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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.