(Last Updated on : 29-04-2013)
Marathi literature in the early nineteenth century underwent a major change with the advent of the British. There were a number of political as well as social changes that were sweeping through the country at this time and Maharashtra
was no exception. The British were slowly gaining in power, taking advantage of the political disintegration within the country and had taken over the trade as well as other administrative functions of the country in their hands. They began to re-constitute India to consolidate their hold over the subcontinent and establish an administrative structure that could be run with the willing cooperation of Indians. To achieve this objective it was felt necessary to educate the Indians so as to create a class of individuals who would form a link between the rulers and the ruled. To impart education, books written in English and Marathi language
became necessary. The British officers felt it necessary to learn Indian languages for communication and effective control of administration, for which they employed the services of Indian scholars as language teachers.
American and Scottish missionaries were the other group interested in learning Indian languages to spread Christianity, which relies heavily on the teachings in the Bible
. This necessitated translation, as well as knowledge, of Indian languages. William Carey, a professor at the Fort Williams College in Kolkata
, played an important role in preparation of a grammar and dictionary of Marathi. The language and style of books produced by the British differed markedly from the prose works written by the Marathi authors at the time or earlier. There was a clear departure from earlier traditions in Marathi literature
. The language took on the English form with a new diction and syntax. The introduction of the printing press, establishment of schools and colleges, and school textbook production contributed to the objectives of the colonisers. The emphasis on written form and reading skills once again put the upper castes in a relatively advantageous position vis-a-vis new rulers. The standardization of both the written and spoken form of Marathi language by the British put Devanagari as a script and a variety of Marathi spoken in and around Pune
by educated people in dominant positions.
With the advent of printing technology, the Maharashtrians now started to explore newer possibilities in the changed context of society and state. The periodicals in English provided a useful model for the educated Maharashtrians and an opportunity to revive interest in older Marathi poetry and other classics. Along with literary periodicals, there were other periodicals countering the attacks of the missionaries on Hinduism. While upper-caste, educated Hindus were countering the missionaries, through writings on social, political, religious, and philosophical issues, they were also translating literary works from English. Printing technology and education enabled the non-Brahmins to forge alliances with the reformist elements among the Brahmins and later pave an independent path to reject the caste system. The revolutionary work of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (1827-90) in educating women and persons from lower castes is important in this period. Hari Deshmukh (1823-92) was an important reformist writer of this period. Through his contribution to the weekly Prabhakar, he criticized the superstition, idleness, and ignorance widespread in Maharashtra of his times and extolled the virtues of the British, namely, learning, efficiency, industriousness, and scientific knowledge.
The emergence of new forms of fiction, especially the novel, is attributed to political domination by the British, English education, and exposure to Western literature through English, as well as several indigenous narrative traditions that survived through constant change. It is interesting to note that the word 'Kadambari' is used for novel in Marathi, acknowledging Banabhatta's literary work in Sanskrit as the first of its kind in this genre.
Three distinct kinds of prose works can be identified in Marathi literature of the nineteenth century, especially the novel. The first type is exemplified by Baba Padamanji's 'Yamuna Paryatana' (1857). Padamanji, a convert to Christianity, represents reformist impulses in a functional way. The second is represented by Lakshman Halbe's Muktamala (1861), denoting the imaginative-romantic urge. The third type is exemplified by R. B. Gunjikari's 'Mochanagad' (1871), incorporating the revivalist-historical spirit. The story of Mochanagad, for example, is set in a hill fort in Maharashtra. Shivaji's capture of the fort and the lives of imaginary characters enable the author to weave a happy, romantic tale. This pattern has been repeated since to depict Maratha history.
The one literary form that managed to remain unchanged and stayed outside the sphere of influence of the British at the time was drama. Early Marathi drama retained its basis in Sanskrit or folk forms for some time. But dramas, along with periodicals, provided an effective means to resist the influence of the missionaries and infuse a new spirit of self-respect. As the first few generations graduated from colleges, the impact of, and exposure to, English literature was evident.