Literature – Pakrit, Punjabi and Sanskrit


The second most important language of the middle Indo- Aryan group with various dialects. Old Prakrit is called Pali, middle Prakrit comprises the three dialects Sauraseni, Magadhi and Maharashtri and later Prakrit is ‘Apabhramsa,’ of which a division is Paishachi. It has both canonical and non-canonical works of which the former is jaina.

The non-canonical works consist of narrative, lyrical and dialectic poetry, short stories, dramas, lexicons, geography, cosmogony, astronomy, philosophy, ethics and inscriptions. Satasai is a celebrated Prakrit anthology of 700 stanzas, culled from different works. It draws scenes from rural life, the seasons and realistic sketches. The chief sentiment is erotic, together with descriptions of ceremonies and linked conventions. Romantic situations are described in detail. Radha, important in Vaishnavism, is mentioned here for the first time. The existence of this anthology presupposes the existence of a mass of secular literature. The compendium has been imitated in Sanskrit and Hindi, but stands unrivalled in its original form.

Kathanakas were short stories written between the 10th and 12th centuries. Of these, the Kalakacharya Kathanaka is the best known. It describes in prose and verse the initiation of Prince Kalaka into jainism and his rise to the highest rank of monkhood.

Uuasaggabara Stotra in five verses is the earliest and most celebrated work eulogising Parsvanatha. Most of these poems were written around the 10th and 11th centuries, in honour of the Tirthankaras.

Mabauira Charita by Gunachandragiri, composed in 1082 narrates the life of Mahavira on the basis of many legends. Written in grammatically chaste language, It employs various poetic metres as well as 50 Aprabhamsa verses.

Kumarapala Charita an account of the Chalukyan King Kumarapala by Hemachandra is written in both Sanskrit and Prakrit and is a work of history. It also illustrates rules of grammar. The last two chapters are in Prakrit dialects and form a valuable account of the history of the Chalukyas of Gujarat.

Surasundari Charita by Dhanesvara is a long romantic poem written in 1038 describing in easy style, the love affairs of a Vidyadhar chief.

Harivamsa Purana, the jaina adaptation of the Mahabharata in 66 cantos (sections) by jinasena changes the traditional text somewhat. The Pandavas become ascetics and attain Nirvana finally. The author converted the Rashtrakuta king, Amogavarsha to jainism. He also wrote Parsuabbudaya, describing the story of Parsvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara and the famous commentary, jayadhavala. His poetry is often compared to Kalidasa’s.


Early Punjabi literature-is closely identified with Sikh scriptures. The language converges with Hindi in areas like Delhi and Himachal Pradesh and is characterised by tones (if a word is pronounced differently, the meaning changes). A rich tradition of folk songs and Persian-derived romances coloured the medieval period of Punjabi literature, the best-known being the love stories of Heer Ranjha and Sohni Mahiwal. A form of lyrical singing came to be known as Heer while Asadiuar formed a genre of devotional songs. The influence of Sind hi, Urdu and Sanskrit mingled curiously.

The ‘renaissance’ era began with the Singh Sabha Movement that aimed to establish a Sikh identity by exclusively using Punjabi as a cultural vehicle. The best known literary figure in it was Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957) whose historical romances Sundari and Bijan Singh and his weekly, Khalsa Samacharmark the start of modern Punjabi prose. The story of the Sikh struggle against Mughal rule was recreated in the three-part historical novel, Satvant Kaur and the later work Baba Nandh Singh. Sikh feudal society, specially the middle classes, found a voice in the writing of Charan Singh ‘Shahid’ and Bhai Mohan Singh. Bhai Vir Singh is also the father of modern verse, especially in his work Rana Surat Singh. The trend of writing short poems too was begun by him through poems like Matak Hulare, Labran de baar, Bijlian de baar, which drew upon Sufi ideas of man-woman relationships.

The Akali struggle, together with Congress and Communist forces, had its impact on poetry. Gurmukh Singh ‘Musafir’ (1899-1975) and Feroze Din ‘Sharif’ were two luminaries. The drama in Punjabi awakened with the play Subhadra(1924) by Ishvar Chandra Nanda. It contained Shakespearean and Punjabi folk elements on the plight of Subhadra who is harassed by her mother-in-law and rescued by her brother, who marries her off to a classmate.

Other less known works include Var Gharand Shanu Shah. The Punjabi novel came about with Nanak Singh’s Chitti Labu on the theme of oppression of women and its tragic aftermath. The same theme is repeated in Phauladi Phul.

Others of this kind are Kagbazan di Beri, Dhundle Parchauen and Jiuan Sangran (1950). Nanak Singh’s prolific writing explored social themes in an idealist, protestant spirit. He wrote about 60 short stories, in addition to these novels. Gurbaksh Singh (1895) is the doyen of the progressive movement in Punjabi literature. He advocated liberalism in all aspects of life, including platonic relationships between the sexes. These are published in volumes like Sanuin Pachadi Zindagi, Zindagi di Ras, Nauan Shiuala and Param Manush.

Modem drama, given a boost by Harcharan Singh, was marked by a spate of religious plays which created a new up- surge in Sikh society. Sant Singh Sekhon and Balwant Gargi have shown considerable variety in their writing. Gargi’s Kanak di Bali (954) and the experimentalist Dhuni di Agg as well as the historical – Sultana Razia are well-known. Harcharan Singh is a bold modernist among playwrights. The short story has taken shape in the works of Sujan Singh Sekhon, Kartar Singh Duggal, Kulwant Singh Virk, while Guizar, S. Sandhu, Prem Khaunir and Dalip Kaur Tiwana are furthering the genre.

Gurbaksh Singh’s short stories include Anokbe te Ikalle, Bhabi Maina and Pritam dipehredar. Mohan Singh 0906-1978) a stage poet of the thirties whose works were published in Save Pattar(1936) contained the issues of his time like Freudian psycho-analysis and Marxism. His works include Kasumbhara, Advote, Kach, Sach, Vadavela and Kuazan. His Jaya misuses the ‘mir’ in its Russian meaning ‘peace.’ Amrita Pritam (b 1919) began publishing juvenile verses under the title Amrit Labran. She was specially volatile in expounding the cause of the young woman, suppressed by orthodoxy. This feminist sentiment about the lot of woman was evident in Patuer Gite. The mass population transfer at Partition was written about in Lamia Vatan and Sargbi Vela. Her current poetic trend borders on existentialism, evident in Ashoka Cheti, Nagmaniand Kagaz tisanes.

In poems, Harbhajan Singh and Prabhjot Kaur stand out. The latter wrote Pabbi, Vaddarshi Shisha and Chander Yug. The works of Sohan Singh Misha broke ground in realism, with Chairasta Dastak and Kach de Vastar. Other names of note are Mohan Kumar, Shiv Kumar and Mohan Singh.

The novel shows progressive trends and definite realism in the works of writers like Surindra Singh Narula, Jaswant Singh Kalwal, Sarender Pal Singh and Dalip Kaur Tiwana. An emerging and promising newcomer is Gurdial Singh while Kartar Singh Duggal also made his mark as a novelist and playwright.


Abbidana, a dictionary or vocabulary, of which there are many in India. Among of the oldest is Abbidana Ratnamala of Halayudha Bhatta, c. 7th century AD. One of the most detailed is the Abbidana Chintamani of Hemachandra, a-celebrated Jain of the 13th century.

Adi-Sloka or ‘the first verse.’ Valmiki the author of the great epic, Ramayana is said to have discovered poetry spontaneously when he reproached a hunter for killing the male of a pair of curlews (krauncha). Amarasinha (c. 3rd century AD) was the-author of one of the oldest, most celebrated Sanskrit vocabularies. He was one of the nine gems of the court of Vikramaditya of Ujjaini.

A maru Shatakais a delightful collection of a hundred romantic stanzas written by king Amaruka who ruled over Kashmir in the 7th and 8th century AD. The belief is that when Amaruka died, the great Shankaracharya entered his body and revived him long enough to compose his lyrics. Once this was done, the sage left his body and the king died a second death.

Ashtadhyayi, or Eight Books is the well known grammar by Panini, so called because it has eight adhyayas or sections. Each book lias four padas or chapters and each chapter contains a number of sutras or aphorisms which express rules. There are 3996 sutras in all. The sutras of the Ashtad by ayieie not arranged as in a modern grammar by the parts of speech. Panini proceeds on the principle of tracing linguistic phenomena, like the prolonging of vowels and all the grammatical situations in which this occurs. He gives an accurate description of the language and does not build up his grammar on the basis of any pre-conceived theory. Almost all later Sanskrit grammarians have adopted Panini as the standard.

Banabhatta was a master of Sanskrit prose. prose. He authored the novels Kadambari and Harsha Charita, a biography of king Harshavardhana (606-647 AD) of Thane-swar. Both these works are written in complicated prose with long compounds. Kadambari, a romantic tale, became a generic name for a novel or long song. Bharavi composed the epic Kiratarjuniyam in 18 cantos is based on the story of the combat between Arjuna and Lord Shiva, related in the Mahabbarata which ends in Arjuna receiving the Pashupata weapon he craves from Shiva. Bharavi expanded this theme into an elaborate art form.

Bhartrihari, 7th century poet and composer wrote a number of poems of a 100 stanzas each called Shringara Shataea, Niti Shataka and Vairagya Shataea. He is celebrated in legend as the elder brother of King Vikramaditya of Ujjain and is said to have renounced his kingdom to follow the Nathpanthi sect.

Bhasa wrote over a dozen plays. He lived before Kalidasa, between the 2nd and 3rd century AD and is remembered for his mastery of dramatic technique. His best known work is Stoapna Vasavadattain six acts based on the story collection, Bribateatba by Gunadhyaya referred to in the Mahabharata.

The story goes that Prince Udayana after his marriage to Vasavadatta is deprived of a part of his kingdom by an enemy. His minister Yougandharayana devises a plan for its recovery by advising Udayana to marry Padmavati, the daughter of the Magadha king but Udayana declines. The minister conspires with Vasavadatta for the success of his scheme. He spreads the rumour that Vasavadatta has perished in a forest fire. Mean- while she hides in Padmavati’s quarters passing as the minister’s sister in search of her lost husband.

Udayana agrees to marry Padmavati but is still in love with Vasavadatta. He remembers her in sleep and manages to get a glimpse of her in Padmavati’s chamber. But he mistakes her for an apparition. The kingdom is restored to him with Magadhan help. A messenger comes to Padmavati with a picture of Udayana and his former queen and Padmavati learns that Vasavadatta is no sister of the minister. Bhasa’s last work is taken to be Pratimanatika derived from the Ramayana. It is in seven acts and derives its name from the pratima (statue) of King Dasharatha that was added to the hall at Ayodhya after his death. In the form of an ensuing dialogue between the queen Kaikeyi and her son Bharata, Bhasa tries to exonerate Kaikeyi of the charge of self-interest that has been flung at her, through centuries. The entire sixth act is in this novel form. Bhauabhuti, the best known dramatist after Kalidasa wrote three principal plays between 700-730 AD, of which Mahatnra- Charita in seven acts, describes the main story of the Ramayana, ending with the triumphant entry of Rama into Ayodhya. Bhavabhuti’s second play, Uttara Ramayana deals with the latter portion of the Ramayana; the banishment of Sita and her reappearance as the mother of her twins, Lava and Kusha, ending with her final disappearance underground. This is the best of his plays noted for the artistic delineation of the ‘karuna rasa’ or compassion. The third play, Malati Madhaua is the story of two young Buddhist pupils whom their teacher, the nun Kamandaki, wants to unite in marriage. The local king plans otherwise and after a series of incidents, the lovers are united, with the king’s concurrence. The story is from the Kathasarit Sagara but developed and dramatised sensitively.

Dashakumara Charita or Tales of Ten Princess by Dandin, in prose, a collection of exciting adventures that vividly portrayed the late 6th and early 7th centuries AD.

Cita Couinda or ‘Songs of the Cowherd’ were written by jayadeva in the 12th century; a series of dramatic lyrics meant to be sung, describing through the love of Krishna and Radha a devotee’s longing to be one with God. A unique dance text, it has been choreographed in all the major dance styles of India- Bharata Natyam, Odissi, Manipuri, Mohini Attam, Kathak and Kuchipudi. It is sung in both Hindustani and Carnatic modes and was the only text used in the Jagannath temple, Puri for Odissi. It has been translated into more than 20 European languages and since the 16th century, about 200 translations have appeared in 14 Indian languages.

Kalidasa The best known dramatist in Sanskrit literature whose masterpiece Abbijnana Shakuntalam is lauded for its dramatic poetry. It is the earliest known Sanskrit drama relating the love of King Dushyanta for Shakuntala (daughter of sage Vishwamitra and the apsara Menaka), whom he first meets in the forest when he enters the hermitage of the sage Kanva. The king falls in love with her at once, sends back the royal party and marries Shakuntala in secret Chandharvam) before returning to his capital.

One day, the young bride, in her excitement neglects to serve the visiting ascetic Durvasa who curses her and says that she would forever be forgotten by her lover. A heavenly messenger meanwhile informs Kanva of Shakuntala’s marriage and pregnancy and Kanva arranges to send her under escort to the king. But the king cannot recognise Shakuntala, since she is under Durvasa’s curse. The royal priest takes pity on Shakuntala and offers to house her till her child is born.

Meanwhile a fisherman was found to have in his possession the very ring that Dushyanta had given to Shakuntala which had slipped off while she was bathing in the river on the way to the palace. Seeing the ring, the king remembers everything and is filled with remorse. After several mishaps, Dushyanta, Shakuntala and their son Bharata are reunited. Bharata indeed, is the emperor after whom India is named Bharata Varsha, the land of Bharata. Kalidasa also wrote the Vikramoruasbiyam, on the oldest known love story in India (mentioned in the Rig Veda), between Pururavas, a mortal king and Urvashi, a celestial nymph. He also composed a poetic cycle on the seasons called Rtu Sambara. The lyrical descriptions of nature in this work and in Meghadoota (The Cloud Messenger) inspired many writers in later centuries. Yet another Kalidasa classic, Malauikagnimitram on the love of a king for his court dancer, is remarkable for the exacting standard it lays down for an ideal dancer.

Kama Sutra, a unique work on the art of love written by Maharshi Vatsyayana has seven instructive chapters on the erotic passage of work. It is regarded as the greatest classical work on the subject ever written and has deeply influenced various aspects of Indian art, literature and culture. Moreover it contains a detailed account of prevalent techniques in painting.

Kathasarit Sagara or the ‘Ocean of Story,’ including an earlier collection, the Brihat- katha (great story). Written in the 11th century in Kashmir by Somadeva in easy, elegant verse, it incorporates a vast body of folk literature.

Mahakavya or the ‘great poem.’ There are six such: Raghuvamsa, Kumarasambhava, Meghadoota (all by Kalidasa), Kiratarjuniyam,  Sishupaiabodha and Naisbada Charitra. Panchatantra, five treatises, is actually a book of instruction in ‘niti’ or right conduct for kings and statesmen, told through little stories, apparently composed by one Vishnu Sharman who was charged by the king to educate five foolish princes, within six months.

Other versions of these stories exist, notably a school ‘reader’ in Sanskrit, the Hitopadesa, composed by arayana in 12th century Bengal. Sri harsha or Harshavardhana was the poet king of Thaneswar. He is believed to have authored two Sanskrit plays, Ratnaualion the popular love story of princess Vasavadatta and Nagananda, a story of supernatural snakes meant to synthesis the tenets of Hindus and Buddhists.

Sudraka (3rd-4th century) authored Mriohhaleatika a social drama in ten acts. It is the love story of the Brahmin Charudatta and the courtesan Vasantasena, whom he ultimately marries. The drama takes its name from a toy earthen cart (mrichhakatika) which belongs to Charudatta’s son. He cries for a golden cart instead. Moved to pity, Vasantasena gives away her gold ornaments to be made into a cart for him. Many tortuous complications later, the story ends happily. Vishakadatta is the author of the enduring classic Mudrarakshasa (The Minister’s Signet Ring). The theme is the winning over of Rakshasa, the faithful minister of the fallen dynasty of the andas, by Chanakya, the witty Brahmin who engineered the defeat of the Nandas by his protégé Chandragupta Maurya. It is a drama of pure political intrigue, recreated successfully on modern stages.

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