Indian literature is the oldest in the world. India has 22 officially recognized languages, and a huge variety of literature has been produced in these languages over the years. In Indian literature, oral and written forms prevail. Hindu literary traditions dominate a large part of Indian culture. Apart from the Vedas which are a sacred form of knowledge, there are other works such as the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, treatises such as Vaastu Shastra in architecture and town planning, and Arthashastra in political science.
Devotional Hindu drama, poetry and songs span the subcontinent. Among the best known are the works of Kalidas (writer of the famed Sanskrit play Shakuntala) and Tulsidas (who wrote an epic Hindi poem based on the Ramayana). Tamil poetry of the Sangam poetry is well renowned.
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- Main article: Sanskrit literature
The most famous works in Sanskrit are the Hindu holy texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, and Manusmriti. The great epics are Ramayana and Mahabharata. Panini's Ashtadhyayi standardized Sanskrit grammar and phonetics. Kalidas is considered the Shakespeare of Sanskrit. His Shakuntala and Meghdoot are the most famous Sanskrit plays. Some other famous plays were Mricchakatika by Shudraka, Svapna Vasavadattam by Bhaasa, and Ratnavali by Sri Harsha. Later poetic works include Geeta Govinda by Jayadeva. Some other famous works are Chanakya's Arthashastra and Vatsyayana's Kamasutra.
The most notable Prakrit language was Pali. Pali literature includes Buddhist philosophical works, poetry and some grammatical works. Major works in Pali are Jataka tales, Dhammapada, Addhakatha, and Mahavansha. Some of the major Pali grammarians were Kachvaayan, Moggalaan and Varruchi (who wrote Prakrit Prakash). Many of Ashvaghosha's plays were written in Shaurseni Prakrit. Another major work in Shaurseni was Karpoormanjari. Kalidasa, Harsha and Haal used Maharashtrian Prakrit in some of their plays and poetry. Many Shwetambar Jain works are also written in the Maharashtri Prakrit. Many plays (like those of Ashvaghosha) and Jain works were written in the Ardha Magadhi Prakrit.
- Main article: Tamil literature
Tamil literature has been in existence for more that 2500 years. Tolkaappiyam has been credited as its oldest work, whereas the exact origins of Thirukkural is unknown. The golden age of Tamil literature was during the Sangam period, roughly 1800 years ago. The classic works of this period are Cilappatikaram, Manimekalai, and Sivakasinthamani. Tamil literature is known for its secular traditions, although its authors had strong religious beliefs. Thirukkural is considered to be the greatest of Tamil works.
- Main article: Hindi literature
Hindi literature started as religious and philosophical poetry in medieval periods in dialects like Avadhi and Brij. The most famous figures from this period are Kabir and Tulsidas. In modern times, the Khadi dialect became more prominent and a variety of literature was produced in Sanskrit.
Chandrakanta, written by Devaki Nandan Khatri, is considered to be the first work of prose in Hindi. Munshi Premchand was the most famous Hindi novelist. The chhayavadi poets include Maithili Sharan Gupt, Jaishankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant, Mahadevi Varma, and Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'.
- Main article: Urdu literature
Among other traditions, Urdu poetry is a fine example of linguistic and cultural synthesis. Arab and Persian vocabulary based on the Hindi language resulted in a vast and extremely beloved class of ghazal literature, usually written by Muslims in contexts ranging from romance and society to philosophy and devotion to Allah. Urdu soon became the court language of the Mughals and in its higher forms was once called the "Kohinoor" of Indian languages.
- Main article: Bengali literature
The most internationally famous Bengali writer is Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who received the Nobel Prize for Litterature; but another poet, one generation younger is equally popular, valuable, and influential in his country, though virtually unknown in foreign countries: Kazi Nazrul Islam. Other famous Indian Bengali writers were Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.
- Main article: Marathi literature
Marathi literature began with saint-poets like Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram, Ramdas, and Eknath. Modern Marathi literature was marked by a theme of social reform. Well-known figures from this phase include Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Lokhitwadi, and others. Prominent modern literary figures include Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar, P.L. Deshpande, Vijay Tendulkar, and Vishnu Vaman Shirvadakar (Kavi Kusumagraj).
- Main article: Malayalam literature
Indian writing in English
- Main article: Indian writing in English
In the last century, several Indian writers have distinguished themselves not only in traditional Indian languages but also in English. India's only Nobel laureate in literature was the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore. Other major writers who are either Indian or of Indian origin and derive much inspiration from Indian themes are R. K. Narayan, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Raja Rao, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Chandra, Mukul Kesavan, Shashi Tharoor, Nayantara Sehgal, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Bharati Mukherjee.
In recent years, English-language writers of Indian origin are being published in the West at an astonishing rate. In June 1997, a special fiction issue of The New Yorker magazine devoted much space to essays by Amitav Ghosh and Abraham Verghese, a short story by Vikram Chandra, and poems by Jayanta Mahapatra and A. K. Ramanujan. John Updike profiled R.K. Narayan and Arundhati Roy's "A God of Small Things." Salman Rushdie acknowledged the influence of G. V. Desani on his writing.
Indian literature in other languages
- The Jnanpith Award is India's highest literary award.