Growth of Literature in regional Languages

The medieval period witnessed the growth of a rich corpus of literature that accompanied the development of new languages. The conventional view among historians was that the patronage of the Sanskrit and other regional language had declined because the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate led to the patronage of Persian. But this period witnessed the growth of a rich corpus of regional literature. This period is marked with composition of poetical works called the Kavya (poetical narrative) and the texts that codified laws called the Dhramashastras.

The new literary languages in India had their genesis (beginning) in early Medieval centuries, when fragmented polity resulted in regional loyalty based on a common culture of local language and literature. At first, many family histories, chronicles and stories about lesser known dynasties were written. Local pride was best expressed through heroic ballads, such as ‘Prithvirajraso’.

A large number of people speak Hindi in its different forms that include Braj Bhasha, and Avadhi (spoken in Oudh region), Bhojpuri, Magadhi, and Maithili (spoken around Mithila), and Rajasthani and Khadi Boli (spoken around Delhi). Rajasthani is another variant or dialect of Hindi. This classification has been made on the basis of literature produced by great poets over a length of time. Thus, the language used by Surdas and Bihari has been given the name of Braj Bhasha; that used by Tulsidas in the Ramacharitamanasa is called Avadhi and the one used by Vidyapati has been termed as Maithili. But Hindi, as we know it today is the one called Khadi Boli. Though Khusrau has used Khadi Boli in his compositions in the thirteenth century its extensive use in literature began only in the nineteenth century. It even shows some influence of Urdu.

The Sufi saints and religious preachers such as Kabir, Nanak, Surda, Tulsidas, Mirabai, were instrumental in developing regional languages as medium for their ‘poetic’ expression. The Sufis used ‘Hindavi’ which increased its popularity while Kabir, Nanak and Surdas, adopted their local dialect. Mirabai sang her devotional songs in Rajasthani, and was influenced by other saint poets such as Tulsidas. Hindi acquired an added importance with the evolution of Urdu which became the official language of the Sultanate.

The rulers of Bengal identified themselves very early with the region they ruled, and took a genuine interest in Bengali literature and culture. This not only assured the support of the masses for their foreign rulers but also promoted the Bengali language and culture.

The folksongs called Charyapads composed between the 10 and 12 centuries are the earliest specimen of the Bengali language. The works of Kavindra and Srikaranandi are regarded to be among the important early works in Bengali.

Early Gujarati literature is available in the form of Bhakti songs of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It still follows the old tradition which is popular in Gujarat. Narsi Mehta’s name is the foremost in this respect. The people of Gujarat wove these devotional songs in their folk dances and their religious forms often find expressions in their celebrations.

The earliest Marathi poetry and prose is by Saint Jnaneshwar (Gyaneshwar) who lived in the thirteenth century. He wrote a long commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. He was the one who started the kirtan tradition in Maharashtra. He was followed by Namdev (1270- 1350), Gora, Sena and Janabai. All these sang and popularised the Marathi language. Their songs are sung even today by the Verkari pilgrirns on their way to Pandharpur pilgrimage. Almost two centuries later, Eknath (1533-99) came on the scene. He wrote the commentaries on the Ramayana and the Bhagawat Purana. His songs are very popular all over Maharashtra.