(Last Updated on : 27/09/2012)
Gujarati as an Indian regional language counts amongst one of the oldest languages of India. Literature in Gujarati is sometimes also classified into two broad categories, namely poetry and prose, the former savouring and basking with a long lineage, dating back to the 6th century. Poetry as a perception took place as a medium of expressing religious beliefs and judgements, a stronghold of the medieval Indian times. In this context of gradual evolution, history of Gujarati literature is generally classed into three broad periods, consisting of: Early period (upto c.1450 A.D.), the Middle period (upto 1850 A.D.) and the Modern period (1850 A.D. onwards). However, Gujarati literature and its tremendous maturation and proficiency in contributing is also retraced back to the sultanate (referring to the Muzaffarid dynasty, who had served as the sultans of Gujarat in western India from 1391 to 1583) days.
It is a general accepted norm by historians and researchers in literary genres in Gujarati literature that the earliest writings in this very ancient language were framed by Jaina authors. These were further composed in the form of Rasas, Phagus and Vilasas. Rasas refer to those long poems which were heroic, romantic or narrative in essential nature. Salibhadra Suri's Bharatesvara Bahubalirasa (1185 A.D.), Vijayasena's Revanagiri-rasa (1235 A.D.), Ambadeva's Samararasa (1315 A.D.) and Vinayaprabha's Gautama Svamirasa (1356 A.D.) are the most hand picked examples of this form of literature in Gujarati language. The other notable Prabandha or narrative poems of this period include Sridhara's Ranamalla Chanda (1398 A.D.), Merutunga's Prabodhachintamani, Padmanabha's Kanhadade Prabandha (1456 A.D.) and Bhima's Sadayavatsa Katha (1410 A.D.). The phagus are poems that pictured the blissful and cheery nature of the spring festival (Vasantha). Rajasekhara's Neminatha-phagu (1344 A.D.) and Gunavanta's Vasantha-vilasa (1350 A.D.) are the unsurpassed instances of such texts. Neminatha Catuspadika (1140 A.D.) by Vinayachandra is the oldest of the baramasi genre of Gujarati poems. The earliest work in Gujarati prose was Tarunaprabha's Balavabodha (1355 A.D.). Prithvichandra Charita (1422 A.D.) of Manikyasundara, which essentially served as a religious romance, is the most paramount illustration of Old Gujarati prose and is reminiscent of Bana's Kadambari.
During the 16th century, Gujarati literature had come under the tremendous sway of the Bhakti movement, a popular cultural movement to liberate the religion from entrenched priesthood. Narsimha Mehta (1415-1481 A.D.) was the foremost poet of this era. His poems delineated the very saintly and mystical sense and bore an intense reflection of the philosophy of Advaitism. Narasimha Mehta's Govinda Gamana, Surata Sangrama, Sudama Charitra and Sringaramala are stupendous and exceptional illustrations of devotional poetry. Another poet, Bhalana (1434-1514 A.D.) had furnished a meritorious representation of Bana's Kadambari into Gujarati. Bhalana had also composed other substantial and irreplaceable works like Dasama Skandha, Nalakhyana, Ramabala Charitra and Chandi Akhyana. Yet another poet, Mandana had given form to immortal works like Prabodha Battisi, Ramayana and Rukmangada Katha. During this period of the influence of Bhakti Movement upon Gujarati literature, the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yogavashistha and the Panchatantra were all translated into Gujarati language.
The approaching 17th and 18th centuries in Gujarati literature were wholly predominated by three great Gujarati poets, namely - Aksayadasa or Akho (1591-1656), Premananda Bhatta (1636-1734) and Syamaladasa Bhatta or Samala (1699-1769). Akho's Akho Gita, Cittavicara Samvada and Anubhava Bindu have always been illustrated as being 'emphatic' compositions on the Vedanta. Premananda Bhatta, who is deemed as the biggest of all the Gujarati poets, was absolutely involved in taking and elevating Gujarati language and literature to new peak heights. Amongst Premananda Bhatta's umpteen authorships, the most crucial ones comprise Okha Harana, Nalakhyana, Abhimanyu Akhyana, Dasama Skandha, Sudama Charitra and Sudhanva Khyana. Samala was also an extremely creative and productive poet, who had given birth to unforgettable works like Padmavati, Batrisa Putali, Nanda Batrisi, Simhasana Batrisi and Madana Mohana in Gujarati verse writing. This period also had remained witness to the colossal Puranic revival, which led to the rapid growth and maturation of devotional poetry in Gujarati literature. Dayaram (1767-1852) had given rise to religious, ethical and romantic lyrics referred to as garbis. His most authoritative works comprise Bhakti Posana, Rasika Vallabha and Ajamila Akhyana. The Ramayana was authored by Giridhara in Gujarati during the middle of the 19th century. Parmanand, Brahmanand, Vallabha, Haridas, Dhira Bhagat and Divali Bali were the other authoritative 'saint poets' from this period of poetry predomination in Gujarati literature.
Distinguished and notable Jain monk and scholar, Hemachandra Acharya had penned a formal set of 'grammarian principles' of the harbinger of Gujarati language during the reign of the Rajput king Siddharaj Jayasinh of Anhilwara. This treatise had formed the cornerstone of Apabhramsa grammar in Gujarati language, establishing a language from the combination of corrupted form of languages like Sanskrit and Ardhamagadhi. The life of Narasinha Mehta was also chronicled and composed as an extensive narrative ballad by Premananda, widely known as the "Mahakavi" of Gujarati, who had served in the late 17th century A.D.
From the middle of 19th century, Gujarati, like other regional Indian languages, came under strong Western influence, precisely due to colonial residence and their reign. Dalpat Ram (1820-1898) and Narmada Shankar (1833-1886) are considered as the trailblazers of modern Gujarati literature. Dalpatram's Venacharitra portrays his incredible command over hilarity and wittiness. The very first Gujarati dictionary known as Narmakosa, was composed and compiled by Narmada Shankar, which essentially serves as a history of the world, also acting as an authority on poetics. Narmada Shankar also had endeavoured umpteen varieties of poetry and smoothly adapted a few English verses into Gujarati. His Rukmini Harana, Vana Varnana and Virasimha are always considered as masterpiece compendium of poems. The other great works in Gujarati poetry comprise - Bholanath Sarabhai's Ishvara Prarthanamala (1872), Narsimharao Divatia's Smarana Samhita, Kusumamala, Hridayavina, Nupura Jhankara and Buddha Charita; Manishankar Ratanji Bhatt's Devayani, Atijnana, Vasanta Vijaya and Chakravaka Mithuna and Balwantrai Thakore's Bhanakara. Nanalal was another important poet of this period in Gujarati literature, who had outshone incredibly in his apadya gadya or rhyming prose. Nanalal possesses to his recognition and reputation two poetic compilations, namely - Vasantotsava (1898) and Chitradarsana (1921), an epic referred to as Kuruksetra and numerous plays like Idukumara, Jayajyanta, Viosva Gita, Sanghamitra and Jagat Prerana. Other imperative and fundamental modern Gujarati poets comprise: Umashankar Joshi, Sundarram, Sundarji Betail, Rajendra Shah, Niranjan Bhagat, Benibhai Purohit and Balmukund Dave.
During this period, the Gujarat Vidyapith became the nerve-centre of all literary activities, where new values emerged and more emphasis was given on Indianisation. Novels, short stories, diaries, letters, plays, essays, criticisms, biographies, travel books and all kinds of prose began to flood Gujarati literature.
Modern Gujarati prose was ushered in with a bang by Narmada Shankar (Ragrang), Mansukhram Tripathi, Naval Ram, K.M. Munshi and of course, the legend and nationalist himself, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji's Daksina Aphrikana Satyagramo Itihasa and Atmakatha are his two most exceptional works in Gujarati. Indeed, after the rise of Mahatma Gandhi's prominence in a steadily strengthening struggle for Independence and social equality, a great volume of poetry, written by poets like Umashankar, Sundaram, Shesh, Snehrasmi and Betai, amongst others, were centred upon the existing social order, the struggle for Independence and the travails of Mahatma Gandhi himself. Highly inspired by Rabindranath Tagore's dialogue poems, Umashankar Joshi enriched the existing Gujrati literature by penning in the same manner. His two such poems are Prachina and Mahaprasthan.
During the 1940s, there could be witnessed a rise in communistic poetry and this inspired a movement for progressive literature in Gujarati too. Meghani, Bhogilal Gandhi, Swapnastha and others began to preach class conflict and hatred of religion through their writings. K.M. Munshi is deemed one of the most multitalented and flexible and looming literary figures of Gujarati literature of the contemporary times. K.M. Munshi's most bulky and voluminous works include dramas, essays, short stories and novels. His famous novels are enlisted within the list of Gujratano Natha, Prithvi Vallabha, Jaya Somanatha (1940), Bhagavan Parasurama (1946) and Tapasvini (1957). Nandshankar (1835-1905) and Govardhanram Tripathi (1855-1907) were among the dazzling and stupendous novelists in Gujarati literature, whose celebrated and well-admired novels comprise Karana Ghelo (1866) and Sarswati Chandra respectively. Gujarati novel however was also made a household name by G.G. Joshi ('Dhumaketu'), Chunilal V. Shah, Gunvantrai Acharya, Jhaverchand Meghani, Pannalal Patel and Manubhai Pancholi. Ranchhodbhai Udayaram (1837-1923) is almost always respected as the groundbreaker and trailblazer in the art of play-writing in Gujarati with his Lalita Dukha Darsaka Nataka. The other significant dramatists were Dalpat Ram, Naval Ram (Bhat Nun Bhopalun), B.K. Thakore, Chandravadan Mehta, Jayanti Dalal and Chunilal Madia. Amongst the important essayists, citation can be made of Kaka Kalelkar, Ratilal Trivedi, Lilavati Munshi, Jyotindra Dave, Jayendrarai Durkal and Ramnarayan Pathak.
Post-Independence Gujarati poetry displays a higher form of subjectivity and explores newer philosophies and lines of thought and imagery. They were more subjective and brutal, discarding old imageries and symbols and replacing them with new ideas. Prominent Gujarati poets of the post-Independence era include critically acclaimed poets like Suresh Joshi, Gulam Mohamed Sheikh, Harinder Dave, Chinu Modi, Nalin Raval and Adil Mansuri, among others. Present day exploration into Gujarat and its language is credited to British administrator Alexander Kinloch Forbes shortly after the British occupation of the region. Alexander Forbes carried out an extensive exploration of Gujarati culture and literature over the prior thousand years of history and amassed a large collection of manuscripts. An organisation named after him, called the Farbas Gujarati Sabha, dedicates itself to the preservation of Gujarati literature and language and history from its headquarters in Mumbai.
Owing to its apparent youth with respect to its written history, the Gujarati script follows the Nagari writing system. Nagari is a derivative of the Devanagari script, with one notable difference being that the horizontal line is not utilised. Gujarati script also has a few other variations in terms of certain consonants and employs a slightly different set of symbols for numbers. Gujarati has also been the language spoken by two of South Asia's greatest and most prominent leaders: the Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi and the Founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
The post independence prose literature in Gujarati had two distinct trends, that of traditional and modern. The former dealt more with ethical values and its main writers were Gulabdas Broker, Mansukhlal Jhaveri, Vishnuprasad Trivedi and others. While existentialism, surrealism and symbolism have influenced the latter. However, the modernists want to do away with moral values and religious beliefs. Eminent writers of this trend comprise Chandrakant Baxi, Suresh Joshi, Madhu Rai, Raghuvir Chowdhury, Saroj Pathak and others. Gujarati prose has recorded growth and literary feats quite rapidly in less than two hundred years and now can be counted among the front benchers in Indian literature.
In less than two hundred years, Gujarati literature has shown growth in compounded leaps and bounds, an ample demonstration of the Gujarati people's commitment towards modern ideologies in both expression and thought. With the Gujarat government's new emphasis on the basics of e-governance and the development of the Information Technology sector, Gujarati is slated to attain the significance it aspires towards in this Digital Era.