The earliest Hindi language literary works in this stream were seen as early as 1912 in Maithili Sharan Gupt's (1886-1964) poem "Bharat Bharati" ("The Voice of India," 1912). Gupta's poem contains songs that glorify India's past, condemn contemporary socio-political conditions, and suggest a way to a better future on the basis of Hindu-Muslim amity. Emphasis on Hindu-Muslim unity through literature came in the wake of rising Hindu-Muslim animosities around the turn of the century.
The communal divide had been set in motion in the nineteenth century, in part, by the debate over the status of Hindi and Urdu as two separate languages. J. B. Gilchrist initiated this separation in the middle of the nineteenth century when he engaged a group of writers at the Fort William College at Kolkata to write Hindustani prose. Hindustani prose was channeled into two distinct styles. One included Hindi without the use of Persianized words, and the other style involved the use of an Urdu that remained as close as possible to Persian. Such conscious segregation of the two languages made the differences between Urdu and Hindi sharper and became a strong basis for communal divisions between Hindus and Muslims during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
As Hindu and Muslim nationalists sought mass support from their respective communities through the propagation of the two languages, the debate intensified. The Hindu leadership stressed the need for popularizing Hindi to serve as a link for interregional communication and rally mass support against imperialism. Efforts to propagate the idea of Hindi as the national language were soon undertaken by organizations such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj, which actively promoted Hindi in North India. Pro-Hindi activism also constituted the introduction of Hindi newspapers in Bengal in the nineteenth century and the introduction of Hindi in law courts and schools in Bihar around 1900 (Das Gupta 1970, 83). Within the Hindi area, many organizations devoted to the cause of Hindi were formed. Of these, the Nagari Prachar Sabha in Varanasi in 1893 and the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, founded in Allahabad in 1910, became the most significant organizations for propagating the use of Hindi. These organizations promoted the Devanagari script and advocated a style that incorporated Sanskrit vocabulary while consciously removing Persian and Arabic words. Mahavir Prasad Dvivedi, the chief proponent of Hindi poetry at the turn of the century and editor of Saraswati, encouraged the use of Sanskrit meters in poetry. His own efforts to propagate this style included invitations to poets to write verse in Hindi, which he corrected before publishing in the journal, and he encouraged young poets to imitate his own lyrics published in Saraswati. With the publication of this new style of verse in Saraswati between 1909 and 1910 by scholars such as Kamta Prasad Guru (1875-1947), author of the first authoritative Hindi grammar, and Ram Chandra Shukla (1884-1941), professor of Hindi in Varanasi and historian of Hindi literature, Hindi poetry received further impetus.
Emphasis on the revival of a Sanskritized Hindi from the orthodox section of the Hindi revivalists led to the development of a highly literate Hindi at the turn of the century and gave a setback to Khadi boli, Braj Bhasha, and Awadhi dialects of Hindustani. Before the language controversy arose, these forms of Hindi or Hindustani were used by Hindus and Muslims alike. For example, Tulsidas's works Ramcharit Manas and Kavitavali were composed in Awadhi language and Braj Bhasha, respectively. However, after the espousal of Hindi, which initiated the purging of Perso-Arabic words from the language, Braj Bhasha was considered unsuitable for poetry. A revised form of Khadi boli that used Sanskrit instead of Persian vocabulary was employed for Hindi verse. Ayodhya Singh Hariaudh, at this time, wrote his epic poems Priyapravas and Vaidei Banvas in a Hindi that was highly Sanskritized. Others, such as Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and Shyam Narayan Pandey also utilized Sanskrit meters as opposed to the dohas, padas, and kavittas (poetic forms) of medieval poetry.
Thus, by the first decade of the twentieth century, the language politics motivated by nationalist sympathies largely changed the character of Hindi literature from Hindustani, the standard language, to a highly literate and Sanskritized Hindi. During this period, Hindi received further impetus through Saraswati, edited by Shyamsunder Das, which became the most influential literary journal in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Writings in Hindi were encouraged through competitions for which prizes were awarded. By 1916, the number of journals in Hindi in the Uttar Pradesh region had far surpassed the number in Urdu.
Accompanying this change from Hindustani to a literate Hindi was a celebration of the past glory of India, as well as a privileging of Hinduism. Hindu intellectuals who advocated Hindi and believed in the glorious Hindu past argued that only the reform of Hindu society on the basis of tyag (asceticism) and patriotism could bring about self-government. The revival of a Hindu past was linked to the idea of the vedic "golden age," an idea that had acquired prominence in the late nineteenth century in Bengal as a way of countering British colonialism and had manifested itself in the writings of renowned novelists such as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Evoking images of a "golden Hindu age" was the writers' way of resisting the colonial threat and reminding themselves and their readers of the need to recover what India had lost to its colonisers. Soon it manifested itself in Hindi literature as well. While preaching the ultimate unity of all religions, intellectuals and proponents of Hindi insisted on the superiority of Hinduism and refused any compromise with Muslims or Christians. Self-government, or swaraj, meant the rule of a Hindu majority. Hence, a body of literature poured forth evoking the myth of a glorious Indian past dominated by Hindu kings and philosophers, and a Hindu identity was represented as an "Indian" identity. For example, Shyam Narayan Pandey's epics Haldighati and Jauhar depicted the heroism of Rajputs in resisting the invasions of the Turks and the Mughals. Stories of the greatness of Hindu gods were evoked through mythological tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Similarly, in Bhagavad Purana, Makhan Lal Chaturvedi attempted to reawaken a similar sense of duty in the Indian public as the characters in the Bhagavad Gita possessed.
In the field of drama, too, this trend became visible, especially in the historical plays of writers such as Jaishankar Prasad, Badrinath Bhatt, Makhanlal Chaturvedi, Bechan Sharma Ugra, and Govind Vallabh Pant. Called the most significant playwright of the twentieth century by Dashrath Ojha, Prasad's historical dramas Ashoka (1912), Ajatshatru (1922), Chandragupta (1931), and Skandagupta Vikramaditya (1928) dwell on the courage of Hindu kings from ancient India. Shyam Sunder Simian's historical plays, such as Chanakya Mohan, Haldighati, Padmini, and Kunal, also recuperated themes from history. Plays such as Makhanlal Chaturvedi's Krishnarjun Yuddha, Govind Vallabh Pant's Varmala, and Badrinath Bhatt's Kuruvan Dahan, Durgavati, and Chandrakala Bhanukar continued to evoke images of a perfect Hindu society.
Hindu texts were also revived by Hindi nataka mandalis (play companies) to counter the Urdu movement. For example, Sri Ramlila Nataka Mandali presented Madhav Shukla's Sita Swamvara based on Tulsidas's Ramcharit Manas, Mahabharata, and Maharana Pratap and plays that satirized Urdu. These performances received immense popularity at the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan conferences at Allahabad and Lucknow.
Thus the Hindi literature in the pre-Independent era was focused on trying to bring about a revival of India's past glory in order to unite the people and make them stand against the evils of foreign domination.