Urdu and Hindi had their origin from the same speech area around Delhi and Upper Gangetic Doab. Indo-Aryan in structure, the two languages are not very different linguistically. Together they provide mutual intelligibility for a major section of the population of India. Urdu speakers worldwide are estimated at more than 60 million (Ethnologue). Urdu language is the same language as “Hindustani,” except that as a literary form with the use of Perso-Arabic alphabets it came to be known as Urdu. Hindustani is the term still used by many Muslims in India to describe their speech, though the term Urdu is coming into more general use.
The Urdu Bible is now available both in Persian and Roman scripts. The Bibles were widely circulated in the north-west regions of India. The New Testament in Devanagari script was issued in April 2003, and the Old Testament is undergoing transliteration at the present time.
In 1745 Benjamin Shultze of the Danish Mission produced a translation of the Urdu NT, but this was in the Dakhini form of Urdu, current only in South India, and it was not a good translation. In 1805 the college press of Fort William published the four Gospels in Nagari script. They had been translated by “learned natives of the College of Fort William; revised and compared with the original Greek by William Hunter, Esq.”(This is an unacknowledged quote taken from W.J. Culshaw, Bible Translation in India, Pakistan and Ceylon, (revised from J.S.M. Hopper Book), Oxford University Press, 1963, p.47).
The real story of Urdu translation begins with the arrival in India of Henry Martyn. Born in 1781 at Truro, England, he became an Anglican priest, and went to India as a chaplain with the British East India Company in 1806. He took a very active interest in linguistics and languages and translated the NT and the Psalms into Persian. In 1811 he left India to go to Persia to perfect his Persian translation, but he fell ill during his journey and died in October 1812 at the age of 31 years. Martyn’s brief missionary career, so full of achievement, following upon so distinguished an academic course, created a profound impression in Western lands, and for the century and a half that has passed since his death, the story of his life has proved to be one of the most fertilizing influences in the missionary life of Christendom. His translation of the NT into Persian and his work on an Arabic NT, with their problems of relationship with the new Arab convert, Sabat, lie outside the scope of this writing.
Henry Martyn’s great work of translation in India was into Hindustani, or Urdu, as it is now called. The first draft of William Hunter's version was finished in March 1808, and after the most minute and rigorous revision, it was issued for BFBS by the Serampore Press in Persian character in 1814. On the title page it is described as “translated from the original Greek” by Martyn “and afterwards carefully revised with the assistance of Mirza Fitrat and other learned natives.” In 1843 the complete Bible was published. The OT was largely based on Martyn's drafts, while the Benares Translation Committee revised their NT to secure uniformity with the OT. Writing about the revision, J. A. Shurmann, the chief reviser, “saw reason to revert, in great measure, to the translation of Henry Martyn.” .”(This is an unacknowledged quote taken from W.J. Culshaw, Bible Translation in India, Pakistan and Ceylon, (revised from J.S.M. Hopper Book), Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 51).
The complete Bible in one volume was issued for the first time in 1892, consisting of Joseph Owen's version of the OT and with modification of Parson's ( this was J. Parsons who also worked on Hindi 1879) New Testament.