Indian Literature

Just like China, India has over two millennia old literary history. But unlike the Chinese early literary works which were either poetic or philosophical works, the earliest literary works in India were the Sanskrit sacred Vedic texts.

Early Sanskrit Literature

The first Indian literary work was a collection of Sanskrit hymns that was orally transmitted. The so-called Vedas which were either sung or recited are thought to have been composed as early as 1500 to 1200 BCE but they were written down only at the end of the first millennium BCE, while the oldest Veda texts date to around 11th century. Prominent literary works in Sanskrit of course also include the famous Ramayana and Mahabharata epic poems which are thought to have been created sometime between the 6th and 1st century BCE.

Classical Sanskrit Literature

Despite the fact that India is home to many different languages, religious importance of the early Sanskrit texts and the influence of Sanskrit on many Indian languages enabled Sanskrit literature to flourish over one millennium. Unfortunately, most Sanskrit works from the so-called classical Sanskrit literature have been lost. The most prominent surviving Sanskrit literary from the classical period include the Abhijnanasakuntalam by Kalidasa, Arthashastra and Neetishastra by Chanakya, Vasavadatta by Subandhu and his son Skandagupta, Dashakumaracharita by Dandin and of course Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana.

Medieval Indian Literature

With the exception of south India where Tamil literature has been produced from the ancient times, medieval Indian literature remained strongly influenced by the Sanskrit literature. However, literary works that were created between the 11th and early 19th century also reveal a major influence of Buddhist and Jain works. At the same time, Sanskrit gradually give way to the Prakrit language, especially in Buddhist and Jain texts as well as other common Indian languages. The Muslim invasions from the early 8th century onwards and of course the arrival of the British also left their mark on Indian literature. The period following the decline of the Classical Sanskrit literature until the mid-19th century was dominated by the so-called bhakti or devotional poetry in all Indian languages.

Modern Indian Literature

The period of the modern Indian literature starts with the first movements for independence in the mid-19th century. The early modern Indian literature, however, was greatly influenced by both adoption of the Western thoughts and ideas on the one hand and their rejection on the other. The period between the mid-19th and mid-20th century thus saw the rise of a large number of literary works which often incorporated both the elements of Sanskrit and Western literature. The 20th century also saw the emergence of the Indian English literature which refers to literary works that are written by Indian authors in English language. Most famous Indian authors of the modern era include the Nobel laureates Rabindranath Tagore and V. S. Naipaul, R. K. Narayan, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Salman Rushdie, Mahadevi Varma, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai to mention only a few.