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The Story of Rekhta

Journey of Rekhta as a language over the last eight centuries

Rekhta, both as a term and a language has evolved with diverse interpretations over the last eight centuries. Etymologically, "Rekhta" signifies both scattered and mixed, embodying a language that creatively blends various dialects. Beyond linguistics, the term holds musical significance. In the mid-seventeenth century, Alauddin Barnavi, in his 1655 treatise on musicology titled "Chishtiya Bihishtiya," identified Rekhta as a musical composition wherein Persian and Hindi intertwine, creating a harmonious fusion that manifests as a distinctive raga and taala. Therefore, it seamlessly aligns with poetry, which is evident in the development of Rekhta as a medium for poetic expression over the centuries.

The language we recognize today as Urdu has gone by various names, including Hindavi, Hindi, Dehlavi, Gujari, Deccani, and Rekhta. In a broad sense, Rekhta has evolved to establish its unique identity as a language of literary expression, drawing upon Khariboli and Brajbhasha while incorporating a rich blend of Perso-Arabic vocabulary. Its developmental trajectory reveals an assimilation of diverse linguistic and cultural areas, including those associated with Sufi and yogic influences. Unlike other languages that developed along singular paths, Rekhta took a multilateral approach, being written in various scripts such as Persian, Gurmukhi, Kaithi, and Nagri by authors and saints from Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu traditions.

In the thirteenth century, the iconic poet Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) evolved a language for his poetical compositions with an extremely creative blending of Persian and Hindavi. This language came to be known as Rekhta. This famous ghazal is often quoted in this context and is credited for being the first ghazal of Urdu:


Ze haal-e miskeen makun taghaaful duraai nainan banaai batiyaan
Ke taab-e hijraan na daaram ai jaan ne lehu kaahey lagaai chhatiyaan

Shabaan-e hijraan daraaz choon zulf o roz-e waslat chuun umr-e kotaah
Sakhi piya ko jo main na dekhoon to kaise kaatoon andheri ratiyaan

Yakaa yak az dil do chashm jaadu ba-sad farebam ba-burd taskeen
Kisey padi hai jo jaa sunaawey piyarey pee ko hamaari batiyaan

Chuun shamm-e sozaan chuun zarra hairaan ze mehr-e-aan mah bagashtan aakhir
Na neend nainan na ang chainan na aap aawey na bhejey patiyaan

Ba haqq-e aan mah ke roz-e mahshar ba-daad maara fareb Khusro
Sapeet man ke duraae raakhuun jo aae paaun piya ki khatiyaan (Khusrau)

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Rekhta, the newly evolved language, continued to acquire its roots in northern India, and it was used creatively in the Sant and Sufi discourses. In the seventeenth century, Wali Deccani (1667-1707) surprised literary readers by evolving a poetic diction drawn upon Persian and Hindavi and setting almost a model for the Delhi poets to practice this evolving language with greater confidence. This Hindavi ghazal paved the way for its larger acceptance in the courts of the Mughal emperors and the nobles. This period, as well as the succeeding period, also saw the Nirgun saints, the Krishna devotees, the authors of Guru Nanak’s Janmsakhis, and the court poets of Rajasthan using Rekhta as the preferred medium of secular and religious expression.

It was Meer Taqi Meer (1723-1810), who deliberated upon Rekhta more seriously in the eighteenth century and self-confessedly used Rekhta as the language of his poetical compositions. In addition, he appropriated the word Rekhta interchangeably for poetry. He even theorized upon Rekhta and classified it into six categories with different styles of linguistic intermixing of Hindi and Persian. He liked this new-found language for his poetic expression in no uncertain terms:


Dil kis tarah na khainchein ashaar Rekhtey ke
Behtar kiya hai main ne is aib ko hunar se


One of the prominent poets and a close contemporary of Meer, Qayem Chadpuri (1723-1793), also appropriated this language with pride:


Qayem main rekhta ko diya khilat-e qubool
Warna ye pesh-e ahl-e hunar kya kamala tha

Qayem main ghazal taur kiya rekhta karna
Ik baat lachar sib a-zabaan-e Dakani thi


Interestingly, the great poet Nazeer Akbarabadi (1735-1830) chose this language for himself and praised it as much:


Yaar ke aagey padha ye rekhta jaa kar Nazeer
Sun ke bola waah waha achha kahaa achha kahaa


Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi (1751-1824) also chose to use this language for his ghazal. He said so in express terms:


Tha jo sher-e raast sar-wo bostaan-e Rekhta
Ab wahi hai lala-i zard-e khizaan-e Rekhta

Kya Rekhta kam hai Mushafi ka
Buu aati hai is mein Farsi ki


Even Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869), the prominent poet of the nineteenth century, recognized Meer as the master of Rekhta. Despite writing in Rekhta himself, he credited Meer with authenticating the language. He acknowledged Meer’s mastery but considered himself no less a master in using this language for his poetry:

Rekhta ke tumhein ustaad naheen ho Ghalib
Kehtey hain agley zamaaney mein koi Meer bhi tha


In addition to acknowledging Meer's influence, Ghalib also praised Rekhta for how well it suited his style of literary expression.


Tarz-e Bedil mein rekhta kehna
Asadullah Khan qayaamat hai

Jo yuun kahey ke rekhta kunke ho rash-e Farsi
Gufta-i Ghalib ek baar padh ke usey suna ke yuun


Rekhta grew and prospered in the Mughal court, where it was first called Zaban-e Urdu-i Mu’all-i Shahjahanabad. Later, it got shorter and was called Zabaan-e Urdu-i Mu’alla. After that, people started calling it Zaban-e-Urdu, and finally, it became known as Urdu. With an intermixing of vocabulary from Persian, the predominant language of the day, Rekhta, now called Urdu, got reconfigured from poet to poet and from age to age. It acquired its intriguing character, distinguishing it as a robust language of poetic expression. It finally came to stay for good and for good reasons.

In the 21st century, the language we know as Urdu is another avatar of Rekhta, a rich product and manifestation of the inclusive cultural manifestations of India, Pakistan, and the rest of the Urdu-speaking world. Urdu is a language that blends well with different cultures and traditions, keeps changing, and takes words from various dialects and languages. It picks up influences from literature, movies, everyday life at home and work, schools, and markets. Today, Urdu is another form of Rekhta, a secular language of greater connectivity, cohesion, and togetherness.

Jashn-e-Rekhta | 8-9-10 December 2023 - Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Near India Gate - New Delhi

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