Sanskrit literature is classified into two main types Vedic [वैदिक] and Laukik [लौकिक] i.e. classical. Vedic literature includes four Vedas, Brahmans [ब्राह्मण], Aaranyakas [आरण्यके], Upanishads [उपनिषदे], Vedangas [वेदाङ्गे], Nirukta [निरुक्त] and Sutra [सूत्र] literature. All other literary work is known as classical literature. Vedic literature is more of religious and sacrificial rituals. Deities are praised for granting us wellbeing and long-life through sacrificial prayers.
Vedic Literature vs Classical Literature
Classical literature is closer to society. Vedic literature dealt with two objectives of life namely Dharma [धर्म] and Moksha [मोक्ष], classical literature deals with two other objectives Artha [अर्थ] and Kama [काम]. This literature carries strong impression of Upanishads and so follows certain moral values. The religion reflected in classical literature is Vedic but the version is more advanced. Importance of Vedic deities was less in this period so many other deities are described. In Vedic literature prose was more popular but in Classical literature poetry is prominent. Ramayana and Mahabharata have great impact on classical poetry literature. Even the meters used in these two epics are different than Vedic meters. Gayatri [गायत्री] and Trishtup [त्रिष्टुप्] are main meters in Vedic literature whereas Upajati [उपजाती], Vamshastha [वम्शस्थ] etc. are more popular in later era.
In Vedic literature we can see that prose was also very much popular. Taittiriya Samhita [तैत्तिरीय सम्हिता], Kathak Samhita [काठक सम्हिता] and in Brahmans [ब्राह्मण] prose is prominent. Upanishads are also mainly of prose type. But as classical literature got more developed poetry became more prominent. The importance of prose vanished rapidly in the later period.
The language of classical literature is different from Vedic literature; mostly in all works, rules of grammar are followed. The epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are ancient so the language is also ancient. In Vedic literature, metaphor is more prominent, and in classical literature exaggeration is frequent. Mythological literature known by name Puranas [पुराणे] are famous for exaggeration. In Vedic period simple and natural language was more popular while in Classical period, adorned language got more impressive.
v Aarsh [आर्ष] Epics
The word Aarsh means the creation of Rishis meaning Sages. Raamayan and Mahabharat are two Aarsh Kaavyas. These epics provided base for many literary works of many poets in not only Sanskrit but all other regional languages in India. Language of these is ancient so many forms are similar as in Vedic literature.
Poetry-Definition and Nuances
Poetry both Prose and poem is known as Kaavya [काव्य] in Sanskrit. Scholars have defined ‘Kaavya’ with different definitions. “Vakyam Rasatmakam Kaavyam” [वाक्यम् रसात्मकम् काव्यम्] the sentences which carries sentiment poetry, says Vishwanath, Whereas Pundit Jagannath thinks that Ramaniyarth Pratipadakah Shabdah Kaavyam” [रमणीयार्थप्रतिपादकः शब्दः काव्यम्] means the sentence which expresses beautiful meaning is called poetry. Author of Kaavyaprakash Mammata defines it as “Tadadoshau Shabdarthau Sagunavanlamkruti punah kvapi” [तददोषौ शब्दार्थौ सगुणावनलङ्कृती पुनः क्वापि] means in which the words and meaning expressed by those words are faultless and contain all the qualities and adorned by figures of speech – this is poetry.
These definitions indicate that good poetry contains mutual understanding of words and their meanings. Poetry is divided in two types of visual drushya [दृश्य] and shrvya [श्रव्य] which is heard. Drushyakaavya is drama and shravyakavya includes all other types of written poetry like Aarsh kaavyas, epics etc.
Shrvyakaavya is again divided in two types 1- Rupatmak [रूपात्मक] and 2-Vastvatmak [वस्त्वात्मक].
RupatmakShrvyakaavya [रूपात्मकश्रव्यकाव्य] is of three types ‘Gadya[गद्य]’means ‘Prose’, ‘Padya[पद्य]’ means ‘Poem’ and ‘Champoo [चम्पू]’ means ‘mixture of prose and poetry’.
Vastvatmak Shrvya kaavya[वस्त्वात्मक श्रव्य काव्य] includes Mahakaavya[महाकाव्य], Khandakaavya [खण्डकाव्य]and Muktak i.e. Kosh [मुक्तक-कोश].Khandkaavya [खण्डकाव्य] is small than an epic.
MuktakKaavya is self-sufficient to express its meaning; references are not needed to read this kind of poetry. Although they are small they are interesting and meaningful. Bhartruhari’s[भर्तृहरी] Shatakas[शतके] are very good examples of this category.
Sanskrit Mahakaavya has its own class in Sanskrit Literature. Ancient Sanskrit linguistic experts have set some standards for epics. Any poetry fulfilling these conditions is called an epic. Those rules are known as Mahakaavya Lakshans [महाकाव्य लक्षणे] and they are as follows-
· An Epic must be divided in chapters called as ‘Sarg’ [सर्ग].
· There is only one hero and he must be God, or from Royal Family who is courageous and Virtuous Kshatriya [क्षत्रिय].
· Sentiments of Bravery, Peace and Love one among these is prominent in the epic and other sentiments are supportive to the main sentiment.
· The story is famous in history or a life story of a saint is described.
· One Vrutta [वृत्त] meter is used in whole chapter and last verse is written in different meter
· Chapters should not too long or too short in length.
· Number of chapters must be more than eight and at the end of each chapter there should be an indication of the next chapter.
· Descriptions of natural phenomena’s like sunrise, sunset, night, moonrise, different seasons, oceans ,mountains and forests should be there to make the story interesting and attractive.
· Sentiment of love should also appear in between. In the situations carrying bravery sentiment descriptions of discussions about battle, attack on the enemies and other such references should also be there.
· The main object of epic should be to show the victory of truth and justice and the defeat of injustice and unrighteousness. The poetic creation which is full of these qualities is known as ‘Mahakaavya’ i.e. ‘Epic’.
Western scholars think that there are two types of Epics
1. ‘Developed Epics’- Which story is developed over centuries and poet with his poetic intellect carved it in the form of an Epic. ‘Iliad’ of Homer is an example of this type in English literature and Raghuvansh [रघुवन्श]Kalidas and Shishupalvadh [शिशुपालवध] of Maghare are of this kind in Sanskrit as per their opinion.
2. ‘Artistic Epic’- Which is written by a poet with his exclusive poetic skills. Ramayana of Sage Valmiki is the example of this category according to western Scholars.
Raghuvansh [रघुवन्श] and Kumarsambhav [कुमारसम्भव] of Kalidas, Kiratarjuniya [किरातार्जुनीय] of Bharavi, Naishadhiycharit [नैषधीयचरित] of Shriharsha and Shishupalvadh [शिशुपालवध] of Magh are five famous Sanskrit Epics.
Sanskrit poets must have got inspiration to write these epics from Vedas. In Vedas Gods as well as kings are also praised. And Praises for donations are also there. Many Rugvedic stories are famous and there are descriptions of many kings in them. So poets must have taken the idea of creation of epic from there e.g. Shunahshep Katha [शुनःशेप कथा]. Using these ancient poets wrote epics with descriptions of nature.
It is difficult to tell the origin of Mahakaavya. First classic epic is written by Great poet Kalidas. But he is not the first one who wrote an epic. Indian tradition thinks Panini is the first epic writer. ‘JambavatiVijay’ [जाम्बवतीविजय] or ‘PatalVijay’ [पातालविजय़] was the name of his epic. Rajshekhar [राजशेखर] thinks that Grammarian Panini and the Author of the above epic Panini are same. This epic is not available today, but in Prachin Sukti Sangraha [प्राचीन सूक्ति सम्ग्रह] i.e. collection of ancient subhashits [सुभाषित] around fifty shlokas of Panini are available. These shlokas are a very good piece of poetry. One more book of Vararuchi [वररुचि] was there but today it is not available.
This is the type of Vastvatmak Shravyakaavya [वस्त्वात्मक श्रव्यकाव्य]. This Geetikaavya is of two types. 1. Prabandh [प्रबन्ध] and 2. Muktak [मुक्तक]. In this type of poetry, melodious meters along with sweet arrangements of words are used. Srungaar [शृङगार], Niti [नीति], Vairagya[वैराग्य] and natural descriptions are special features of Gitikaavya. Especially Nature of women, purity and nobility of their mind are expressed very well in this type of poetry.
Muktak means separate verse. This never requires a context to understand. Kalidas’s Rutusamhara [ऋतुसम्हार] is a collection of Muktakas. Many poets wrote such verses, which later became useful to decide their timeframe. Many such verse collections have hundred verses. These are famous as Shataksamgrah[शतकसम्ग्रह]. Bhartruhari’s Shatakas[शतके] 7th century are very good example of MuktakKaavyas. Nitishatak [नीतिशतक], Vairagyashatak [वैराग्यशतक] and Shrungarshatak [शृङ्गारशतक] are his three famous collections of Subhashits [सुभाषिते]. Bhallata’s[भल्लट] 9th century Bhallatshatak [भल्लटशतक] and Kshemendra’s [क्षेमेन्द्र]many muktakas are famous. Saints-wicked people, rich-poor, scholars-fools, enemy-friend, generosity, and compassion – these general aspects of life are always discussed in Mahakaavyas, but many muktakas tell us about the society, relatives, teacher and disciple this is the special peculiarity of this muktakas.
This is also known as Khandkaavya [खण्डकाव्य]. As said in Sahityadarpan [साहित्यदर्पण] any poem that is divided into chapters, tells a story and is in verse form is called Prabandh or KhandKaavya. Generally when a poem has eight or more chapters then it named as an epic otherwise it is known as Khandkaavya. Meghdoot [मेघदूत] of Kaalidas is very good example of Prabandhkaavya. The story of the cursed demi-God Yaksha [यक्ष] is narrated very well which is divided in two parts namely Poorvmegh [पूर्वमेघ] and Uttarmegh [उत्तरमेघ]. Yaksha who is far away from his beloved wife for almost eight months sees a rain cloud in the sky and the idea of sending a message of his wellbeing to his wife clicks in his mind. Human emotions and nature are blended very skillfully together by Kalidas [कालिदास] in this creation. Kalidas is known as Great Sanskrit Poet and while studying Meghdoot [मेघदूत] we find out that this is not an exaggeration at all.
The special features of such messenger poems are that they are a unique type of poetry where the length of poem is not too much, main emotional element is considered most,while writing the poem, the story is important but not too much. There are not any descriptions of the families of hero and heroines, even their names are not described. Starts with separation of Hero and Heroine and ends with the message which has to be told. This type of small poem having hundred odd verses proved to be very impressive. Many poets took inspiration from Kalidas, and wrote such messenger poems. But the one which truly followed Meghdoot in all aspects is Churpanchshika [चौरपञ्चशिका] of Bilhan [बिल्हण].
Geetgovinda [गीतगोविन्द] of Jaydev [जयदेव] is also a different kind of creation. This poem proved the melody among Sanskrit phonics and letters. The meters are used according to the emotions expressed in verses.
Stotra Literature [ स्तोत्रवाङ्मय]
Stotra literature is very vast, rich and inspiring. A devotee in any religion expresses his emotions towards God and praises the greatness and excellence of the God through prayers of Gods. In Sanskrit literature some poets have enriched the literature by their unique prayers known as Stotras in Hindu Tradition. These devotees sometimes forget themselves while describing the great lord who is very compassionate and is very kind to the poor. They also express their guilt to God, when they realize their mistakes and find themselves trivial in front of God. The true element of devotion is expressed through these prayers which make them attractive and convincing. When sung with music their impact is doubled.
The Shiv-Mahimna [शिवमहिम्न] Stotra of Pushpdant [पुष्पदन्त] is very popular. This Stotra in Shikhrini [शिखरिणी] meter expresses philosophical thoughts. The Surya-Shatak [सूर्यशतक] of poet Mayur [मयूर] is in Sragdhara [स्रग्धरा] meter and describes many instruments, body parts of Sun and their importance. Although being a famous poem writer the Chandishatak [चण्डीशतक] Stotra of poet Banabhatta [बाणभट्ट] is very popular. Big compounds, alliterations, and rich poetical improbabilities are special features of this Stotra.
The great philosopher Shankaracharya’s [शङ्कराचार्य] time is after Banabhatta. He developed the Advaitvedanta [अद्वैतवेदान्त] theory in Indian Philosophy. The Worship of Sagun Brahma [सगुणब्रह्म] takes us towards the path of NirgunBrahma [निर्गुणब्रह्म] so he wrote many beautiful prayers for the idols of Sagun Brahma i.e. Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, Shakti, and Hanuman. These Stotras are very melodious, pleasing and meaningful and attractive. Saundaryalahari [सौन्दर्यलहरी] and Bhajagovindam [भजगोविन्दम्] are very famous Stotras of Shankaracharya.
Other than these Lahari Stotras [लहरीस्तोत्र] of Jagannath[जगन्नाथ] are famous. Gangalahari[गङ्गालहरी], Karunalahari [करुणालहरी] etc.
Purana [पुराण] Literature
Puran literature is an important literature type which spread the awareness of Indian tradition and culture among common people. Even today Puranas are the base of Hindu religion. Some Indian as well as foreign scholars think, that Puranas are imaginary and do not rely on them. Some other scholars however think that Puranas are important for understanding Indian History.
The word Puran can be defined as Puratanaakhyan [पुरातन आख्यान] i.e. ‘ancient tale’. The characteristics of Puran are described in Vishu [विष्णु], Matsya [मत्स्य] and Brahmaan [ब्रह्म] Mahapuranas [महापुराण] as –
[सर्गश्च प्रतिसर्गश्च वम्शो मन्वन्तराणि च।
वम्शानुचरितम् चैव पुराणम् पञ्चलक्षणम्।।]
Universe, birth of the universe, its stable state, an apocalypse, descriptions of the first families on earth and descriptions of the kings from solar and moon dynasty these are five subjects of Puranas.
The story of mankind should be written from its origin, if it is to be said as the history of mankind. So it deals with the stories of man right from his first appearance on earth so they have historic importance in Sanskrit literature.
The writing style of Puranas is very ornate. Many famous poets like Shankaracharya [शङ्कराचार्य], Banabhatta [बाणभट्ट] give references from Puranas in their works. Even Mahabharata in 5th chapter of Aaranyaka Parva [आरण्यक पर्व], in Arthashastra [अर्थशास्त्र] of Kautilya [कौटिल्य] and in Chhandogya [छान्दोग्य] Upanishad Atharvaveda there are references of Puranas. They prove that Puranas even existed in Vedic times. These are not one time creations but time to time new stories were added to these. 18 Puranas are famous in Indian tradition. They interpret Vedic religion very well which is difficult to understand for common people. It has geographical significance as well because it also has descriptions of holy places.
Aitihasik Kaavya [ऐतिहासिक काव्य]
Although Sanskrit literature is very ancient in world history still it does not throw any light on history. According to western scholars Sanskrit poetry does not provide any date and time details of anything. But the definition of history of Indian scholars is different from that of western scholars which includes relating the situations with great people’s life which can show the guiding light to next generations.
This way Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas are also historical books. We even get the references of historians from Yaskacharya’s Nirukta. In Kautaliya Arthshastra [कौटलिय अर्थशास्त्र] Arya Chanakya also mentions Veda of History. But although history had this much importance since ancient times still there are no any history related references about time and dates. The ideas about life were different at that time, human life is for paying all debts of sins in previous lives, which will lead us to liberation, was their firm belief. May be that is why, the time and date details were not much important for them. But there are some works which provide us little of above information. Dashradnya [दाशराज्ञ] battle in Rugveda, in Vamshanucharit [वम्शानुचरित] and Manvantar [मन्वन्तर] parts of Puranas list of the kings and their ancestors is given.
Kaumudi Mahotsava [कौमुदी महोत्सव] was written in 4th century, in which the happenings in Gupta era are narrated. In 8th century the Prakrit mahakaavya Gaudvaho [गऊडवहो] was written. Harshcharit [हर्षचरित] of Banabhatta, Navsahsankcharit [नवसाहसाङ्कचरित] of Padmgupta [पद्मगुप्त]are some works which tell us about history. Vikramangdevcharit [विक्रमाङ्गदेवचरित] of Bilhan [बिल्हण] and Rajtarangini [राजतरङ्गिणी] of Kalhan [कल्हण] give us information about Kashmir from ancient times till 12th century.