The Genesis of Persian and Urdu Languages and Literatures in India


  • Arshad Islam, International Islamic University Malaysia


The Indian subcontinent has contained a vast array of ethnicities, cultures, traditions and languages since the beginning of civilisation. While classical Indian civilisation was based on Sanskrit, the sacerdotal language of the Brahmins, this sacred language did not affect the general mass of people, nor literature beyond a privileged elite. The first true lingua franca that transcended caste barriers to a certain extent was Persian, which was adopted by the ruling dynasties of Muslim India (who themselves were generally Turks or indigenous Indians rather than Persians), their Hindu peers, as well as the civil servants. However, from the beginning of the seventeenth century Urdu began to form around the lower echelons of society as a pidgin common tongue to enable communication between the myriad ethnicities of the Mughal Empire, ultimately restricting Persian to a refined language of culture and courtly life in the Mughal court and becoming a vibrant and dynamic language in its own right, thus becoming the first literary language with a substantial original contribution from Indians since ancient Sanskrit. This article charts the adoption of Persian and later the emergence of Urdu as spoken and literary languages in the Indian subcontinent using original sources in those languages.


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Author Biography

Arshad Islam, International Islamic University Malaysia

Arshad Islam is Associate Professor of history at International Islamic University Malaysia. He joined the University in 1991 and has since taught a number of courses in Southeast and South Asian, Islamic and Central Asian history and civilisation. His research interests include the Malay Sultanates, the coming of Islam to South and Southeast Asia and Central Asian history. He has been invited to give lectures in Azerbaijan, Canada, India, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Turkey, on topics related to history and Islamic civilisation.




How to Cite

Islam, International Islamic University Malaysia, A. (2015). The Genesis of Persian and Urdu Languages and Literatures in India. Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, 9(2), 158–172. Retrieved from