Indian Languages and literature

Today India has 22Constitutionally (according to Eighth Schedule) recognized languages.  They are
1) Assamese 2) Bengali 3) Gujarati 4) Hindi 5) Kannada 6) Kashmiri 7) Malayalam 8) Marathi 9) Oriya 10) Punjabi 11) Sanskrit 12) Tamil 13) Telugu 14) Urdu 15) Sindhi 16) Konkani 17) Manipuri 18) Nepali 19) Bodo 20) Dogri 21) Maithili 22) Santhali

These languages belong  to four major speech families 1) Arya 2) Dravidian, 3) Sino-Tibetan (Mongolian) and 4) Austirc.  Fifteen of the major languages of India come under the Indo-Aryan (11) and the Dravidian (4) families.

The Constitution has recognized Hindi in Devanagiri script as the official language of the Union (Art 343 et. Seq.)  and the regional languages as the official languages of the states concerned (Art 345 et.seq.). English was recognized as the authoritative legislative and judicial language (Art 348 et.seq.)

Each of these languages of India has produced a literature of great vitality and richness.  However, Sanskrit language and its literaturehas a special place in India’s civilization.  It is the oldest classical language and has functioned as the of most powerful formative agency and integrating force from the very beginning of Indian history.  Actually there is no important language or literature in India that has not been influenced and enriched by Sanskrit and its great literature.  Next to Sanskrit comes Tamil with reference to the antiquity of literature.  Except Tamil in South  and Urdu in North almost all modern Indian languages emerged more or less within the same period of Indian history Urdu has only a heritage of about five centuries.



Vedic Literature

The word vedais derived from root vid (to know) meaning knowledge par excellence.  Vedic texts are sruti (heard), i.e. believed to have been directly revealed to the authors by the gods, (distinct from smriti which means remembered.  There are four Vedas.  Each Veda has a Brahmana appended to it explaining the mantras and rituals. The Brahmana is again divided into Aranyaka and Upanishad.  All of these are sruti remembered).



         The beginning of Sanskrit literature may be traced back to Rigveda, the oldest religious text in the world, compiled in 1500-1000 B.C.  It has 1028 hymns divided into 10 Mandalas or 8 Astikas.  It is the foundation of all vedicliterature, consisting mainly of lyrics in praise of different gods, mainly Indira, Varuna and Agni and a host of minor gods.  Some hymns remember pre-Indian events.  They also contain philosophical speculations on life after death,  creation of the universe and the reason of existence.  The other three Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads were composed between 1000 BC and 600 BC.


Yajurveda:  It is in prose, distinct from verse form of Rigveda.  It contains sacrificial formulae and rules and has 2 branches 1) The older Krsna Yajur Veda or Taittriya Samhitas in which the mantra and Brahman part is not separated; 2) white or Sukla Yajur Veda or Vajasanayi Samhitas.


Samaveda:  Contains all the Rigvedic hymns dealing with Soma hymns and 75 others added and set to tune.


Trayi Veda:  Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samveda are collectively called as Trayi Veda.


Atharvaveda:  Collection of spells and charms, many of which were non-Aryan and is of lesser importance.  It two has branches Paippalada and Saunaka.


Brahmanas: Appendices to the Vedas, Brahmanas deal with the rules of sacrifice and contain ritualistic formulae for the respective veda and priest.

Rigveda : Aitareya Brahmana and Kausitaki or Sankhyayana Brahmana

Samaveda:  Tandyamaha Brahmana

Shkula Yajurveda:  Jaiminiya Brahmana


Aranyakas:  They are later parts of the Brahmanas and explain the metaphysics and symbolism of the sacrifice and priestly philosophy.  Aranyakas (meaning forest books) were taught in the forest due to their dangerous magical powers.


Upanishads:  They are final parts, are commentaries appended to the Aranyakas and deal mainly with philosophy.  There are more than 100 Upanishads but only 12 important ones.  The word is derived from Upa-ni-sad (to sit down near someone).


Rigveda :  Aitareya Brahmana has Aitareya Upanishad.  Kausitaki or Sankhyanyana Brahmanahas Kausitaki Upanishad.


Yajurveda: Krsna Yajur vedahas Tattiriya Brahmanawith Tattiriya, Katha and Svetavatara Upanishads, Sukla Yajur veda has Satapatha Brahmana with Brihandarayaka and Isa Upanishads.


Sama VEda: Tandyamaha Brahmana has Chandyoga Upanishad and Jaiminiya Brahmana has Kena Upanishad.


Priests :  Each Veda has its priest.  Rigveda has the Hotr or invoker Yajurveda has Adhvaryu or the singer.  The Brahmana was one of the 16 categories of priests and was the high priest of the sacrifice.


Non-Sruthi Literature :  The Vedangas are non-sruti literature because they are of human origin.  They were written in the form of sutras (literally meaning thread) – in a peculiar prose form.  The Vedangas are limbs of the Vedas and are for understanding the Vedas.  There are six Vedangas: Siksa (phonetics), Kalpa (rituals), Vyakrain (grammar) Nirukta (etymology), Chhanda (metrics) and Jyotisha (astronomy.  Yaska’s Nirukta (5th century B.C.) is the oldest Indian linguistic text.  Panni wrote Astadheyayi (4th century B.C.) on Vyakaran, Pingala wrote on Chhanda, Pratisakhya sutra is a Siksha sutra. Sayana was a commentator on the Vedas.

Kalpa sutras are divided in 3 sections in the post vedic period: Srauta sutras dealing with large public sacrifices, Ghriya Sutras dealing with domestic ceremonies and sacrifices, and Dharma sutras dealing with the laws, manners and customs of people in general.



The akhyanas or stories and ithikasas or legends narrated in the epics can be traced back to the Vedas, but the is not recorded anywhere.  The Mahabharata and Ramayana are the only ones now available in literary texts.

According to Indian tradition, Valmiki is the author of the Ramayana.  The Ramayana is essentially a poetic creation that influenced the thought and poetry of later ages in course of which new matter came to be added to the original composition.  The work now comprises seven books and contains 24,000 verses.

The Mahabarata, supposed to be the work of Vyasa, unlike the Ramayana may  be regarded as a  whole literature and not one poetic production.  Its central theme is the great Kurukshetra battle of eighteen days fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas.  The Mahabharata is divided into eighteen books (parvans) and there is a supplement called the Harivamsa.  The famous Bhagavad-Gita belongs to the Bhismaparvan and is a holy book.



The word Purana means ‘old narrative’.  A Purana should describe five topics; 1) Sarga (creation), 2) Pratisarga 3)Vansa (Genealogy), 4) Manvantara (Manu-periods) and 5) vamsanucarita (dynastic history).

            Puranas,writtenin the Gupta period, are important both as history and religious literature.  The origin of the Puranas must be traced to the time when in the course of a religious revolution Buddhism was gaining ground as a formidable opponent of the Brahmanic culture.

Eighteen in number, they have been classified from the standpoint of the three cosmic qualities, sattva, rajas and tamas.

The sattvika puranas are Vishnu, Bhagvata, Navadiya, Gauruda, Padma and Varaha. The rajas puranas are Brahma, Brahmanda, Bramavaivarta, markandeya, Bhaviysa and Vamana.  The tamas puranas are Siva, Linga, Skanda, Agni, Matsya and Kurma.  Besides these Mahapuranas there are also eighteen upapuranas.




The most outstanding and popular work on Brahmancial laws is the Manu Smriti (1st century B.C.).  Among the other important works on law may be mentioned the Narada Smriti, the Brahaspati Smriti and the Yojnavalkya Smrti.

Buddhist Literature

The vast bulk of Avadana literature is a good example of Sanskrit writing by Buddhist poets.

Scientific Literature

Early scientific literature includes Aryabhatiya (on astronomy) by Aryabhatta, Pancha-Siddantika (astronomical treatise) by Varahmihira and Charaka-Samhita by Charaka and Sushruta-Samhita by Sushruta, both dealing with medicine and surgery.

Medieval Period

Even before the advent of Islam (medieval times), Sanskrit had lost its earlier virility and adaptability.  However, some literature was produced in various branches of learning during this period.  One of the first historical works produced in Sanskrit during the medieval times was continuation of Rajatarangini, begun by Kalhana, by Jonaraja and his pupil Srivara upto the year 1468 AD.  Their compositions were called Dvitiya Rajatarangini and Tritya Rajatarangini respectively.

Modern Period

Sanskrit literature made tremendous progress during the later part of the eighteenth century and early part of the nineteenth century.  Many Sanskrit academies and research institutes were set up to carry on research in Sanskrit literature.  The prominent scholars who rendered valuable contributions to the growth of Sanskrit literature in modern times included Dr. Ramakrishna, Gopal Bhandarkar, Kashinath Trimbak Telang, V.S. Abhyankar, Dr. V. Raghvan, Anantakrishnan Shastri and Narayan Shastri.


Development of Assamese language as literaturelanguage started from 13th century.  The first written work in Assamese is the Prahlad Charitra by Hema Sarasvati who lived in the court of Durlabha Narayana, a king in Western Assam (13th Century AD).  ‘Bahravahana Parva’ by Harivara Parva, ‘Drona Parva’ by Rudra Kandali and ‘Jayadratha Vadha’ by Kaviratna Sena are important poetic works of the period.  Madhava Kandali translated Ramayana into Assamese.


The first Bengali work, Charyyapadas is assigned to the tenth A.D.  Bengali literature after the fourteenth century may be classified into three main categories; a) Vaishnava literature mostly devoted to Chaitanya’s life and thought: b) literature based on Sanskrit epics and scriptures such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagvata Purana; and c) Mangal Kavyas.  Chandidas was the first great poet of Bengal who carried forward the Vaishnava message.  Quite a large number of biographical works were produced on Sri Chaitanya from the sixteenth century onwards.  Chaitanya Charitamrita by Krishnan Das Kaviraj is the most important of them all.

Rammohun Roy’s pamphlets and essays on the burning problems of the time-brought into existence a forceful style of Bengaliprose.  Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73), a pioneer of the Young Bengal movement and a man of profound learning in Western literature, began to cultivate Bengali in a new light and became the foremost Bengali poet of the modern style.  His works are Sarmistha, Meghanad-badh Kavya, Virangana-Kavya, Chaturdash Padavali, Krishna Kumari and Padmavati.  Alaler Gharer Dulal by Pearychand, follower of Derozian ideals and an associate of Madhusudan, is considered to be the first complete Bengali novel.  Dinabandhu Mitra was a playwright of immense popularity.  Neel Darpan and Kamale Kamini are the two renowned dramas of Dinabandhu Mitra.  The works of the above-noted writers were mostly brought out during the third quarter of the nineteenth century.  Ishwarchandra wrote a number of books in Sanskrit and Bengali.  In the latter part of the nineteenth century, modern Bengali prose found its foremost exponent in Bankimchandra CHattopadhyaya (1838-1894) whose famous works, such as, Debi-Chaudhurani, Kamalakanter Daptar and Anandamath made a deep impression on his time and on posterity.  It was his Anandmath (1882) which contained the patriotic hymn Bande Mataram.

            The climax of nineteenth century Bengali literature was reached in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore.  His famous  works are Sandhya Sangit, Padavali, Sonar Tari and Naiveda.  At the opening of the twentieth century, Bengali literature found another great luminary in Saratchandra Chattopadhyay. Among the other writers who represented nationalist urges, the main are manic Bandopadhyay Kazi Nazrul Khan (Vidrohi), Premendra Mitra, Buddhadev Basu, Achintya Sengupta, Bonophul Anand Shankar Ray, Tara Shankar Bandopadhyay (Gana Devata) Ashapurna Devi (Pratham Prathi Shruti) and Narendra Mitra.


Gujarati literature existed in a well-developed state from 12thcentury onwards.  The first literary work in Gujarati, the Bhratesvarabahubali rasa of Salibhadra, was composed in A.D., 1185.  Finest specimen of Gujarati poetry of this period are heroic romances like Ranamallachanda (A.D. 1390) of Sridhara Kanhada-de-Prabandha of Padmanabha (A.D. 1456, Sadayavatsa Katha (A.D.1410) of Bhima, Revantagiri Rasa of Vijayasena dna Kusumasri rasa (A.D.1652) of Gangavijaya.

Among prose we have in the 15thcentury a beautiful specimen of ornate poetical prose after the style of Bana in thePrithvichandra Charitra (A.D.1422) of Manikyacandra.  The Bhakti movement that spread all over India during 15th and 16thcentury brought about a literary renaissance.  The major poets of the period were Narasimha Mehta, Bhalana and Akho.  Narasimha Mehta wrote “Govinda Gamana” and “Sudama Charitra”.  After the end  of the 17thcentury A.D., there was, however, variety – we have various forms of literature – devotional, didactic, quasi-metaphysical and secular.  In the second half of the 17thcentury A.D., Premananda Bhatta reigned supreme; he may be described as the greatest poet of Gujarat of all times.

The Guajarati literature could not make much progress in the eighteenth century due to uncertain political conditions prevailing in the state of Gujarat.  However, the saints continued to create devotional songs or Bhajans.  The important saint poets of Gujarati were Parmanand and Brahmanand.  Vallabha and Haridas produced extensive Garbha literature on Krishna and Amba (Kali).  The last great Guajarati poet of medieval India was Dayaram.

The modern Gujarati poetry started with Narmada Shankar and Dalpat Ram.  The most outstanding poet of Gujarati was Nandlal, who is considered as the Tagore of Gujarati literature.  The credit for bringing the Gujarati literature into the life of the common people goes to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.


The earliest example of Hindi is unjustifiably sought in the compositions of the ‘Siddhas’.  Their language is Apabhramsa and not Hindi.  This may be mentioned here because of the large number of words, expressions, usages, metres, forms of verse, thought content, moods and attitudes inherited by Kabir and other poets of the early Sant school of Hindi.

The origin of the Hindi language is placed by scholars between 7th and 10th centuries A.D.  But it was only by A.D. 1206 that Hindi literature had well crossed its infancy and some of the major works of the early period, including the famous Prithviraja Raso by Chand Baradai, a bardic poet of the court of Prithviraja Chouhan, had been written.  Rajasthan being the main centre of literary activity in the early period, the literatureof the tiem (Adi Kala) was by an large either bardic or religious, and was written either in one of the prevalent forms of Rajasthani Hindi, viz., Dingal or Pingal or in the Apabhramsa which came very close to old Hindi.  Two major poets of the Adi Kala, who flourished in this period were Narapati Nalha and Amr Khusro.  Narapati Nalha’s classic poem, Bisalade Raso, was written sometime in the latter half of the 12thcentury A.D.

From A.D. 1318 begins the second era of Hindi literature, the Bhakti Kala or the Age of Devotion, which goes up to A.D. 1643.  The famous classics of this period were Jayasi’s Padmavat Manjhan’s Madhumalati, Uthman’s Citravali (A.D. 1613) and Nut Muhammad’s Indravati.  The Ramaites were headed by Tulsidasa.  (A.D. 1532-1623). His Ramacharitamanasa is an epitome of medieval Hindu culture.  Of krishnaites VIdyapati had sung of love of Radha and Krishna in Maithili Hindi.  The real Krishna Kavya begins with Sardasa’s (A.D. 148301563) Sura-Sagara.  The other major poets of the Krishna cult were Hita Harivamsa, the founder of the Radhavallabha Sampradaya, Mira Bai and Rasakhan.

The next two centuries upto 1850 is covered by Riti Kala, the third prominent period in the history of Hindi literature.  The poets of the age belonged  to an elite class and were, by profession, academicians who not only practiced but also theorized on poetry.  Kesavadas (d. A.D. 1617), a junior contemporary of Tulsidasa, was the founder of this group.  Among those who followed him were Chitamani (b. A.D. 1609), Mati Rama (A.D. 1617-1716), Bihari (A.D.1603-1663) and Deva (d.1767).  Bhusana also belonged to this group,  although his theme was heroic struggles of Sivaji against the Mughals.

In course of the years between 1761 and 1843, Hindipoetry lost its originally and genius.  ‘Bharatendu’ Harish Chandra (1846-1884), ‘Father of Modern Hindi Literature’ drew out poetry into the open sunshine of social life.  The process was continued by Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi (1870-1938), a moralist by nature and a reformer in practice.  He raised the general moral tone of Hindi poetry and struck a decisive blow to the long standingKhadiboli-Brajabhasa controversy by exposing the absurdity of adopting different media for prose and poetry.  He was supported by two great poets-Ayodhya Singh Upadhyaya ‘Hari Audha’ (1865-1946), renowned for this Priyapravasa, and Maithilisharan Gupta.  Outstanding poets of this school are Makhan Lal Chaturvedi, Balkrishna Sharma, ‘Navin’ and Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’.  A strong reaction fund expression in Chayavada of Jaya Shankar Prasad, the other important exponents being Surya Kant Tripathi ‘Nirala, ‘Sumitra Nandan Pant and Mahadevi Varma.  Jaya Shankar Prasad’s Kamayani is an epic portraying the eternal struggle of the human soul against this background of the modern age.

After Prasad’s death in 1937, Chayavada began to decline in the face of leftist ideology which found expression in two rival trends: 1) progressivism (Pragativada) or people’s poetry directly inspired by the Marxian philosophy, Nagarju, Yashpal, Naresh Mehta and Rameshwar Shukla belonged to this school; and 2) experimentalism (Prayogavada) or new  literature, which looks upon experiment or constant quest as the essence of life and literature.  Vatsyana founded this movement.  Toerhs belonging to this school are Dharamvir Bharati, Lakshmi Kant Verma and Girija Kumar Mathas.

The first original drama in the real sense was Nahusa Nataka (1857), by Gopal Chandra, father  of ‘Bharatendu’ Harish Chandra.  Like other prose forms, the novel also is a product of the modern age.  Taking Prem Chand (1880-1936) as the most important landmark, we can easily demarcate three stages in the development of the Hindi novel; pre-Prem Chand Hindi novel, Prem Chand and his contemporaries; and post-Prem Chand and his comptemporaries; and post-Prem Chand Hindi, novel i.e., the contemporary Hindi novel.  The tradition of original thinking in the realm of poetic philosophy was revived by Acharya Ramachandra Shukla in the first quarter of the 20thcentury.  He effected a healthy synthesis between ancient Sanskrit poetics and modern western criticism.


Kannada, next to Tamil, is the most ancient of the Dravidian languages. It started its independent existence about the beginning of the Christian era, as there are references to Karunatar or Karunadu in the famous Tamil Classic Silappadikaram.  The literature in this language is also enriched by the Jains, Virasaivas and Vaishnavas.  Other religions too contributed to the progress and development of literature in this language.  The earliest work is supposed to by Vodda-aradhana by a Jain Sivakotyacharya probably before the eighth century A.D.

Kavirajamarga, earliest extant work in Kannada, by Rashtrakuta king Amonghavarsha was written about A.D.850.  Gunavarma I wrote Sudraka and Neminatha Purana is a history of the first Tirhankara. The three gems of 10thcentury A.D. Pampa, Poona and Ranna are noted for their contribution to Kannada literature.  Pampa’s Vikramanka-vijaya and Ranna’s Sahasa-Bhima-vijaya (also called Gada-yuddha) are both secular poems based on the Mahabharata.  Two Bhrahman authors of the eleventh century, Nagavarma-charya and Chandraraja are notable for their contributions to Kannada literature upto the twelfth century A.D. Basava is glorified in several episodes f Basava Purana.

Kannada made considerable progress in prose as well as poetry during the medieval times.  Towards the beginning of the 13thcentury, two great Virasaiva poets, Harisvara and his nephew Raghavanka, invented and popularized some of the Kannada metres.  Harisyara’s biography of Basavesh and Raghavanaka’ Harischandra Kavya are the best examples of this new genre.

Under the patronage of the later Hoysalas, several literary works were produced. Some of the important works of his period are Rudra Bhatta’s Jagannatha-vijaya – a Campu on the life of Krishna, Janna’s Anantanatha Purana – a story of Jaina’s Tirthankara and Yasodhara carite.

Kannada literatureflourished greatly during the 14th – 16th centuries under the patronage of the Vijayanagar kings. Some of the works of this period are Bharata of Kumara Vyasa, Torave Ramayana of Narahari known as Kumara Valmiki, Jaimini Bharata in satpadi metre by Laksmisa, Basava Purana by Bhimakari depicting Basava’s life and miracles, Prabhulingalilai, a great biography of the Virasaiva mystic Allama Prabhu by Camarasa, Vivekacintamani by Nijaguna Sivayogi, Cenna Basava Purana by Virupaksa Pandita, Siva-tatva-cintamani, Vacanakaras Lakkanna and Sapta Kavya by Guru Basava.

The eminent poet of 17thcentury were Sarvajna who wrote tripadi (three-lined) compositions, Cikkadevaraya (A.D.1672-1704), king of Mysore and the author of Cikkadevaraya BInnrapa, Visnu Prana, Rukmangada Carite, Divyasuri Carite etc., Singaraya’s Mitravinda Govinda, based on Harsa’s Ratnavali Natika, is the first extent drama in Kannada.  Honnamma, perhaps the first outstanding poetess in Kannada wrote Hadibadeya Dharma (Duty of a Devout Wife).  Yaksagana, a type of opera or musical drama arose for the first time during the 17thcentury, and was cultivated profusely thereafter.

In 1823, Kumpu Narayana wrote his Mudra Manjusha which clearly showed the incoming new trends. M.S. Puttanna made notable progress in making the novel a true mirror of the society and times in a realistic manner.



The earliest work mentioned in Kashmiri is ‘Mahanaya Prakasa’ by Shati Kantha (13 century A.D.) But the language of this work is Apabhramsa and the subject matter on-literature.  Literary activity in Kashmiri started not earlier than the 14thcentury A.D. Lalleshwari, a women poet, and Shaikh Nur-ud-din (born A.D.1377) belong to the fifteenth century.

Paramananda  (1791-1879), chief devotional poet of the 18th and 19thcentury, wrote Radhasvayamvara, Sudamacaritra and Sivalagan.  Among the Muslim poets of this period, the best known is Mahmud Gami (d.1855) who wrote Yusuf-Zuleikha, Khusraw-Shirin and Laila-Majnum.  Other noteworthy poets of this period were Rasul Mir, Wahhab Pare, Maqbul Shah and Waliullah Mattu.  Wahhad Pare translated the Shah-Namah of Firdausi, while Maqbul wrote Gurist-Namah.                          The close of the century witnessed the birth of the distinctive type of comic-satiric balled called Ladi Shah written by Abdul Ahad Azad (1905-1948).  Other well-known poets of the present time are Daya Ram Ganju,  Zinda Kaul and Ghulam Hasan Beg ‘Arif’.  The present phase may be called “progressive”.  Among these the prominent ones are Dinanath Nadim, Rahman Rahi and Nur Muhammad Roshan.


Malayalam is latest among the languages constituting the Dravidian group.  Its origin may be traced back to the 9thcentury A.D.  the earliest literary work in the Malayalam language is probably Bhasha Kautilyam, a commentary on Arthsastra, produced in 12thcentury.  Unnunili-Sandesam another work is assigned to the 14thcentury.  Some early Malayalam poetical works like the Ramacaritam and Ramakathappattu bear witness to strong and undeniable Tamil influence in respect of words and metres.  The 15thcentury was eminently an age of Campus like the Ramayana-campu.  Most of them were written by the Nambudri Brahamanas of Malabar.  Rama Panikkar, who wrote Kannassa Ramayanam in pure Malayalam was a pioneer in this class of literature.

Modern Malayalam begins with the great name Ramanuja Eluttaccan.  His literature nodes were anticipated to some extent by Cherusseri Nambudri, the author of the Krsnagatha.  The Adhyatma Ramayanam-Kilippattu, Harinamakirtanam, Bhagavatam Kilippattu and Devi Mahatmyam are some his works.  Kathakali as  a form of dance drama became popular in Malabar in the alte 15thcentury, and in the next century, many dance-dramas came to be written.  Important writers were Kottayathu Tampuran (Kala Keya Vadham), Aswati Tirunal and Unnayi Warrier (Nala Charitam).

The modern phase began in the 19thcentury.  The Christian missionaries played a prominent role in bringing to Malayalam modern styles of prose through their religious writings and translations.  The pioneer of such a prose style was Chandu Menon who wrote novel Indulekha.  Some of the best specimens of the new prose are Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s novel Rantitanghazhi of Two Measures of Grain giving a vivid picture of the life of the landless; and Chemmeen or The  Shrimps describing the life of the fishermen.  Among other famous novels of the modern style, basheer’s Balyakala Sakhi or The Childhood Friend, P. Keshavadev’s Odayil Ninnu or From the Gutter, and S.K. Pottekkat’s Vishakanyaka are noteworthy.

Modern Malayalam poetry’s transition took place during the latter half of the 19thcentury.  Kerala varma was a pioneer of the new development, his Mayura Sandesam being a work of profound worth.  Kumaran Asan’s famous poem Nalini pointed towards the new direction.  Villathol’s (Magdalana Mariam), Oru Chitram or A picture published in 1915, was a masterpiece in the new style of poetry.


Marathi literary activity began with Mukund Rai (A.D. 1128-1198) who wrote ‘Viveka Sindhu’ and ‘Paramamtra’.  Dnyaneshwar is, however, generally considered to be the father of Marathi literature.  His Dnyaneshwari, an exposition of the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, is considered to be an outstanding work.  It appears that in Marathi, religious literature began to be produced much earlier than in other modern Indo-Aryan languages. This is because the ‘Bhakti’ movement which started in the South came to Maharashtra earlier than to Northern India.

The Bhakti Movement produced the great saint-scholars Namdev, Jnanadeva and Eknath.  Jananadeva’s famous works, Bhavartha Dipika and Anubhavamrta are philosophical treatises of great literary merit.  Eknath completed his great commentary on the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita in 1563 which ranks second only to the celebrated Dnyaneshwari.  His other works are Rukmini Swayamvara and Bhavartha Ramayana.  The latter work was completed by his disciple Gaoba.  The main aim of all these writers was to explain the philosophy of Hindu religion to the common man who could not understand the Sanskrit scriptures.  The epics Mahabharata and Ramayana naturally formed the main basis of their writings.  Mukteshwar is credited with the first complete translation of the Mahabharata.  Vamana Pandit wrote a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.  Tukaram was a great Maratha poet f the seventeenth century.  His devotional lyrics, written in simple Marathi, had a wide appeal for the masses.

Some of the Christian missionaries also wrote in Marathi to spread the message of Christ and to facilitate conversion.  Some such works were the Christian Purana by Father Stephens, Purana on the life of St. Peter by Father Etienne de La Croix, a French jurist, and an account of the life of St. Anthony by Father Antonio De Saldanha.

The last important poet of the eighteenth century was Moropant who rendered the Mahabharata,  the Ramayana and the Bhagvata Purana into Marathi.




Oriya seems to have originated as early as the eighth or ninth century A.D.  But no work of real merit is traceable before the fourteenth century when the great Oriya version of the Mahabharata  was written by Sarala Das, a semi-literate  peasant.   It is a grand national poem written in vigorous and forceful style.

A century later came the work of the five friends or Pancha Sakha who avowedly took up Oriya as the medium of their writings in preference to Sanskrit.  these five were Balaram Das, Jagannath Das, Ananta Das,  Yasovanta Das and Achyutananda Das.  Balaram Das wrote the first Oriya Ramayana.  Jagannath Das translated the Bhagawat into Oriya.  Chaitanya cast a spell over Orissa in the sixteenth century and much of the literature produced during the period was Vashnava poetry which laid emphasis on love and devotion.  Upendra Bhauja Das, the greatest court poet, wrote kavyas based on the stories in the epics and Puranas.  The leaders of the Vaishnava poetry were Dina Krushna Das, Abhimanyu, Samanta Sinhar, Kavisurya Baldeva Rath and Gopal Krishna.  Dina Krishna and Abhimanyu were superb in depicting the spiritual love of Radha and Krishna in their lyrical songs, while Baldeva’s Campu is the unique specimen of Oriya musical drama.

For a century from 1751, Oriya literature followed the path laid down by the poets of the first half of the 18thcentury, who in turn drew inspiration from the alter SanskritKayvas.  The Ramayana,  Mahabharata and Bhagavad-Gita were the invariable source of material.

In the middle of the 19thcentury contact with the west through English education brought about a radical change in Oriya literature.  Radhanath Ray (1849-1908) the father of Oriya poetry and who wrote Cilika and Mahayatra, made full use of ideas imbibed from western literature.


The first phase of Punjabi literature extends from the eighth to the twelfth century.  To this period belong Guru Gorakh Nath and his followers Charpat Nath, Chaurangi Nath and Ratan nath.  But the first real evidence of the existence of a well-developed Punjabi literature is to be found in the works of the mystic poet, Shaikh Farid ud din Ganj-i-Shankar (1173-1265).  A number of poets followed him of whom not much is known excepting their martial ballads and love romances which have come down to us mostly anonymously.  Of these war ballads or Vars, the most important are Var of Raj Kamal, Var of manj, Var of Tunda Asraja and Var of Sikandar Ibrahim.

            Punjabi literature really came into its own with Guru Nanak (1469-1538).  His poetry was devotional and mystic and forceful and direct and his compositions are incorporated in the Adi Granth.  Besides, he wrote lyrical poems known in Sikh literature as Shabdas.  The Adi Granth was compiled by Guru Arjan Dev in A.D. 1604.  It contains selected works of the important saints of medieval India, such as Kabir, Farid, Ramanand, Ravidas, Namdev, Surdas and Mirabai.  Guru Arjan Dev’s work Skhamani is one of the longest and greatest of medieval mystic poems.  His contemporary, Bhai Gurdas (1551-1629), wrote both in Brij Bhasha and Punjabi.  Some of the later Punjabi poets were Madholal Husain (1439-1594), Shah Husain (1539-1599), Sultan Bahu (1629-1690), Bulhe Shah (1680-1752) and Ali Haider (1690-1785).  Guru Gobind Singh was a poet and a prolific writer.  His words are included in the Dasam Granth.  A number of love romances were written in Punjabi.  The most important of them were Yusuf-Zulekha, Shirin-Farhad, Laila Manjnu, Mahinwal and Soni, Heer Ranjha, Sassi Pannu and Mirza Sahiban.  Damodar of Jhang district in the Punjab, who worte Heer Ranjha, was a contemporary of Akbar.  The author of Mirza Sahiban was Pilu, a contemporary of the Guru Arjan Dev.

Modern Punjabi literature began with the establishment of the Christian mission at Ludhiana which set up the first printing press in the Punjab, cast Gurmukhi type and started the first Punjabi newspaper.  Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), rightly called the ‘father of modern Punjabi literature’, has been generally regarded as the best product of the Singh Sabha movement.  His novels Sundari Vijay Singh and Baba Naudi Singh, celebrated the chivalry of the Sikhs and the excellence of their religion.  Bhai Vir Singh’s long poem Rana Surat Singh, appeared in 1905 and was the first successful attempt at blank verse in Punjabi.

The rising tempo of Indian nationalism, represented in the Punjab by the Ghadar, Akali and Communist movements, lent a new colour and tone of Punjabi literature.  The stress was shifted from the religious and the cultural to the national and the political.


The early history of Tamil language and literature is shrouded  in obscurity.  According to the popular legends it originated from the beating of the drum of Siva and its first grammar called Agathiam is said to have been written by the great sage Agastya.  But the literary history of Tamil goes back to the time of Samgam Age (500 BC to 500 AD).  However, there is lot of controversy amongst scholars regarding the exact period of the Sangams.

According  to the popular tradition there were three Sangams or Academis, which were the centres of Tamil literature.  The first Sangam held in Madura produced works like paripadal, Mudunarai, Mudukurugu and Kalariyavirai.  The second Sangam held at Kapatapuram produced works such as Kali, Kurhu, Vendali, Viyalamali, Ahaval, Agattiyam, Tolkappiyam, Mapuranam, Isainukukkam and Badapuranam.  Unfortunately all the works of the two Sangams, except the Tolkappiyam, have been lost.  The third Sangam was held in Northern Madura.  The most outstanding literary figures connected with this  Sangam were Nakkirar, Iraiyanar, Kapilar, Paranar and Sittalai Sattanar.  They produced numerous works of the outstanding literary quality but most of them have been lost except the few which have come down to us in the form of anthologies like Pattupaattu (The Ten Idylls), Ettuthokei (The Eight of Collections) and Padinen-Kilk-Kanakku (The Eighteen Minor Didactic Poems).  The most important amongst these is sacred Kural by Tiruvalluvar.

Two  epic poems – the Silappadikaram and the Manimekhalai (probably composed in 2ndcentury AD) are considered to be the Iliad and the Odyssey of Tamil literature.  Manimekhalai by the Lulvaniagam Sattanar is the sequel of Silappadikaram and deals with the life of the various characters like Madhavi, Kovalan’s parents, and Kannagi’s parents and friends.  The other major epics produced in Tamil include Jivakachintamani, Valayapati and Kundalakesi.

With the revival of Bhakti cult in the sixth and the seventh centuries, splendid pieces of Saivite and Vaishnavite literature were produced during this period.  The first notable Vaishnava saint who composed beautiful songs was Periyalivar.  Periyalivar’s daughter Andal was also a poetess of high order.  The Tevaram and Tiruvachakam (considered as sacred as the Upanishads) of the Saiva Samayacharya and the Nalayira Prabandham of the Vaishnava Alvars constitute the greatest elements in the Tamil literature of Hindu medieval India.

Tirumalisai Alvar composed Namukha Tiruvandadi and Tirucanda in which he emphasizes his monotheistic faith and spiritual insight.  His works have received enormous praise and are regarded as the six Vedangas of Dravida Veda.  He flourished in the eighth century A.D.

Tamil culture made tremendous progress under the Chola rulers, and a number f works in Tamil were produced between 850-1200 A.D. Kamban, Ottakuttan and Pugalendi are considered as the three Tamil gems of this period  who made great contributions of Tamil literature.  Of these Kamban is famous for his Ramayana in Tamil called Ramavatram.  Some of the notable works produced during this period include Jivakachintamani by Tiruttakkadevar, a Jin saint of the tenth century A.D., Kalladam by Kalladanar, ‘Kalingattuparani by Jayangondar, Nalayirakkovai, Parani (dealing with the war of Kalinga fought by Vikrama) and Takkayagapparani by Kuttan.

With the fall of the Cholas, the glorious period of Tamil literature  came to an end and it experienced a general deterioration. Though a large number of works were produced they lacked quality.  In the first half of the thirteenth century Arunanadi wrote Siva-Nana-Sittiyar, a comprehensive account of Saiva Siddhnata.  Two well-known Advaita anthologies – the Sivapraksap Perundirattu of Svarupananda Tattuvarayar and Kurundirattu were compiled about the end of the fourteenth century.  Haridas, a court poet of Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagar, wrote Irusamayavilakkam wherein he expounded  the philosophies of Vaisnavism and Saivism.  A number of commentaries were written during the period by Vaisnava scholars on the canons of their faith.  The most important of these scholars were Pillai Lokacharya (early thirteenth century), Vedanta Desikar (1268-1369) and Manavala Mahamuni (born A.D. 1360).  During this period were also written some great commentaries of Sangam works and the Tolkappiyam and Silappadikaram.  Akaradimigandu was a lexicon compiled by the celebrated author, Chidambara Ravana Siddar  (A.D. 1594).

Nalavenbra of Pugalendi (A.D. 1500) narrates the story of Nala Damayanti.  The entire Mahabhrata was written in about 4350 verses by Villiputturar.  The Pandyan King, Ativira Rama of Tenkasi, was a poet of distinction.  His Naidadam is highly praised by scholars. Sivaprakasha, a distinguished author, wrote a number of works including a polemic refuting Christian doctrines which is unfortunately not extant.


The first Telugu work which we know of belongs to the eleventh century A.D.  it is a Telugu version, in Campu style, of the Mahabharata begun by Nannayya, carried on by Tikkana and finished by Yerrapragada in the fourteenth century.  The earliest Ramayana in Telugu literature, generally known as Ranganatha Ramayanam, was composed by Gona Buddha Reddi in A.D. 1250.  The spread of the religious reform movement, Veerashaiva, led to the production of literary works in easy and simple Telugu.  Of these, Basava Purana and Padita radhye Charitra by Palkurki Somanatha deserve mention.

Nanha Choda was a celebrated poet who translated Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava.  Bhaskara’s Lilavati was translated by Eluganti Peddana.  The great poet Srinatha (1365-1410) translated Naisadhakavya into Telugu while Bammara Potana (1420-1475), another celebrated poet, did a translation of the Bhagavatam.  Bhogini Dandakam and Virabhadra Vijayam are said to be the other works of Potana.  Several Sanskrit works such as Sakuntla, Prabhoda, Chandrodaya, Panchtantra and Vishnu Purana were translated during this period.

The golden era of Telugu literature began with Krishnadevaraya, the great King of Vijayanagar (1509-1529).  The greatest poet of this period was Allasani Peddana whose immortal work is Manu Charitra.  The story is based on an episode in theMarkandeya-Purana relating to the birth of Svarochisha Manu, one of the fourteen Manus.  Anandi Timmana was another great poet.  His Parijatapaharam deals with an incident in the life of Lord Krishna.  Other poets who deserve mention are Dhurjati, author of Kalahasti Mahatmyam, and Tenali Ramakrishna, the reputed author of Panduranga Mahatmyam.  Their notable successors were Pingala Surana (1520-80) whose celebrated work was Kalapurnodayam, Bhattumurth who wrote Vasuchaitra, and Sankasala Narasimha Kavi, author of kavikarana Ramayanam.  Among the poets who flourished at Tanjore in the seventeenth century, the greatest was Chemakura Venkata Kavi whoseVijaya Vilasam ranked among the Panchama nakavyas of Telugu literature.  Pedakempa Gauda of Mysore composed Ganga Gouri Vilasam and dedicated it to Lord Somesvara.

Chinnaya Suri (1808-1862)  and Kandukuri Viresalingam (1848-1919) are the two stalwarts two inaugurated the modern period in Telugu language and literature.  Chinnaya’s contribution is confined mainly to the preparation of the comprehensive grammar and laying the foundations of Telugu prose in its present form.


The most significant development of the medieval period was the birth of Urdu.  Persian was the court language of the Sultans and the Mughals.  It came into contact with Khari Baoli, a dialect of Hindi, which was spoken in Delhi.  A mixed language thus grew up.  For over four hundred years (1200-1700), Urdu and Hindi were almost identical.  This is apparent from the dhoas and ghazals of Amir Khusro who flourished during Ala-ud-din’s time.  Similarly, Prithvi Raj Raso by Chand Bardai contains not only Khari Baoli, Haraini, Braj Bhasha and Rajasthani, but also Arabic and Persian.  This heterogeneous language was originally known as Dehlvi or Hindawi, the only difference being that of script.  Later on, Muslim writers began to use Persian and Arabic words profusely in their works.  Slowly similes and even themes began to be drawn from Persian and Arabic words profusely in their works.  Slowly similes and even themes began to be drawn from Persian and Arabic and these developments eventually led to the emergence of a distinct languagewhich came to be known as Urdu.

It is, however, interesting to note that while this language remained a spoken dialect in the north,  it assumed a literary shape in the south. It flourished under the patronage of the Bijapur and Golconda kings.   The famous Delhi saint, Syed Gesu Daraz who had migrated to Gulbarga, wrote his treatise on mysticism known as Miraj ul Ashiqin  in the fifteenth century.  Khushnama and Khushgnagh by Shah Miran Ji and Shams ul Ushshaq, and Jammatul Baqa by Burhan ud din Janum deserve mention.  Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur composed his famous book Nau Ras inabout A.D. 1599.  Mihammad Quli Qutub Shah (1580-1611) of Golconda wrote more than a hundred thousand couplets. Many urdu poets and writers flourished under his patronage.  Of these, Mulla Wajhi was the most important. His Sab Ras in prose and Qutub Mushtari in poetry are highly esteemed works.  Even after the conquest of the Deccan by the Mughals, Urdu continued to flourish.  Wali, Bahri and Siraj reigned supreme in the Deccan.  Meanwhile, the Delhi school of poets was founded by Hatim.  The famous poets of this school were Sauda, Mir and Hasan.

In the North, Urdu literature came into full blossom during the period of political decadence in the early 18thcentury, when Persian lost ground.  Distinguished poets like the mystics Mirza Jan-i-Janan Mazhar (A.D. 1699-1781), the social satirist Mohammad Rafi Sauda (A.D. 1713-1780), the lyricist Mir Taqi Mir and the mathnawi writer Mir Hasan (A.D. 1727-1886) raised the Urdu language and its poetry to near perfection and set standards for posterity in ghazal  (lyrical poem composed of self-contained couplets with a single metre and mood,) qasida (panegyric) and mathnawi (a long amorous or mystical narrative poem).  Mushairahs or symposiums, in which poets recited their verses before a cultured and critical audience, also gave great impetus to Urdu.  Mir Babar Ali Anis (1802-1874), who excelled in the art of writing marthias (elegies), is noted for the chastity and effortless charm of his style.

Alaf Hussain Hali (1837-1914), the harbinger of the modern movement in Urdu, wrote on subjects such as hope, justice and patriotism, and thereby represented a conscious new trend in Urdu poetry.

A new tradition of plain and matter-of-fact prose was created by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898).  Among the present day Urdu writers the names of Krishnan Chander, Sajjad Zaheer, Ismat Chughati, U.N. Ashk, KJ.A. Abas, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Tarlok Chand Mahrum, Arsh Malsiani, Josh Malihabadi and Sahir Ludhianvi deserve mention.

Literary Personalities

Amir Khusro:  A renowned Indian poet, scholar, courtier and master of music who adorned the courts of Muizuddin Kaiqudad, Jalaluddin Khalji, Alaudin Khalji etc.

Abul Fazal:  (1551-1602 A.D.) Muslim scholar and a student of Hinduism whose work Akbar-namah and Ain-i-Akbari provided detailed accounts of Akbar’s rule.

Alberuni:  Author of Tarikh-i-Hind (10th – 11thcentury A.D.) giving detailed information about Hindus, their philosophy, customs and manners.  His original name was Abu Rihan Muhammad and he came to India with Sultan Mahmud (A.D. 997 A.D. 1030) and stayed on in India.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee:  1838-1894) Great Bengali novelist, composer of Bande Mataram, a great social and political thinker and a literary author, he shaped Bengali novel starting with historical subject in modern sense.  Among his famous novels are Anada Math, Devi Chaudhurani, Sitaram and Kamala Kanta.

Bhaskara:  A renowned Brahmana mathematician and astronomer who wrote on algebra, astronomy and arithmetic (Lilavati).  He had no rival in medieval or modern times.  His astrological work is Siddhanta Siromani (1128).  He said to have known principle of differential calculus.

Firaq Gorakhpuri: A renowned Urdu poet, some of his prominent publications areAndaze, Shola-o-saz, Ruhe-e-kayanat, Rubaiyat, Shabnamistan, Dharti Ki Karwat, Gul-e-nagama, Bazme Zindagi and Range Shairi.   He was honoured with Sahitya Akademi and Bharitya Jnan pith award.

Hiuen Tsang:  Chinese Buddhist monk who visited India in A.D. 630 to collect sacred Buddist literature.  He stayed in India for about 13 years and left a detailed account of his observations on persons, places and customs and manners of people.

Jayadeva:  A great Sanskrit poet, born in Bengal in last quarter of 12thcentury A.D., became an ascetic but returned to the world when he fell in love with and married Padmavati.  He wrote many poems in praise of Krishna.  His masterpiece is Gita Govinda, originally intended to be sung (as evident from musical directions given in it ) but also has characteristics of drama as it is in form of lyrical monologues.

Katyayana:  (400 to 200 B.C.).  A great grammarian whose Sanskrit grammar, Vartrika is a commentary on the Asthadhyayi.  Sometimes identified with Vararuchi, a grammarian and poet who flourished at the court of Vikramaditya.

Krishna Deva Raya:  I (1509-1529). A scion of the Tuluvas, he was the greatest ruler of Vijayanagara kingdom and a noted poet and scholar also.  He patronized art and literature, particularly Tamil and Kannada poetry, gave large sums for advancement of Sanskrit studies and encouraged musicians, scholars, philosophers, religious teachers and saints.

Panini:  One of the world’s earliest grammarians, he was born in Gandhara (north-west India).  Educated at the university of Taxila he became a famous scholar and founded the present system of Sanskrit grammar in his treatise on Vedic Sanskrit, the Ashtadhyayi, the earliest extant grammar in the world and the greatest ever written.  The discovery of Panini’s grammar and his great achievement by Europeans in the 18thcentury opened the way to the new science of philology.

Patanjali:  (150 B.C). Born at Gonarda (or at Goda, Uttar Pradesh), a great grammarian of Sunga times, he wrote famous grammar Mahabhasya.

Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873):  Originally a Hindu, became a Christian taking the name of Michael.  A many sided genius and a great poet he wrote successfully in Bengali and English, broke new ground by striking out against the artificiality and stilted Bengali dramas, etc., of his days.  As a poet left a permanent mark on Bengali literature and poetry as he first used blank verse which freed the poetic form from its stereotyped moorings.  Produced successfully nearly all literary forms.  Indo-Anglican poetry began with him.

Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi:  (1862-1938) Hindi essayist and poet, influenced Hindi style.  Was given the title ‘Acharya’.  He also translated Sanskrit and English literary pieces.

Prem Chand (Munshi):  (1880-1936).  World renowned novelist, short story writer and a pioneer of progressive literature, his real name was Dhanpat  Rai.  He started his literary career as a free-lance journalist in Urdu, collection of his stories Soze Watan proscribed.  He switched over to Hindi in 1914.  He pioneered writing fiction with a social purpose, portrayed real problems of urban middle class society and peasants.  Some of his well known novels are Rangabhumi, Godan, Goban, Premashram, etc.

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya:  (1876-1938) Greatest Bengali novelist and social thinker.  Major works like Srikanta, Palli-Samaj, Pandit Mashai, Grihadaha and Sesh Prashna were serialized in Bharatvarsha. His only political novel, Pather Dabi, was published in Bangabasi and was banned when it appeared in book form.

Subhadra Kumari Chauhan:  (1904-1948).  Known for her ballad Jhansi Ki Rani, she was born poet, short story writer and social reformer.  During the freedom struggle she wrote patriotic poems to arouse the masses.

Subramania Bharathi:  (1882-1921).  He was awarded the title of “Bharati” for successfully taking part in a literary contest.  He met his political Guru, Sister Nivedita, at Calcutta.  Feeling strongly for the need for a Tamil journal through which he could express the nationalist aspirations he founded the daily, India,.  Bharati composed fiery patriotic poems.  Retiring to Pondicherry in 1908 to escape police prosecution he wrote brilliant poetry and prose for ten years before returning to British India.

Suryakant (Nirala)Tripathi:  (1896-1961) Great Hindi poet and innovator, set a new style in Hindi poetry, called ‘Nirala’ because of innovative poetical style and originality of conception.  A mystic and deep observer of nature, he enriched poetry with bold natural descriptions. ‘Juhi ki kali’, his first poem, and others like ;Shefalika’ are suffused with vibrant personal and emotional notes.  Deep national consciousness was also reflected in his poetry.  Among his famous poetry books are Anamika, Geetika, Tulsidas, Anima, Apsara, Sakhi, Schoor ke Bibi.

Thyagaraja:  He was saint of South India and a great composer of South Indian music and a great composer of South Indian music and devotional songs.

Vagbhatta:  (flourished in latter half of 7thcenturyA.D.). He produced a treatise summarizing in one volume the eight sections of the original Ayurveda (ancient system of medicine); which became a popular book and was used by physicians throughout India.

Vinayak Krishna Gokak:  The 82-year old, noted Kannada writer, former Vice-Chancellor and former President of Sahitya Akademi, died on April 28, 1992.  He was the recipient of Jnanpith Award, 1990 for his memorable epic, ‘Bharata Sindhu Rashmi’.