Essay on an Ancient Indian Literature

Rig Veda is a collection of 1028 hymns in Vedic Sanskrit. The hymns are in praise of different Vedic deities some of them are descriptions of nature. Most enchanting is addressed to ushas, the goddess of dawn. Yajur Veda gives directions for the performance of the Yajna, the Sama Veda prescribes the tunes for the recitation of the hymns of the Rig Veda, and the Atharva Veda prescribes rites and rituals.

The Brahmanas contained detailed explanation of Vedic literature and instructions. The Aryanyakas are an appendix to the Brahmans, prescribed certain rites and philosophical literature. The Upanishadic literature deals with questions like the origin of the universe, birth and death, the material and spiritual world, nature of knowledge etc. The earliest Upanishads are the Brihad-Aranyaka and Chanddogya. The Upanishads are in the form of dialogues. The Vedangas which besides rituals, were concerned with astronomy, grammar and phonetics. Outstanding work of this period was a classic on Sanskrit grammar, the Ashtadhyayi by Panini.

The two great epics were Mahabharta and the Ramayana. They were perhaps put to writing in their present form in the second century A.D. The Mahabharta contains about 100,000 verses and is the longest single poem in the world. Besides the main story of the war between the Pandavas and the Kaurvas, a lot of other interesting stories were added into this epic.

The Bhagvad Gita, a later addition to the Mahabharata enshrines a philosophical doctrine and in it are described the three Paths of Salvation, Viz Karma, Gyan and Bhakti. The Ramayana, the story of Rama, is shorter than the Mahabharata and is full of adventures and episodes.

The Puranas were the main in the development from early vedic religion to Hinduism. The Shastras contained works of science and philosophy. As the Arthashastra by Kautilya was a treatise on science of governance. The smritis dealt with the performance of duties, customs and laws prescribed according to dharma, example is Manusmriti. The early Buddhist literature consists of two sections.

The Suttakpitaka consists mainly of dialogues between the Buddha and his followers. The Vinayapitaka is concerned mainly with the rules of the organization of the monasteries. The Milanda-panha is a Buddhist work consisting of dialogues between the Indo-Greak King Menander and the Buddhist philosopher Nagasena, A Buddhist work consists of hundreds of Jataka stories related to Buddhist sculpture. Later many Buddhist works were written in Sanskrit. The most famous is the Buddhacharita (Life of Buddha) by Ashuagosha.

This was the greatest period (a little before Gupta Period) for the Sanskrit poetry and drama. The famous writers of this period were Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bharavi, Bhartihari, Bana, Megha and many others. Kalidasa's famous works - the Kumara Sambhava, the Raghuvansha, The Meghaduta, the Abhignana Shakuntalam and others. Bana wrote - the Harshacharita, a biography of King Harsha, and Kadambari. Other famous works of Sanskrit - Bhavabhuti's Uttar Ramacharita, Bharavi's Kirtaryuniya, Vishakhadatta's Mudra Rakhshasa, Shudraka's Mricchakatika. Dandin wrote the Daskumaracharita or the 'tales of the Ten Princes'. Besides these the philosophical literature was also written. The commentaries of Shankaracharya were a famous work of this period. The most famous collections of stories are the Panchatantra and the Kathasarit-sagar.

Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam were the four Dravidian languages. Tamil is the oldest of these languages. According to tradition, three literary gatherings or Sangams were held at which many sages and poets recited their compositions. This body of literature consists of many themes like politics, war and love. The famous works are Ettutogai (Eight Anthologies) the Tolkappiyam (Tamil Grammar) and the Pattuppattu (the ten songs). Thiruvalluvar wrote Rural. The other famous works of early Tamil literature are - The Silappadikaram and the Manirnekalai.