Braj Bhasha (Devanagari: बॄज भाषा), also called Brij Bhasha (ब्रज भाषा), Braj Bhakha (ब्रज भाखा), or Dehaati Zabaan (country tongue), is a Central Indian language closely related to Hindi. In fact it is usually considered to be a dialect of Hindi, and along with Awadhi was one of the two predominant literary languages of North-Central India before the switch to Khariboli in the 19th century.
Braj Bhasha is spoken by people in the nebulously defined region of Braj Bhoomi, which was a political state in the era of the Mahabharata wars. According to ancient Hindu texts such as the Bhagavata Purana, the kingdom of King Kams is described as spreading through the Braj (also known as Vrij or Vraj), where the incarnation of Krishna was born and spent his childhood days. This region lies in the Agra-Mathura area, and stretches as far as the environs of Delhi. In modern India, this area lies mostly in northwestern Uttar Pradesh, the eastern extremities of Rajasthan and the southern extremities of Haryana. Today Braj Bhoomi can be seen as a cultural-geographical entity rather than a proper state. It is the vernacular of the region and boasts a rich culture and literature by famous poets like Surdas, Bhai Gurdas and Amir Khusro. Brij Bhasha is very close to Avadhi, spoken in neighbouring Avadh region.
Much of the Hindi literature was developed in Brij in the medieval period. However, today Khariboli dialect has taken its place as the predominant standard dialect of Hindi.
In modern India, Braj Bhasha exists as an unofficial dialect spoken colloquially by natives of the region of Braj Bhoomi, with great cultural and religious significance. Much of Hindi poetry, especially that of 'Bhakti' or devotional poetry is in this language. Some devotional poems for Krishna are also composed in Braj Bhasha. The pioneering Hindi poet Aamir Khusro, also spoke and composed poetry in this language. Famous Braj Bhasha folk songs or poems include 'Chhaap tilak sab chheeni' by Aamir Khusro, and the popular devotional song ,"Main naahin maakhan khaayo" by Surdas. Braj bhasha is also the main language of Hindustani classical music compositions.
Braj Bhasha is mainly a rural tongue currently, predominant in the nebulous Braj region centred around Mathura and Agra in Uttar Pradesh. It is the predominant language in the central stretch of the Ganga-Yamuna Doab in the following districts:
- Hathras ( Mahamaya Nagar )
- Gautam Buddha Nagar ( Noida )
It stretches across the Ganga into the non-Doabi districts of Badaun and Bareilly and goes up to the foothills of Nainital at Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand.
Besides Uttar Pradesh, it is spoken in the bordering areas of Rajasthan, mainly in the following districts:
as well as parts of Karauli, from where onwards it merges into Rajasthani languages.
It is also spoken in the areas of Haryana south of Delhi, mainly in Faridabad district and eastern areas of Gurgaon and Mewat districts.
Studying Braj Bhasha literature, it can be noticed that most of the literature is of a mystical nature, related to the spiritual union of man with God. This is not at all surprising since virtually all of the poets were God-realised saints and their words are thus considered to be directly emanated from a divine source. Much of traditional Northern Indian literature shares this trait. All traditional Punjabi literature is similarly written by saints and is of a metaphysical and philosophical nature.
Another peculiar feature of Northern Indian literature is that the literature is mostly written from a female point of view, even by male poets. This is because the saints were in a state of transcendental, spiritual love, where they were metaphorically women reuniting with their beloved. (In its inversion of the conventional genders of worshipper and worshippee, Maulana Da’ud's Chandayan departs from this tradition.)
Important works in Brij bhasha are:
- Yugala Shataka by Swami Sri Sribhatta Devacarya; known as the first 'Vani' book in Vraja Bhasha composed in the 14th Century AD as a part of Nimbarka Sampradaya tradition of Radha Krishna worship.
- Vinaya Patrika by Tulsidas.
- Sur Sagar by Surdas.
- Buddha Charit by Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla.
- Sufi poetry by Amir Khusro.