Persian Language in Mughal India

It is a very well known fact that Mughal literary culture was a flourishing one. There were several achievements made in the realm of poetry and Persian writing. While the court followed a system of patronage for the nurturing and cultivation of talent, the Mughals, it must be remembered, were Chaghta’i Turks. This last bit is particularly significant given the fact that other Turks outside of Iran were not as enthusiastic about the Persian tongue.

How did Persian as a language then come to thrive under Mughal rule? How did a language not spoken by the Mughals originally become THE language of Mughal literature?

If one looks at it chronologically, Persian was not dominant with the early Mughals. The Baburnama was recorded in Turkish. Humayun too enjoyed and used the Turkish language and Turkish poetry was heard and patronised in the court even after Humayun’s return from Persia. Turkish was present even in Akbar the Great’s time.

One theory stipulates that the Mughals had no choice but to use Persian as the language in continuation with the legacy of the Delhi Sultanate. But pre-Mughal culture also saw the rise of Hindavi – a language that incorporated Persian culture, especially its sufism.

But this language was not to be used by the Mughals, hence this theory of language legacy stood rejected in light of evidence that a deliberate choice was made to adopt the Persian tongue as opposed to the local Hindavi for purposes of literary culture.

How then did the language become synonymous with the flourishing literature in the peak of Mughal time, especially with Akbar? For this, it would be necessary to delve into the history of the foundation of the Mughal Empire itself. And, (you guessed it!) that would be the fascinating subject of the next post.