(Last Updated on : 16/08/2012)
Society is that all-encompassing term which perhaps cannot just be restricted to one single domain of life in general. Indeed, a generalised version of the contemporary society man lives in, gets wholly mirrored in one's own community, one's religion, one's process of consuming food, behaviour towards other members in community, educational style, career one chooses to pursue, or the friends and family one likes to maintain, or just stray instances of communal disharmony in the area. Man's social order and cultural growth and amalgamation, all are profoundly interlinked in an ecological chain. And there can be no other powerful tool in man's hand than to portray and document down his own society that writing about it that is intended for the public. In precise terms, this very well can be interpreted to literature and literary formations, with the build up of language structures redefining each different section. The Indian context associated with society has forever been enlisted within historical annals, with social themes in Indian literature letting out priceless information for succeeding ages to successfully comprehend.
Evidence of society in India can be traced for the very time with Indus Valley Civilization, celebrated for their unbelievable structural organisation in each field of life. Indeed, modern Indian society borrows much from Indus Valley and their each work done is still epitomised, such was their perfection in such primitive times. The advent of Aryans to India, concentrating the Dravidians to the south of the country, had yet again significantly influenced societal population at large, with the Vedic Period bearing first stages of literary enunciations. And such was the affluence and prosperity of India during the Vedic Period that practically every domain of each section had improved under the ruling dynasty. Vedic literature beginning with the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, or the four cardinal Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda, had begun to exhibit societal concepts of the then Hindu society, covering the whole of India, with special stress on north India. The Vedas, known to contain the Upanishads, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, coupled with the Sutras, Puranas, or the Samhitas, had wholly substantiated Hinduism, its rituals, man's obsession or fanaticism with religious customs and other beliefs that are commonly akin to 'prejudice' in contemporary times. Social themes in ancient Indian literature however was not wrong to put these forward, because, Brahmins or rishis who are believed to have penned these down, were out-and-out believers of staunch Hinduism and its after-issues on the faithfuls.
Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit literature were next in line to depict social themes in Indian literature, post the popularity and acceptance of the Vedas and their supremacy. The over-emphasising of the Almighty, or one's belief that His wrath would come down if behaving towards the contrary, all pragmatically depict the then Indian society, ruled by Hindus. Time and again, thus Hindu religious efforts need to be cited, because Sanskrit literature was also not far behind in this regard. Be it Kalidasa, ?hudraka, Bhasa, Asvaghosa, Banabhatta, Jayadeva or Kalhana, each Sanskritic genius has desperately tried to portray Indian society through symbolism or mere blatant delineation. The society, its community or the organised humanity as a whole have been exemplified in Sanskrit and its later versions of Pali or Prakrit. Social theme in Indian literature however finds proud mention in Pali literature in Buddhism and its umpteen later studies and canons (like in the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism). Buddhism is known to excel in Pali literature; Gautama Buddha's favoured language of preaching.
Succeeding the Vedic Age and the advent of the powerful Hindu rulers like Harshavardhana, Ashoka and the empires like Gupta, Mauryan, Kamboja, Chola, Satavahana, Kushana or Vijayanagara, each Hindu ruler was fanatically dedicated to making his society the best amongst the whole world. Indeed, literature and literary genres had, for the very first time, started to grow out and be accepted by the common mass. Hindi literature, Tamil literature, Kannada or Telugu literature already had sown its seeds of solid establishment with Dravidian language standing out from its Indo-Aryan counterpart. Forests, dances or religious literature were prominent. Literary genres including romance, fiction, erotica, satire, folk songs, fables and parables, musical treatises and musical compositions were popular. The topics of south Indian literature included grammar, philosophy, prosody, rhetoric, chronicles, biography, history, drama and cuisine, as well as dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Social themes in ancient Indian literature were thus an inevitable concept, trying only to mirror the society with its each central sensitiveness or influence of the west. Significantly, Alexander the Great of Macedonia had invaded eastern Asia during the medieval ongoing Indian epoch, when Hindu rule was at its helm. His influence on the Mauryans or the Kambojas had also been laid bare in literature, bearing symbolic references to this gargantuan personality on the whole.
With social theme being most perfectly and uniformly outlined in ancient Indian literature and under any religion, Medieval India and its Islamic rule was again mirrored in Urdu literature, with all credit going to Persian invasions, which in the long run did have its beneficial effects. Indeed, ancient languages had then taken a backseat with Muslim emperors time and again invading India to make it their domicile. As such, Urdu started to dominate in every sphere, with strict Islamic education being imparted in the Urdu dialect and language. The classical Persian atmosphere is wholly dispensed in Indian literature, with every writer, beginning from Amir Khusro or Mirza Ghalib or Mir Dard and his esteemed successors still going great in verse, play and novels. Magnum romantic themes and palatial edifices are a few of the Islamic themes that have been depicted socially in ancient Indian literature, even assimilating in astronomy in Urdu versions.
The 20th century generation of writers, more precisely the colonial era had picturised British dominated society at large, catapulting social themes in Indian society towards a new direction. Indeed, the very changing face of society in India comes to the closest to perfect depiction during British India and its umpteen literary notables. Bengali literature totally had overwhelmed and overpowered Indian Independence Movements, which time and again are portrayed in books like Nil Darpan (play) by Dinabandhu Mitra, or even Kazi Nazrul Islam's fuelling patriotic poetry for the nationalists, termed as 'revolutionists' by British lords. Every Bengali writer like Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhay, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhay, Tarashankar Bandyopadhay, Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhay, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Dinabandhu Mitra, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Premendra Mitra, Bimal Kar or Rajshekhar Basu (Parashuram) had dedicated every genre of Indian literature to the countless crusading martyrs. Be it satire, romance, tragedy, comedy, religious literature or the 'angry young man' image, social theme in colonial Indian literature had earned praise from every section of world literary sections.
As a concluding enlistment to social themes in Indian literature, contemporary Indian literary writers of the 21st century made Indians to look at India in yet another direction, letting in much of 'cosmopolitanism' and 'globalisation'. Indian writing in English, Hindi literature, Bengali literature, Tamil literature, Telugu literature, Gujarati literature, Dalit literature, literature of the North-East, has exclusively dedicated their works in prose, poetry or drama to societal themes in Indian literature. Concerns of administration, communal or religious riots, political unrest, antagonism amongst one community with another, or bright sides like comedy, satire, tragedy, romance with a happy ending, tragic-comic, thriller, investigative series and the likes admired by Indians of all age are just a few of the themes that writers are worried about to produce.