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Interjecting the nuances of Indian literature by swimming deep into India’s past

Indian literature comprises written work belonging to the Indian subcontinent, particularly, writing that is communicated through vernacular languages such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Bengali, Bihari, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Lahnda, Saraiki, and Sindhi. After independence, English literature written by Indian writers was also included in this domain. Broadly, this term is used with regards to the literature belonging to the period before independence as well as during and just after India became a Republic nation. 

The oldest existing Indian literature is in the form of the holy Hindu literature, otherwise known as the Vedas, which was written in Sanskrit. Later on, prose commentaries were added to the Vedic texts, like the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. Sanskrit literature was predominant during the Vedic period in Indian history. The most common forms of literature at the time dealt with religious, spiritual and philosophical themes. However, there were other literary genres that emerged as well including erotic and devotional lyrical texts, court poetry, plays, and narrative folk tales. 

Sanskrit was usually associated with the Brahmanical religion of the Vedas. Buddhism and Jainism being more spiritual religions assimilated other literary languages, namely, Pali and Ardhamagadhi. The emergence of these two languages, eventually, led to the birth of the modern languages of Northern India. The main topics that were discussed in these literary forms were the two Sanskrit poems, the Hindu epics - the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, the Bhagavata-Purana and the other Puranas as well. Additionally, Sanskrit philosophies served as a great starting point for philosophical literature in the later years. The Sanskrit rhetoric schools played a significant role in shaping the literature of court poetry in modern India. However, there are a few exceptions when it comes to the influence of the Sanskrit language. The South Indian language, Tamil, has a classical tradition of its own and does not derive its origin from Sanskrit. The same applies to Urdu and Sindhi as well. 

Then came British rule which had a significant influence on Indian literature as well. Modern Indian literature was shaped by Western literary models to a great extent. The most significant event of this time period was the use of vernacular prose on a larger scale. Literary forms such as novels and short stories were assimilated into Indian literature, along with literary concepts such as realism, social questions and psychological descriptions. Inspired by British writing, English was also incorporated by Indian writers during this time. Another occurrence that owed itself to the fight against British colonisation was the importance of education in a more global scenario. In order to stay on par with the literature of the world, new genres were introduced in Indian literature including fiction, academic essay writing, lyrical poetry, theatre, critical theory and literary history. Some other change that was seen during this time was the impact of science and rationality in Indian writing. Writers were becoming more bold and more argumentative with their writing styles.


Q1. What are the three periods of Indian literature? 

Indian literature comprises three periods based on the time period and themes of the literature. The three periods are the Vedic period that consists of the Vedas and Upanishads, the Epic period which consists of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana and the Classical period which includes the lyrical poetry of Kalidasa. 

Q2. What are the main themes of English writing in Indian literature? 

The main themes of Modern Indian literature that used English as the chosen language are industrialization, urbanisation, multiculturalism, modernity, feminism, women empowerment and the alterations of social dynamics with time.

Q3. What is the history of Indian literature?


By tradition, Indian literature was one of the written and oral and generally is believed to be one of the richest in the world. Written in 22 major languages, countless tribal languages, and languages like Persian, English, French, and Portuguese. The earliest Indian literature dates back to 1500-1200 BCE are the Vedas, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, and several other scriptures like Vastu Shastra (architecture and town planning), and Artha shastra (political science) in Sanskrit.


Pali Canon and Tamil Sangam literature also developed. Rabindranath Tagore has contributed significantly to the field of literature by winning the Nobel Prize for his work ‘Gitanjali’ in 1920.

Q4. What is the most famous Indian literature?


The first ancient Indian literature comprised the four Vedas, Ramayana by Valmiki, and Mahabharata by VedVyas on Hinduism in Sanskrit. To the Veda were added prose commentaries the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. The Mahabharata, made up of almost 100000 couplets divided into 18 Parvans, tells the story of two cousins, the Kauravas and Pandavas, as they battle for the throne of Hastinapur in the Kurukshetra War.

Ramayana is the epic telling the story of Lord Rama during exile in jungles, rescuing his wife Sita, with the help of an army of monkeys, from the clutches of Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.

Q5. What is the oldest book in Indian literature?


The oldest book in India is believed to be the Vedas, written in ancient India between 1700 and 1100 BCE. There are four sacred texts, namely the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda. These are considered to be the foundation of Hinduism containing hymns, prayers, and rituals that were used in ancient India for worship and religious ceremonies and are used even today.

They also contain philosophical and ethical teachings that are still studied and followed today. The Vedas were passed down orally for centuries before they were finally written down in Sanskrit. The Vedic period is considered to be the starting point of Indian civilization.

Q6. Who is the father of Indian literature?


Bharatendu Harishchandra is regarded as the father of Hindi literature and Hindi theater. He was a novelist, poet, and playwright and wrote in many languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, and Marwari. He was born to Gopal Chandra, a poet on 9th September 1850 in Benares, British India, and died on 6th January 1885 (aged 34) in Benares.

Much of the prose that Harish Chandra wrote to establish Hindi was done in the Kavivachansudha and Harishchandra magazine, which he founded in 1873. He wrote under the pen name ‘Rasa”, highlighting the country’s poverty, human exploitation, and various other social welfare topics.

Q7. Which is the oldest literature in India?


The Earliest known Indian literature was the four Vedas- RigVeda, YajurVeda, SamaVeda, and AtharvaVeda. Brahmanas, Aryankas, and Upanishads (Shruti literature) are the other works.


RigVeda - deals with hymns, poems, and shlokas


YajurVeda – Give directions for performing the Yajnas.


SamaVeda- prescribes tunes for the recitation of the hymns.


AtharvaVeda- prescribes rites and rituals.


Brahmanas- contains a detailed explanation of Vedic literature and instructions.


Aryankas- are a treatise on the forest that explains the rituals while dwelling into the philosophical discussions of the Brahmanas.


Upanishads- deal with concepts about the origin of the universe, death and birth, and material and spiritual world, written in poetry and prose.

Q8. What are the 2 most famous epic stories of Indian literature?


Ramayana:  composed of 24000 verses, spread across seven books or Khandas. Written in form of poetry, it is the story of Rama telling how to achieve the fourfold objectives of human life (Purushartha)


Dharma- righteous behavior or religion.


Artha- achievement of worldly wealth and prosperity.


Kama- fulfillment of desires.


Moksha- ultimate liberation.


Mahabharata:  consists of one lakh verses spread across eighteen books, the longest in the world. It is written by Vyasa, about the story of the war of succession between Pandavas and Kauravs. Bhagavad Gita enshrines an integrated view of Dharma (performance of righteous duty in a selfless way of Nishkama Karma) by Krishna to Arjuna.