288 Pages, Paperback
ISBN: 969-516-119-7.

Price: Rs.295
Price: $ 10.00






Urdu Literature



David J. Mathews

Christopher Shackle

Shahrukh Husain


For language as vital and as spread in the subcontinent of India and Pakistan – now also in so many parts of the world – Urdu has had surprisingly little exposure.

Written by experts for the  general reader, this short book explains why Urdu literature continues to exert its special fascination for those who can enjoy its beauties in the original. Those  unable to do so will now find a vivid description of the rich heritage of poetry first  created in the declining years of the Mughal  empire, which was  adapted to meet the challenge posed by the  British Raj,  then  transformed to express the people’s  aspirations during the fight for independence  and its aftermath.

This major  literature at last receives the concise and vigorous treatment in English it has  long deserved. The  authors hope it will prove as enjoyable to read as it was to write.

David J. Matthews was formerly Senior Lecturer in Urdu and Nepali at the school of Oriental and African  Studies, University  of London. He has published a number of works relating to Urdu literature, including  many translations of significant classical Urdu works.  One of his major interests has been the poetry of the Deccan .

Christopher Shackle is Professor of the Modern Languages of South Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies,  university of London. In  addition to  studies   of various aspects of Urdu Literature, he had published a number of  works on the Sikhs and their  scriptures, and on the regional languages and literatures of Pakistan.

Shahrukh Husain has long and varied journalistic experience, and has written several books on aspects of both  European and Asian culture. Coming from a prominent South Asian background, she maintains a particular interest in the Urdu poetry of the twentieth century.


The language in its context

As the national language of Pakistan and as one of the official languages of India, Urdu ranks as one of the most important languages of the subcontinent of South Asia. Yet its status as a language and the history of its development are in many ways paradoxical. It is grammatically almost identical with Hindi, the national language of India, and yet the most violent disputes arise between supporters of the two languages. It is one of the most widely spoken languages of the subcontinent, and has been further carried by emigration to many other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, and yet there is nowhere any solid central territory where people speak nothing but Urdu. It is for most Pakistani and Indian Muslims now one of the proudest symbols of their cultural identity, and yet the mainstream of its literary development extends back only some two-and-a-half centuries, and the term ‘Urdu’ itself came to be applied to the language still more recently.

Since any literature relies on language for its expression, we may best begin with an overall account of the Urdu language, which will help to explain such apparent paradoxes and related puzzles at the outset by setting them in their historical and linguistic context. This account is intended only as an introductory outline, since many details will be taken up later at appropriate points in our description of the history of Urdu literature.

Urdu has always been directly linked to the Muslims of the subcontinent, but its origins can be dated only to a period many centuries later than the foundation of Islam itself. In the great surge of Islam beyond the borders of Arabia under the early Caliphs which followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad in AD 632, the first parts of the world to come under Muslim rule were the warring empires of Byzantium and Persia. The energy absorbed by the annexation of these vast territories inhibited a further expansion of the Caliphate beyond the Pyrenees in the west, or much beyond the historic boundaries of the old Iranian empires in the east. It is true that an expedition in AD 711 led by Muhammad bin Qasim succeeded in subjugating Sind and the lower Panjab, but this remained only a peripheral outpost of the Islamic world. Trade links between Arabia and South India also resulted in the early establishment of small Muslim communities, but the Moplah Muslims of Kerala too have historically remained an isolated group.


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