What exactly was invented when the language department of Bhakka was formally instituted at Fort William College in 1801 and Lallu Jee Lal was selected as the first Braj Bhakka scholar? Hindi polemicists celebrate Pundit Lallu Jee Lal’s invention of a Hindi purified of Yavani Bhāsa, or Perso-Arabic words, in Premsagar. Contrarily, Urdu-centric scholars stress Lal’s use of the phrase “ibtada-e dāstān” (the beginning of the Dastan) to open Baital Pachisi. The claim is that preoccupation with Lallu Jee Lal’s place in the Hindi and Urdu literary canon occludes the all-important question: What were pre-Orientalist conceptions of the vernacular that Lallu Jee Lal brought to his translation of the Bhagvata Purana in Premsagar? Pre-Orientalist conceptions of the vernacular often did not denote, in the first and primary sense, a specific language. Poets were concerned with bodying forth a structure of feeling and a spatiotemporal imaginary first, and cathecting language name to the signified of language much afterward. Thus we can more usefully read Premsagar’s Hindi as a site of language invention where radically different concepts of the vernacular remain in uneasy tension. Under the explicit guidance of John Borthwick Gilchrist, the Hindi vernacular was shaped through linguistic pogroms. At the same time, Lallu Jee Lal’s training in Braj Bhāsa, as well as his intimate knowledge of the long history of Braj-Sanskrit and Braj-Urdu interactions, came into play in fashioning Premsagar’s Hindi as a language articulated in its spatiotemporal imaginary.

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