Because of the complex array of languages and religions in India, the literature that has evolved out of this context has been deep, multifaceted and intricate; a true reflection of the lives and cultures of the local people. Traditionally, literature was in the form of oral legends and tales, passed from one generation to the next in the form of recited verses or songs. Eventually, they were written down as a stable record of the lyrics or words. Interestingly, much of the literature was religious or was rewritten versions of well-known Sanskrit epics or myths. Therefore, most of the authors remained anonymous. For this reason, ancient authors have not received acclaim for their works or ideas.

In the 10th and 13th centuries, literature adopted a particularly romantic approach. Jain romances and the lives of the saints were based on Sanskrit and Pali themes and were very popular amongst the society of the time. Another famous theme during the 12th century was that of sectarianism, where literature was used to try to get otherwise unorthodox ideals and beliefs to be considered to be more acceptable.

The bhakti tradition refers to the personal devotion to a Hindu god. It was only in the 15th century that this influence was found in such great proportions in the literature, although some traces of this ideal were found in hymns between the 600’s and 900’s of our Common Era (CE). The first people to start the trend towards Sikhism composed bhakti hymns, which now form part of this religion’s sacred scriptures. These were compiled by Arjun in 1604.
Image of a portrait of Sir Muhammad Iqbal
Sir Muhammad Iqbal

The 1500’s saw a distinct use of previous traditional literature in its style, as did the 1700’s, where ancient Sanskrit vocabulary and styles permeated much of the then-modern literature. However, the 18th century was also the time of folk drama, ballades, singing and dancing.

Indian literature has experienced the outside influence of many factors in terms of style, theme and subject matter. Early literature was influenced by Sanskrit, Buddhist and Jain texts. Later, when Turkish and Persian invasions began, these influences were manifested in the literature and art of India. The Islamic influence was especially evident, not only in Indian literature, but in its culture and religion too.

When the British Crown had control of India, a revolution occurred in the world of literature. Not only did an entirely new language and thought process come into this traditional country, but also technological advances, such as the printing press, which revolutionised the production and distribution of literary works. Bengali poets soon adopted the styles typical of well-known greats like TS Eliot.

Today, Indian writers produce works in all of the major languages, which amount to 18, as well as in English and some of the lesser known tongues. Famous authors include Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mulk Raj Anand, RK Narayan, Dom Moraes, Nlissim E Zekiel, P Lal, AK Ramanujan, Kamala Das, Arun Kolatkar. R Parthasarathy, Toru Dutt, Sarojini Naidu, M Ananthanarayanan, Bhadani Bhattacharya and many more.

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