I was planning a blog post but I spent the whole weekend goofing off which was not hard to do considering I spent about 8 hours glued to my chair watching really bad online streams of the India/Pakistan cricket match. The rest of the weekend I spent reading Hindavi poetry and realizing that there is absolutely no resource on the internet or at my university library to learn Hindavi vocabulary for an Urdu speaker. It’s really frustrating because that would be enormously helpful when one is reading a poem by Kabir and just needs the definition of a few unfamiliar words. I found some really good resources for Amir Khusro and Kabir’s poetry. Here’s a link to a collection of Kabir’s poetry in Nastaliq script which is useful if you can’t read Hindi. This is a very famous one:

Chalti chakki dekh kay diya Kabira roay
Doi paatan kay beech mein sabut bacha na koay

Looking at the grinding stones, Kabir laments
In the duel of wheels, nothing stays intact.

What actually got me started were listening to some beautiful recordings of Abida Parveen singing Kabir’s poetry, specifically this one (If you’re going to click on just one link on this post, please click on that one). I found the words for it on this forum

Bhalaa Hua Meri Mataki Phooti Rey,
Main To Paania Bharan Se Chchooti Rey

Ah sweet delight!
Now my clay jar has shattered,
Finally I am free from this water filling business

After that, I read some riddles attributed to Amir Khusro. Here’s a pretty one, and not too difficult1


Ek thaal motiyon se bhara, sab ke sir par ondha dhara,
Chaaron oar woh thaali phiray, moti us say ek na girey.

Its a giant saucer full of pearls, kept upside down on everyone’s head; In all four corners the saucer moves – not a single pearl ever falling down

Anyway, a few months ago I heard this recording of Rashid Khan singing a lovely little song which, I believe, is by Amir Khusro although I could not find it anywhere. The best I could do was this:

kahu kaise sakhi mohe laaj lage
mohe pee ki nazariya maar gayi
maine laaj ka ghoonghat khol diyo
piya jeet gaye main haar gayi

The strange thing about readiing or listening to Hindavi is that I sometimes have no idea what a particular verse is about for a long time but I feel like I know what it means, even if I don’t. An example is this video of Naheed Akhtar singing the very famous Naina milaike also attributed to Amir Khusro. I think it’s because Urdu and Hindi grammar originated from Hindavi (and its predecessor Khariboli) so despite the unfamiliar vocabulary the basic sound of the language is oddly familiar to an Urdu speaker. Not only that but it sounds incredibly comfortable and colloquial. After reading a bit of Hindavi poetry, Urdu poetry seems a bit more contrived in comparison almost as if the poet is supplementing his ordinary speech with a thesaurus of Persian in hand. Anyway, given the origins of Urdu that’s a fairly obvious point but it did get me thinking about how the lack of easily available information on Hindavi as a language distinct from both Hindi and Urdu is probably because Hindavi was such a victim of identity politics amidst the Hindi-Urdu controversy. (Hindustani — the language that Gandhi unsuccessfully put forward as a candidate for a national language — is essentially Hindavi).

It really got me thinking about the impact that Kabir and Khusro’s decisions to compose poetry in Hindavi had and the fact that they were conscious decisions — not Sanskrit, or Persian, but a language that people actually spoke. I read this essay by T. Vijayendra which describes the similar impact that Wali Dakhni’s poetry (in Dakhni) had on the “poetry establishment” in Delhi in 1700:

When Wali Dakhni (also known as Wali Aurangabadi and Wali Gujarati), a famous poet of Dakhni visited Delhi in 1700, he astonished the poets of Delhi with his ghazals. He drew wide applause from the Persian-speaking poets, some of who, after listening to Wali, also adopted the language of the people, ‘Urdu’, as the medium of their poetic expressions. Prominent poets — Shah Hatem, Shah Abro and Mir Taqi Mir — were among his admirers.

At that time in Delhi, the court poets were composing in Persian and Arabic. For others, Braj and Awadhi were the languages of literary and religious expressions. The spoken language of all was Khari Boli. When the poets listened to Wali in Dakhni language (which is also a variant of Khari Boli) they were struck by the fact that the spoken language of the people was capable of such rich literary expression.

1 the answer to the riddle is: the night sky


4 responses to “Hindavi

  1. Publius

    Nice post, and thanks for that wonderful Rashid Khan recording. A minor quibble, thaal or thaali is more accurately a plate rather than a saucer( although, of course, a plate containing pearls is more awkward , in English, than a saucer)

    • Rabia

      thanks Publius
      that whole cd by Rashid Khan would have been great except for their inexplicably terrible choice of music. It isn’t so obvious in that track but the others are unlistenable.

  2. Pagal_Aadmi_for_d

    Actually Hindavi/Khari Boli is still spoken in villages in the upper Do-Ab region of Western UP. I personally like the rustic informality of khari boli which sort of sounds like Hindustani with no Sanskrit or Persian words. This however might be the last generation of dehatis who actually speak some form of Khari Boli. With tv, education and urbanization, their children all speak standard Hindi. The real interesting trend in that region is the slow death march of Urdu. Urdu of course is flourishing in Pakistan but it will die off in it’s birthplace soon.

  3. Rabia

    thanks for a very informative comment!

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