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Ancient Indian Literature

Ancient Indian Literature
A Brief History

Civilization in India began with the culture known as the Harrapans, which flourished from 2500 to 1500 B.C. They developed a system of writing that remained undeciphered until 1969.

Their civilization was overrun by the lighter-skinned barbarian invaders known as the Aryans starting 1500 B.C. The Aryans dominated India from around 1500 to 500 B.C.

Between 1000 and 500 B.C. the Aryans merged with the Dravidians and civilization began to emerge. Division of Indian society into castes began. Hinduism emerged out of the synthesis of Aryan and Dravidian religions and has been central in the development of Indian Literature. Jainism and Buddhism are later offshoots of Hinduism.

India was first unified under the Mauryan dynasty which began with the conquest of much of the subcontinent by Chandragupta Maurya. The dynasty began in 322 B.C. until 185 B.C. The third Mauryan king, Asoka, is credited with creating a golden age in India. He sent missionaries to SEA and Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism but he tolerated other religions within his empire. After Asoka, the collapse of the Mauryan dynasty led to 500 years of conflict.

During the 500 years of conflict, the Tamil culture flourished in the Dravidian south. It produced some of India’s most extraordinary poetry. Early Tamil literature includes two epics, eight major anthologies, and ten long poems. Tamil lyric poetry is divided into two genres: akam or love poems of the interior landscape and puram or war poems of the exterior landscape.

Chandragupta I took over in 320 A.D. and ushered in the Gupta Empire. It was under the rule of the third Gupta king, Chandragupta II that India experienced its second golden age. This is the age where Sanskrit literature flourished. Classical Indian writers of this period began to use the ancient language of Sanskrit as the formal literary language. The greatest examples of Sanskrit poetry lie in the epics Mahabarata and the Ramayana.

 

Source: Literatures of Asia: from Antiquity to Present. Ed. Tony Barnstone. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003.

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