Taj Mahal

Architecture || Sculptures || Paintings || Dance || Music || Cinema



Assamese || Bengali || Oriyan || Hindi || Gujarathi || Punjabi || Marathi || Urdu
|| Kashmiri || Tamil || Kannada || Telugu || Malayalam || English

No land on earth has such a long cultural continuity as India. The cultural quality and temper of a nation can be best gauged to a great extent by its literature. We have at least 22 literatures, which are held by a common thread.

In India, the stage was set by two great literatures, namely Sanskrit and Tamil. Indian culture has an organic unity and Sanskrit language and its literature have been mainly responsible for building up and maintaining this unity. The great works of Ramayana and the Mahabharata have moulded the life and literature of India and constitute the greatest literary heritage of the country. The cultural unity of India, ancient, medieval and modern has been primarily nurtured through them.

The other great literary works of India include, works like Uttararama Charita by Bhavabhuti, Marghadutam and Sakuntalam by Kalidasa, Gita Govinda by Jeyadeva, Katha Sarit Sagaram by Somadeva Bhatta, Rajatarangini by Kalhana and Swapna Vasavadatta by Bhasa. These works have inspired many literary writers of many modern Indian languages in the present millennium. Sanskrit literature is at least 3000 years old and its role in maintaining the unity and culture of India can be seen from the various periods of literature including the Vedas and the classicals. Among the major Dravidian languages, only Tamil claims at least 2100 years of literary history. Sanskrit influenced the Sangam literature and the early Grammar "Tulkappiam" though they have their own identity.

If language is a plant, literature is its flower. The color and flavor of a language find best expression in its literature because it has an aesthetic appeal. We have great literary contributors like Sankara Deva in Assamese, Chandi Das in Bengali, Narasimha Mehta in Gujarathi, Mirabai in Braja hasa, Namder and Tukaram in Marathi, Vidyapatiin Maithili, Saraladas in Odisha, Potana and Tyagaraja in Telugu, Ezhuthachan in MalayalamTulsidas in Hindi, Manikkavasagar and Kambar in Tamil and Basawevara in Kannada. We also have Kabir in a mixed form of Urdu and Bhojpuri and also Guru Nanak in Punjabi who developed their own brand of devotional poetry.

The 19th and the 20th centuries are very important in the literary history India as massive changes took place. The interaction with the British culture produced a Renaissance in literature. The West revitalized our poetry and revealed the potential of our prose. Indian literature is richer today in volume, range and variety. It is sure to progress in the same direction in the present millennium too.

Assamese Literature

Though the language is comparatively old, Assamese sprouted into literature only in the 13th century. Rudra Kandalis' translation of Drona Pava of Mahabharatha and Mandhava Kandalis' rendering of the Ramayana are the two works of classical eminence in the early period. But the new Vaishnavite movement of the 15th century is the most notable in the early period and lovers of Assamese literature remember that even today.

In 1813, the complete Bible was translated into Assamese. The leaders of the Assamese renaissance in literature are Chandrakumar Agarwala (1858-1938) and then Lakshminath Bezbarua (1867-1938) and Hemachandra Goswamy (1872-1928). They founded the famous monthly Janaki. The most important contemporary fiction writers are Syed Abdul Malik, Jogesh Das and Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya. Bhattacharya's novel Mritunjaya received the Jnanpith Award. He was also President of the Sahitya Akademi.

Bengali Literature

Among the many literatures of India, Bengali has a pre-eminent position. It was the first to absorb the impact of European influence. The establishment of Fort William College in 1800, and the contributions of William Carey and others in the field of Bengali grammar and dictionary were developments of seminal importance. Their translation of the Bible into modern, simple Bengali prose gave a fillip to prose writing of the early 19th century.

Meghanadodh Kavya, the first epic poem was composed by Micheal Madhu Sudan Dutt (1824-73). Bankim Chandra (1838-94) wrote the first romantic novel "Durgesha Nandini" that thrilled the Bengali readers. He was hailed as a pioneer novelist in India. Thousands of poems and songs, about a dozen novels, three dozen plays and several volumes of short stories flowed from the pen of the Great Rabindranth Tagore, a Bengali. His translation of the Gitanjali into English brought him the Nobel Prize in 1913 for literature. His Gora is considered as an outstanding achievement.

The post-Tagore period in Bengali literature is also very rich. Tarashankar, Manik and Bibhutibhushan are outstanding novelists of the 20th century. Then we have Jidananda Das and Bishu De in poetry, Dianbandhu Mitra and Dwijendralal Roy in the field of drama. Bibhuti Bhushan's Aranyak and Pather Panchali and Tara Shankar's Gana Devata and Arogya Niketan are well-known novels translated into many Indian languages.

Oriyan Literature

Oriya is a younger sister of Bengali. Sarala Das of the 14th century is the Vyasa of Odisha. His real name was Sidheswar Panda and he adapted the Mahabharatha into simple Oriya. His Vilanka Ramayana and Chandi Purana are also well known. Poets like Baladeva Rath, Devi Krishna Das and bhaktha Charan Das made significant contributions in the field of poetry.

Prose in Oriya was really born in the British period. It developed rapidly through a steady flow of novels and short stories. An outstanding name is Fakir Mohan Senapathi (1843-1918). He was a poet, novelist, businessman and social reformer all rolled into one. He translated the Ramayana and the Mahabharata into Oriya though he had only four years of formal education. In the contemporary period, we have Sitakant Mohapatra, an IAS officer whose poetry has won him the famed Jnanpith Award.

Hindi Literature

The history of Hindi literature begins around 1000 A.D. The main trendsetters in the early period till the 14th century were the Siddhas, the Jain poets, the Antha Panthis and the Heroic poets. They represented certain religious ideologies. The next four centuries saw the rise of the Bhakthi Kavyas are devotional poetry under two main schools, namely the Nirguna and the Saguna.

Kabir was the most important poet of the Nirguna period. He preached the Universal religion of man, transcending Hindu and Muslim orthodoxy. The great Champion of Rama poetry is Tulsidas (1543- 1623) whose Ramacharitha Manas is still accepted as an immortal classic by all Hindi literature lovers. He was an expert in narration, epic and logical form.

The modern period of Hindi literature commences with the second half of the 19th century with Bharatendu Harischandra (1850- 84) as the pioneer.

In the field of fiction, the great stalwart is of course Prem Chand. His Godan is translated into almost all of the major Indian languages. Prem Chand raised Hindi Literature from entertainment to realism.

Other important fiction writers of the contemporary period are Jainendra Kumar, Phaniswar Nath Renu, and Satchidananda Vatsyayan. New trends in the 50's and 60' s elevated the Hindi short story scene to a very high level. Literary criticism also revived and Dr. Nagendra and Dr. Namwar Singh need special mention in this field.

Gujarathi Literature

Developing from one of the dialects of standard Gurjara Apabhramsa and coming under strong Jain influence in the early period is the Gujarathi language. The epics and the puranas flowed into the Gujarathi language during the 15th to the 17th century. The great poets of this period are Narasimha and Mirabai. Narasimha Mehta (1404-1480) is considered to be the father of Gujarati Poetry. His Govind Gamana and Sudama Charita are well known. Mirabai (1499-1547) is the most celebrated woman poet of medieval India claimed by both Hindi and Rajasthani. Her bridal devotion to Lord Krishna is a fine example of sublimation of the sex element.

During 1855-1907, Govardhanram Tripathi penned the celebrated novel Saraswathi Chandra. This great work of modern India is a love story with social and spiritual relevance. A towering figure of the modern period is none other than K.M.Munshi (1887- 1971), the founder of the Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan and a great promoter of Indian culture. Munshi entered Gujarati literature with a bang and continued to dominate it for along time. His first novel was Varulata. Four of his historical novels were instant successes.

Though Mahatma is not a Gujarathi writer, his influence on Gujarati literature is beyond question. So the period between 1925- 1950 is called the Gandhian period. Some modern poets include Sundaram, Umashankar, and D.B. Kalelkar and in drama, Jayanthi Lal needs special mentioning.

Punjabi Literature

The rise of modern Punjabi with Gurumukhi script is the result of the bhakthi songs of the sacred gurus. Its literature dates back to the 13th century when narrative poems, dramas and stories were created. Baba Farid composed his sloks and hymns in Punjabi. Great warriors and kings were praised by a kind of verse called Vars. Amir Khusrou(1253-1325) composed an outstanding Var on Tughlaksha.

The Golden period of Punjabi literature is undoubtedly the period of the Sikh gurus beginning with Guru Nanak and continuing till the passing away of the Guru Gobind Singh. Most of the religious and often mystic poetry of the period has been preserved in the Adi Granth, which is a great anthology of Bhakthi poems. It is the scripture of the Sikhs, but it is also a literature of high quality. During 1600-1800, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads were created in Punjabi.

In 1850, the Ludhiana Chrisitan mission was formed and they brought out a Punjabi translation of the Bible in 1852 and a Punjabi dictionary in 1854. A very important personality of the time was Bhai Vir Singh (18720 1957), who wrote religious epics, lyrics and nature poetry. Great writers like Gurumukh Singh Musafir, Hira Singh Dard, Mohan Singh and Amritha Pritam inspired the nationalist movements.

Amrita Pritam is well known throughout India as a great poetess, novelist and winner of the Jnanpith Award. Some famous fiction writers include Guruakash Singh Preet Lari, Harcharan singh, Sant Singh Sekhon and Gurudial Singh, etc.

Marathi Literature

Viveka Sindhu (sea of philosophy) by Mukunda Raj, a yogi of "Natha Panth" is considered as the first major work in Marathi. Marathi prose originated during the Yadava period and the credit goes to the religious sect called Mahanabhavas. Jnanadeva wrote the Jnaneswari a valuable commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in Marathi.

The contribution of Christian Missionaries took place during the17th and the 18 th centuries. Christapurana on the model of Jnanaeswari was composed by Father Stephens and was accepted as a masterpiece in Marathi language. Then came Tukaram (1608- 49), the greatest saint poet of the language. Devotional poetry flowed from his pen. He wrote 3000 abhangas. Krishna Dayarnava and Sridhar were the leading poets during the 18 th century. Kesava Sut, the father of modern Marathi poetry published his first work in 1885.

Vijay Tendulkar and C.T. Dhanolkar have written plays that have won recognition beyond the borders of Maharastra. It can be said that Marathi has a contemporary literature that is flowing.

Urdu Literature

The vocabulary, idioms and literary tradition of Urdu depend largely on central Asian, Turkish and Persian sources. Urdu Literature therefore has a flavor of its own. Muslim saints made Urdu as a vehicle for the propagation of their concepts of brotherhood. Hindu saints of the Bhakthi movement used it to propagate the unity of religions.

Two writers who popularized early writing in Urdu known as Deccani Urdu were Sahik Ganjalim and Kwaja Bendas Nawaz (1320-1422). Mulla Wajhi was a great literary figure of the 17th century. His "masnavi" and prose compositions are rated among the best of their kind. Ghazal had many devoted practitioners.

Amir Khusrou and Qutab Shah gave it a new dimension. The Lucknow school of poets led by Syed Ahmed Khan also made significant contributions. Sarshar, Nazir Ahmed and Sharar are great novelists of Urdu though the greatest and most celebrated work of this genre is "Umrao Jan Ada" (1899) by Ruswa. Premchand wrote not only in Hindi but in Urdu as well.

Modern Urdu literature has different phases, romanticism, progressivism and various kinds of post-modernism. Imtias Hussain is a real force in modern fiction. Qurrantulain Haidra, winner of the Jnanpith Award is known for her magnum opus "Aga Ka Darya" that deals with the horrors of partition.

Kashmiri Literature

Kashmiri literature may be divided into two phases: the ancient and the modern. Ancient Kashmiri writings are closely linked with Sanskrit. Early Kashmiri poetry is an extension of the Saiva texts in Sanskrit.

Kashmiri prose is very recent. Actually fiction originated with the Progressive Movement in the forties. Important writers like Aktar Mohi-Ud-din, Mohamed Amin Kamil and Ali Muhammad Lone are men who switched over form Urdu to Kashmiri.

Tamil Literature

Tamil literature has a history of about 2100 years behind it. An example of the distinctiveness of Tamil in the second millennium is Kambaramayanam of the 12th century. Though Kambar based his work on the Ramayan of Valmiki, his rendering showed that he was a supremely original poet.

Subramania Bharathi
Subramania Bharathi
Tamil is rich in devotional literature. The Nayanmars are the exponents of Saivism and Alwars the celebrants of Vaishnavism. There is also a great number of Jain and Buddhist works in Tamil. Between the 13th and the 18 th centuries, Muslim and Christian influences began to make an impact. Scholars of Tamil remember Umaippulavar's long poem of 5000 verses on Prophet Muhammed.

The Christian influence began with the Portuguese and continued with the Danes, the Dutch and then with the French and the British. Berchi composed Tembavani (the insatiable beauty) on the life of Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ. Vedanayagam Pillai and Krishna Pillai were really Christian poets.

The 20 th century has seen an explosion of talent. The greatest of them all was of course Subramania Bharathi. His patritiotic songs inspired thousands of Tamilians. Kuyilpattu, Kannanpattu and Panchali Sapatham are notable among them.

Kannada Literature

Kannada has been highly influenced by Sanskrit. It s early literature dates back to the 5th century A.D. Works based on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata form the earliest literature of Karnataka. The three important names of early Kannada poetry are Pampa, Panna and Ponna all born in the 10th century. They introduced Sanskrit Epics into Kannada.

The first standard grammar on Kannada language, Sabdamani Darpana was written by Kesi Raja. The great literary milestone of the time was Basaveswara of the 12 th century whose Vachana style of writing has no equal in any other language. With vachana, Basaveswara caused a social revolution.

The modern period has many important writes like B.M.Srikantiah, K.V.Puttapa and D.R.Bendre. Outstanding among the fictionists are Masti Venkatesh Iyengar and Shivarama Karanth. Karanth's Chomana Dudi and Marali Mannige have been translated into almost all of modern Indian languages. T.P.Kailasam and Adya Rangacharya are well known names in Kannada drama.

Telugu Literature

In the early periods of Telugu, the Bhakthi poets dominated the scene with the translations of the Mahabharatha by Tikkana (13th century) and Yerrana (14th century). The Ramayana poets started with Ranganatha Ramayana. Other great religious poets include Potana, Jakkana and Gurona.

The Golden period of Telugu literature was during the 15 th century and 16 th century with writers like Krishna Deva Raya and Reddanna. Then followed the western influenced Renaissance. All branches of literature; the novel, short stories, prose, drama, essay and literary criticism all flourished during this period.

The father of common deluge literature is Veerasalingam Pantulu (1848- 1919) who wrote Rajasekhara Chaitramu inspired by the Vicar of Wakefield. To him literature was an instrument to fight social evils. A wonderful team of Rayaprolu Subba Rao, Gurupada appa Rao, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, followed him. Telugu is also known for its experiments in the field of poetry and drama. Digambara Kavita is only one example of such an experiment.

Malayalam Literature

Historians agree that Malayalam literature commenced from the 12 th century. In the Tamil stream the most important work is Rama Charitham composed in a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam in the 12 th century. The Sanskrit stream consists of Manipravala Kavyas under the categories Sandesha Kavyas and Champas.

The 15 th century saw the rise of the big name in Malayalam literature- Cherrusseri Namboodiri with his famous poem Krishna Gatha. Then came the greatest figure of them all, Thunchathu Ezhuthachan in the 16 th century. His Adhyatma Ramayanam, Bharatham and Bhagawatam are the greatest classics in Malayalam.

Attakatha is the literary script for Kathakali and Unnayi Varier excelled in it. Malayalam can claim a fairly long history of prose writings from Arthasastra in the 13 th century to Varthamanapustakam, a travelogue by Paremekkal thoma Kathanar. In the 19th century lexicographers and grammarians like Baily Gundert and Rajaraja Varma produced seminal works. Two great novelists, Chandu Menon and C.V. Raman Pillai also produced classics during this period. The 20 th century saw the reign of a triumvirate- Kumaran Asan, Ulloor Parameswara Iyer and Vallathol Narayan Menon. They were outstanding poets and Ulloor being an outstanding historian of literature.

English Literature

English is the pride of our country but it is not an official language. It maintains the unity of the sub-continent though it is a borrowed language. Indian English writers are today in the front ranks of world literature. The tradition began with Toru Dutt who died at the young age of 21.  

Tagore, Sorojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were all great English writers. A handful of Indians today dominate the scene as the most successful writers in English.

The average standard of writing in English is higher than the average standard of writing in an other Indian language.