Language And Literature In Ancient India

Language And Literature In Ancient India



It belongs to the Indo-European group of languages. Yaksa’s Nirukta is the oldest Indian linguistic text in Sanskrit, written on etymology. Panini’s Ashtadyayi Is the text which laid down the rules of Sanskrit grammar and standardized the language. the word Sanskrit comes from some  Samskruta or refined as opposed to Prakruta or natural. The two main commentaries written on Panini mahabhasya buy Patanjali and Kasika vritti by jayaditya and vamana.  the first important dynasty to use Sanskrit for their official pronouncements were the Saka’s of Ujjain And the Saka King Rudradaman Girnar inscription is the earliest inscription in classical Sanskrit.


While Sanskrit was the language of the priestly class, Prakrit was the language of the people and official pronouncements till the Guptas were all in Prakriti.  it was raised to the level of a national language under the Maurya.

Other Languages:

Pali was the language popularized by the Buddhists while the Magadh was the sacred language of the Jains.  Sauraseni was a language spoken in western UP and Apabhramsa in Gujarat and Rajasthan. From Apabhramsa and Sanskrit Emerged the language of Marathi spoken in Maharashtra.

Dravidian Languages:

Burrow and Bishop Caldwell Two Famous English linguists believe that the Dravidian languages are affiliated to the Finno-Ugrian group of languages. Tamil is the oldest Dravidian language which developed in the modern region of Tamil Nadu during the Sangam age. while Telugu and Kannada were strongly influenced by the northern languages, Malayalam is closely akin to Tamil.


The Harappan script is the earliest one discovered but is undeciphered. It has 70 characters with the first line being written from left to right it and the next line from right to left.  this style of writing is called boustrophedon.

Brahmi script, which is derived from the Harappan or the early North Semitic scripts and is usually written from left to right though there have been exceptions.  it probably began as mercantile alphabets, usually used by merchants for trading purposes but was popularized by Ashoka through his series of inscriptions. it was the mother script and from this script grew many other scripts. It was deciphered by an official in the East India company called James Prinsep in 1837.

Devanagari( Script of the city of the Gods)  was derived from the Brahmi script and is now used to write Sanskrit, Hindi, and Marathi languages.

The karoshi script is derived from Aramaic, a language spoken by the great kingdoms in the northwest during the Mauryan period. it has been used by Ashoka in his North-Western inscriptions.

Tamil developed the Grandha script and its script influenced the scripts of the South Indian languages Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.


Epic Literature (Sanskrit):

Mahabharata was written by Ved Vyas and contains 18 chapters or Parva from Adi Parva to Swargarohana Parva. it was supposedly narrated by Vyas and written by Lord Ganesha with one of his tusks. the Shanti Parva is a chapter supposedly added later which is a thesis on statecraft and ethics recited by Bhishma.  the Epic also contains the Bhagavad Gita, Shakuntala, Savitri, and Nala and Damayanti stories. it is the longest epic in the world.

Ramayana was written by Valmiki and contains 5 chapters for Kandas, including one on Hanuman called Sundarakanda.  it is the oldest Epic ever written. the jatakas of the theravada Buddhists had another version of Ramayana without the abduction of Sita and war with Ravana.

Sanskrit Poetry:

The earliest surviving example of classical Sanskrit poetry is Asvaghosha Buddha Charita and Sundarananda in first century a.d. the main themes of Sanskrit poetry were love, nature, Panegyrics, and Sringara (Erotic sentiment). the most important book on Sanskrit literacy aspects is Dandin’s Kavya Darsa.  the Classic Sanskrit poetry comes from Kalidasa who wrote Kumarasambhava( birth of War God), Raghuvamsa( dynasty of Raghu),  Meghaduta ( messenger cloud), and Ritusamhara( garland of seasons)

The Other important poetic works were Gandharvadana by Chandragupta Vikramaditya, Kiratarjuniya Bharavi, Sisupalavadha by Magha, Harshacharita by Bana, Gita Govinda by Jayadeva, Brihatkatha by Gunadhya, Katha Sarita Sagar by Somadeva, Rajatarangini by Kalhana( the first Indian historical work), Vikramankadevacharita by Bilhana and  Hammira Mahakavya by Nayachandra Suri. Vikramankadevacharita by Bilhana Is based on the life of the Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI.

Sanskrit Drama:

Indian theatre was influenced by the greeks – Yavanika was the curtain, Ranga the stage, Nepathya the backstage, Sutradhara the sage manager, Nayak The Hero, Nayika the heroine, and Vidusaka, the jester, Usually a Brahmin.  the first dramatist was Bhasha but it was Kalidasa’s drama which brought Sanskrit drama to the forefront. he wrote Malavikagnimitram (The love story of Agni Mitra, a Sunga king) , Vikramovasi ( the story of love between king Pururavas And the celestial nymph Urvashi), and Abhijnana  Shakuntala( the story of Shakuntala)

The Other important Sanskrit plays were Mrichchhakatika by Sudraka, Mudrarakshasa and Devi Chandragupta( on King Chandragupta II) bye Vishakhadatta, Nagananda, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika by Harsha, Mattavilasa by Mahendravarman, the Pallava King, Malatimadhava by Bhavabhuti and Ravanavadha by Bhatti.

Sanskrit Prose:

The earliest narrative episodes are the Brahmanas but the earliest surviving document of Sanskrit prose is the Girnar inscription of Rudradaman (150 AD). The important works in Sanskrit crossword Dasakumaracharita bi Dandin, Bana’s Kadambari,  Vidyapati Panchtantra which is a book of instructions for kings on the conduct of affairs based on stories of animals, and Narayana Hitopadesha which is a version of Panchatantra.

Pali And Prakrit Literature:

The main works in Pali are seen in the jatakas, the Mahavamsa, and other Buddhist works. the Prakrit language, which was patronized by most Mauryan dynasties produced some very good works like Setu Bandha by Pravarasena, Goudavaho by Vakpatiraja, Karpuramanjari bye Rajasekhara and Saptashati by Hala.

Tamil literature:

Tamil literature flourished during the Sangam age(200 BC to 200 AD) And the grammar of Tamil was compiled in Tolkappiyam, written in the second of the three Sangams. here Sangam denotes a congregation Of Scholars. Tamil poetry was divided into two groups-  Agam the poems of love and Pooram the poems of War.  the main Tamil works are Thirukural( the Bible of Tamils) by Thiruvalluvar,  and the Tamil epics silappadikaram by Ilango Adigal and manimekalai buy Satanar.

Art, Architecture, And Music In Ancient India


The earliest example of ancient architecture comes from the Harappan cities but it was primarily utilitarian. the Mauryan art was more secular and one building that stands out is the pillared hall of Patliputra built by Ashoka, modeled on the Archemenid hall of Persepolis In Persia built by Darius 1 of Persia.  Mauryan buildings were either made of sandstone from Chunar and Mathura or they were made of wood.

The Stupas were the earliest form of religious architecture. It consists of a large hemispherical dome where a casket containing the Buddhist relics was placed in a small central chamber. the super over made of brick and it consists of a square Pavilion on the flat and Summit of the Dome called Harmika, And umbrella on the top of the Dome called Chhatra and depart for clockwise circumvallation called Pradakshina. the mains to pass in the north are situated in Sanchi and Bharhut  While at the South they are at Amaravati, Bhattiprolu( oldest stupa),  Jaggayyapeta and Ghantasala( all in Andhra Pradesh).  in the Sanchi Stupa, there are Toranas for ornamental gateways having sculptures depicting Jataka tales.  Kanishka is said to have built a stupa at the present site called Shah Ji ki Dheri near Peshawar.

Cave architecture is the next development. the Sudama or Nyagrodha cave of the Barabar Hills is dedicated by Ashoka to Ajivikas. the best exponents of cave architecture and the bizarre and Ellora caves along with the chaitya at Karle bear testimony to this fact. Kanheri is another such center. the Elephanta Cave from where the Trimurti was discovered and the Pancha Pandava caves at Mamallapuram built by the Pallavas are examples of Hindu cave architecture. Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves of Orissa are examples of Jain Caves.

Temples were conceptualized as a microcosm of the universe. the first free-standing Temple has been traced back to Bairat in the 3rd Century BC. The other temple of the age was the Jandia temple of Taxila Which was probably a Zoroastrian temple. the beginning of classical temple architecture can be traced to the Gupta period. the temples at Bhitari, Deogarh, and bhitargaonAre are made of brick and the temple at Sanchi was made of stone. the standard plan of the temple was Garbagriha- sanctum sanctorum; Mandapa- hall for worshippers; Antarala- the vestibule joined by the Mandapa; Ardhamandapa- the porch approaching the Mandap; Sikhara-  tower on the Garbagriha which represents Mount Meru.  the temples were built according to Shilpa Shastra which were texts of architecture and sculpture.

In South India, the Pallavas of Kanchi and Chalukyas of Badami made tremendous contributions to temple architecture. the seven pagodas made of wood the Pancha Pandava has the Shore temple of Mamallapuram and the Kailash Nath temple of Kanchi are the important products of Pallava architecture. of these, the first two pieces are Monolithic( cut out of one rock) temples. the Chalukyas temples at Badami Aihole and Pattadakal show three styles called Nagar, Dravid, and Vesara schools which show a synthesis of the northern and southern architectural styles. the Ladh Khan temple, Durga temple, and the HUchimalliGudi temple of Aihole, Virupaksha and Sangameshwar temples of Pattadakal, and the cave temples of Badami are good examples of Chalukya architecture.


Sculpture first developed during the Mauryan period. the remains of Yakshi, Yaksa, and Didarganj  Chauri bearer are famous. the carvings on the gateways of the Bharhut and  Sanchi Stupa was stood out in the post-Mauryan age.

Mathura school of art( 1st century BC):

An Indigenous School of sculpture, it was patronized by the Kushans. it used white-spotted red sandstone. the initial figures were that of Jain Tirthankaras but figures of the Buddha and Hindu Gods were also carved.  the other famous statues included the famous headless statue of Kanishka discovered at the mat, the cushion winter capital. the figures are known for their Grace and religiosity.

Gandhara School was also patronized by Kushans under Kanishka, this school of art had a distinct Greek influence which was primarily due to trading contacts with the Hellenistic rulers of Central Asia. it primarily ka figures of the Buddha who was modeled after the graeco Roman Gods in physics dress and hairstyle. The Banyan Buddha found in Afghanistan is the largest statue of the Buddha.

Amaravati school which was patronized by the Ishwakus in the south Was primarily oriented towards Buddhism. it used limestone and the Statues Of The Buddha were very Slender and convey an impression of dynamism. it influenced architecture in Ceylon and South East Asia.

Gupta or Sarnath School:

The figures are marked by serenity and security. both Buddhist and Hindu sculptures were made by the school. the Sarnath Buddha, the Surya of Pawaya (Gwalior),  and the Varaha of the Udaygiri cave or some of the best products of this school.

Metal sculpture:

It did not develop well In the ancient period. the most important product is the Sultanganj Buddha which is 7 and a half feet tall.


The first paintings are seen at Bagh which is said to have been painted around 2nd century BC. but the best product of Indian painters is seen in the Ajanta Caves which have paintings from 1st century BC to 7th-century a.d.. they are murals since they were made after the Plaster was set while frescoes are made when the Plaster in damp.  most of the paintings deal with events of the Buddha’s life, bodhisattvas, and the jatakas besides other secular paintings. the paintings are in frontal view and display perfect human anatomy.

Other paintings are seen in the Badami and Ellora Caves, the Jain caves at Sittanavasal, and the Rajarajeshwara temple in Tanjore.


The Rig Veda used the heptatonic scale and the Sama Veda was sung to the tune. Gandharva Veda is a Upaveda of Samaveda Dealing with music. but Bharat Natya Shastra is the earliest text on music, dance, and drama. besides this book Bharatbhashya of Nanyadeva,  Shringara Prakasha of king Bhoja, and Sangeeta Ratnakaram of Sarangadeva are the important works on music.

Some of the important Ragas are the Raag Bhairavi song in Dawn and associated with awe and fear, the Deepika song in the afternoon and associated with love, and Rag Hindola sung in the night and associated with love.

Check out History of India notes in detail. 

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