The history of Gujarati (ગુજરાતી સાહિત્ય) literature may be traced to 1000 AD, and this literature has flourished since then to the present. It is unique in having almost no patronage from a ruling dynasty, other than its composers.
- Prācīn Sāhitya (Early literature)
- Madhyakalin Sahitya (Medieval literature)
- Arvaachin Sahitya (Modern literature, 1850 AD – present)
- Literary forms
Gujarat Vidhya Sabha, Gujarat Sahitya Sabha, and Gujarati Sahitya Parishad are Ahmedabad-based literary institutions promoting the Gujarati literature.
Such factors as the policies of the rulers, the living style of the people, and the worldwide influence on society are important for any literature to flourish. In Gujarat, due to the development of trade and commerce, the religious influence of Jainism as well as Hinduism, and also due to the safety and encouragement of rulers like Siddhraj, Chaulukya (Solanki) and Vaghela Rajputs, literary activities were in full force from the 11th century.
Literature in Gujarati is sometimes also classified into two broad categories, namely poetry and prose, the former savouring and basking in its long lineage, dating back to the 6th century. Poetry as a perception was a medium for expressing religious beliefs and judgements, a stronghold of medieval Indian times. In this context of gradual evolution, the history of Gujarati literature is generally classed into three broad periods, consisting of the Early period (up to c. 1450 AD), the Middle period (1450 to 1850 AD) and the Modern period (1850 AD. onwards). However, Gujarati literature and its tremendous maturation and proficiency in contributing to culture is retraced back to sultanate days (referring to the Muzaffarid dynasty, which had provided the sultans of Gujarat in western India from 1391 to 1583).
Gujarati literature is divided mainly into three eras or Yugs; the early, medieval and modern, with these eras being further subdivided.
The early era (up to 1450 AD) and medieval era ( 1450 AD - 1850 AD) are divided into 'before Narsinh' and 'after Narsinh' periods sometimes. Some scholars divide this period as 'Rāsa yug', 'Saguṇ Bhakti yug' and 'Nirguṇ Bhakti yug' also.
The modern era (1850 AD to date) is divided into 'Sudhārak Yug' or 'Narmad Yug', 'Paṇḍit Yug' or 'Govardhan Yug', 'Gandhi Yug', 'Anu-Gandhi Yug', 'Ādhunik Yug' and 'Anu-Ādunik Yug'.
Prācīn Sāhitya (Early literature)
The Jain monk and scholar Hemacandrācārya suri was one of the earliest scholars of Prakrit and Apabhramsha grammars and the mother of the Gujarati language. He had penned a formal set of 'grammarian principles' as the harbinger of the Gujarati language during the reign of the Chaulukya king Siddharaj Jaisinh of Anhilwara. This treatise formed the cornerstone of Apabhramsa grammar in the Gujarati language, establishing a language from a combination of corrupted forms of languages like Sanskrit and Ardhamagadhi. He authored "Kavyanushasana": poetics, a handbook or manual of poetry, "Siddha-haima-shabdanushasana": Prakrit and Apabhramsha grammars, and "Desinamamala": a list of words of local origin.
It is generally accepted by historians and researchers in literary genres in Gujarati literature that the earliest writings in this very ancient language were by Jaina authors. These were composed in the form of Rāsas, Phāgus and Vilāsas. Rāsas were long poems which were essentially heroic, romantic or narrative in nature. Śālībhadra Sūri's "Bharateśvara Bāhubalī rāsa (ભરતેશ્વર બાહુબલી રાસ)" (1185 AD), Vijayasena's "Revantagiri-rāsa (રેવંતગિરિ રાસ)" (1235 AD), Ambadeva's "Samararasa" (1315 AD) and Vinayaprabha's "Gautama Svāmirāsa" (1356 AD) are the most illustrious examples of this form of literature in Gujarati. Other notable Prabandha or narrative poems of this period include Śrīdhara's "Raṇamalla Chhanda" (1398 AD), Merutunga's "Prabodhachintamani", Padmanābha's "Kānhaḍade Prabandha (કાન્હડદે પ્રબંધ)" (1456 AD) and Bhīma's "Sadayavatsa Kathā" (1410 AD). The phāgus are poems that pictured the blissful and cheery nature of the spring festival (Vasanta). Rājasekhara's "Neminatha-phagu" (1344 AD) and Ajnat (Unknown) Kavi's "Vasanta-vilāsa" (1350 AD) are unsurpassed instances of such texts. "Neminātha Chatuṣpadika" (1140 AD) by Vinayacandra is the oldest of the bāramāsi genre of Gujarati poems. The earliest work in Gujarati prose was Taruṇaprabha's "Balavabodha" (1355 AD). "Prithvichandra Charita" (1422 AD) of Manikyasundara, which essentially served as a religious romance, is the most paramount illustration of Old Gujarati prose and is reminiscent of Bāṇabhaṭṭa's Kadambari.
Due to flourishing trade and commerce in Ahmedabad and Khambat (Cambay), entertainment activities started to develop, and the Jain saints, story-tellers, puppet shows, and Bhavai (dramas) also revived literature. This gave birth to ancient literature and the 11th century noted poet Hemacandra (1088–1172).
Madhyakalin Sahitya (Medieval literature)
During the 15th century, Gujarati literature had come under the tremendous sway of the Bhakti movement, a popular cultural movement to liberate religion from entrenched priesthood. Narsinh Mehta (1415-1481 A.D.) was the foremost poet of this era. His poems delineated a very saintly and mystical sense and bore an intense reflection of the philosophy of Advaita. Narasinh Mehta's "Govind Gaman", "Surat Sangram", "Sudama Charitra" and "Sringaramala" are illustrations of this devotional poetry.
During this age, Jain and Hindu poets produced Gujarat literature in abundance. The prose and poetry created were aimed to encourage religion and worship. Hindu texts such as Gita, Mahabharat, Vedas, and Bhagvat became popular. There were also creations of prayers, Jain history, etc. During this period of the influence of the Bhakti Movement on Gujarati literature, the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yogavashistha and the Panchatantra were all translated into Gujarati. This period also experienced the colossal Puranic revival, which led to the rapid growth and maturation of devotional poetry in Gujarati literature. This era is divided into two parts, "Sagun Bhakti Dhara" and "Nirgun Bhakti Dhara".
In this "Dhara", the God is worshiped in physical form, having some form and virtues like Ram and Krishna.
Narsinh Mehta, Meera, and Dayaram were foremost contributors of this "Dhara". Bhalan (1434-1514 AD) had furnished a meritorious representation of Bāṇabhaṭṭa's "Kadambari" into Gujarati. Bhalana composed other substantial and irreplaceable works like "Dasham Skandha", "Nalakhyan", "Ramabal Charitra" and "Chandi Akhyana". Meera supplied many "Pada" (Verse). Premanand Bhatt, who is deemed the most important of all Gujarati poets, was absolutely involved in taking and elevating the Gujarati language and literature to new peaks. Amongst Premananda Bhatta's umpteen authorships, the most crucial are "Okha Harana", "Nalakhyana, "Abhimanyu Akhyana", "Dasham Skandha", and "Sudama Charitra".
Shamal Bhatt was an extremely creative and productive poet who gave birth to unforgettable works like "Padmavati", "Batris Putli", "Nanda Batrisi", "Sinhasan Batrisi" and "Madana Mohan" in Gujarati verse writing. Dayaram (1767–1852) had given rise to religious, ethical and romantic lyrics referred to as 'Garbi'. His most authoritative works comprise "Bhakti Poshan", "Rasik Vallabh" and "Ajamel Akhyan". The "Ramayana" was authored by Giridhara in Gujarati during the middle of the 19th century. Parmanand, Brahmanand, Vallabha, Haridas, Ranchhod and Divali Bai were other authoritative 'saint poets' from this period of poetry predomination in Gujarati literature. Poets from the Swaminarayan sect contributed immensely.
The God has no physical form in this "Dhara".
Narsinh Mehta and Akho were the foremost contributors of this "Dhara". Akho's "Akhe Gita", "Chittavichar Samvad" and "Anubhav" Bindu" have always been illustrated as being 'emphatic' compositions on the Vedanta. Yet another poet, Mandana, had given form to immortal works like "Prabodha Battrisi", "Ramayan" and "Rupmangal Katha". Other contributors are Kabir-Panthi, Dhira Bhagat, Bhoja Bhagat, Bapusaheb Gaikwad, and Pritam.
Arvaachin Sahitya (Modern literature, 1850 AD – present)
With the British Government and the new technology of printing and press, education in the English language began. The new age brought many newspapers and magazines, which spread awareness in society. Because of this, there was much more literature, and it included forms other than the ancient religious style of poetry. The creations reflect social welfare, criticism, plays, new-age thinking, worship of the country, the values of life, etc. This era is subdivided into 'Sudharak Yug' or 'Narmad Yug', 'Pandit Yug' or 'Govardhan Yug', 'Gandhi Yug', 'Anu-Gandhi Yug', 'Adhunik Yug' and 'Anu-Adhunik Yug'.
From the middle of 19th century, Gujarati, like other regional Indian languages, came under strong western influence, precisely due to colonial residence and colonial reign. Dalpatram (1820–1898) and Narmad (1833–1886) are the trailblazers of modern Gujarati literature. Dalpatram's "Vinacharitra" portrays his incredible command over hilarity and wittiness. The very first Gujarati dictionary, known as "Narmakosh", was composed and compiled by Narmad; it is essentially a history of the world, and also an authority on poetics. Narmad attempted many varieties of poetry and smoothly adapted English verses into Gujarati. His "Rukmini Haran" and "Virasinh" are considered to be masterpiece compendia of poems. The other great works in Gujarati literature in this era are Bholanath Sarabhai's "Ishvara Prarthanamala" (1872), Navalram Pandya's "Bhatt nu Bhopalu" (1867) and "Veermati" (1869), and Nandshankar Mehta's (1835–1905) "Karan Ghelo" (1866), which was the first original novel of Gujarati literature.
Ranchhodlal Udayaram Dave (1837–1923) is almost always respected as the groundbreaker and trailblazer in the art of play-writing in Gujarati with his "Lalita Dukh Darsak" Natak (play). Other significant dramatists were Dalpatram, Narmad and Navalram.
Modern studies of Gujarat and its language began with the British administrator Alexander Kinlock Forbes shortly after the British occupation of the region. Alexander Forbes carried out an extensive investigation of Gujarati culture and literature over the previous thousand years and amassed a large collection of manuscripts. An organisation named after him, called the Farbas Gujarati Sabha, dedicates itself to the preservation of Gujarati literature and language and history from its headquarters in Mumbai.
Govardhanram Tripathi is the main author of this age. The work of others includes Narsinhrao Divetia's "Smarana Samhita", "Kusumamala", "Hridayavina", "Nupur Jhankar" and "Buddha Charit"; Manishankar Ratanji Bhatt or Kavi Kant's "Purvalap" ('Devayani', 'Atijnana', 'Vasanta Vijay' and 'Chakravak Mithuna') and Balwantray Thakore's "Bhanakar". Nhanalal was another important poet of this period in Gujarati literature, who had outshone incredibly in his "Apadya Gadya" or rhyming prose. Nhanalal's recognition and reputation is based on two poetic compilations, namely "Vasantotsava" (1898) and "Chitradarshan" (1921), an epic referred to as "Kuruksetra", and numerous plays like "Indukumar", "Jayajayant", "Vishva Gita", "Sanghamitra" and "Jagat Prerana".
Govardhanram Tripathi (1855–1907) was among the dazzling and stupendous novelists of Gujarati literature, whose celebrated and well-admired novel is "Saraswatichandra (novel)".
During this period, Mahatma Gandhi and Gujarat Vidyapith became the nerve-centre of all literary activities, where new values emerged and more emphasis was given to Gandhian values, Indianisation and simplification. Novels, short stories, diaries, letters, plays, essays, criticisms, biographies, travel books and all kinds of prose began to flood Gujarati literature.
Gandhi, Ramnarayan Pathak, Kanaiyalal Munshi or K. M. Munshi, Swami Anand, Umashankar Joshi, Sundaram, Jhaverchand Meghani, Pannalal Patel, Jyotindra Dave, Chandravadan Mehta, Zinabhai Desai ("Snehrashmi"), Vaid Mohanlal Chunilal Dhami, Manubhai Pancholi ("Darshak"), and Ishwar Petlikar are the main contributors of this age.
Modern Gujarati prose was ushered in with a bang by Narmad, but K.M. Munshi and, of course, the legend and nationalist himself, Mahatma Gandhi, gave it prominence in this age. Gandhi's autobiography, An Autobiography of My Experiments with Truth ((Gujarātī "સત્યના પ્રયોગો અથવા આત્મકથા")), Satyagraha in South Africa about his struggle there, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, a political pamphlet, and a paraphrase in Gujarati of John Ruskin's Unto The Last are his most well-known works. This last essay sets out his programme on economics. He wrote extensively on vegetarianism, diet and health, religion, social reforms, etc. Gandhi usually wrote in Gujarati, though he also revised the Hindi and English translations of his books.
Gandhi was a prolific writer. For decades he edited several newspapers including Harijan in Gujarati, Hindi and English; Indian Opinion while in South Africa and, Young India, in English, and "Navajivan", a Gujarati monthly, on his return to India. Later, "Navajivan" was published in Hindi. He wrote letters almost every day to individuals and newspapers.
During the 1940s, there could be witnessed a rise in communistic poetry and this inspired a movement for progressive literature in Gujarati too. Meghani, Bhogilal Gandhi, Swapnastha and others began to preach class conflict and hatred of religion through their writings. K.M. Munshi is deemed one of the most multi-talented and flexible and looming literary figures of Gujarati literature of contemporary times. K.M. Munshi's voluminous works include dramas, essays, short stories and novels. His famous novels are included in the list of "Patan ni Prabhuta", "Gujarat no Nath", "Jay Somnath" (1940), "Prithvi Vallabh", "Bhagavan Parshuram" (1946) and "Tapasvini" (1957).
Indeed, after the rise of Mahatma Gandhi's prominence in a steadily strengthening struggle for independence and social equality, a great volume of poetry, written by poets like Umashankar, Sundaram, Shesh, Snehrashmi and Betai, amongst others, centred on the existing social order, the struggle for independence and the travails of Mahatma Gandhi himself. Highly inspired by Rabindranath Tagore's dialogue poems, Umashankar Joshi enriched the existing Gujrati literature by penning in the same manner. Two such poems are his "Prachina" and "Mahaprasthan". For his poem "Nishith", he received the Jnanpith Award in 1967. Pannalal Patel received the Jnanpith Award in 1985 for his novel "Maanavi Ni Bhavaai".
The Gujarati novel was also made a household name by G.G. Joshi ('Dhumketu'), Chunilal V. Shah, Gunvantrai Acharya, Jhaverchand Meghani, Pannalal Patel and Manubhai Pancholi.
Significant dramatists of this age are Chandravadan Mehta, Umashankar Joshi, Jayanti Dalal and Chunilal Madia.
Amongst the important essayists, citation can be made of Kaka Kalelkar, Ratilal Trivedi, Lilavati Munshi, Jyotindra Dave, Ramnarayan Pathak.
In this era there is a dominance of poetry. The main contributors of this age are Rajendra Shah, Niranjan Bhagat, Venibhai Purohit, Prahlad Parekh and Balmukund Dave. Rajendra Shah won the Jnanpith—the Indian government's most prestigious literary prize—for the year 2001. The judges noted, "his intensity of emotion and innovation in form and expression which set him apart as a poet of great significance. The mystical tone of his poetry stems from the tradition of great medieval masters like Kabir, Narsinh Mehta and literary giants like them". He authored more than 20 collections of poems and songs, mainly on the themes of the beauty of nature, and about the everyday lives of indigenous peoples and fisherfolk communities. In his poems using Sanskrit metrics, he was influenced by Rabindranath Tagore. He was one of the giants of the post Gandhi-era, called 'Anu-Gandhi Yug' in Gujarati literature.
Post-independence Gujarati poetry displays a higher form of subjectivity and explores newer philosophies and lines of thought and imagery. The poems became more subjective and brutal, discarding old imageries and symbols and replacing them with new ideas. Prominent Gujarati poets of the post-independence era include critically acclaimed poets like Suresh Joshi, Gulam Mohamed Sheikh, Harindra Dave, Manoj Khanderia, Chinu Modi, Nalin Raval and Adil Mansuri, among others.
Post-independence prose literature in Gujarati had two distinct trends, traditional and modern. The former dealt more with ethical values and its main writers were Gulabdas Broker, Mansukhlal Jhaveri, Vishnuprasad Trivedi and others. Existentialism, surrealism and symbolism influenced the latter. The modernists also wanted to do away with moral values and religious beliefs. Eminent writers of this trend comprise Chandrakant Bakshi, Suresh Joshi, Madhu Rye, Raghuveer Chaudhari, Dhiruben Patel, Saroj Pathak, and others. There was also a noticeable segment of Popular writers like Vithal Pandya, Sarang Barot, Dinkar Joshi, Harkisan Mehta and Ashwinee Bhatt whose novels found a place in the hearts of common people. Their novels reached every corner of Gujarat and also to vast Gujarati readers outside Gujarat through newspapers and magazines. Gujarati prose has recorded growth and literary feats quite rapidly in less than two hundred years and now can be counted among the front benchers in Indian literature.
Bhagwatikumar Sharma, Vinesh Antani, Dhruv Bhatt, Yogesh Joshi, Bindu Bhatt, Kanji Patel brought freshness in narration in novels. Same can be said for Bholabhai Patel, Manilal H . Patel, Anil Joshi for essays. Some new poets have also given significant literary work including Sanju Vala, Rajesh Vyas 'Miskin', Ankit Trivedi, Rajesh Vankar, Anil Chavda, Bhavesh Bhatt, Ashok Chavda, Kiransinh Chauhan, Chintan Shelat, Neerav Patel and many others.
In this age, the other outstanding themes are Dalit literature and 'feminist literature'.