Indian Literature in Ancient times
Ancient Indian literature comprised of poetries, narratives, songs, religious texts and many more. Even in ancient times, there were many elements in the literature besides religious aspects of the country. The most well known ancient literature of India includes the Vedas which is composed of sacred texts for religious rituals and concepts. The texts are mythical where various interpretations of social and political structure of the society can also be found and the prose exhibit high literary value. Vedic poets, known as Rishi, had visualized the various aspects of life and the world which found brilliant expression through the poems of Vedas. Yajur Veda relates to creative reality, Rig Veda comprises of verses having archetypal meanings which have been moulded in different melodies in Sama Veda and Atharva Veda pertains to prosperity and peace in society. Literary works in ancient times also include the great epics namely Mahabharata and Ramayana. Ramayana, composed by poet Valmiki, has depicted the concept of the victory of good over evil whereas Mahabharata, written by Vyasa, describes the different layers of social and political life of ancient India. These highly acclaimed literary works have not only been translated to different regional languages but have also gained popularity across the world owing to their universal appeal.
Puranas represent another phase of Indian literature where interpretations and explanations of the verses of Vedas can be found. The Puranas are composed of mythological stories and legends. Social, cultural and religious history of the country is very accurately illustrated through the Puranas. These cover five subjects namely
(1) Sarga, pertaining to creation of Universe.
(2) Pratisarga, which depicts the cycle of creation and destruction.
(3) Manvantara, where illustrations of various eras and cosmic styles can be found.
(4) Surya Vamsha and Chandra Vamsa relates to the history of dynasties of Gods and saints.
(5) Vamshanucharita which describes the lineages of Kings.
These five subjects form the focus of the various aspects of the society including sacrifices, customs, festivals, ceremonies, and pilgrims, descriptions of temples and rituals and duties of various castes.
Indian Literature in Sanskrit
Indian literature has also been enriched by many literary works in Sanskrit language. Sanskrit literature can be categorised as the Vedic and the Classical. The epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, had acted as precursors of numerous poetries, dramas and many other compositions which covered many spheres like medicine, grammar, mathematics, astrology etc. The most prominent name in Sanskrit literature is Kalidasa who had written some of the greatest compositions. Kumarasambhava and Raghuvamsa are the two great epics composed by Kalidasa. Lyrical poetry is another notable feature of Sanskrit literature which was usually combinations of religious and erotic sentiments. Meghaduta is an excellent testament of lyrical poetry. Panchatantra, written by Vishnu Sharma, and Hitopadesha, written by Narayan Pandit, are other masterpieces of Sanskrit literature which deal with practical wisdom and politics.
Literature in Pali and Prakrit
After Vedic period, Pali and Prakrit were the most prevalent languages in India. In ancient India, these languages were adopted by Buddhists and Jains as sacred languages. The Jataka Kathas are one of the most famous Buddhist literary works which comprises of tales of formers births of Lord Budha. Religious doctrines of Buddhism are aptly propagated through these tales. Eminent literary works of Jains are also famous like the vast Katha written by Jain sages. Well known Jain poetesses are Mahavi, Roha, Pahai and Sasippaha.
Early Dravidian Literature of India
Compositions in mainly four languages comprise the Dravidian literature, namely Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. Out of these languages, Tamil is the oldest and had most prominently retained the Dravidian characteristics. Ancient Tamil literature, also referred as Sangam literature, consisted of two schools of poet namely 'asham' and 'puram'. Asham were basically love poems whereas puram were poetries related to public and heroes. Vaishnava and Bhakti literature are other prominent literary works of this era which were related to Lord Vishnu and devotion respectively.
Indian Literature in Medieval Age
Modern languages started developing in India around 1000 A.D. Variations and deviations in ancient languages due to regional and ethnic influences led to this development. Devotional literature, also known as Bhakti literature, reached great heights during medieval era. Compositions in languages acceptable to common man became more and more popular. Different regional languages evolved and notable writers emerged offering some of the greatest literary works to the nation. In medieval period, Hindi literature also gained popularity and attracted even the regional poets like Guru Nanak (Punjabi) and Namdev (Marathi). Hindi literature reached its zenith through some of the masterpieces of writing by Tulsidas, Surdas and Meera Bai where Vaishnavite lyricism was most prominent. The religious and cultural aspects of Indian society were beautifully expressed through their works. Stupendous literary works in Bhakti literature have also been rendered by some women poets like Lopamudra, Apala, Gargi, Romasha Brahmavadini etc. Apart from Bhakti literature, heroic narrations and love ballads also spanned the Indian literature of medieval era. Hir Ranjha is one of the most amazing compositions in Punjabi. Urdu also started developing in this era and poets like Amir Khusro created some of the greatest works of Urdu literature. Different types of compositions having Persian and Iranian origin also enriched this literature and added more vigour to it.
Indian Literature in Modern Era
Indian literature in the modern era was influenced by a number of factors like Indian freedom struggle, effect of western culture and political consciousness among people. These had a combined effect on Indian literature which moulded it into different forms. Several ideologies were conveyed through writings by different poets who represented an amalgamation of Indian and Western culture. Concepts of writers took an arduous bent towards reformist, nationalistic and revivalist thinking. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer, K.V. Pantulu, Vivekananda, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Narmada Shankar Lalshankar Dave and many other writers provided a new facet to the Indian literature. Composition in various modern as well as regional languages started to pave their way in the Indian society and with the advent of printing press, their propagation became easier. Evolution of journalism in the form of periodicals and newspapers played a crucial role in the development of prose for spreading new concepts and ideas in the society. Rabindra Nath Tagore, the world famous poet and Nobel laureate of the country incorporated the concepts of federalism and unity in diversity in Indian literature. Political saints like Kabir, Guru Nanak and Chaitanya also played important roles in spreading these concepts throughout the society.
Progressive Literature of India
During the India's freedom struggle, many poets worked to bring about a new outlook in the society. They stirred the thought process of common man and evoked them to scrutinize their relationship with the society. Literary works in this era included compositions that threw light on the problems prevailing in the society like economic and social inequality and many more. Prominent writers and poets of this era are Manik Bandyopadhyay, Samar Sen, Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer, Shivaram Karanath etc. They composed masterpieces in different regional languages which included novels, poetries and fictional stories.
Contemporary Indian Literature
Post modern era comprised of contemporary literature. These works always tried to reach the common man. Contemporary literature has escaped from the traditional style of writing with social or philosophical teachings and created a new style which included simple narrations of tales and questioning any idea before accepting them. Eminent novelists of the contemporary age enlist Jayamohan (Tamil), Shivprasad Singh (Hindi), Debesh Ray (Bengali) and many more. However these novelists faced a great difficulty during the transition that they tried to inculcate in the society. The journey from the rural and traditional values to the path of modernization required a lot of effort. Some other writers who portrayed the new facet of Indian society are Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya (Assamese), Pannalal patel (Gujarati), Samaresh Basu (Bengali), Sunil Gangopadhyay (Bengali), Moni Manikyam (Telugu), Rajam Krishnan (Tamil) etc. The literary works of modern India also included sketches of real India, demolition of myths and harmonization concepts.
Indian Literature in Various ages has witnessed drastic changes in terms of concepts, ideas, narrations and interpretations. Several facets of it have emerged over time and no single language has been able to assimilate them all. In fact, compositions in different languages are intertwined with each other which share common themes, forms and directions. These have helped in maintaining the dynamism of Indian literature. Several classics of Indian literature are highly acclaimed all over the world.
(Last Updated on : 15-07-2013)
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