The Suppressed History of Hindi

Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850-1885) became the father of Modern Hindi Literature, because he understood Lord Macaulay better than Hindu intellectuals of today, who condemn the Macaulay Minute (1835) without having read it. Bharatendu grasped Macaulay’s Protestant view that a mother-tongue is far more important a tool of nation-building than a sacred but dead language, such as Sanskrit. He agreed with the Vernacularists in his time that 14 or so dialects collectively called “Hindi” could be enriched by ideas adopted from more developed languages such as English and French. Therefore, he was transmitting the Christian view on nation-building to his fellow countrymen when he said,

Nij Bhasha Unnati Ahe, sab unnati ko mul.
Bin nij bhsha-gyan ke, mitat na hiy ko sul.
Vividh kala shikha amit, gyan anek prakar
Sab ddesan se le karhu, bhasha mahi prachar

Progress is made in one’s mother tongue, the foundation of all progress.
Without the knowledge of the mother tongue, there is no cure for heart’s pain.
Many arts and education, infinite knowledge of various kinds,
Should be taken from all countries, but propagated in one’s mother tongue.

Sadly, until Bharatendu’s time, caste prejudice and cultural arrogance had prevented the Hindu religio-intellectual aristocracy from developing the language of the people that we now call “Hindi.” It was the painstaking toil of the Christian movement that gave us what has become our unofficial “national language.” Protestant Christianity with help from some Roman Catholics and many enlightened Hindus created Hindi because they were committed to moving the “Backwards” forward.

The Older Meaning of “Hindi”
During Bharatendu’s time, the term “Hindi” did not refer to the language that you read in the pages ofFORWARD Press. It was a generic name given by Muslims to dozens of languages – just as the Muslim term “Hindu” referred to thousands of gods and goddesses, different and even contradictory beliefs and practices, oppressors and the oppressed beyond the “Sindh” river.

Sir George Abraham Grierson, who earned the right to become the Superintendent of the prestigious Linguistic Survey of India in 1898, came to Bengal in 1873. From 1880 he served as the Inspector of Schools in Bihar and then as the Additional Commissioner of Patna. He had a position that allowed him to pursue personal pleasure and power. But the spirit of Christ enabled him to use his spare time not for indulgence but to understand the people he was called to serve (govern). He focused his attention on their dialects in order to retain the richness of their culture into a wholesome language that could become a vehicle for India’s knowledge-based development. Out of Grierson’s voluntary labour came the “Seven Grammars of Bihari Dialects.

John Beames, the author of the Comparative Grammar of the Modern Aryan Languages was a missionary who became the world’s foremost expert on structural variations among different languages and dialects of India. He reviewed Grierson’s master-piece above in Indian Antiquity of July 1, 1885. In that review he explained what the term “Hindi” meant in those days:

“All round the outer edge of Aryan India (Gangetic planes) is a circle of kingdoms or provinces, Bengal, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Sindh, Punjab, Nepal, and the ‘Indian’, or as the Muhammmaden called it, the Hindi, spoken in each of these places came by degrees to be called Bengali, Oriya, Marathi and so on. But in the centre there remained a vast area for which no special name was found: it was merely Hindi and its language or languages were all merely Hindi. It has long been known that under the general term [Hindi] were included forms of speech differing very widely from each other, and it only remained for some scholar to enquire into the subject and classify these various forms, referring them to their proper relationships. Grierson has done this for the eastern part of the hitherto undefined area, and he has therefore, a perfect right to give a name [“Bihari’] to the form of speech whose independence he has successfully established.”

Hindu sages did not lack ability. They had already done a superb job in refining Sanskrit and its grammar. Their problem was that their religious worldview prevented them from sharing Sanskrit. The secret of their cultural power over fellow Hindus lay in keeping the common people ignorant of the language of the gods. The secrecy or monopoly of “knowledge,” turned Sanskrit, an otherwise scientific language, into a vehicle of religio-magical mumbo-jumbo.

Nor did Muslim Maulanas lack talent. Their difficulty was that their theology and religion also prevented them from developing the dialects of the downtrodden. Islam was as interested in converting Hindus as was Christianity, yet Islam did not develop our dialects because its culture values submission more than intellectual freedom to pursue truth.

It is estimated that a relatively weaker European country such as Spain publishes more books in a year than the whole of the Arabic world has published in a thousand years. The West’s vibrant literary tradition emerged because the Bible said that the Lord Jesus brought grace and truth (John 1: 17). The first two of the Ten Commandments required Jews and Christians to believe only what is true. That became the seed for a passion for truth which enabled Christianity to cultivate languages, libraries, schools, universities, and research labs as they developed technology and modern science. This intellectual tradition made the West powerful.

Christ’s Spirit
Why did the West share its secret of power so liberally and sacrificially? The Bible said that the Lord Jesus sacrificed himself to save this world, enslaved by sin and suffering. That inspired Christian scholars and saints to also dedicate their lives to go to the remotest parts of the world and live with Stone Age tribes to develop their mother-tongues. They gave to the marginalized the opportunity to acquire the secrets of intellectual power generated in more developed parts of the world.

The Macaulay Minute, so hated by our bigoted elite, asked the East India Company to prepare a class of Indians, who would learn English, in order to give to India access to European sciences, arts, laws, governance, organization, values, and management. Understanding the nobility of this mission, writers and poets such as Bharatendu tried to make Hindi capable of receiving Western knowledge.

According to Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India, Vol IX, Part 1, the first European who attempted to systematize “Hindustani” grammar was a Dutch envoy, John Joshua Katelaer. He was the Director of Trade at Surat for the Dutch East India Company. He was also accredited to Shah Alam Bahadur Shah (1708-1712) and then Jahandar Shah (1712) as Dutch envoy. This gave him a direct contact with “Hindustani” by which he meant the languages spoken by people living all the way from Gujarat and Punjab to UP. His experience enabled him to compile Hindustani vocabulary and frame its grammar under the title, Lingua Hindostanica. This original Hindustani grammar was written in Dutch. In 1715 it was translated into Latin and published by David Mills, professor of Oriental Languages in the University of Utrecht, in his Miscelanea Orientalia. The only known manuscript of the Dutch edition, copied by Katelaer’s assistant in Lucknow, is now preserved in Rijks-Archief in The Hague, Holland. It includes not only the Hindustani declensions and conjugations but also the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses, the Apostles Creed that summarizes the essence of Christianity, and the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught in the famous “Sermon on the Mount.” These facts tell us something about the culture and the peculiar religious heart and mind of this professional trader, diplomat, and scholar.

Katelaer’s pioneering effort was followed by Grammatica Hindostanica (1744) by Benjamin Schultze, a missionary to South India. It was also written in Latin. These Latin beginnings were succeeded by English speaking scholars who standardized “North Indian” dialects into Hindustani or “Hindi” language. Some of these included George Hadley’s Grammar (1772), with English – Hindustani Vocabulary, Herasim Labedeff’sGrammar (1801), and from 1798 onwards many works of John Borthwick Gilchrist such as Lexicons, dictionaries, and grammars for Hindustani.

As the head of the Fort William College in Calcutta, Gilchrist, offered financial awards to Hindu scholars to write in “Hindi.” Because of that initiative came, Premsagar (Ocean of Love), by Lallulal (1763-1825).

Lallulal served at the Fort William College. His work is a “Hindi” version of the tenth book of Bhagvata Purana, celebrating Krishna as an icon of love, including his sensual love for the gopis. The question is: Why was no Hindu scholar ever motivated to give to Krishna-devotees, scriptures such as Bhagvata Purana in their heart language until a Christian offered them monetary incentive? Premsagar began to define Khari Boli (High Hindi) of Delhi region only because the East India Company made it a required reading in schools and for civil and military servicemen. Khari Boli was not synonymous with our Hindi. Before and after Lallulal, Urdu remained Hindustani’s main stream; Hindi was a minor channel.

The point is that Gilchrist, a master of Indian languages, the head of dozens of Western linguists and Hindu pundits, used the term Hindustani to include both Urdu and Hindi, Lallu Lal’s Khari Boli, Tulsi Das’s Purbi(Eastern), or Surdas’ Braj Bhasha (Pachhami or Western, also called Dehati Jabaan). This generic usage of the term Hindi remained true for eminent Grammarians such as John Shakespeare ( A Grammar of the Hindustani Language, London, 1813), Captain W. Price (1823); William Yates (1827) W. Andrew; Garcin de Tassy; James R. Balantyne (1842); Arnot Sanford (1844); Sir Monier Williams (1860); John Dowson (1872); John Platts (1874); and Edward Henry Palmer (1882).

The Birth of Modern Hindi
On May 5, 2012, I was privileged to attend the centennial celebration of the Landour Language School (1912-2012) at the Kellogg Memorial Church, in Landour, Mussoorie. Rev. Samuel H. Kellogg, a contemporary of Bharatendu Harishchand, was a Presbyterian missionary in my hometown Allahabad. He was the first linguist to make a distinction between Urdu and Hindi and integrate 14 different languages and dialects to create modern Hindi.

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In 1875, when Bharatendu was 25-years old, Kellogg published A Grammar of the Hindi Language: In Which are treated The High Hindi, Braj, And the Eastern Hindi of the Ramayan of Tulsi Das, and the Colloquial Dialects of Rajputana, Kumaon, Avadh, Rewa, Bhojpur, Magadha, Maithila, Etc. It was Kellogg’s labor that made it possible for “Hindi” to become one language – the Lingua Franca of “North India.”

The “High Hindi” or Khari Boli was the dialect around Delhi. Premsagar, as we have noted, was its standard text. The suffix “high” was transported from “High” German, the language created by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther through his translation of the Bible and Hymn-book. Luther’s literary effort enabled German speaking masses to free themselves from a bondage to Latin and unscrupulous religious hierarchy that kept Europeans in the darkness of ignorance. By translating the Bible into German, Luther gave them it’s liberating message in their own heart-language, making their dialect their language of learning and governing. Luther’s literary work became the linguistic foundation that made it possible for Germany to become a great power. Following his example, Missionary grammarians-translators empowered Indian languages so that the Bible and other history-changing books could be made available to us.

Until British rulers and educators made Tulsi Das’ Ramcharit Manas the standard text of Avadhi or Purabi(Eastern) Hindi, the Hindu Pundits did not promote it as sacred Scripture. This was because Tulsi Das composed his masterful epic in a local dialect, not in Sanskrit. Another problem was that he used Persian and Arabic words that had become common throughout the Mogul Empire. Additionally, Tulsi’s readers, even within UP, found it difficult to understand him. This was partly because the vocabulary of each Hindi dialect was very limited and the grammatical forms and syntax of the Purabi (Eastern) dialect differed significantly from Khari Boli (around Delhi) and Braj Bhasha (around Mathura).

Without Kellogg’s effort at integrating different Hindi dialects into one Grammar, Bharatendu would not have had a Hindi which could unite North India emotionally and intellectually through one mother-tongue. Kellogg’s Grammar was used by everyone (mostly missionaries) who established schools and colleges in North India. It was adopted as the standard grammar text by Indian Civil Services and British-Indian military. Those historical steps made it possible for the emergence of a Standard Hindi. In turn, this linguistic revolution united North India, enabling an officer to serve outside of his own little linguistic geography.

Edwin Greaves, the first Principal of the Landour Language School, was a missionary in Benaras. There he had already championed the use of Devanagri as the script most appropriate for Hindi language. He encouraged and guided Hindi scholars such as Shyam Sunder Das and Ramchandra Shukla of Nagri Pracharni Sabha (Society for Propagation of Nagri Script) to create the encyclopedic, 11-volumes Hindi Shabd Sagar (the Sea of Hindi words). It was published in 1929, after two decades of diligent effort of collecting rare manuscripts in various Hindi dialects. The Preface of this massive work, contributed by Shukla, became Hindi’s standard History.

While the Shabd Sagar gave to Hindi a massive vocabulary, it was the innovative linguistic techniques used in Greaves Missionary Language School that produced the famous “Hari Kitab” (Green Book because of its green cover) that became the “Introductory Hindi Course.” The Green Book was adopted by universities and educational institutions in non-Hindi areas around the world, making Hindi a global language. The Language School is now led by Mr. Chitranjan Dutt, himself an amateur historian of Hindi and Urdu. His father had also served as a Principal of this historic school that has never owned a building of its own.

Why Did Christianity Develop Hindi? 
Did western traders, diplomats, civil servants, judges, military officers and missionaries develop Indian languages in order to “convert” Hindus?

All these Christian linguists, whether missionaries or not, wanted Hindus to be delivered from Brahminical idols, myths, superstitions, and social evils such as the caste system. These myths and evils have corrupted Indian character and enslaved our minds. To convert means to turn from sin and falsehood and seek truth and righteousness. Language is the software that enables us to think, learn, and communicate. The Bible says that when we come to God, we must take with us offering of words – words of repentance for our sin as well as praise for his goodness: “Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips [i.e. praise].’” (Hosea 14:2)

Hindu-Buddhist traditions have emphasized meditation and silence. Christianity has been interested in language because the Triune God has revealed Himself as personal: He communicates. He made us in His image so that we may know and love him. Love includes communication. Words are important because they express our hearts: and our hearts need to seek truth, including truth about our own moral corruption and our need of redemption and a spiritual rebirth. The sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, started by Martin Luther, used the Bible to free much of Europe from the religious tyranny of a corrupt church and more importantly, from sin’s tyrannical control over our hearts. The makers of modern Hindi followed European reformers in using the Bible to free the Indian mind from the tyranny of sin and the corrupt Brahminical socio-religious order.

However, contrary to what the suppressors of history tell us, missionaries empowered our mother-tongue because they wanted us to think. They wanted us to study Brahminical Scriptures along with secular and sacred literature that had turned tiny islands such as England into mighty nations. These scholar-reformers developed our mother-tongues because they knew that to “convert” does not mean to shift one’s loyalty from one’s community or mother tongue to another. As Mahatma Phule, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dr. Ambedkar understood it: conversion means to shift one’s loyalty from enslaving myths to liberating truth. It means rebuilding one’s individual life, family, as well as one’s society on the foundation of what is good, wise, noble, and true. This Protestant perspective was the reason why Phule founded Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Truth-Seekers), Gandhi called his biography, My Experiments with Truth, and Ambedkar became India’s most famous crusader for conversion.

Reverend Kellogg explained his reason for preparing his grammar for missionaries as well as for magistrates. He wrote, “Still it is very desirable that the magistrate in his court should be able to understand the rustic witness … Without the aid of a third, and not always disinterested party.” (Kellogg, A Grammar of the Hindi Language, Second Edition, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trunbner, and Co., 1893, p xvi). A poor peasant is unlikely to get justice if he can speak to his British or South Indian judge only through a translator. What if the translator misinterprets witnesses because of bribes, caste-connections, or simple misunderstanding?

The Protestant movement, eventually supported by many Roman Catholics, enlightened Hindus, and moderate Muslims, promoted vernacular languages because it believed that one cannot have the government of the people, for the people, and by the people, unless it functions in the language of the people. In order to transform a feudal society into a modern democratic, justly governed nation, reformers had to begin by empowering the languages of the masses. The missionary-reformers did what they did because they knew that God had called Abraham to leave his culture and follow Him, so that He may bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s seed – that is, through individuals who know, love, and follow God as Abraham did. (See Genesis 12 and 18)

(Vishal Mangalwadi is the author of The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization, Thomas Nelson 2012)

NOTE: An edited version of this essay is being published by FORWARD PRESS – a New Delhi based bilingual magazine. For reprinting rights please contact VM1212@gmail.com or Ivan Kostka ataspire.prakashan@gmail.com

Tax-deductible donations for Vishal’s ministry can be made on www.RevelationMovement.com


William Carey (1761-1834), the pioneer of the British and Protestant Missionary movement, who became the Father of Modern India had championed the development of the vernaculars. His work raised the question: which classical language is best suited to enrich the vernaculars. The Orientalists answered: Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian. The Anglicists, led by Macaulay’s brother-in-law Charles Trevelyan, argued for English. Lord Macaulay, who lived with his sister and brother-in-law, ruled in favor of English as best equipped to enrich our mother tongues.

1 Comment
  1. Peter Herz Sunday April 27th, 2014 at 11:46 AM - Reply

    Interesting. I have studied a lot of Western history and much of that of the Sinosphere, but I know very little about India (I probably know more about some of the SE Asian countries in India’s cultural shadow).

    However, re “High German”, it originally referred to the type of German spoken where the land starts rising. The “Low German” (Plattdeutsch; Plaudietsch) or Low Saxon was spoken on the low-lying lands near the North and Baltic Seas.

    I’ve also been told that Urdu is much like Hindi, except that the former is written in a derivative of the Arabic alphabet and is full of Persian loanwords, while the latter is written in Devanagri letters. Further, I was told that “Urdu” means “camp” or “army”. If so, it probably descends from the Mongolian “Orda”, from whence we get our English word “horde”.

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