Indian Literature : Our Biggest Asset

Indian literature refers to the literature produced on the Indian subcontinent until 1947 and in the Republic of India thereafter. The earliest works of Indian literature were orally transmitted. Sanskrit literature begins with the oral literature of the Rig Veda a collection of literature dating to the period 1500–1200 BCE. The Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were subsequently codified and appeared towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. Classical Sanskrit literature developed rapidly during the first few centuries of the first millennium BCE, as did the Tamil Sangam literature, and the Pāli Canon. In the medieval period, literature in Kannada and Telugu appeared in the 6th and 11th centuries respectively. Later, literature in Marathi, Assamese, Odia, Bengali and Maithili appeared. Thereafter literature in various dialects of Hindi, Persian and Urdu began to appear as well. In 1913, Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore became India’s first Nobel laureate in literature. In contemporary Indian literature, there are two major literary awards; these are the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship and the Jnanpith Award. Eight Jnanpith Awards each have been awarded in Hindi and Kannada, followed by five in Bengali and Malayalam, four in Odia, four in Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu and Urdu, two each in Assamese and Tamil, and one in Sanskrit.

Vedic Literature:

The Vedas are a large body of religious texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. There are four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda has four subdivisions – the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices), and the Upanishads (texts discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge). Some scholars add a fifth category – the Upasanas. The texts of the Upanishads discuss ideas akin to the heterodox sramana-traditions.

Sanskrit Literature:

Sanskrit literature refers to texts composed in Sanskrit language since the 2nd-millennium BCE. Many of the prominent texts are associated with Indian religions, i.e., Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and were composed in ancient India. However, others were composed central, East or Southeast Asia and the canon includes works covering secular sciences and the arts. Early works of Sanskrit literature were transmitted through an oral tradition for centuries before they were written down in manuscript form. Dramas, poems and stories were written in Sanskrit language in ancient India.

Pali Literature:

Pali literature is concerned mainly with Theravada Buddhism, of which Pali is the traditional language. The earliest and most important Pali literature constitutes the Pali Canon, the scriptures of Theravada school. From the 15th century onwards, Pali literature has been dominated by Burma, though some has also been written in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, as well as Ceylon. This Burmese literature has in turn been dominated by writings directly or indirectly concerned with the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the part of the Canon variously described as philosophy, psychology, metaphysics etc.

Sangam Literature:

The Sangam literature, sometimes referred to as the Cankam literature or Koodal literature connotes the ancient Tamil literature and is the earliest known literature of South India. The Tamil tradition and legends link it to three literary gatherings around Madurai (Pandyan capital): the first over 4,440 years, the second over 3,700 years, and the third over 1,850 years before the start of the common era. Scholars consider this Tamil tradition-based chronology as ahistorical and mythical. Some of these scholars suggest the historical Sangam literature era spanned from c. 300-BCE to 300-CE while others variously place this early classical Tamil literature period a bit later and more narrowly but all before 300 CE.

Indian Persian Literature:

During the early Muslim period, Persian became the official language of the northern part of Indian subcontinent, used by most of the educated and the government. The language had, from its earliest days in the 11th century AD, been imported to the subcontinent by various culturally Persianised Central Asian-Turkic and Afghan dynasties.[28] Several Indians became major Persian poets later on, the most notable being Amir Khusro and, in more modern times, Muhammad Iqbal. Much of the older Sanskrit literature was also translated into Persian. For a time, it remained the court language of the Mughals, soon to be replaced by Urdu. Persian still held its status, despite the spread of Urdu, well into the early years of the British rule in India. Most British officials had to learn Persian on coming to India and concluded their conversations in Persian. In 1837, however, the British, in an effort to expand their influence, made a government ruling to discontinue the use of Persian and commence the use of English instead. Thus started the decline of Persian as most of the subcontinent’s official governmental language, a position to be taken up by the new language of the British Raj, English. Many modern Indian languages still show signs of relatively heavy Persian influence, most notably Urdu and Hindi.

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