The Gupta Empire – Literature

We have already mentioned about the compositions of early Puranas such as VishnuPurana, Vayu Purana, Bhagvata Purana, Brahmanda Purana and Harivamsha Purana in this period in the section under religion. It has been noted that the Puranas are important sources not only for the study of brahmanical religious but also for royalo genealogy and historical traditions. We have also mentioned the Bhaktihymns composed by the Vaishnava Alvar and Shaiva Nyamar Saints of South India for the study of religious developments in this period. It is also important to note that the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata were codified first epics are important sources for socio-religious-political history. In this section, we shall highlight creative literature which became the source of studies of dramaturgy, poetry and literary theory the subsequent period. The famous Natya-Shastra of Bharata- a foundational treatise on dance, drama and poetry can be possibly be dated to these times. Literary, criticism and theory of Rasa emerged an important feature of creative literature. The ruling elite, the court and the aristocracy, the urban rich patronized poetry and prose in Sanskrit. Kalidasa, the poet in the court of Gupta emperor, Chandragupta II, was an extraoridinary poet and dramatist whose work enhanced the prestige of the language and inspired later poetic forms. His play Abhijnana-Shakuntala and his long lyrical poem Meghaduta (cloud messenger) are considered examples in Sanskrit drama and poetics respectively. Following Kalidasa’s works, Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya, Magha’s Shishupalavadha and the Bhatti-Kavya, and somewhat later Bhavabhuti’s Malati-Madhava are important examples of classical work in Sanskrit. The Mrichchha-Katika (the little day cast) by Shudraka provides glimpses of urban life. Vishakhadatta chose to dramatize past political events in his Mudrarakshasha, a play on the overthrow of the Nanda king, and in Devi-Chandra-Gupta, on the bid for power by Chandra Gupta II.

The fables of the Panchatantra and Subandhu’s Vasavadatta are acclaimed for social message and literary quality respectively. Bana’s Harshacharita is an excellent example of both biography and Sanskrit phrase and so his narrative Kadamabari.

Classical Sanskrit was the language of the court. The dominance of Sanskrit dates to the Gupta period and continued until about the early second millennium AD, after which the regional languages were widely used. In the times of Delhi Sultanate and Mughals, court language was Persian. But the local language and cultures were not abandoned. They can be glimpsed in the use of Prakrit in various contexts such as in some inscription and in the languages of religions sects. The Natya-shastra lists a number of languages and dialects, including those spoken by the lower castes and Chandalas. In addition to Sanskrit, literature in Prakrit also had its patronage among the Jaina merchants. The Paumacariyam of Vimalasuri, a Jain version of the Rama story is a good example of Prakrit and popular literature. We must note that high-status characters spoke Sanskrit whereas those of low social status and all the women spoke Prakrit in Sanskrit dramas.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.