A label which includes the literatures of numerous languages, principally Classical Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. The oldest works are in Sanskrit. These include the texts of the Veda (‘sacred love’) in four collections which date back to the first millennium BC: Rigveda, Atharvarvedra, Yagurvedra, and Samavedra; and also the great Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Later Sanskrit literature featured ritual Tantras, philosophical poems, and scholarly lyrics. A vernacular literature in Prakrit also developed in modern times. The early Tamil anthologies, Ettutogaiad and Pattuppattu, contain romantic and heroic verse from the 1st–4th Century AD; later Tamil literature was influenced by other Indian traditions, and then in the 19th–20th Century by European forms. A similar underlying pattern may be observed in Bengali literature, documented from 1400, which contains translations of Sanskrit epics, and later shows successive Muslim, Christian, and English influences. Distinguished individual writers are the 19th Century novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and the poet and Nobel recipient Rabindranath Tagore.
By contrast with Classical Sanskrit writings, the literatures of both Hindi and Urdu are essentially populist and reformist. Hindi has a tradition of poetry going back to the Rajasthani bards of c.1400, and includes 16th Century devotional poetry and (later) erotic literature such as the Kesav Das; there is also a modern vernacular. But the vernacular initiative passed in the 17th Century to Urdu, enriched by Persian models and material, and favoured by the Muslim nobility. Poets such as the satirist Saudi (d.1781), and the ghazal love poets Mir (d.1810) and Ghalib (d.1869), were matched in the 20th Century by the mystical poet Mohammed Iqbal; and modern Urdu literature flourishes in all forms in Pakistan. With the spread of education in the 20th Century , the vernacular cultures of the Indian subcontinent were revitalized by adapting the Western with the Sanskrit traditions. Modern writers include novelists Anita Desai, R K Narayan, and Vikram Seth, and the poet K N Islam.
See also India, Amarasimha, Bhartrihari, Bhasa, Desai, Anita, Iqbal, Mohammed, Islam, K N, Kalidaśa, Narayan, R K, Seth, Vikram, Tagore, Rabindranath, Tulsidas, epic, literature, Bhagavadgita, Indo-Aryan languages, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Tamil, Sanskrit, Upanishads, Veda.
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