The Dawn: 22nd February, 2013

Language: The rise of the Persian and the early Punjabi!

Mushtaq Soofi 

The conquest of Iran paved the way for the Arabs’ march towards the Oxus region in the north. They came face to face with the Turks who were under the influence of Buddhism and a host of Shamanist religions. Their conversion to Islam through a gradual process created a new faith based sense of solidarity that made them a dominant power in the central Asia .

Among the small kingdoms which emerged, the Ghazni principality in Afghanistan became powerful when it captured the trans-Indus territories of the Shahiya kingdom in 977.

One of its rulers in the eleventh century, Mahmud of Ghazni, a Turk, both abhorred and revered, appeared at the stage of history as one of the principal political actors. The Punjab became the prime target of his repeated attacks. On the one hand he proclaimed himself the champion of Islam (Sunni brand), on the other he barely concealed his insatiable lust for wealth.

In his pursuit of gold he neither spared Hindu temples nor Ismailia mosques. He plundered the sun temple and Shiite places of worship in Multan. An important place of worship as a sign of distinct faith and repository of wealth always attracted the attention of rulers for myriad reasons.

Hindu rulers were not always averse to plundering temples and mosques. But Mahmud made plundering an element of his war strategy that immensely added to his treasury and also to his image as an iconoclastic general.

His carefully crafted religious image was little more than a political ploy to seek the support of conservative Muslim clergy in his effort to expand his kingdom. The fact may surprise some that a sizeable chunk of Indian mercenaries was part of his army and one of his commanders was Hindu. He finally captured large parts of Punjab in 11th century and made Lahore its capital.

The Ghaznavid rule in Punjab set in a process which transformed the Indian society in all its facets with huge historical consequences. People, particularly from lower castes and oppressed classes, started converting to Islam. The Muslim rule created conditions where Muslim scholars and saints could preach their faith as one that promised equality and dignity to all irrespective of caste and colour.

The Turks under the Iranian cultural influence adopted the Persian as the language of the court, though their mother tongue was Turkish. The Arabic of Semitic origins was their religious language. So in a new historical context the Persian and the Arabic played an important role in the evolution of contemporary languages in India.

What comes out of this new cultural matrix first, is an epoch-making book ‘Kashful Mehjub’ (Revealing the veiled) by an intellectually inclined mystic, Ali Bin Usman Hajveri, popularly known as Data Ganjbuksh who migrated to Lahore in early 11th century.

His book, written in Persian, on the subject of the Sufi doctrine and practice, the first treatise of its kind, remains unexcelled in the history of Muslim mystic tradition.

The Muslim rule had a deep impact on the language of Punjab by whatever name you call it. What we know as contemporary Punjabi is the product of socio-cultural and religious interaction between the locals and new comers. We find Natha poetry of the Natha Order in the tenth and eleventh centuries, vocabulary of which now sounds unfamiliar and archaic.

Immediately after the Natha poetry, we come across the religious literature of Ismaili Shiites of Multan in the form of hymns called Ginan. The Ginans are a kind of bridge between the Natha compositions and contemporary Punjabi, showing the language in transition. They have indigenous words as well as borrowings from the Arabic and the Persian.

During the Ghazni rule, Mas’ud sa’d Salmon, born in Lahore in the 11th century, wrote his poetry both in Persian and Hindavi (the Punjabi). He loved Hindavi as much as he loved Lahore. His much referred to Hindavi poetry unfortunately seems to have been lost.

A phenomenal figure who transformed the literary and cultural course in Punjab was Fariduddin Mas’ud, fondly called Baba Farid Shakarganj, a highly revered saint of the Chishti Sufi order. He was born in 12th century in Kothewal, Multan.

Though schooled in Arabic and Persian as was the tradition, he chose local language, his mother tongue as a medium of poetic expression which not only set the precedent to be followed by the later classical Punjabi poets and writers but also laid the foundation of contemporary Punjabi.

His idiom shows a refined blend of indigenous vocabulary and loan words, a sign of not only of his artistic mastery but also that of a starting point of maturing of a new literary tradition. He is undisputedly acknowledged as the pioneer of the Punjabi literature.

His people-friendly world view and defiance of oppressive order, assimilated and developed by later poets and writers, permeates the entire intellectual tradition which stands in a sharp contrast to what the Muslim ruling elite, alienated and aloof from the masses, flaunted as their superior culture in the guise of intellectual products created in the Persian.

All the high brow stylized Persian creative expression was little more than the detritus of royalty obsessed Iranian literary tradition that was as barren as a rock in the Indian milieu.

Innumerable poets and writers patronized by the Muslim royal courts who created a huge corpus supportive of oppressive rule, stand consigned to the dust bin of history. Amir Khusro, after Ali Bin Usman Hajveri, is the lone survivor who despite his hobnobbing with the royals developed a passion for Chishti Sufi order known for its catholicity that connected him with the people.

His family background may have some bearing on his outlook which was supportive of pluralistic culture, some progressive Sufi orders were striving for. His mother was Indian and father a Turk.

The Persian maintained its position as the language of power till the mid nineteenth century. At the opposite pole, the Punjabi language, spoken by the people, was being developed by our poets and writers at an unfaltering pace, creating a highly dynamic repertoire of unmatchable quality, reflecting the sorrows and the dreams of our people.

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