The apex of Indian culture has been ancient literature, which demonstrates the masters’ wide range of aptitude and expertise. Do you know the history of ancient literature? What are the main topics discussed by them? What is their classification? What is the importance of Ancient literary works? Read the article to know more about Ancient Indian Literature.
Perhaps no other region in the world has created such a substantial amount of literature about knowledge and wisdom than India. For more than 300 years, Sanskrit—first in its Vedic form, then in its classical form—dominated India’s literary tradition
Ancient Indian Literature
The oldest known piece of Indian literature is known as the Rig Veda, which consists of 1028 hymns written in Vedic Sanskrit. Although the majority of the ancient Indian literary works that have survived are religious texts, it is erroneous to characterise ancient Indian literature exclusively in terms of religion.
Indian literature spans a variety of literary forms, including epics, songs, dramatic and didactic poetry, narrative and scientific writing, as well as oral poetry and music. Two ancient Indian epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Prior to the Gupta dynasty, a lot of secular literary works were produced. During this time, poetry and drama were in their prime.
The principal topics of these works included political events, allegories, comedies, romances, and philosophical issues. In Southern India, ancient Indian writings were written in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, four Dravidian languages that also established their own literature and script.
The earliest of these, with literature from the first decades of the Christian era, is Tamil. Three Sangams (meetings of poets and writers) held at separate eras resulted in this development. Sangam literature frequently explores the topics of politics, love, and war.
- Between the end of the Indus Valley Civilization and the start of the second urbanisation in the central Indo-Gangetic Plain in 600 BCE, India’s history is known as the Vedic period, or Vedic age (c. 1500–c. 500 BCE).
- When the Vedic literature, which includes the Vedas, was written in the northern Indian subcontinent (1300-900 BCE).
- The Vedas are vast collections of religious writings from ancient India that were written in Vedic Sanskrit.
- They are the earliest texts in both Sanskrit literature and Hinduism.
- It is said that the Vedas were transmitted orally from one generation to the next.
- They are frequently referred to as Shruti as a result. The four Vedas are Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda, and Rig Veda.
- The mantra text of each Veda is known as a Samhita.
There are two types of Vedic literature:
- Shruti Literature
- Smriti Literature
Shruti literature– The term “Shruti Literature” refers to the sacred texts, which include the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads and is derived from the word “Shruti,” which means “to hear.”Since it is canonical, contains revelation, and contains unquestionable truth, shruti literature is regarded as eternal.
Smriti literature– The word “Smiriti,” which refers to supplementary information that could change over time, literally means “to be remembered.”Vedanga, Shad Darshana, Puranas, Itihasa, Upveda, Tantras, Agamas, and Upangas are all part of the Smriti literature.
Ramayana And Mahabharata
- Two ancient Indian epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
- These have been in their current form for millennia and represent the ethnic memory of the Indian people.
- They were transmitted orally over the years by singers and storytellers, and they were probably first recorded in the second century BCE.
- Generally credited to Maharishi Valmiki is the epic Ramayana.
- The 24000 verses that make up the Ramayana are organised into seven Khandas, or volumes.
- It’s written in a poetic style with both entertainment and education in mind. It is Rama’s story, and it describes how to achieve the four Purusharthas of human existence: Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.
- With one million lines, The Mahabharata is the longest poem ever written.
- The Itihasa Purana, or Mythical History, is what it is called (because this history is not merely the depiction of events that happened, but these are the events that will always happen and repeat).
- It was written by Vyasa and recounts the succession struggle between the Pandavas and the Kauravs for the crown, weaving together numerous incidents to create one epic.
- In addition to the main story of the fight, a later addendum to the Bhagavad Gita also includes an integrated view of Dharma (performance of righteous duty in the selfless way of Nishkama Karma).
They helped Hinduism develop from the ancient Vedic faith. In Sanskrit, the word “Purana” literally translates as “to resurrect the old.”Most likely during the third and eleventh centuries AD, the Puranas were written.
The literature of the Puranas is broad and addresses a variety of subjects, including but not limited to:
- Goddesses and Gods
They were written in order to show the populace the veracity of the Vedas. The Puranas impart philosophical and theological principles via well-known folklore and mythological tales.
The Puranas contain numerous tales and anecdotes from India’s religious, social, and cultural past when paired with the Ithihas (Ramayana and Mahabharata).
Based on the writings of Lomaharshana (a Ved Vyasa), the 18 Upa Puranas
Earlier Buddhist writings
- The Buddha’s teachings were rehearsed and approved in the First Council in 483 BC, and then they were divided into the Three Pitakas.
- His instructions were recorded in Pali somewhere around 25 BCE.
- The earliest Buddhist literature is in Pali. The Sutta Pitaka is a collection of conversations between the Buddha and his followers.
- A compendium of rules for monastic organisations is known as the Vinaya Pitaka.
- The Abhidhamma Pitaka is a systematised philosophical analysis of monks’ academic and teaching output.
- The Divyavadana, Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, and Milind Panha, among others, are important Buddhist texts.
- The Milindapanho is a compilation of conversations between the Indo-Greek king Menander and the Buddhist Nagasena.
- The Jatakas are an important part of early Buddhist literature and are a collection of tales that have been incorporated into many sculptures.
- Ashvaghosha is the author of the Sanskrit book Buddhacharita, which details the Buddha’s life.
Important Indian ancient Sanskrit literary works
Some of the ancient Indian literary works include the following:
- Time period-4th century to the 8th century CE
- Author – Visakhadatta
- Vishakadatta’s political intrigue Mudrarakshasa, which was written in the sixth century CE, is set in an intriguing era of Indian history. At the beginning of the play, Chanakya tries to persuade Rakshasa to join his cause so that Chandragupta can have a capable minister on his side. The name Mudrarakshasa alludes to Rakshasa’s signet ring. It was taken by a spy for Chanakya.
- Time period-2nd century BCE and 3rd century CE
- An ancient Indian text written in Sanskrit on statecraft, political science, economics, and military strategy is known as the Arthashastra. The Arthashastra is a text on politics, economics, military strategy, governmental function, and social organisation that is attributed to the philosopher and prime minister Kautilya (also known as Chanakya).
- Time period-5th century
- Kalidasa wrote the Sanskrit play Malavikagnimitram.It is his first play, and it is based on a number of incidents that took place under Pushyamitra Shunga. The tale of Agnimitra, the Shunga Emperor in Vidisha, and his love for the lovely handmaiden of his chief queen is told in Malavikagnimitram.
- Time period-5th century CE
- In the fifth century CE, Kalidasa wrote the play Vikramorvasiyam.The plot centres on a human who develops feelings for a celestial girl. The piece is renowned for a “crazy scene” in which the bereaved monarch wanders through a beautiful forest while apostrophizing different flowers and trees as if they were his love. One interpretation states that the term “Vikrama” in the title refers to Vikramaditya, the patron king of Kalidasa.
- Time period-5th century CE
- The great poet Kalidasa created the literary masterpiece Raghuvamsa. The drama’s creator, Raghuvamsa Kalidasa, is honoured. The drama centres on Lord Rama’s ancestors, descendants, and the legendary warrior Raghu. The heroism and power of the legendary warrior Raghu are major themes of Raghuvamsam. It chronicles the lives of some of India’s greatest military rulers. Lord Rama is without a doubt the most well-known of them all, as his life’s story was preserved in the ancient epic Ramayana.
- Time period – 5th century CE
- Mricchakatika is a drama that takes place during the rule of King Plaka of the Pradyota dynasty in the historic city of Ujjayanai, India. Vasantasena is a wealthy courtesan or nagarvadhu who falls in love with Charudatta, a noble but poor young Brahmin. The play stands out among the existing Sanskrit plays for concentrating on a hypothetical situation rather than a classic tale or legend.
- Time period-6th century
- The epic poem Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi is regarded as the most potent piece of Sanskrit literature. In eighteen cantos, Lord Shiva’s battle with Arjuna (who took the form of a kirata, or “mountain-dwelling hunter”) at Indrakeeladri Hills near Vijayawada is described. It is one of the three main Sanskrit mahakavyas, or great epics, together with the Naisadhacarita and the Shishupala Vadha.
- Time period- 7th or 8th century
- Author- Magha
- Magha created the Shishupala Vadha, a masterwork of classical Sanskrit poetry, in the 7th or 8th century (kavya). This Sanskrit poem, or kavya, is based on one of the epics, specifically the Mahabharata. Lord Krishna is enraged by Shishupala, the king of the Chedis in central India after he insults him repeatedly in an assembly. Shishupala is then killed.
- Time period-400 BCE to 300 CE
- The Kamasutra stands out among Sanskrit literature for having a nearly complete disregard for caste and class (varna) (jati). The writing style combines prose with poetry in the anustubh metre. The literature makes reference to the Purusharthas, or acceptable life goals, which are defined as desire, sexuality, and emotional fulfilment. The chapters of the book cover a variety of topics, including courtship, finding a partner, flirting, and maintaining authority in marriage.
- Around the third century B.C. to the third century A.D., South India (the region south of the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers) saw the Sangam Period.
- Four Dravidian languages—Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam—evolved their own literature and script and were used to transcribe ancient Indian manuscripts in Southern India.
- The best work was published in anthologies, which were censored by distinguished thinkers who congregated at the sangams.
- These literary works served as the earliest illustrations of Dravidian literature.
- The earliest of them, Tamil, has literature that dates back to the very beginning of the Christian era.
- This developed throughout the period of three Sangams, which were gatherings of poets and scribes that took place at various times.
- Politics, love, and war are all common themes in Sangam literature.
- Ettutogai, Pattuppattu, and Tolkappiyam are two significant works from the era.
- The most well-known author of our time is Thiruvalluvar, who wrote Kural, a book that touches on many facets of life and religion.
- Elango Adigal penned Silappathikaram, and Sittalai Sattanar wrote Manimegalai, the two sagas.
- Additionally, they provide insightful information on Sangam politics and society.
Importance of Ancient literary works
- There is a great deal more to understand and absorb from ancient Indian literature than only the Vedas and epics.
- Ancient literature also explains the Dharmashastras, which define a person’s obligations and describe how a person should develop as a character. Shastras encompassed mathematics and science.
- Kautilya’s book Arthashastra, written in Sanskrit, discusses economic and governmental policy.
- The popularity of Buddhist literature written in the Pali language also increased. It includes works of Buddhist literature like poetry, philosophy, and some grammar.
- Ancient Indian literature is both beautiful and challenging to read and understand.
- The formation of a person’s character and the quest for happiness are both facilitated by the Vedas, Shastras, and Upanishads.
- The primary subjects of old Sanskrit poets included love, nature, panegyric, moralising, and narrative.
- The ancient poets spoke passionately of physical love when it came to love; they saw nature in connection to man rather than for its own sake.
- The Sanskrit Kavya reaches a level of quality and perfection unmatched in Kalidasa’s literature.
In its broadest sense, Indian literature encompasses both religious and commonplace writing, epic and lyric poetry, dramatic and didactic poetry, narrative and academic prose, as well as oral poetry and music. There is perhaps no other region of the world that has produced such a vast array of knowledge and wisdom books. Indian literature from the past is both beautiful and challenging to read and comprehend.
Article Written By: Atheena Fathima Riyas