Indian Literature in Vernacular Languages

Among the Indo-Aryan languages, the Vedas and the Upanishads are the most ancient collection of hymns and religious writings. They consist of four books, the earliest, the Rig Veda, being older than the Homeric poems.

By about 600 B.C., the old Indo-Aryan language of the Vedas had metamorphosed· into Prakrit (as it later came to be known) just as Latin changed to Italian. The Brahman priests continued the study of the old Vedic language and developed a younger form of Vedic speech known as Sanskrit. It soon became the language of the sophisticated, and even if it is not spoken today it has been in use ever since for religious purposes. The two great epics of ancient India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which assumed their present form about the time of Christ, were written in Sanskrit, as were the Arthashastra by Chanakya, the prime minister of the Mauryan Empire, and the Puranas-books on religious and historical traditions. Meanwhile. certain heterodox systems of philosophy were founded by Mahavira (Jainism) and the Buddha. Their followers produced a great mass of literature in Pali and various other dialects. To these must be added the older literature of,Tamil, whose . earliest specimens date back to the beginning of the Christian era. In Tamil, beautiful poetry was composed under a different inspiration-that of the ancient Dravidian culture.

From the 10th century onwards, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam developed rapidly and much valuable writing was done in each of them. Modern Indian literature may be said to have begun with the emergence of the new Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages. of the South after the 1st century A.D

The epics and ballads of Rajasthan detailing the exploits of Hindu kings against the Muslim invaders constitute the beginnings of Hindi literature. The great work Prithviraj Raso, written by Chand Bardai, is a landmark in Hindi literature. This was followed by a revival of Vaishnavism and the literature of the period was characterized by an intense extrovert devotion to an omnipotent god who, from time to time, assumed human form to cleanse the world of evil. To this bhakti (devotion) movement, as it is called, belong the saintly poets Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas and Tulsi Das. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, Tulsi Das rewrote the Ramayana in the old Awadhi form of eastern Hindi. In Rajasthan, Mirabad sang the praise of God in ecstatic terms and her rhythm and devotion swayed millions of hearts. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, some of the best lyric poetry was written in Hindi, but towards the end there was a decline in its quality. With the advent of printing and English education, Hindi received a fillip and Hindi prose has since developed rapidly. There are ~ number of writers experimenting with all literary forms.

Bengali and Assamese
Chandidasa was a great Bengali poet of\the 14th and 15th centuries. He wrote some fine lyric poetry. A biography of Chaitanya, a Vaishnava religious reformer, by Krishnadasa Kaviraja is an outstanding worse in Bengali prose. Narrative tales of heroism and devotion and romantic ballads occupied a prominent place in Bengali. Bankim Chandra Chatterji, novelist and essayist, is considered it the greatest writer of modern Bengali literature before Rabindranath Tagore. Ishwaramritra Vidyasagar became a household name in Bengal in the 19th Century and at about the same time Michael Dutt wrote English and Bengali poetry of considerable merit. In 1913, Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is to Tagore mostly that modern Bengii is indebted. A standard Bengali is used for prose throughout the province and Bengali has probably been more susceptible to Western influences than ' any other Indian language. Standard Bengali translations of Shaw, Eliot and Ezra Pound are popular.

Assamese has a devotional literature of rare quality in the writings of Sankaradeva and other writers of the 15th and 16th centuries. A striking feature of Assamese literature is the series of of chronicles known as buranjis. These are imitations o the chronicles of the Ahoms, who had affinities with the Siamese and conquered Assam in 1228. They ruled over the province for six centuries and were subsequently absorbed in the local population.