Indian Literature in English

Read this article to know about the characteristics of Indian Literature in English.

Introduction

Literature that was written before 1947 is considered as Indian literature. Literature in Sanskrit which includes the sacred books -the Vedas, Upanishads and great epics are Indian literature. This is because of the importance assigned to the language ‘Sanskrit’ in ancient India.

It was the lingua franca and high culture language as it was taught to the upper-class Brahmins (good and virtuous) who were said to be born out of the mouth of deity(Purusha) according to Rigveda.  After 1947, Indian constitution was written according to which 22 languages are officially recognized. So Indian Literature was limited to pre-republic India.

Characteristics of Indian Literature in English

Based on the ancient history of India dominated by Brahmins, the upper educated ruling priestly class, Religion (Spirituality) was the primary concern. Attaining heaven (Mukti) and Reincarnation are the two main focus of Hinduism. Charity (Dana) is the concept that is emphasized in Vedas to attain heaven according to the doctrine of Karma. ‘Deeds of the past determine the state of the present’ is the concept of reincarnation. If noble deeds are done in the past, noble birth in the present is assured. Ramayana is the story of Ram, the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Human values are also a characteristic of Indian literature within the broader web of ‘Religion’. Obedience-  to the one above, to keep up the words spoken i.e not breaking promises at any cost, bravery- in war are the important values imparted through the sacred books and epics.

Obedience to the above – it can mean person in power or an elder person. As in Ramayana, Ram obeyed his father Dasharatha when asked to go into exile and Hanuman (an ape hero) obeys Sugriva (the ape king) immediately when he was asked to go in search of Sita, Rama’s wife.

Keeping up promises at any cost is seen in Ramayana where Kaikeyi, one of the three wives of Dasharatha gets two promises according to which she wants Rama to be sent in exile and her son Bharata to be crowned as a king, which the king fulfils and Rama, the first legal son to be crowned is sent in exile and Bharata is asked to be crowned even at the cost of his life.

Bravery in war front is seen in both Ramayana and Mahabharata which involves the two great epic wars; The Ramayana war and The Mahabharata war- battle at Kurukshetra where the army of both the parties [(Rama and Ravana in Ramayana) and (Pandavas and Kauravas in Mahabharata)] fight bravely for victory.

Love’ is one of the major characteristic focused on Indian literature. All forms of love as Parental love (In Janaka, king of Mithila made him accept Sita; found in-furrow of the field, as his daughter and Dasharatha dies after Rama is sent to exile), Marital love (In Sita, that she accompanied her husband Rama into exile), love of brothers (In Lakshmana that he accompanied Rama into exile and in Bharata that he rejected the crown) and love of friends (in Karna that he stands by Kauravas against his own brothers) are included.


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Virtue rewarded and vice punished is the justice done according to the Dharma, which is a characteristic of Indian literature. Ravana and Kauravas vices of Ramayana and Mahabharata were defeated in war and were killed.

Indian literature reflects the caste system that existed during that period. It is according to Vedas, people are divided into four Varna based on their profession; Brahmins (that includes priests and learned men), Kshatriyas (that includes aristocrats, knights, soldiers and other administrators), Vaishya (that include peasants and businessmen) and Shudras (who were employed in other menial labors. This caste system is employed in the two epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The poetic form was considered as the standard written form in ancient India, that Indian literature was in verses. Ramayana has 24,000 verses and Mahabharata has over 100,000 verses that it takes time for readers to understand them. Sacred books were also in the poetic form called Mantras that are recited during worship. All these forms the characteristic of Indian literature.

Were there no writings except these ‘Indian literature’?

There were other writings before 1947 but were not recognized as Indian literature as they were written in other languages and not Sanskrit. So these writings were added to the literature of the language in which it was written as Tamil Sangam literature, Telugu literature, Bengali literature etc., which were sacred and patriotic texts (during independence struggle).

Later evolved Indian literature in English. After Sanskrit English is the common language used. Writings in English and writings translated into English, with its own characteristics, forms Indian literature in English.

-Nancy Beulah

1st November 2017

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