·         Indo Anglian

·         Kannada

·         Kashmiri


Seen against 5,000 years of history, the last 300 of active European involvement were a useful literary catalyst in modernizing aspects of India. In literature, they not only brought new strains but also threw up a new trend: Indians writing in English.

The earliest specimen is the first English newspaper printed in India, Hickey’s Bengal Gazette (1780) and the first known tract was Cavally Venkata Boriah’s dissertation on the Jains (1801). But early Indian rowed only the medium: the themes remained obstinately Indian, drawing from Sanskrit epics and old traditions of romance, chivalry, oppression and philosophy. Poets like Henry Derozio wrote on Sati (widow-burning) in a poem called The Faquir of jhungheera. Influenced by the Romantics, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, a Bengali Christian convert, wrote a Miltonian epic in Bengali (Meghnad Badb Kavya) or Ravana’s son, Indrajit; and a Byronic English ballad Captive Ladies (1847) on the romance of the Hindu King of Delhi, Prithviraj Chauhan and Princess Sanyukta.

Bengal, Madras and Maharashtra spawned a host of other writers who reached a wider audience using English. Writers like Keshub Chunder Sen (1838- 1884), Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842- 1901), K.T.Telang (1850-1893), N.G. Chandavarkar (1855-1923) and Swami Vivekananda marked the turn of the century, the last using English to spread the message of Vedanta in America.

Toru Dutt, (1856-77) a young, consumptive poet wrote sensitively in English and French of her experiences abroad (A Sheaf Gleaned in French Fields) and the Indian legends of Savitri, Prahlada, Dhruva and Ekalavya. The historical was explored in works like V. Kanakasabesan’s Tamils 1800 Years Ago and philosophy in Rambles in Vedanta by a yogi, B. R. Rajan Iyer.

The Indian novel in English began in 1864 with Rajmohan’s Wife by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Early 20th century writers like Manmohan Ghosh and Sri Aurobindo wrote prodigiously in verse. Ghosh’s major works are Songs in Love and Death (1926), Slayer, Nala-Damayant and Adam Alarmed in Paradise, while poet-philosopher Aurobindo wrote narrative poems, political tracts. His magnum opus was a 24,000 line mystical epic Savitri. Indian writing in English won international acclaim when Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1912. His experiments in poetry, prose and drama inspired a new generation of Indian writers.

A notable contemporary, Sarojini Naidu fired by the nationalism sweeping India, wrote delicately and skillfully of Indian everyday life and love in collections like The Golden Threshold (1905), The Broken Wing, The Bird of Time and The Temple.

The Indo-Anglian scene of the last 50 years is fairly crowded with a range of writers and poets. The novel seems particularly in use as a form. Some of the best known ‘moderns’ are R.K.Narayan (Malgudi Days, Swami and Friends, The English Teacher). Several of his books have been successfully filmed or televised and are often illustrated by his cartoonist brother R.K.Laxman. Narayan deals mainly with life in South India’s small towns. Manohar Mulgaonkar wrote excellent historical novels like A Bend in the Ganges and Princes and The Devils Wind, which gave an Indian view of the Revolt of 1857. Khushwant Singh focused on the trauma of partition (1947) in Train to Pakistan, while Nayantara Sehgal, Nehru’s niece, wrote about contemporary themes in novels like Prison and Chocolate Cake. Kamala Markandeya’s Nectar in a Sieve dealt sensitively with a rural woman’s life, and Anita Desai writes elegantly of urban India’s angst.

Of the poets, Kamala Das is refreshingly frank and personal, Nissim Ezekiel gently ridicules urban pretensions Jayanta Mahapatra expresses deep contemporary concerns through focusing on nature and A.K.Ramanujan, a linguist and scholar is remembered for Speaking of Shiva. Painter Gieve Patel writes sensitively of nature.

The late eighties and early nineties have seen a fresh spurt of energy in the Indo-Anglian stream with books like the internationally successful novel-poem, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, Amitava Ghose’s Circle of Reason, Firdaus Kanga’s Trying to Grow (on being Parsi and disabled) and Rohinton Mistry’S Such a Long journey.


A Dravidian language. The earliest evidence is in 5th century inscriptions in the Brahmi script and thereafter the earliest literature is Ali Jaina. Srivijaya, Ajaina poet, c. 860 AD at the court of the Rashtrakuta king, Nripatunga Amogavarsha, wrote the Kaviraja Marga, a book on poetics. It is based on Dandin’s Sanskrit work, Kaoya-darsha.

The book also throws light on contemporary Kannada language. The next important poet is Pampa, a Jaina soldier, who commanded the forces of Arikesari Chalukya II. He wrote a religious tract, on the first Jain Tirthankara, called the Adi Purana and a secular work, Pampa Bharata on the epic hero Arjuna.

Pampa’s contemporary, Ponna, a Rashtrakuta court poet wrote a Jaina epic, the Shanti Purana, while more Jaina literature incorporating the Sanskrit epics was penned by Chamundaraya, soldier- poet, army commander of King Rachamalla (947 – 984 AD) who installed the massive statue of Gomatesvara at Sravanabelagola. Vadaradbane (920 AD) on the lives of 19 Jaina ascetics constitutes the earliest Kannada prose. Ranna, son of a bangle maker from Bijapur, was another Jaina who became a court poet and author of Ajitapurana, ranked with Pampa and Ponna as one of Kannada’s ‘Ratnatraya’ or precious jewel.

The first love poem in Kannada by Nagavama was a translation from Sanskrit while Kanakadasa, a 15th century Vaishnava mendicant singer from Dharwar and a contemporary of Purandaradasa wrote devotional songs. His Prahandha Kavya blends Sanskrit and Kannada.

More devotional verse followed with the vachanas of the 12th century Viralinga yatas or Shaiva poets, of whom the best- known were Dasimayya, Basavanna, Allama Prabhu and Mahadevi Akka. The earliest, Devara Dasimayya was a disciple of the Shaivite ascetic Ramanuja. He and other vachana poets wrote pithy, rhythmic verse condemning social evils and extolling their personal vision of god in a form that was neither prose nor verse and so became uniquely called vachanas or sayings.

Modern Kannada writing in the 20th century takes off with the Pragatisheel Movement or Progressive Movement, founded by A. Krishna Rao. Literature was transformed into an instrument of social charge, attacking old social evils like dowry, caste and illiteracy. Rural life in all its hardship was depicted with great detail in prose, short story, and novel and in poetry. Between 1920 and 1945, several Kannada writers were awarded the Jnanpith (India’s highest literary honor) K. V. Kuttapah, D. R. Bendre, Shivaram Karanth and Masti Venkatesa Iyengar. Girish Karnad, playwright and film maker (Hayavadana, Raktakalyan) is nationally known, while presently two potent forces in Kannada literature – Dalit and Bandavya writing – voice the concerns of the socially and economically oppressed.


The first evidence of literature is the Chamcharya Padas around 11th centuries in Abhinava Gupta’s book on Kashmiri Shaiva Darshana. Since these padas constitute the basics of Sahajayana Buddhist thought, it is possible that the progenitors of this language were Buddhists. From the very beginning the language has been used by hermits and Sufis. The 14th century poetess Lal Ded wrote Vakh. Nund Rishi or Nuruddin (1337-1442) a younger contemporary of Lal Ded wrote Shruk verses, a mystic Kashmiri version of shlokas, propagating universal brotherhood, fraternity, compassion, non-violence and tolerance.

The Vakh poetry tradition flourished alongside and continues even today with the Shaiva poets of Kashmir. Avtar Bhatt’s epic Banasurabadb Katba (15th century) is the first of its kind, throwing light on the elite, if archaic, language of the age.

Poetess Habba Khatoon is remembered for her exquisite love poems in and around 1604. Khwaja Habibullah Naushahri, Mirza Akmal-ud-din and Animal followed her trend. Although Saheb Kaul (1629-82) belongs to this period, his verse shows a difference. His Zanmaebarit is a philosophical treatise, while Rupa Bhawani continued the Vakb, glowing with spiritual fervour.

The 18th century saw the introduction of the ‘mashair’ or narrative poems in literature with the works of Mum in Saab, followed by Mahmud Gami, Shah Qalandar, azim and Azizullah Haggami. The masterpiece is Maqbul Shah Kralwari’s Gulrez where the plot is Persian, but its rendering is original. Walliullah Mattu’s Mashair Himalis is based on a local legend.

After a lull of 400 years, following the death of Nund Rishi, mystic poetry or Sufi Shairi, blending Vedantic and Shaiva, Sahajayana, Shunyavada (scientific) and Islamic thought, came into being. Some poets of this genre were Rehman Dar, Rahim Saab, Naima Saab, Shah Qalandar, Shams Faqir and Samad Mir. Other forms, like romantic poetry by Rusool Mir and Bhakti poetry by Prakash Ram, Parmananda and Bulbul Nagami continued.

Krishan Razdan went on to specialize in bhajans and Zinda Kaul enriched Bhakti poetry after him. ‘Naat’ and ‘Rubai’ were other genres explored in Kashmiri at the turn of the century.

Kashmiri prose, which began with a translation of the Bible by the Serampore Missionary Press, continued into articles on Health and Hygiene by S.K. Toshakhani (1895-81) and his Kamala which now exists only in parts.

The first drama, by Nandlal Kaul, was Sateb Kabvaton the episode of Raja Harish Chandra. Works by TC. Bismil (1904-48), Ghulam Naki Dilsoz and Aga Hashar followed. Akhtar Mohiuddin wrote the first anthology of stories and Amil Kamil’s Gatimanzi Gasb the first novel. Today Ghulam Nabi Gauhar, Bansi Nirdosh (Akb Dour) have continued the tradition. Kashmiri is now written in the Urdu script though originally it was in an ancient script called ‘Sharada.’

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