Hindi Literature

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hindi Literature


one of the literatures of India. It has developed in Hindi and dialects of Hindi.

The early period of Hindi literature—the late first millennium A.D. —is represented by fragments of religious and philosophic poetry that set forth the precepts of Buddhism, Jainism, and Si-vaism, religions opposed to orthodox Hinduism and the caste system. Owing to the dominance of Sanskrit as the language of literature, including religious and philosophic literature, Hindi literature developed as a means of expression of the people and became associated with radical social trends.

From the tenth to 14th centuries a feudal epic poetry developed in Hindi dialects. Court poets glorified the military exploits and romantic adventures of their patrons in narrative poems called raso. The narrative poem Prithiraj Raso, by Chand Bardai (second half of the 12th century), describes episodes in the struggle of Prince Prithwiraj III of Delhi against Muslim invaders. The narrative poem Bisaldev Raso, by Nalpati (c. 13th century), resembles a romantic ballad. For a long period, the raso were handed down orally; they therefore acquired numerous interpolations and variants and their language was modernized.

Bhakti, a movement for religious and social reform that enveloped northern India between the 15th and 17th centuries, opposed caste oppression and sought to establish social equality. The movement provided Hindi literature with democratic subject matter and engendered new literary forms. The poet and philosopher Kabir (c. 1440–c. 1518) sharply condemned orthodox Hinduism, Islam, and the caste system in his songs and verse in the Braj dialect and in dialects of Eastern Hindi. His radical views were taken up in the work of Nanak (1469–1539), the founder of Sikhism, who set forth his ideas in poems written in Punjabi and in dialects of Western Hindi. Others writers in this tradition include Dadudayala (1544–1603) and Sundar Das (1596–1689).

The ideas of the bhakti movement also found expression in lyric and allegorical narrative poems in the Awadhi dialect; based on folk legends, these works were written by the Sufi poets (seeSUFISM and SUFI LITERATURE). In his narrative poem Padmavati (c. 1540), Malik Muhammad Jayasi (dates of birth and death unknown) synthesized the traditions of Persian and Indian lyric poetry. Especially popular in this period were works that combined the ideas of bhakti with a folk treatment of the figures of Krishna and Rama, avatars of the god Vishnu. The lyric poetry of Vidya-pati Thakur (1370–1440), written in the Maithili dialect, described the love of Krishna and the shepherdess Radha; these poems inspired the tradition of lyrics honoring Krishna. In folklore, the god Krishna lived among the peasants in the guise of a cowherd, giving them joy and happiness; this tradition is embodied in the poems, hymns, and songs of Sur Das (c. 1483–c. 1563), written in the Braj dialect, that make up the book Ocean of the Poems of Sur. Hymns in honor of Krishna were composed by the poets Mira Bai (1499–1547), Nand Das (16th century), and Raskhan (16th—17th centuries). A leading representative of Ramaite poetry—verse written to honor the warrior god Rama—was Tulsi Das (c. 1532–1624), whose epic poem Ramcaritmanas, in the Awadhi dialect, touched on a wide variety of social, political, religious, philosophic, and moral questions.

In the mid–17th century Hindi literature lost its democratic spirit and began catering to the tastes of the feudal aristocracy. Poetry, which developed mainly in the Braj dialect, was devoted to the description of feminine beauty and the pleasures of love; it aspired to a refinement of poetic form. Treatises in verse became popular, in which poets set forth and exemplified the traditional means of expression used in Indian poetry. Outstanding poets of this period are Bihari Lai (1603–63), who composed refined, laconic distichs, and Bhushan (1614-c. 1716), who, in the tradition of heroic poetry, glorified the military commander Sivaji, the national hero of the Marathis. The poems of Matiram (17th century), Dev (1673-c. 1764), Ghananand (1689–1739), and Padmakar Bhatt (1753–1833) are noted for their individuality.

The first half of the 19th century saw the development of prose, primarily in the Khari Boli dialect. Religious and secular books were translated from Sanskrit and English, and works were printed in Hindi. A new period began with the work of the leading enlightenment figure Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850–85). His social plays and journalism reflected the growth of the people’s national consciousness and the desire for independence.

Harishchandra laid the foundations of modern realistic Hindi literature. In the last decades of the 19th century original novellas, novels, and poetry appeared in Khari Boli; short stories soon appeared, and literary criticism and scholarship began to develop.

In the early 20th century, as the national liberation movement gathered momentum, Hindi literature took on a strikingly patriotic character. The poetry of Maithilisharan Gupta (1886–1964), Makhan Lai Chaturvedi (1889–1968), Balakrishna Sharma Navin (1897–1960), and Ramdhari Sinha Dinkar (born 1908) is devoted to the struggle for national independence. The novels and short stories of Premchand (1880–1936), the founder of critical realism in Hindi and Urdu literature, depict the life of the people, particularly of the peasants. Premchand’s successors were Sundarshan, Kaushik, and Ugra. In the 1920’s and 1930’s poetry was influenced by the romantic movement Chhayavad, whose leading exponents were Sumitranandan Pant (born 1900), Jayashankar Prasad (1889–1937), Surya Kant Tripathi Nirala (1896–1961), and Mahadevi Varma (born 1907).

In the 1930’s all genres of literature reflected an interest in important social questions, largely as a result of the growing national liberation movement, the spread of Marxism, and the influence of progressive foreign, especially Soviet, literature. In 1936, Premchand helped found the Association of Progressive Writers of India; the organization initiated the major literary movement Pragativad, which influenced the national literatures of the Indian peoples. A major contribution to the struggle for Indian independence and for the class interests of the working people was made by Yashpal (1903–76), Upendra Nath Ashk (born 1910), Nagarjuna, Rahufa Sankrityayana (1893–1963), Pa-hari, Kedarnata Agraval (born 1911), Vishnu Prabhakar (born 1912), Mannulal Sharma Shil (born 1914), Bhairavaprasal Gupta (born 1918), Amritaraya (born 1921), and Rangeya Raghava (1923–62).

Indian modernism, influenced by Freudianism and Western subjectivist theories, emerged in the late 1940’s; its theoretician was Agyeya (real name, Sachchidananda Hiranand Vatsyayan; born 1911). Individualist tendencies appeared in the work of Ila Chandra Joshi (born 1902) and Jainendra Kumar (born 1905). Modernist concepts also influenced Hindi prose and poetry from the 1950’s to 1970’s. The fate of the common man in a society that had become more rigidly stratified by class was often illuminated from an individualist perspective, and life was depicted in a pessimistic manner.

The traditions of realistic literature have been continued by such writers as Sumitranandan Pant, Vrindavan Lai Varma (1889–1969), Bhagwati Charan Verma (born 1903), Manmath Nath Gupta (born 1908), Bhishma Sahni (born 1915), Amritlal Nagar (born 1916), Phanishvaranata Renu (born 1921), Mohan Rakesh (1925–72), Markandeya (born 1931), and Kamleshwar (born 1932). These writers have created sincere works that deal with the lives of their contemporaries and affirm humanist ideals and a faith in the social and spiritual progress of the Indian people. New evidence of the stability of the principles of the realistic method in Hindi literature came with the founding of the Federation of Progressive Writers of India in May 1975, which seeks to unite writers in the struggle for the democratic development of the country.


Barannikov, A. P. Indiiskaia filologiia: Literaturovedenie. Moscow, 1959.
Chauhan, S. Ocherk istorii literatury khindi. Moscow, 1960 (Translated from Hindi.)
Istoriia indiiskikh literatur. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Chelyshev, E. P. Literatura Khindi. Moscow, 1968.
Kratkaia istoriia literatur Indii. Leningrad, 1974.
Shukla, Ram Chandra. Hindi sahitya ka itihasa. Benares, 1953.
Dwivedi, Khazariprasad. Hindi Sahitya. Delhi, 1955.
Dwivedi, R. A. A Critical Survey of Hindi Literature. Delhi [1966].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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