Urdu literature

Urdu literature (Urdu: ادبیات اردو, “Adbiyāt-i Urdū”) has a history that is inextricably tied to the development of the Urdu language. While it tends to be dominated by poetry, especially the verse forms of the ghazal and nazm, it has expanded into other styles of writing, including that of the short story, or afsana. Urdu literature is mostly popular in Pakistan, where Urdu is the National language, as well as in India. It is also widely understood in Afghanistan.


Urdu literature originated some time around the 14th century in North India among the sophisticated gentry of the courts. The continuing traditions of Islam and patronisations of foreign culture centuries earlier by Muslim rulers, usually of Turkic or Afghan descent, 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 this cultural amalgamation.

Special contributors

Amir Khusro 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). He is credited with the systematization of northern Indian classical music, known as Hindustani, and 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 speaking a language that might be considered to be Urdu.Sultan Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah was a scholar in Persian and Arabic. He also wrote poetry in Telugu language, Persian language and Urdu language. His poetry has been compiled into Dewan or volume entitled "Kulliyat-e-Quli Qutub Shah." Muhammed Quli Qutub Shah had the distinction of being the first Saheb-e-dewan Urdu poet and is credited with introducing a new sensibility into prevailing genres of Persian/Urdu poetry. It is said that the Urdu language acquired the status of a literary language due to his contributions. He died in the year 1611.[1]

Sayyid Shamsullah Qadri is considered as the first researcher of Deccaniyat.[2] some of the works of Allama Hakeem Sayyid Shamsullah Qadri are Salateen e Muabber 1929,[3] Urdu-i-qadim 1930,[4] Tareekh E Maleebaar,[5] Mowarrikheen E Hind,[6] Tahfat al Mujahidin 1931,[7] Imadiya,[8] Nizam Ut Tawareekh,[9] Tareekh Zuban Urdu-Urdu-E-Qadeem,[10] Tareekh Zuban Urdu Al Musamma Ba Urdu-E-Qadeem,[11][12] Tareekh Zuban Urdu Yaani Urdu-E-Qadeem,[13] Tarikh Vol III,[14] Asaarul Karaam,[15] Tarikh[16] Shijrah Asifiya,[17] Ahleyaar,[18] Pracina malabar[19]

Dastaangoi (epics)

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 epic stories called Dastan (داستان). These long stories have complicated plots that deal with magical and otherwise fantastic creatures and events.

The genre originated in the Middle East 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 Hamza, recorded in the early seventeenth century, and the on longer extantBustan-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 the inclusion 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, and Gulzar-i-Chin (The Flower Bed of Chin) by Khalil Ali Khan Ashq.[20] Other famous Urdu dastans include Nau tarz-i murassa‘ by Husain ‘Atā Khān Tahsīn, Nau ā'īn-i hindī (Qissa-i Malik Mahmūd Gīti-Afroz) by Mihr Chand Khatrī, Jazb-i ‘ishq by Shāh Husain Haqīqat, Nau tarz-i murassa‘ by Muhammad Hādī (a.k.a. Mirzā Mughal Ghāfil), and Talism Hoshruba by Muhammad Husain Azad.


Tazkiras, are compilations of literary memoirs that include verses and maxims of the great poets along with biographical information and commentaries on their styles. They are often a collection of names with a line or two of information about each poet, followed by specifics about his composition. Some of this Tazkiras give biographical details, and a little idea of the style or poetical power is transmitted. Even the large anthologies do not systematically review an author's work. Most of them have the names in alphabetical order, but one or two are ordered by historical chronology. The majority quote only lyrics, and the quotations are usually chosen randomly.


Main article: Urdu poetry

Urdu poetry reached its peak in the 19th century. The most well-developed form of poetry is the ghazal, known for its quality and quantity within the Urdu tradition.


Urdu poets influenced by English and other European-language poetry began writing sonnets in Urdu in the early 20th century.[21] Azmatullah Khan (1887-1923) is believed to have introduced this format to Urdu poetry.[22] Other renowned Urdu poets who wrote sonnets are Akhtar Junagarhi, Akhtar Sheerani, Noon Meem Rashid, Mehr Lal Soni Zia Fatehabadi, Salaam Machhalishahari and Wazir Agha.


Initially, Urdu novels focused on urban social life, eventually widening in scope to include rural social life. They also covered the changing times under the progressive writing movement inspired by Sajjad Zaheer. However, the independence of Pakistan in 1947 greatly affected the novel, bringing up questions of identity and migration as can be seen in the major works of Abdullah Hussain and Quratulain Haider. Towards the end of the last century the novel took a serious turn towards the contemporary life and realities of the young generations of India. The most significant novels of the current generation of Indian novelists in Urdu, which demonstrate a new confidence in contemporary life, are Makaan by Paigham Afaqui, Do Gaz Zameen by Abdus Samad, and Pani by Ghazanfer. These works, especially Makaan, brought the Urdu novel out of the prevailing themes of the independence of Pakistan in 1947 and identity issues and took it into the realm of modern-day realities and issues of life in India. Makaan influenced many English writers such as Vikram Seth, who turned to novel writing. These Urdu novels further affected significant works such as Andhere Pag by Sarwat Khan, Numberdar Ka Neela by S M Ashraf and Fire Area by Ilyas Ahmed Gaddi. Paigham Afaqui's second major novel, Paleeta, was published in 2011 and depicts the tension of the political sickening of a common Indian citizen in the six decades after India's independence. Bewildered by the disappointing state of democracy and the transformation of Indian society into a mental desert the central character dies after leaving behind his writings which catch fire.

Rahman Abbas

Rahman Abbas is a major name in post-modernist Indian Urdu novels. His first Urdu novel, Nakhalistan Ki Talas (2004), which examined politics and identity crises of young Indian Muslims, created a storm in conservative Urdu literary circles, and he was consequently forced to resign from his post and briefly jailed on obscenity charges. EK Mamnua Muhabbat Ki Kahani (A Forbidden Love Story) and Khuda Ke Saaye Mein Ankh Micholi (Hide and Seek in the Shadow of God) are two recent novels by Abbas published in 2009 and 2011, respectively, that have been claimed to represent the first major shift in the post-modern narrative in Urdu literature. EK Mamnua Muhabbat ki Kahani was awarded the 2011 Best Novel of The Year by the Universal Society for Peace and Research (Aurangabad). The trilogy was published in the year 2013 under the title Teen Novel.

Famous novels

Urdu literature has included the short story form for slightly more than one hundred years. During this period it has passed through some major phases including the early romantic period, progressive writings, modernist writings, and the current phase. Although a number of male and female writers wrote short stories during the first phase (including both romantic stories and social criticisms), the short story crystallized as a regular part of Urdu literature in the growth of the writings of Munshi Premchand. His notable short stories include "Kafan" and "Poos Ki Raat". The Urdu short story gained momentum with the phenomenal publication of Angare, a collection of many writers towards the end of the life of Premchand. Writers like Ghulam Abbas, Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander and Ismat Chughtai, to name but a few, turned the short story into a major genre of Urdu literature.

The next generation of Urdu short story writers included Qurratulain Hyder, Qazi Abdul Sattar and Joginder Paul. The short story tradition continues with younger generation writers like Zahida Hina, Paigham Afaqui, Syed Mohd Ashraf, Salam Bin Razzaq, Naeem Baig, and Moinuddin Jinabade.[23]

Urdu short stories have dealt with a wide range of the dimensions of life, but the most famous stories concern the trauma of the independence of Pakistan in 1947 and the violence generated out of it. Towards the end of the last century, short stories became grounded in the complexity of daily life which can be seen in the unique collection of short stories in Paigham Afaqui's Mafia. An entirely different approach is seen in the collection of short stories T'abir by Moinuddin Jinabade and Taus Chaman Ka Maina by Nayyer Masood.


Urdu drama evolved from the prevailing dramatic traditions of North India raas as practiced by exponents like Nawab Waj Farman Fatehpuri id Ali Shah of Awadh. His dramatic experiments led to the famous Inder Sabha of Amanat and later this tradition took the shape of Parsi Theatre. Agha Hashr Kashmiri is the culmination of this tradition.

Urdu theatre traditions have greatly influenced modern Indian theatre. Among all the languages, Urdu (which was called Hindi by early writers), along with Gujrati, Marathi, and Bengali theatres have remained popular. Many Urdu dramas have also been made into films.

Classic playwrights include Prof Hasan, Ghulam Jeelani, J. N. Kaushal, Shameem Hanfi and Jameel Shaidayi. Danish Iqbal, Sayeed Alam, Shahid Anwar, Iqbal Niyazi and Anwar are a few of the post-modern playwrights actively contributing to Urdu drama.

Sayeed Alam is known for his wit and humour in plays like Ghalib in New Delhi, Maulana Azad and Big B.

Danish Iqbal's Dara Shikoh, directed by M S Sathyu, is considered a modern classic for its use of newer theatre techniques and a contemporary perspective. His other plays are Sahir, on the famous lyricist and revolutionary poet; Kuchh Ishq kiya Kuchh Kaam, a Celebration of the Faiz's poetry, featuring events from the early part of his life, particularly the events and incidents of pre-independence days which shaped his life and ideals; and Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan, another play inspired from Faiz's letters written from various jails during the Rawalpindi Conspiracy days. He has written 14 other plays including Dilli Jo Ek Shehr Thaa and Main Gaya Waqt Nahin hoon.

Shahid's Three B is also a significant play. He has been associated with many groups including 'Natwa'. Zaheer Anwar has kept the flag of Urdu Theatre flying in Kolkata. Unlike the writers of the previous generation, Sayeed, Shahid, Iqbal, and Zaheer do not write bookish plays but rather their work is a product of a vigorous performing tradition. Iqbal Niyazi of Mumbai has written several plays in Urdu. His play Aur Kitne Jalyanwala Baugh?? won several awards. Hence this is the only generation after Amanat and Agha Hashr who actually write for the stage and not for libraries.

Literary movements

Progressive Writers Movement

According to The Dawn, the Progressive Writers Movement in Urdu literature was the strongest movement after Sir Syed's education movement.


The modernist movement started in Urdu literature around 1960. This movement laid more stress on symbolic and other indirect expressions as opposed to direct and clear expressions. The most well-known names in this movement included Shamsur Rehman Farooqui and Gopichand Narang and the poets Noon Meem Rashid and Meeraji. Apart from them, a number of other poets like Zafer Iqbal, Nasir Kazmi, Bashir Bader and Shahryar are related to this movement.

Halqa e Arbab e Zauq

Halqa e Arbab e Zauq was a literary movement begun in Lahore, British Raj, India in 1936. Early members included poets Noon Meem Rashid, Zia Jallandhari, Muhtar Siddiqui, Hafeez Hoshiarpuri and Meeraji, brought to the meeting by his friend, Qayyum Nazar, an active member of the group. The Halqa was the second modern literary movement in Urdu poetry in the 20th century, founded just a couple of years after the leftist Progressive Writers' Movement, and is considered to be the most influential group on modern poetry in the Urdu Language.


Post-modernism was introduced to Urdu literature by Gopi Chand Narang. Many other critics in Urdu literature are also attached to this approach to criticism. Post-modernism does not claim to be a movement and does not demand any writer to adopt a particular style of writing. It generally concentrates on a method of understanding contemporary literature in the light of its content—mostly examining features like feminism, dalit, regional and other types of literature as opposed to seeking uniformity in the global literature on the basis of internationally established trends.

Independent writers

By the end of the 1980s the atmosphere in Urdu literature became very depressing. The progressive movement was almost dead and the modernist movement had started running out of ideas. But this was also the time for an upsurge of new creative forces rooted in the new life that was metamorphosing the socio-economic and political climate in the sub-continent. It was under this climate that the a new era of fiction started with the publication of Paigham Afaqui's novel Makaan. Afaqui and other writers refused to be identified by any movement and displayed complete independence in using personally developed styles and techniques for writing novels and explored their own philosophy and vision of life. It was a serious departure from the theme of independence which dominated writers like Qurtul Ain haider and Abdullah Hussain and the theme of existentialism which was the benchmark of modernism. Writers like Ghazanfer and Musharraf Alam Zauqi have further widened the horizons of new themes and concerns.

Theatre of the Absurd

Theatre of the Absurd is a new and somewhat rare genre in the history of Urdu Literature. The first play of the genre was written and published by the Pakistan research-writer, poet, lawyer and columnist Mujtaba Haider Zaidi in December 2008 under the title Mazaron Ke Phool[24] (i.e. Graveyard Flowers).

See also


  1. J. S. Ifthekhar (January 12, 2012). "Solemnity envelops Qutb Shahi tombs". The Hindu.
  2. http://www.usindh.edu.pk/tahqiq/articles/18.pdf
  3. "Salateen E Muabber". Muslim University Press Aligarh. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  4. "Urdu-i-qadim". Urdu literature - History and criticism. Lucknow : [s.n.], 1930.
  5. Sayyed ShamsUllah Qadri (1930). "Tareekh - Malabaar". Hindustan - Malabaar (in Urdu). Aligarh: Muslim University Press. p. 98.
  6. Syed Shams Ullah Qadri (1933). "Moorrakheen-E-Hind". Bibliographical Studies In Indo-Muslim History (in Urdu). HYDERABAD DECCAN: THE MAGAZINE TAREEKH. p. 139.
  7. Tuhfat al-mujahidin.
  8. Sayyed Shams Ullah Qadri (1925). "Imadia". Imad-Ul-Mulk - Sawaneh Tazkira - Nawabeen Awadh - Imad-Ul-Mulk (in Urdu). Hyderabad: Tarikh office. p. 330.
  9. Sayyed ShamsUllah Qadri (1930). "Nizam Ut Tawareekh". GENERALITIES (in Urdu). Hyderabad: Tareekh Press. p. 158.
  10. Sayyed Shams Ullah Qadri. "Tareekh Zuban Urdu - Urdu-E-Qadeem". Urdu Zuban - Tareekh (in Urdu). Taj Press. p. 134.
  11. Sayyed Shams Ullah Qadri (1967). "Tareekh Zuban Urdu Al Musamma Ba - Urdu-E-Qadeem". Urdu Adab - Tareekh (in Urdu). p. 228.
  12. Shamsullah Quadri (1967). "Urdu-i-qadim". Urdu language - History. Lucknow: Matba naval Kishore.
  13. Sayyed ShamsUllah Qadri (1925). "Tareekh Zuban Urdu Yaani - Urdu-E-Qadeem". Urdu Adab - Tareekh Urdu-E-Qadeem - Tareekh (in Urdu).
  14. Sayyid ShamsUllah Qadri (1931). "Tarikh Vol III". GEOGRAPHY. BIOGRAPHY. HISTORY (in Urdu).
  15. Sayyid Shamsullah Qadri. "Asaarul Karaam". Tareekh Hindustani Musalman. Hyderabad: Anjuman Imdaad Bahami Maktaba Abr Aheemiya. p. 156.
  16. Sayyid Shamsullah Qadri (1930). "Tarikh". Geography. Biography. History (in Urdu). Tarikh Press Hyderabad. p. 1.
  17. Murattib Shams Ullah Qadri (1938). "Shijrah Asifiya". Tareekh Asifiya Hyderabad. p. 120.
  18. Shamsullah Quadri (1930). "Ahleyaar". Urdu poetry (in Urdu).
  19. Hakim sayyid Shamsullah Qadri (1954). "Pracina malabar". Pakistan - History. V. Abdul Qaiyyum (trans.). Kazhikode: Bushra Pub. House. p. 1.
  20. http://www.forumpakistan.net/dastan-t144.html
  21. Encyclopedic dictionary of Urdu literature p.565 https://books.google.com/books?isbn=8182201918
  22. The Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature (Volume Five) p.4146 https://books.google.com/books?isbn=8126012218
  23. https://books.google.com/books?id=QA1V7sICaIwC&pg=PA520&lpg=PA520&dq=Moinuddin+Jinabade&source=bl&ots=i_n96-_QIe&sig=Kzp3PVsVyuhl0tJ96eLhqSjzPak&hl=en&sa=X&ei=WNQKT56_B4LyrQein63yDw&ved=0CEAQ6AEwBTge#v=onepage&q=Moinuddin%20Jinabade&f=false
  24. Ilm-o-Irfan Publishers, Urdu Bazaar, Lahore, Pakistan

Further reading

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