Why Did Shah Hatim's Collected Works Spawn a Child?

Dudney, Arthur

One of the celebrated Urdu poets of the eighteenth century was Shah Hatim (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, Shah Hatim changed his mind about his diction after publishing his Collected Works [dīvān] and so prepared a new dīvān, entitled Dīvānzādah, or Child of the Collected Works, to reflect his new sensibilities. Many Persian and Urdu poets published multiple dīvāns, but none are so radically different from one another as Shah Hatim's. This paper examines the Dīvānzādah's preface, which is beguilingly short and simple at just two printed pages, and considers the larger context of Shah Hatim'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 Hatim 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.