Short Note on Audience and Literature

All literatures are produced for an intended audience. In the pre modern period, court patronage resulted in a range of literary production. The audience primarily comprised the literate section of the society. The precise nature of the audience varied from genre of literature. For instance, the audience for courtly literature was the courtly elite. They were educated and refined in their senses. This was largely true for the texts produced under court patronage. For instance, the audience for a royal autobiography was the court based elite and a minority of educated section of the society. Harshcharit’s biography composed by Banabhatt was primarily meant for the courtly elite. It paints a glowing picture of his patron Harsha of the Pushyabhuti dynasty. Since, Banabhatta also talks about his brahmanical lineage in this text, it is quite possible that the audience for his text also comprised the community of poets-writers. Similarly, Kalhan composed the historical chronicle of Kashmir, Rajtarangini in the 12th century for the elites of his period. However, its possible that the community of poets and writers were also aware of posterity as their audience.

As far as religious literature is concerned, the audience primarily comprised of the followers of the religion. For example, both, the Buddhist and Jain canon literature composed in Pali and Prakrit respectively were meant for the practitioners of the faith. The Buddhist Pitakas were composed for the Buddhist monks. Vinaya Pitaka has rules for the monks and nuns of the monastic order. So clearly, this text had a well defined audience of Buddhist monks and nuns. Similarly, Sutta Pitaka which contains Buddha’s discourse on several matters was meant for a monastic readership. The non-canonical Pali text, Milindapanha (1st century B.C- 1st century A.D) which consists of a dialogue on various philosophical issues between King Milind and the monk Nagasena. Such a text meant for larger audience comprising the Buddhist monks as well as the Indo-Greek elite. Jatak literature told the stories of Buddha’s previous birth often in the form of an animal or bird and it would have had a wider audience given its fable like tales.

If we shift our gaze from literature produced by the elite to a text written by a Jain merchant, the nature of the audience also changes radically. Ardhakathanak was an autobiography composed by Banarsidas, a Jain merchant in the middle of the 17th century. It was meant for his friends and relatives belonging to the middle strata of the society. Banarsidas informs about his intended audience in his own words. It included fellow merchants and members of poet community. Therefore, he does not recount some embarrassing episodes of his life as well as his trade secrets.

The medieval period also saw the spread of the paper making industry and it had an impact on availability of books in the markets and its readership. Akbar’s reforms in the Madrasa education and its curriculum opened the door of Persian education to the traditionally literate sections of Hindu societies i.e. Kayastha, Brahmin and Khattaris. As a result, not only literacy in Persian language rose up but the readership of Persian literature grew susbstantially in the middle strata of the Mughal society. It needs to be remembered that Kayashtas and Khattris joined Mughal administration in large numbers in the capacity of clerks, accountants, draft writers etc in various departments. Abul Fazl’s magnum Opus, Akbarnama was meant for the Persian speaking Mughal elite. It was also meant for creating a role model for future works on history.

The arrival of print technology with the coming of the Europeans had a revolutionary impact on readership and audience for literature. While earlier, largely devotional literature was for mass consumption, now literature meant for leisure reading became available to common people. Mass scale production of books brought down its prices in the market. It enabled the publications of stories, poems, history, drama which reached in the hands of common people. Nationalist literature tried to arouse nationalist consciousness among its readers especially the younger ones. The colonial government tried to create loyalty among the ruled population through a body of literature which highlighted benefits of colonial rule. Some of the political writings by Mahatama Gandhi, Tagore and B.R. Ambedkar included in this section reveal separate audience yet overlapping ones. Gandhi wrote for the nationalist section while Tagore’s writing meant for people with a cosmopolitan mindset. Ambedkar aimed at the downtrodden section of the society while also replying to his critics thorough his writings.

In short, the nature of the audience changes depending on the historical context and patronage network. Texts produced in the court settings were largely meant for an elite audience. This audience was centred around the royal court and sometime spilled into the middle strata of the society. Religious literature had a well defined audience i.e. its followers (including monks and nuns). Literature came to masses with the increasing availability of paper and with the introduction of print technology.

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