Friday, June 1, 2012

Baba's dialect

Material here is taken from a few sources, including Wikipedia and The God-Man by Charles Purdom.

See also the important addendum post, "Dari"

I was curious what language was spoken in Meher Baba's household when he was growing up, that would of course have been his most native spoken language prior to his life-long silence and the language he would have spoken with his family.

I was told that the dialect spoken in Baba's home as a boy was a dialect of Persian known as Dari spoken by Zoroastrians in Iran and India. It should be distinguished from another dialect called Dari Persian spoken in Afghanistan.

Baba at age 5
When Baba was five years old he was taken to the Dastur Girls’ School, where he learned to read and write the Gujarati language, a modern Indian-Aryan language evolved from Sanskrit that is native to the Indian state of Gujarat. Gujarati was the native language of Mahatma Gandhi and numerous other prominent Indians. There are about 65 million speakers of Gujarati worldwide.

At the age of nine he was sent to the Camp Government English School, where he remained five years.

Then he went to St. Vincent’s High School, an English language Catholic school considered the best school in Poona. He graduated from High School in 1911 at the age of eighteen.

Baba then attended Deccan College, an English language college situated midway between Poona and Kirkee. Deccan was the greatest education institution in the Deccan at the time. Its distinguished professors had included F. W. Bain and Sir Edwin Arnold. It was one of the few colleges in India which permitted much freedom to students. Baba entered the college in 1911. His main interest was in literature, especially poetry. Baba completed almost two years of English language college before his formal education was interrupted by his spiritual encounter with the Muslim Saint Hazrat Babajan in 1914. He had been studying for his exams to complete his second year when this encounter occurred, causing him to drop out of college.

Baba also was proficient in speaking and writing in Hindi and Urdu. Urdu is one of the languages of the poetic form of Ghazals. See Urdu poetry.

Baba also knew Persian, the Iranian language of the middle ages Sufi poet Hafiz, and often translated Hafiz's poetry. Some of the famous literary works of Persian literature are the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, works of Rumi, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Divan of Hafiz and poems of Saadi.

Baba is said to have had a very pleasing voice, loved to sing, and was an eager conversationalist.

Baba's final words were an instruction to his mandali in Meherabad to always carry a lantern at night, due to a snake being seen and him being woken. The next morning, July 10, 1925, he awoke silent and remained so for the rest of his life. There are no voice recordings of Meher Baba from the period when he spoke.

However, the languages known by Baba appear to have been:
  • Dari
  • Persian
  • Gujarati
  • Hindi
  • Urdu
  • English

Update: 6/6/12

I believe Baba also knew Marathi.
During this seclusion period, Baba also composed some couplets in Gujarati which Kaka gathered from Baba's gestures. In the last stanza, out of His sense of humor, in addition to Gujarati, Baba used Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, Persian and even English words. 
(Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God-Man, Vol. 2, pp. 36-37)
Ward Parks of the Avatar Meher Baba Trust in India gave the following comment on the subject of Meher Baba and Marathi through a mutual friend who contacted him.
My impression is that Baba knew marathi and could communicate with Marathi speakers--it was the common language in the larger society around Him from His childhood; but it wasn't the first language that He would use Himself. 
Jai Baba! --Ward
In a comment below by Kendra Crossen Burroughs she points out that Baba's father knew Hebrew. It has been speculated by at least one author that Baba learned Persian from his father, who was self-educated and from Persia. I don't know if this is how Baba learned Persian, or if it was another way. However, if one wished to assume that, they might also contemplate that Baba learned some Hebrew from his father as well. Meher Baba uses the word "Elahi" in the Masters Prayer, an Aramaic name of God, Aramaic being the language of Jesus in his lifetime and the name Jesus is believed to have used on the cross. Aramaic, I understand, is related to Hebrew and Arabic.

I was also asked to mention that at least one time Baba said he did not know Sanskrit, the root language of Indo-European languages and the language of ancient Hindu scriptures. Here are some of the quotes that I assume are the source of this.
After this reading, B. Sastri of Andhra sang some shlokas in Sanskrit from the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna says: "Age after age, from time immemorial, for the destruction of ignorance, for the preservation of Truth, I have taken human form." When he had finished Baba remarked, "You speak as if you are swimming in mid-ocean, attacked by sharks!" Baba wryly observed, "I have created everything, and yet I do not know Sanskrit. I just nod my head as if I understand." (LM 4502)

A Sanskrit scholar came one day and chanted some hymns of Shankaracharya. Baba stated, "Don't translate the lines. It is not necessary. I like to listen to the naad (sound, chant) of the hymns. It pleases me, because it has come out of me." (LM  5737)
However, in light of this, and of equal interest, another quote ought to be mentioned that might seem perplexing.
Merwan knew the bhajan songs of the Hindu Sadgurus Tukaram and Swami Ramdas by heart, as well as the entire Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana. Merwan was also fond of quoting the Sufi Master of the Whirling Dervishes Jalal al-Din Rumi, although he had never read or heard his works either. (LM 180)
Of course any thoughts or information are welcome. It appears to not be a cut-and-dry issue.

For much more information on the Dari dialect spoken in Baba's childhood home, click the link below.



  1. Thank you Chris, once again. I had been thinking about these questions recently when I explained to a friend that Meher Baba was multilingual and then realized I did not know how many languages he spoke or what they are. This has been most interesting and helpful.

    1. Thank you. If I have any errors or omissions here I trust someone will contact me or post them, but this was based on what I could find.

    2. And Mani told that their father Sheriar knew Hebrew as well as other languages. He never studied it, apparently this was knowledge that just 'came' to him. Did you hear Mani tell that story, Chris? ... It is notable to point out that Meher Baba did not know Sanskrit (though I recall reading several scenes described in which devotees recited shlokas to Baba). He was not interested in scholarship but had real Knowledge. I am also reminded that he had no liking for Indian classical music but preferred devotional music--qawwali, bhajans, etc.