The people of Karnataka did not come in to direct contact with people with either Persian or Arabic as their mother tongue in terms of large communities. However, many scholars conversant with these languages have lived and are living among us even to this day. The relationship between Kannada and Urdu is dealt with in a separate entry and this note is confined to the relations between Kannada and Persian/Arabic.

The contact between the Arabs and Karnataka dates back to the reign of Rashtrakutas and some borrowings might have taken place during that period. This is specifically true of many words dealing with army, trade and commerce. Words such as PVju, (army) trAsu (weighing balance), tEji (horse) had crept in to Kannada by twelfth century itself. The rule of Bahamani sultans, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan accelerated this process and Urdu became the via media for an import of the words from Persian, Arabic and Turkish. Bh.Krishnamurti sums up the situation as applicable to all the major languages of south India : “During the six centuries of Moghul rule of north India and over three centuries of the Bahamani Sultans of Deccan (fourteenth to eighteenth centuries), the major languages of South India borrowed a number of Persian (The state language) and Arabic (the religious language) origin. From the fifteenth century onwards these words found their way in to the South Dravidian through Dakkhini Urdu. Village officials dealing with land records used many administrative terms relating to land revenue and legislation, which have become part of the common language.” (‘Dravidian Languages’ by Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, 2003, Cambridge University Press)

Many of the words borrowed like this were not replaced during the British rule and they are being used even today. However the process of borrowing new words has stopped.

Most of the words borrowed like this have taken up a vowel at the end. (shumAr=sumAru, jamIn=jamInu, vasUl-vsUli etc) Some times the final ‘aa’ changes to ‘e’ (KajAnA=KajAne, tamASA=tamASe, ravAnA=ravAne etc.) A list of some words borrowed from Persian and Arabic is given below.

Persian: rAstA=raste=road, shumAr=sumAru=approximately, shiPAras=shiPArassu=influence, dastAvej=dastAvEju=document, sibbandi=staff, sIpAyI=sipAyi=soldier, jamIn=jamInu=arable land, gumAsta=clerk.

Arabic: anAmat=anAmattu=all together, jaPti=search, nAjuk=nAjUku=delicate, mAmUl=mAmUli=as usual, bribe, daPtar=daPtaru=file, sAvkAr=sAhukAra=rich man, CAkU=cAku=knife

Incidentally many of these words are more are less similar in Tamil, Telugu and Kannaada. Persian and Arabic words are found in many ancient literary works of Kannada such as ‘Shabdamanidarpana’ by Keshiraja, ‘Basavapurana’ by Bheemakavi, ‘Chennabasavapurana’ by virupakshapandita, and Jaimini Bharatha by Lakshmeesha.

This is not merely a contact between two sets of languages but the linguistic inter change is a sub product of a cultural exchange. This amalgamation of cultures has done a lot of good to the arts and crafts of Karnataka. It is not fair to identify the Perso-Arabic languages and culture exclusively with Islam. As Sisir Kumar Das obseres, ‘ The legends and tales that reached India thorough Persian and Arabic were not neccessarily reflections of sectarian attitudes, many of them were of pre-Islamic oroigin........And the beautiful poems of Rumi, Sadi, Omar Khayyam or Hafiz defy all religious labels. ......It needs to be emphasised that Perso-Arabic element was never considered an exclusive property of the Muslims in India , or a conspicuous feature of Urdu poetry only, it was used with power and feeling by many non-Muslims and it penetrated languages other than Urdu.” (Sisir Kumar Das, History of Indian Literature, Sahitya Academy , New Delhi )

This can be corraboarated by the fact that the Rubayiyath’ of Omara Kahyyam was translated in to Kannada by no less than three important poets.


References: 1. ‘kannaDadalli PArasi, urdu shabdagaLu’, D.K.Bheemasena Rao, Kannada Sahitya Parishath Patrike, Volume 22.

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