Short Essay on Literature of South India


From about the 4th century B.C. we get evidence of literary effort in South India. In Northern Deccan and immediately to the south of the Narmada there was the inevitable overflow of Sanskrit literary production in Aryavarta.

Farther south especially in Tamilnad one gets proof of the beginnings of a powerful and great literautre just a century or two before the Christian era. Kannada and Telugu literatures became creative much later and worthy of notice only in the Hoysala and Chalukya periods.

Kannada literature becomes significant in the Chalukya times while Telugu gets its fulfilment as it were in Vijayanagara days. Malayalam, a late comer to this festival of letter, did not produce anything beyond a sandesam in the 14th century.


It is true that Sanskrit mythology and puranic lore and the stories of the epics were familiar to the Dravidian literatures and it is also true to say that the languages of the south, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam-with the significant exception of Tamil- followed the Sanskrit alphabetic system employing the Chaturvarghas.

It is again true that even Tamil literature during and after the Pallava period was highly (and occasionally regrettably) influenced by Sanskrit norms, literary forms, figures of speech, conceit etc.

But anyone who has even a nodding acquaintance with the Tamil Sangam literature will agree that to say that “Sanskrit was the magic wand whose touch alone raised each of the Dravidian languages from the level of a patois to that of a literary idiom’ is not only to make a sweeping statement but to make a false statement.

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