About Awadhi Language

    Article tells about the origin of Awadhi language, where it is spoken and compares with other languages of Bihar/U.P. that are now reduced to dialects.

Awadhi is the language spoken in the Awadh region of modern day Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Nepal. It is the language in which poets Malik Mohammad Jayasi and Goswami Tulsidas wrote Padmavat and Ramcharitmanas, respectively. The Hanuman Chalisa written by Tulsidas, in praise of Hanuman ji, is an Awadhi composition. Today, it is recited not just in North India but across the world, by Hanuman devotees. This video of child prodigy Soorya Gayathri, from Kerala, singing the Awadhi Hanuman Chalisa is testimony to this fact.



Awadhi is a truly Ganga-Jamuni language, reflective of the syncretic culture of the Awadh region. It has been adopted as a medium not just to retell the story of Bhagwan Ram but also to compose Marsiyas, Soz and Noha (the poetry of lament and mourning), recited during Moharram to commemorate and honour the martyrs of Karbala. Given below is the video of a Soz in Awadhi, rendered by artist Askari Naqvi of Lucknow. - https://youtu.be/E5LPsWZNU74

Most people, including some natives of North India, tend to think that the entire Uttar Pradesh and Bihar speaks Bhojpuri. This is an unfortunate misconception. The fact is that the region popularly called the Hindi heartland or Hindi belt (BiharChhattisgarhHaryanaHimachal PradeshJharkhandMadhya PradeshRajasthanUttarakhandUttar Pradesh and the National Capital Territory of Delhi) have multiple languages. Both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have five to six local languages. 


They are considered dialects or Bolis of Hindi because they are spoken in geographically smaller regions and don’t have scripts of their own. In reality, they do share a strong affinity with Hindi and Urdu but are quite distinct in character. Most of them were spoken much before the modern standardized Hindi and Urdu came into existence. 


They may have fallen out of favour as literary languages but still play an important role in folk traditions, stories, poetry, songs and wedding rituals of their respective regions. Khadi Boli, Braj Bhasha, Kannauji, Bundeli, Bhojpuri and Awadhi are the main regional languages of Uttar Pradesh.


Awadhi is the cultural soul of the Awadh region that consists of Ayodhya-Faizabad, Barabanki, Lucknow, Unnao, Sitapur, Lakheempur, Kheeri, Sultanpur, Rae Bareli, Prayagraj (Allahabad), Basti, Gonda and Bahraich. As this is the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, Awadhi is also called Purabi or Purabiya which literally means Eastern.


It is also called Koshaali based on the ancient name of the region, Koshal. The popular saying ‘Kos-kos par badle paani chaar Kos par baani’ (Taste of water changes every two miles, language changes every eight miles) applies even to Awadhi as it varies greatly across different districts of Awadh.


The most interesting legend about Awadhi is the story of Ramcharitmanas. When Tulsidas chose Awadhi over Sanskrit for his magnum opus, it upset the pandits of Kashi. They found this choice of people’s language or ‘Lok Bhasha’ for retelling a religious text blasphemous and threatened to outcast Tulsidas.  It is believed that in response to this, he composed a rebellious verse that vehemently rejected the authority of these self-appointed custodians of religion. 


Dhoot kaho, awadhoot kaho, rajput kaho ke jolaha koho

Kou ki beti se beta na byaahab kou ki jaat bigarab na sou

Tulsi sarnaam ghulaamu hai raam ko jako ruche so kahe kachhu vohu

Maang ke khaaibo masjid ma rahibo lebe ke ek na debe ke dou


It is the Chhand or verse 106 and 107 of Uttarkand of Kavitavali, it means - let them call me a deceit or a detached saint, a prince or a weaver. I have no son to marry to anybody’s daughter and thereby defile his cast. Tulsi is well known as the slave of his master Ram, let anybody call him by any name they like. Tulsi will live by alms, sleep in the mosque and be free of all obligations.


According to a popular tradition, a copy of the Ramcharitmanas was kept inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at night, in the morning it was found with the words ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ (Truthful, Godly and Beautiful) inscribed on its first page, showing that Kashi Vishwanath Bhagwan had approved of Tulsi’s work. 


Thereafter, it was respectfully accepted by all and still remains one of the most read religious texts in India.


Awadhi has a rich vocabulary with words from Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian. Tulsidas used them all beautifully like Ram ‘Ghulam’ for himself and ‘Gareeb Niwaaj (Awadhi version of Ghareeb Nawaz) for Ram ji and Hanuman ji.


Awadhi lost some of its literary importance due to the advent of standardized Hindi that emerged from Khadi boli but there are several modern poets like Ramai Kaka, Padhees, Vanshidhar Shukl, Ghagh etc who chose to compose poetry in it. Several contemporary poets like Ramashankar ‘Vidrohi’ and Rafeeq Shadani chose Awadhi to write protest poetry, expressing concern over social and political issues. 


Here’s an excerpt from Rafeeq Shadani poem ‘Jiyo Bahadur Khaddar Dhari’ (Long live! Brave-lord the Khadi-wearer) which is a satire targeting khadi wearing politicians.


Dhumil bhayi Gandhi ke khadi
Pahere laage avsarvaadi
Ya to pahre bade parchaari
Des ka looto baari-baari
Jiyo Bahadur khaddar-dhari!


(Gandhi’s khadi has been soiled and its reputation tarnished since opportunists and fake publicists who loot the nation one by one started wearing it! Long live O brave lord khadi wearers) 

This poem was a sharp political satire, given below is a video of the Lakhnavi storyteller Himanshu Bajpai reciting some of Rafeeq Shadani’s light-hearted humorous poetry. It is a marvel that despite being illiterate Rafeeq Shadani composed such amazing poetry. Here video here https://youtu.be/K-gfq1FJUhA 

When looking at Awadhi from a contemporary lens, one finds that the field of poetry has been dominated by men, as there have not been many women poets who wrote in Awadhi.  However, it’s important to note that a huge repertoire of the Awadhi folk songs was composed by women, homemakers as well as professional performers. These songwriters remained anonymous but their collective contribution to Awadhi is undeniable. Malini Awasthi is a singer known for popularizing and keeping Awadhi folk music alive, here’s a beautiful rendition by her: https://youtu.be/5bHKHyjZRs4


Awadhi and Brajbhasha appear in many classical and semi-classical compositions of Hindustani music like Khayals, Thumris, Dadras etc. A neutralized, watered-down form of Awadhi and Brajbhasha can often be heard in Hindustani film (Bollywood) songs too, that’s why Awadhi is often confused with Brajbhasha and also Bhojpuri as these languages do have some similarities. Here is an example to explain their differences:


हमार नाव सीता आय औरु हम नखलऊ केरी रहै बारी हन।

Humaar naav Seeta aaye aur hum Nakhlau keri rahe baari han.

(Typical Awadhi speakers pronounce Lucknow as Nakhlau)

मेरो नाम राधा अएँ और मैं मथुरा की रहने बारी हउँ।

Mero naam Radha ayen aur main Mathura ki rahne baari haun.

हमार नाम रमा ह और हम पटना के रहै वाला बानी।

Humaar naam Rama ha aur hum Patna ke rahe vala baani.


Here’s is a simple and sweet word from Awadhi that all the readers can learn and enjoy using in everyday conversation: Neek, which means good or nice e.g ‘Tum bahut neek baat keho!’ It means, I like what you said or simply ‘Well-said!’



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Also read

1. History of Urdu

2. History of Hindi

3. How a Bihari lost his mother tongue to Hindi


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