Why Did Shah Hatim's Collected Works Spawn a Child?
One of the celebrated Urdu poets of the eighteenth century was Shah Hatim (1699-1783), who is regarded as particularly influential because he abandoned the prevailing style of Urdu composition, which freely mixed indigenous Sanskrit-derived words with Persian and Arabic ones, in favor of a style in which the technical vocabulary was purely Perso-Arabic. Uniquely in the annals of Urdu literary history, Shah Hatim changed his mind about his diction after publishing his Collected Works [dīvān] and so prepared a new dīvān, entitled Dīvānzādah, or Child of the Collected Works, to reflect his new sensibilities. Many Persian and Urdu poets published multiple dīvāns, but none are so radically different from one another as Shah Hatim's. This paper examines the Dīvānzādah's preface, which is beguilingly short and simple at just two printed pages, and considers the larger context of Shah Hatim's aesthetic choices. I will argue that his desire to Persianize Urdu is a reflection of a sociolinguistic landscape in which vernacular literatures were becoming more assertive but Persian remained a high prestige language which was perceived as capable of elevating vernacular composition. Although Indian literatures had drawn on Persian tropes and vocabulary for centuries, what appears to be new in the mid-eighteenth century is a sense that Persian could be a vehicle by which vernacular literature could be made more respectable. Shah Hatim provides us with perhaps the only self-reflective prose on Urdu composition from the eighteenth century, and it is a window on how the torch of literary production was passed from the classical language, Persian, to the vernacular, Urdu.
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More About This Work
- Academic Units
- Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
- Published Here
- May 3, 2010
Revision of paper presented at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference on the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, Columbia University, April 15-17, 2010.