Urdu literature

Urdu literature has a history that is inextricably tied to the development of that very language, Urdu, in which it is written. While it tends to be dominated by poetry, the range of expression achieved in the voluminous library of a few major verse forms, especially the ghazal and nazm, has led to its continued development and expansion into other styles of writing, including that of the short story, or afsana. Being the national language, Urdu literature is mostly popular in Pakistan. Additionally, it enjoys popularity in India and is widely understood in Afghanistan.

The beginnings

Urdu literature originated some time around the 14th century in North India amongst the sophisticated gentry of Persian courts. The continuing traditions of Islam and Persia marked their influence on the Urdu language given that both cultural heritages were strongly present throughout Urdu territory. The Urdu language, with a vocabulary almost evenly split between Sanskrit-derived Prakrit and Arabo-Persian words, was a reflection of the cultural amalgamation.

Special contributors

A man who exercised great influence on the initial growth of not only Urdu literature, but the language itself (which only truly took shape as distinguished from both Persian and proto-Hindi around the 14th century) was the famous Amir Khusro. Credited, indeed, with the very systematization of northern Indian classical music, known as Hindustani, he wrote works both in Persian and Hindavi. While the couplets that come down from him are representative of a latter-Prakrit Hindi bereft of Arabo-Persian vocabulary, his influence on court viziers and writers must have been transcendental, for a century after his death Quli Qutub Shah was considered speaking a language that might have possibly been Urdu.

Main prose component:

Urdu literature was generally composed more of poetry than of prose. The prose component of Urdu literature was mainly restricted to the ancient form of long-epic stories called Dastaan (داستان) often originally written in Persian. These long-epic stories would deal with magical and otherwise fantastic creatures and events in a very complicated plot. Dastan, as a genre, originated in Iran and was disseminated by folk storytellers. It was assimilated by individual authors. Dastan’s plots are based both on folklore and classical literary subjects. Dastan was particularly popular in *Urdu literature, typologically close to other narrative genres in Eastern literatures, such as Persian masnawi, Punjabi qissa, Sindhi waqayati bait, etc., and also reminiscent of the European novel. The oldest known Urdu dastans are Dastan-i-Amir Hamra, recorded in the early seventeenth century, and the extinct Bustan-iKhayal (‘The Garden of Imagination’ or ‘The Garden of Khayal’) by Mir Taqi Khayal (d. 1760). Most of the narrative dastans were recorded in the early nineteenth century, representing contaminations of ‘wandering’, motifs borrowed from the folklore of the Middle East, central Asia and northern India. These include Bagh-oBahar (‘The Garden and Spring’) by Mir Amman, Mazhab-i-Ishq (The Religion of Love) by Nihalchand Lahori, Araish-i-Mahfil (‘The Adornment of the Assembly’) by Hyderbakhsh Hyderi, Gulzar-i-Chin (‘The Flower Bed of Chin’) by Khalil Ali Khan Ashq, and the smaller dastans