari Boli classics. Pandit Mishra a Bhojpuri speaking scholar wrote another model work in Khari Boli Hindi prose, the Nasiketopakhyan, based on the well-known story of Nachiketas in the Katha-upanishad.

The School Book Society of Agra 1833 did a great service for Hindi prose by publishing many Hindi text books on different subjects and by 1857 Hindi prose had taken a great shape although no high literary value works were produced.

The work commenced by pioneers in the 18th century like Pandit Daulatram and Munshi Sadasukhlal Niyaz came to be stabilized and the Midland speech in its latest phase of a Sanskritised Khari Boli Hindi started on its conquest of nearly the whole of North India. From 1850 prose style started by Lalluji Lal became established.

Then came Haris-chandra of Banaras (1846-1884) who had the sobriquet of Bharatendu (Moon of India). He is universally acknowledged as one of the makers of modern Hindi. There were a number of other writers around this period who produced personal essays, humorous and satirical writings, dramas, reviews and at the same time translated Sanskrit, Bengali and English works into Hindi. Pandit S Phillauri of Punjab and Lala Shriniwas Das 1851-87 became pioneers in writings original novels. They believed in blending the best of traditional and modern values with an Indian bias. By the end of the 19th century the tendency the influence of Bengali literature was replaced by the English one.

The next event of great importance was the foundation of the Arya Samaj by Swami Dayananad Saraswati who adopted Hindi was the language of his preaching and propaganda. Refer to the chapter on Urdu for more details but the Samaj revived Hindi in Punjab, Western U.P. and Rajpputana. It must be remembered that Hindi had to face opposition from the officially patronized Urdu. To read about how Swamiji’s efforts made Hindi replace Urdu as the main medium of communication in North India and around read please go to the essay on Urdu.

The greatest novelists and short story writer of modern Hindi is Munshi Prem Chand (1880 to 1936). The new styles of poetry with a large amount of Bengali and some English influence came in during the second half of the 19th century. Among the more well known poets was Sridhar Pathak and Maithali Saran Gupta. Hindi journalism came into the field when Pandit Jugal Kishore of Kanpur started from Calcutta the first Hindi weekly Udant Martand (the Rising Sun). A number of renowned journalists flourished during the second half of the 19th century like Balmukund Gupta of Rohtak and Prabhu-dayal Pande from Mathura edited from Calcutta a weekly newspaper Hindi Bangavasi that was the most influential Hindi newspaper during the two closing decades of the 19th century.

1905 to 1947      
The Hindi writers of the late 19th century referred to in the earlier chapter had a tendency to display their knowledge of Urdu Persian as well as of Sanskrit. It was not until the beginning of this period that this tendency disappeared. This was mainly due to the efforts of Premchand who established his reputation as an Urdu novelist but when he changed over to Hindi the decisive step had been taken and Hindi finally shook off the allurements of Urdu Persian. Mahavir Prasad Dvivedi also contributed. His devotion, integrity and zeal as editor of Sarasvati established him as the architect of Hindi prose.
Premchand’s works are translated into Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, English and Russian. There were some powerful novelists writing in the modern realistic as well as psychological vein, between who was Pande Bachhchan Sarma Ugra and Jinendra Kumar the leading of the psychological novelists in Hindi. Of an altogether different vein is the writer of historical novels B Lal Verma. There were a number of other renowned Hindi poets too.

Some other poets have left a distinct impression on the development of Hindi literature. Among these may be mentioned Suryakanta Nirala who brought in a completely new movement in Hindi – in freeing the metre from the bonds of rhyme and fixed length and in bringing into it a new modernistic mystic note known as Chhaya-vada (literally shadow school). There was Mahadev Verma a poetess also in a mystic vein. There is a good deal of influence of the Bengali poets, particularly Rabindra-nath Tagore on this new school as of English poets of the romantic schools. In Saketa and Yasodhara by M S Gupta there is an evocation of the spirit of ancient India in a remarkable way.

With the innovators the Khari Boli form of Hindi came into its own although the Braj-bhasa still flourishes.

Note - One of the issues on which people particularly foreigners divide us is that we have so many languages / dialects. While we do not have to be defensive about it nor seek to explain why we are the way we are, a reading of the content of this article has made me realize that what we consider dialects of Hindi today were / are actually languages in their own right. Due to social / political changes that accompanied the British rule and Delhi becoming the center of power Khari Boli one of the many forms of Hindi became  mainstream Hindi while others became dialects.

Receive Site Updates