Culture is a mix of what we see, hear, wear, read, and look at. It is an interesting flux of what we soak and discard. Languages are shaped through these similar channels and thus contain a significant amount of what the high culture is largely communicating to the masses. With the increasing segregation in classes, the high and low-brow works presuppose their places in the society. Languages are already charged with and penned down through the systems of oppression are slowly ceasing to be a mere medium of communication. We are on the brink of endangering so many languages which were once an integral part of our linguistic cultures.
The structures of multicultural polyphony through which India survived have been unprecedented. If we go back to the aspects of Bhakti and Sufi literature then we would see that multiple mother tongues coexisted and were used in a secular manner which in turn maintained the linguistic integrity of oral traditions at its core. Contrary to popular notions of the present times language can never be inherently linked to religion. It is an infusion and transfusion of different mother tongues combined together and giving birth to a ‘new language’. There cannot be a ‘pure language’ so to say and we can easily find the resonance between words in different languages.
Literature and art flows through culture as blood in our arteries and veins and the intermix of vernacular in the sufi and bhakti traditions exemplifies this oneness. The target listeners and readers of storytelling through traditional literary forms remained the common people, it was written by and for the people who can associate with the idea of a coalesced spiritual state where rituals, superstitions, and rigid rules were almost discarded. The bhakti tradition emerged from Southern part of India, travelled towards the East, and then towards the Western part whereas sufi tradition began largely through the centre which was Delhi. It then moved towards the other parts consequently. Language was mainly a mix of different bhashas and a poet was not limited to having a single medium. They wrote in Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Braj basha, Khari boli, Urdu, Hindavi, Sindhi, and others.
This once made the strict differentiation between religions difficult. Guru Granth Sahib consits of poetry and verses penned down by sufis and Nazeer Akbarabadi wrote verses adorning Krishna and Guru Nanak. Apart from transcending the rigidities of ritualistic worship these writers also spoke against the varna or caste system. Dalit saints were writing dohas, kirtans, and verses reiterating the limitations of caste system. This later on made it all the more difficult for their works to be used and appropriated and their historical backgrounds were either changed or shaped to serve the interests of the ruling caste which still remains a highly debatable venture. The conceptions of sexuality and gender were also in a way unpacked through South Indian poets like Andal and Akka Mahadevi.
The works shifted and were shaped in the flavors of the regions they travelled to. When moving towards western India Kabir’s writing turns Vaishnavite and gets infused with sufi forms when coming towards east. Some of these writers travelled extensively and though it seems like a traditional form of worship but pertaining to that period of time it was radically subversive. We can see the revival of the role of an individual in the society where mediations were ceasing to exist and communities were more harmonized in nature.
Urdu at one point of time served as the language of resistance. and we specifically see this throughout the nationalist movement. The journey from 20th century oratures towards the freedom struggle where we see writers like Premchand, Manto, Chugtai and not to forget 'The Progressive Writers association'. Syed Fazl-Ul Hasan coined the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (translates as ‘Long Live the Revolution) which went on to become a prominent symbol of freedom struggle.
The bhakti and sufi poets were later on appropriated to serve the dominant influence. Different religions tried to fit these works in the box of their rhythms and rituals but none succeeded. The whole idea of these poets and their works started to move away from the same boxes. We must decode the literary forms from that period to understand the holistic and multilingual layers of our culture.
As we moved from a form of linguistic nationalism (and here the concept of nationalism focused more upon achieving independence as a nation), towards regional/religional/monolingual nationalism we see the segregation of vernacular from the dominance of one language. The beauty of this nation lies in its soup bowl like structure but sadly it is tilting more towards being a salad bowl where the differences are italicized to form distinctions between people solely to move towards a sectarian politics.
Are we moving towards killing linguistic uniqueness?
To read more articles by Yashasvi Gaur- CLICK HERE.