Language Literature

Content List

  • Marathi
  • Oriya
  • Pali
  • References


Developed from the Prakrit Maharashtri, with a pure Sanskrit vocabulary, as well as borrowings from Persian, Portuguese and English. The ‘Punehri’ form of Marathi centered in Pune is considered the most chaste. It is the only language written in the Devanagari script besides Sanskrit and Hindi, though 18th century Peshwa records were written in the Modi script.

The first known work is Viveka sindhu written in 1188 by Mukundaraj, an original composition that preaches Advaita Bhakti or devotion. Thereafter six centuries of non-Vedic devotional literature follow, mainly of the Manubhava and Varkari cults. These poets preached non-violence and social justice through local stories and song forms like padas and abhangs. The main proponents were Namadeva 0270-1350), Dhyaneshwar (1275-1296), Eknath, Mukteshwar (17th century) and Tukaram. The poems of these Bhakti poets live on in Marathi- speaking homes even today.

In the second half of the 17th century a form of heroic verse called Powada was composed by wandering shahir (ballad singers), who dramatized Shivaji’s exploits in verse during Peshwa rule, a folk genre of erotic songs Laavni, flourished. Its chief composers were Honaji Bala, Prabhakara, Sagar Bhau and Parashurama.

Prose chronicles of 17th century kings, called Bakhars are a rich source of historical record, like Sabhasadhi Bakhar (697) and Ajna Parra (1718), The first Marathi novel was published in 1857: Saba Padmanji’s Yamuna Paryatana, on the lines of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim S Progress. Romantic historical flourished, with Hari Narayan Apte as a leading writer of historical and social novels from 1885 onwards, serialised in his own magazine, Karamnuk. He specialised in portraying women characters. One of his best known works is Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto(1893). The best-known stream of Marathi literature is drama. In 1823, Thorle Madbao.

Rao Pesbuie, the first modern Indian play, was commissioned by the Raja of Sangli. Vishnudas Bhave pioneered the translations of Sanskrit plays. B.P. Kirloskar’s Shakuntala and Saubbadra were very popular. A rich blend of classical music and dialogue gave rise to musical plays called Natya Sangeet, which were later adopted by Tamil, Telugu and Kannada theatre.

Humorists like Atre, social realists like P.L. Deshpande and Vijay Tendulkar (Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe, Sakharam Binder, Ghasiram Kotwa) wrote bluntly of social tensions and scathing historical satires and their works are known and translated nationally.


Born of the Ahabhramsa Magadhi, about 1200 years ago, it existed in oral tradition as folk songs, proverbs and riddles, but a script emerged only by the mid-13th century. Its oldest extant literary work is in palm-leaf, the prose chronicles of the Jagannath Temple at Puri, called the MadalaPanji (Book of the Drum), 1400AD. Kesavakoili by Makaranda Dasa is a description of Yashoda’s grief when Krishna left for Mathura and is the earliest poetic work from this period. It is a ‘chautisa’ (34 lines) in which each line begins with an Oriya consonant The early works are also historical, notably, Vatsa Dasa’s Kalasa on the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, in which the god is depicted as an ordinary cultivator, fond of drugs. It is more amusing than reverential. Sarala Dasa’s Mahabbarata, however, is the first major work in Oriya, based on the Sanskrit original but with regional variations that endure today as distinct myths and legends. His Bilanka Ramayana and Chandi-Purana extol the Shiva-Shakti cult. Religion was the main theme of Oriya literature till around 1650.

Jagannatha Dasa (Bhagavata) and Yashokanta Dasa introduced and incorporated Sanskrit epics, philosophy and religious tenets into Oriya. The kavyas (narrative verse) of this period however, focused more on poetic beauty than religious messages-especially Parimata, by Narsingh Sena, Ushabbilasba by Shankara Dasa, Rahasya Manjari by Deva Durlabh, Rukmini-bibaha by Kartik Sena and Sasisena by Pratapa Raya. In its later ‘middle’ period (1650-1866), kavyas completely dominated Oriya literature, especially the erotic nuances of the Radha Krishna theme. Krishna-lila kavyas were unabashedly secular as were the romances of ‘Kavi-Samrat’ (poet-emperor) Upendra Bhanj who wrote Kotihrabmanda Sundari, Lavanyavati and Baidebisba Viash. His many love lyrics (chaupai) are choreographed by Odissi dancers even today. Other kavya poets of interest are Abhimanyu Samhatasinghara (Bidagbda Chintamoni on Radha-Krishna), ‘Kavisurya’ (Sun of Poets) Baladev Rath (whose Kishora-Chandranana uses the champu form of short poems, arranged alphabetically) and Gopalakrishna, whose Krishnapad avalis are still sung.

Contemporary events find spirited expression in the ballad Kanchi Kaveri by Purushottama Dasa on a regional conflict. His Samara-Taranga is a first-hand account of a battle fought by peasant militia, while a unique poem Stuti Chintamani by an unlettered Kandha tribal, Bhima Bhoi, is distinct for its lyrical beauty. An important prose work of this period is a collection of Oriya tales by Badajena, called Chature Vinoda.

Modern Oriya literature takes off with the influx of new ideas after the British conquest of Orissa in 1803. Several new areas were created by writers like Fakir mohan Senapati (l843-1918) whose Chaman At hagunthaon the oppressed, introduced social realism. He wrote Lachama, a historical novel and pioneered the short story with works like Revati and Randipua Ananta. Radhanath Rai, considered the father of modern Oriya verse, wrote Chilika, a poem extolling nature, while his unfinished Mahayatra on the Pandavas ascent to heaven, is in blank verse. Madhusudan Rao, Gangadhare Meher, Chintamoni Mohanti, Padmacharan Patnaik and Aparna Patnaik were other early ‘modern’ poets while Nandkishore Bal wrote colloquial ballads on rural Orissa in Palli Chitra, earning the label ‘Pallikavi.’

Drama meanwhile developed on independent lines. The earliest known poetic plays were called Surangas and Lila Natyas. But modern drama harks back to Jagmohan Lala’s Babaji(1877). Ramashankar Rai wrote a dozen plays drawn from Sanskrit and English, of which Kanchi Kaveri written in 1880 (borrowing Purushottama Dasa’s title) is now a classic. Satirical prose writers like Gopalchandra Praharaj 0864-1946) wrote acidly funny tracts on the customs of the times in Bhagavata Tungire Sandhya and Bai Mohani Pani. He also compiled a seven volume encyclopaedia Bhasha Kosha.

A new genre of socially committed writing was fostered as the ‘Satyabadi’ (truthful) school by the educationist Pandit Gopabandhu Das, who attracted poets and dramatists like ilakanta Das and Godavarish Mishra to his journal Satyabadi. The latter also wrote several popular historical plays. Gopabandhu himself wrote poetry, especially the stirring Dbarmapada while in Hazaribagh jail during the struggle for Independence. Modern concerns also crop up in the political novels of Harekrishna Mahatab (Tritiya Parva) and Ramprasad Singh, in the short stories of Ananta Panda, and in plays like Bbata by Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik (on the 1942-1943 famine) that ran continuously for 108 nights. Some of the finest post-Independance writing is to be found in publications like Pandulipi, Agami Kali, and Pancbajanya, attracting writers like Kishori Charan Das, Sachitananda Rautrai, Kalindi Charan Panigrahi and Nityananda Mohapatra.


A predominant language in the early centuries of the millennium, it was primarily used for Buddhist canonical writing comprising the’ Tripitaka’ or ‘three baskets.’ The non-canonical works are commentaries, historical works and technical treatises. Besides these works, there is also epigraphical literature.

Vinaya Pitakais the chief canon of sacred Buddhist literature, a part of the Tipitaka, containing regulations about the daily life of monks and nuns. It consists of four parts:

Pattimokha is the nucleus of the Vinaya. According to the Buddha’s chief disciple Ananda, these rules were read at penitential assemblies twice each month, on new and full moon days. It has ten sections and 227 rules in all.

Sutta Vibbaga is a commentary on the Vinaya. It consists of sections dealing with particular transgressions and the order of their seriousness. It is of historical interest to law students as it contains fine distinctions between degrees of crime.

Khandaeas, a continuation of the Sutta Vibbaga, tells of the formation of the Sangha or community of Buddhist clergy, prescribing rules of admission, mode of life, legal proceedings and restoration of the order of the Sangha. The smaller section of this commentary deals with the Buddha’s life and its final section lays down rules of the Order of the uns. These tracts also contain accounts of the two important Buddhist assemblies at Rajgriha and Vaishali. Pariuarais the last part of the Vinaya. It was probably the work of a Sinhalese monk and is in question-answer form, summarising the Brahmi script on the Ashoka Pillar, Debi three other parts of the Vinaya.

Sutta Pitaka is the second canon of Buddhist literature, part of the three part Tipitaka containing the quintessence of Buddhism in prose and verse. It consists of five Nikayasor collections of the Buddha’s speeches and dialogues, with his chief disciples and their followers. It has five sub- sections beginning with Deerhba Nikaya or collection of long sermons and 34 suttas or prefaces in which ethical questions, heretical doctrines, social controversies are recorded. Each sutta has a short preface explaining the occasion on which the Buddha delivered it. The most important is the Samanapbala Sutta on the views of non-Buddhist teachers and founders of other sects.

Sutta 16, the Mabha parintbhana Sutta or discourse on Nirvana is a continuous record of the latter part of the Buddha’s life, his last speeches, his death and funeral ceremonies.

The Majjbima Nikaya is a collection of 152 medium length suttas, dealing with points of religion, including the Four Noble Truths, the truth of Nirvana (enlightenment) and various types of meditation. It also throws light on various forms of asceticism and the relationship between Buddhist, jaina and Brahminical ideas and men. Samyutta Nikaya consisting of 56 sections of 2,889 suttas deals with doctrine, its principal branches, classes of gods, demons and men and some prominent personalities. Its most important sutta contains the first sermon of the Buddha. The 56 Samsuttas (groups) contain riddles addressed to the Buddha which he answers. It reveals the Buddha’s fund of good sense, readiness to accommodate enquiry, humour, intuition, catholicity and great compassion.

Anguttara, divided into 11 sections, emphasizes doctrinal points. Kbuddaka Nikaya, written mainly in verse, comprising 15 texts of short suttas, canons and solemn sayings. Stories of divine places, sufferings of the ghosts of men, poems by Buddhist monks and nuns, stories about the previous lives of Buddha and deeds of self-sacrifice.

A non-canonical work, Netti Prakarna was written by a disciple of the Buddha and means ‘a book of guidance.’ The earliest work to systematically present Buddhist teachings, its opening section is the Sangrabauara, followed by the Vibbagauara. A commentary on this work was written in the 5th century AD by Dhammapala.

Petahopadesa is a set of introductions to students of the Tipitaka by a famous Buddhist disciple. It declares the Four Noble Truths to be the central theme of Buddhism. In Burmese thought the book is considered canonical and was probably written at the beginning of the Christian era.

Milinda Panba may be compared to the Dialogues of Plato. It is a dialogue between the Greek ruler Milinda (Menander) who ruled Greek territory in India in the 1st century Be and the Buddhist monk Thera Nagasena. It contains seven books with parables that explain why man is responsible for his actions. In books II and III it discusses Buddhist ethics and psychology. Book IV has canonical texts. Book V has allusions to tradition and quotations. The language is elegant, and clearly ahead of the speeches in the Sulfa Pitaka.

Jataeatha Vannana is the Pali commentary by Buddha ghosa, on the jatakas – Buddhist parables and stories of the Buddha’s previous lives containing 547 stories, each of which has a canonical section, prose narrative and contemporary stories. The work is valuable not only as literature but for the historical insight it provides into life in India between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD.

Diparamsa/Mabauamsa, an epic poem deals with the history of Sri Lanka (325-352 AD). Buddha ghosa quotes freely from it. It recounts three of Buddha ‘s visits and gives an account of the first two Buddhist councils and schools which arose thereafter. It describes King Ashoka’s reign during the time his son Mahindu went to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism with the help of King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka. Composed in the middle of the 4th century AD, the Diparamsa closes with an -account of King Mahasena’s reign. A coherent, refined version of this work is the Mahauamsa.

Chullauamsa, a supplement to Mahavamsa was composed by different persons at different periods. It was begun by Thera Dhammakitti, whose fame spread from Burma to Sri Lanka in the 13th century during the great king Parakrama bahu’s reign. It begins with the reign of king Mahasena’s son Sirimeghavanna and ends with Sirivikkama Rajasiha, with accounts of about a 100 kings in between this period.

These mainly deal with the history of Sri Lanka and the tooth relic of the Buddha (Dathavamsa). The third Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka is written in the Sasanavamsa, which contains the history of Buddhism in Burma and India. Mababodbauamsa is about the Bo or Pipal tree in Anuradhapura. Gandbauamsa deals with the history of Pali books in Sri Lanka and Burma. Others deals with the stupas built over the hair relic of Buddha (Chhakesha- dhatuuamsa), mansions for religious rites (Hathavangala-viharavamsa) and biographies of famous commentators (Budhhagbosa patti).

Kassapa, written in 142 verses in the 11th century, giving a detailed account of the future Buddha, Maitreya and his contemporary Chakravantin Sankha. Several versions exist. One of these, written partly in prose, is a dialogue between the Buddha and a disciple Sariputta on the decadence and final extinction of Buddhism, its influence and literature. The other version, all in prose, describes ten future Buddhas.

The third, all in verse, gives an account of the future Buddhas only. This future Buddha, to be born in a Brahmin family, will apparently renounce the world and on reaching enlightenment, set in motion the wheel of law. Tela Katha Catha or ‘Stanzas of the Oil Cauldron,’ in 89 verses describes the thoughts of the monk Mahthera. Hewas thrown into a cauldron of hot oil as punishment for a suspected illicit relationship with the queen of Kalyani. Later, a vihara (rest house) was built on the spot. The Mahauamsa relates this tale and speaks of Thera being cast into the sea. Another work, Rasavahini gives further details of it along with a section on the cardinal teachings of Buddhism and Buddhist metaphysics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *