Medieval Literature – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

Medieval literature underwent diverse transformations throughout the medieval period, shaping the languages and dialects that emerged. Around 1000 A.D., localized variations in Prakrit intensified, leading to the development of Apabhramsa, subsequently contributing to the formation of modern Indian languages. These languages acquired distinct linguistic features influenced by their regional, linguistic, and ethnic contexts. The adoption of Persian as the official language of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal courts marked a significant linguistic shift. Concurrently, Hindi evolved from the ancient Apabhramsa language. This article explores the literary works that emerged in various languages during the medieval period.

Medieval Literature – Persian Literature

  • Persian Literature: The Persian language, with roots as ancient as Sanskrit, found its way to India in the 12th century alongside the Turks and Mongols.
  • During their rule, Persian became the official language of the court. A notable Persian poet from this era was Amir Khusrau Dehlavi, celebrated for his Diwan (collection of Persian poetry) and works like Nuh Sipihr and the tragic love poem Masnavi Duwal Rani Khizr Khan.
  • Zia-ud din Barani, a prominent historian, contributed to the period with his work Tarikh-e-Firuz Shahi. Minhajus-Siraj, another well-known historian, left his mark on Persian literature. Travel accounts, such as those by the Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta, provided insights into the socio-political landscape of the time.
  • The Mughal era witnessed a surge in the production and dissemination of Persian literature. Tuzuk-I-Babari, the autobiography of Mughal emperor Babar, written in Turkish, offered crucial insights into the Mughal conquest of India. Tuzuk-I-Jahangiri became a significant source on Jahangir’s reign, while Humayun-nama, authored by Humayun’s half-sister Gulbadan Begum, recounted his life and struggles for the throne.
  • The reign of the great emperor Akbar produced exemplary works like Ain-e Akbari and Akbarnama, penned by his court historian Abul Fazl. Akbar facilitated the translation of Sanskrit texts, including the Ramayana, Bhagwat Gita, and Upanishads, into Persian. The Mahabharata was transformed into Razmnama.
  • Hamzanama, an intricately illustrated work, narrated the tale of the mythical Persian hero, Amir Hamza. Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat and the writings of ethical-political rule by Badauni were notable during this period. Faizi, a master of Persian poetry, also left a significant literary legacy.
  • Shah Jahan’s reign saw the creation of texts like Inayat Khan’s Shah Jahan-nama. The satirical works of Mir Jafar Zatalli, compiled in Kulliyat, marked Aurangzeb’s era. Texts like Tabqat-i-Alamgiri shed light on the eighteenth century, while Abdul Hamid Lahori’s Padshahnama recounted the story of Shah Jahan.

Medieval Literature – Urdu Literature

  • Urdu: Emerged from the interplay of Persian and Hindi.
  • Amir Khusrau: Contributed early texts in Urdu during its formative years.
  • Grammar: Rooted in Hindi; form and script draw inspiration from Persian.
  • Dakkani: Originally called Dakkani, used by the Bahamani states in the southern regions.
  • Poets: Renowned figures include Mirza Ghalib, Sauda, Dard, Mir Taqi Mir, and Iqbal.
  • Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan: Modernizer who revitalized Urdu with didactic and nationalist works in Urdu and English.

Medieval Literature – Hindi Literature

  • Apabhramsa: Evolved from Prakrit between the 7th and 14th centuries, giving rise to Hindi.
  • Bhakti Movement: Rejecting Sanskrit, significantly propelled Hindi as a language accessible to the common people.
  • Regional Languages: Surge in languages like Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, and Gujarati.
  • Prithviraj Raso: First Hindi book documenting the life of Prithviraj Chauhan.
  • Bhakti Poets: Kabir, Tulsidas, Surdas – crucial in shaping Hindi literature.
  • Tulsidas: Achieved lasting acclaim with “Ramcharitmanas,” a revered Hindu text.
  • Medieval Poets: Rahim, Bhushan, Raskhan, Mirabai, Satsai from Bihar expressed devotion to Lord Krishna.

The widespread influence of Hinduism has given rise to an extensive body of religious literature, notably dedicated to revered deities such as Rama and Krishna. This literature is rooted in the essence of bhakti, emphasizing the significance of a devoted and loving connection between worshippers and the divine. Simultaneously, the rich tapestry of seasonal and festival-themed folk poetry has been a cherished tradition passed down through generations, and continues to be recited and celebrated in the present day. This cultural legacy reflects the enduring resonance of spiritual devotion and the vibrant tapestry of festivals within the literary heritage of the region.

FAQs on Medieval Literature

  1. What constitutes medieval literature?
    • Medieval literature is a diverse category encompassing all written works produced in Europe and beyond during the Middle Ages, spanning roughly from the fall of the Western Roman Empire around AD 500 to the onset of the Renaissance in the 14th, 15th, or 16th century, depending on the region.
  2. How is medieval Indian literature characterized?
    • Medieval Indian literature witnessed the creation of significant works, including poems, stories, and historical texts in various languages. Writers drew inspiration from diverse cultures while addressing themes pertinent to contemporary Indian society.
  3. What are three key features of medieval literature?
    • Medieval literature is marked by the use of allegories, incorporation of religious or educational teachings, anonymity of writers, and the exploration of concepts such as courtly love and chivalry prevalent during that period.
  4. Who is considered the father of medieval literature?
    • Geoffrey Chaucer, often referred to as the “Father of English Literature,” gained renown for his comic brilliance, vivid portrayal of medieval England in The Canterbury Tales, and his role in transforming English into a fully developed poetic language.
  5. How can medieval literature be characterized, and what themes does it often explore?
    • Medieval literature frequently delves into themes such as courtly love and chivalry, as evidenced in various Arthurian works. Additionally, cultural discussions are central to many medieval literary pieces, shaping the essence of the literature produced during this era.
  6. What are the primary types of medieval literature?
    • Medieval literature manifests in various forms, including poetry, drama, histories, and fables, reflecting the rich diversity of creative expression during that historical period.

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