If literature is intrinsically linked to the language in which it is written, we have at least 22 literatures. But common threads hold them together.
Indian literature can best be studied in six broad groupings :
- The Eastern Group :
which includes Assamese, Bengali, Dongri
- The Central Group :
which includes Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi
- The South-Western Group :
which includes Marathi, Konkani,
- Other Indo-Aryan Languages :
which includes Urdu, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Manipuri, Nepali
- The Dravidian Languages :
which includes Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam
- Other Languages :
which includes Sanskrit, English
VARIOUS INDIAN LITERATURES :
ASSAMESE LITERATURE : Though the language is comparatively old, Assamese sprouted into literature only in the 13th Century. Rudra Kandali's translation of Drona Pava (of Mahabharata) and Madhava 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 that is remembered by lovers of Assamese literature today. Sankara Dev (1449-1568) popularised the movement by his poetic works and plays.
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. It also gave exceedingly attractive examples of how the Indian mind could respond to inspiration from alien lands. But this came with the Renaissance. Historians have traced early writings to the period between 8th and 12th centuries AD. The most important historical development was the emergence of Sri Chaitanya (1486-1533) in and around the Bengali area. Chaitanya, by his literary work, made Vaishnavism a living faith.
ORIYA LITERATURE : Oriya is a younger sister of Bengali. For some 400 years from the 13th Century, a regular stream of different religious faiths expressed themselves in poetry. We have not only Buddhism, Saivism and Vaishnavism but also Shaktism. Folk literature also was prominent. There was a group of poets who were keen not to import Sanskrit words and phrases into Oriya and they all took the surname of Dasa - Balarama Das (author of Oriya Ramayana and Mahabharata), Jagannath Das (Bhagwata Purana) and Ananta Das, Yesowanta Das and Achutananda Das.
HINDI LITERATURE : What is known as Hindi today evolved from the Apabhramsas which comprised a number of regional dialects, especially Sauraseni, Ardha Magadhi and Magadhi. Its history begins about the year 1000 AD. However in the modern period Khariboli, dialect of Delhi, became the standard vehicle of Hindi Literature. The early period of Hindi literature called Adikala is accepted as the period upto mid 14th century. The Trend setters in this group are :
(i) The Siddhas
(ii) The Jain poets
(iii) The Natha Panthis and
(iv) The heroic poets
GUJARATI LITERATURE : Developing from one of the dialects of standard Gurjara Apabhramsa and coming under strong Jain influences in the early period. Gujarati language has four broad historical periods :
(a) 1250-1456 In this early period Sanskrit was cultivated and important libraries set up in the monasteries.
(b) 1456-1650 The language breaks away from the Rajasthani idiom, and Hinduism takes the place of Jainism as the main source of inspiration. The epics and puranas flow into Gujarati. Mirabai is the most celebrated woman poet of medieval India, claimed by both Hindi and Rajasthani.
(c) 1650-1825 Life was somewhat dull during this period until the British came on the scene. Premanand is the finest poet of this period. He perfected the Akhyana technique.
(d) 1825-1995 The most celebrated novel Saraswati Chandra comes from the pen of Govardhanram Tripathi (1855-1907). This great work of modern India is a love story with social and spiritual relevance.
PUNJABI LITERATURE : Spoken in India and Pakistan, Punjabi has close affinity with Hindi and Urdu. It is Indo-Aryan and has deep connections with Souraseni. Punjabi Literature is undoubtedly the period of the Sikh Gurus beginning with Guru Nanak (b.1469) and continuing till the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh (d.1708). Most of the religious and often mystic poetry of the period has been preserved in the Adigranth, which is a great anthology of Bhakti poems. It is the scripture of the sikhs, but it is also literature of high quality.
MARATHI LITERATURE : Southern-most of the Indo-Aryan languages spoken in India, with a modified version of Devngari, the history of Marathi literature is usually divided into six periods. The first two can in fact be one. The Yadava period (1189-1320 AD) both deal with religious and philosophical exposition.
Viveka Sindhu (sea of philosophy) by Mukunda Raj, a yogi of 'Natha Panth', is considered the first major work. The origin of Marathi prose is also found in the Yadava period, the credit usually going to the religious sect called Mahanabhavas.
KONKANI LITERATURE : Marathis consider Konkani as a dialect of their language, but the Sahitya Akademi has given it the status of an independent language. One problem is that it does not have a script of its own. It is written in Nagari, Kannada or Malayalam scripts depending on the region of its use. A considerable amount of Christian was written in Konkani during the 17th Century. The modern creative phase of Konkani began during the 20th century.
Strong groups of Konkanis are found in Mangalore, Mumbai and Kerala. Quite a few them write in Marathi too, but they speak Konkani at home as their mother tongue.
URDU LITERATURE : The grammatical structure of Urdu is based on Western Saura Seni Apabharama while its vocabulary, idioms and literary tradition depend heavily on central Asian, Turkish and Persian sources. Urdu literature has therefore a flavour of its own. Even the terms accepted by the protagonists reveal the special quality. Consider, for instance, Masnavi (a poetic form in couplets) ghazal (talking to the tender sex), Marsia (elegiac poem) and nazm ( a poem with a special musical quality). Urdu influenced, and was influenced by, Islam and Hinduism. Muslim saints made it a vehicle for the prop made it a vehicle for the propagation of their concepts of brotherhood.
KASHMIRI LITERATURE : There are two opinions regarding the origin of the Kashmiri language. One places it under the Dardic group of languages and the other in the Indo Aryan Group. Kashmiri literature may be divided into two phases: the ancient and the modern. Ancient Kashmiri writings are linked closely with Sanskrit. Even the technical terms used in poetry show this. Early Kashmiri poetry is an extension of the Saiva texts in Sanskrit (11th Century). Kashmiri prose is very recent. Actually fiction originated with the Progressive Movement in the forties.
- SINDHI LITERATURE : The origin of Sindhi Language is in dispute as its connection with Mohanjodaro is still not clear. Early poetry in Sindhi was based on romantic tales of Sindh. Religious poetry of the 14th Century is important. But what is noteworthy is that literature was not recorded but handed down by word of mouth. There is a fusion of Islamic and Hindu thoughts and ideals in this period.
The modern period saw poets who followed the Persian poetical forms like Ghazals, Rubais and Masnavis.
TAMIL LITERATURE : With a history of at least 2100 years behind it, Tamil literature can be compared only with Sanskrit in terms of traditions. An example of the distinctiveness of Tamil in the second millennium is Kambaramayanam of the 12th Century. Tamil is rich in devotional literature. Nayanmars are the exponents of Salvism and Alwars the celebrants of Vaishnavism. The four great Nayanmars are : Thirunavukkarasar, Sundarar and Manikkavasakar. The 20th Century has seen an explosion of talent. The greatest of them all was of course Subramania Bharati. His patriotic songs inspired thousands of Tamilians. Kuyilpattu, Kannanpattu and Panchali Sapatham have been on everyone's lips.
KANNADA LITERATURE : Although Dravidian in origin, Kannada has been highly influenced by Sanskrit. According to some scholars, its early literature dates back to the 5th Century AD. In his work Kavirajamarga, Nripatunga of the 9th Century refers to a number of works of earlier periods and this is the evidence for specifying 5th Century as the date for early works. Works based on Ramayana and 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.
TELUGU LITERATURE : Structurally, Telugu is one of the principal Dravidian languages and an offshoot of the central Dravidian sub family. Telugu-speakers constitute the largest segment of Dravidian population. The history of its literature, in the second millennium, fall into :
(a) The Age of Puranas (1020-1400)
(b) The Age of Srinatha (1400-1510)
(c) The Age of Prabhandas (1510-1600)
(d) The Southern period (1600-1820)
(e) The Modern Period (after 1820).
The early periods were dominated by the Bhakti poets and translations of Mahabharata by Tikkana (13th C) and Yerrana (14th C). The Ramayana poets started with Ranganatha Ramayana. Other great religious poets included Potana (1450-1510), Jakkana and Guorana. The Golden period of Telugu literature was during the 15th and 16th centuries, with writers like Krishna Deva Raya and Reddanna.
MALAYALAM LITERATURE : Historians are agreed that Malayalam literature commences from the 12th Century. During the first three centuries we have three streams flowing almost simultaneously:
(a) The Pacha Malayalam or pure Malayalam without any admixture of Tamil or Sanskrit
(b) The Tamil Stream
(c) The Sanskrit Stream
The first category comprised folk items, which is difficult to date. In the Tamil stream, the most important work is Rama Charitam (12th C) composed in a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam. Recently a small book in the same style, Thirunizhalmala, has been discovered. The Sanskrit stream consists of Manipravala Kavyas under the categories Sandesha Kavyas (message poems) and Champas.
- SANSKRIT AND ENGLISH LITERATURE : Sanskrit is the pride of our country, but it is not a modern Indian language. English has a similar function in maintaining the unity of the sub-continent, but it is a borrowed language. It would be wrong not to recognise the role of English in Indian literature, especially when Indian writers in English have been in the front ranks of world literature. That tradition began with Toru Dutt who died when she was only 21. Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi himself were great writers. A large number of full-time writers flowered in the years since, making a mark on the world stage. A handful of Indians today dominate the scene as the most successful writers in English.