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Gujarati Literature

An Introduction
Gujarati counts amongst some of the older languages of India. Literature in Gujarati can be generalized into two broad categories namely poetry and prose, the former enjoying a long lineage dating back to the 6th century. Poetry as a concept came about as a medium of expressing religious sentiments, a stronghold of the medieval times. Here we attempt to analyze the journey of Gujarati literature through the ages.

History: The Road that was
The title of the first poetry in Gujarati is enjoyed by Bharateswara Bahubali Rasa - composed by Shalibhadrasuri, a 7th century Jain monk. This example was carried forth by a number of Jain Sadhus who composed short poems called Rasas right up to the end of the 18th century. Vaishnava poetry has its advent in the 15th century at the hands of Narsingh Mehta. His poems portray Lord Krishna as a playful child, friend, lover and poet’s muse. This advent led to the poetic genre tipping scales to a more philosophical kind.

Raje, Raghunathdas, Pritam, Ratno and Muktananda were some of the great contributors to devotional poetry. In the middle 18th century, Vallabh left his artistic touch in songs of the likes of Garbo and Garbi, popular even in today’s age. Premananda, regarded as one of the greatest medieval poets introduced the famous ‘Akhyana’. His command over the written language and treatment of chosen subjects are outstanding. Coupled with an acute understanding of the human psyche, his poems rose to a stature beyond expectation. . Jains and non-Jains alike, have written narrative poems using Sanskrit as well as Prakrit fiction as the source. Nayasundar among the Jains and Samal amongst the non-Jains were popular narrators.

The coming of the British in the 19th century saw poetic literature scaling great heights. Dalpat and Narmad were stalwart pioneers of this age. In 1886, a collection of lyrical poems ‘Kusummala’, by Narsingharao, was published. By now poetry was by far restricted to the elite echelons of society. Gandhian influence in these times was a primary medium in urging poetry from the fingers of the elite class into the hands of the general masses. The noted poets of this century like Kalapi, Kant, Nanalal and Balavantrai Thakor were all greats in their respective style of writing.

The Gandhian Era was one of rapid progressionist development in Gujarati literature. Poetry around this time mostly concentrated itself on Social order, the struggle for independence and on the Mahatma himself. Noted poets of the time included Umashankar, Sundaram, Shesh, Snehrasmi and Betai. During the 40s, one saw the rise of communist poetry and progressive thinking. Meghani, Bhogilal Gandhi, Swapnastha and others preached class conflict and hatred of religion through their writings. Umashankar Joshi’s writing, inspired by Tagore’s Dialogue poems, enriched the softer side of Gujarati poetry and literature.

Prose, the younger child
Gujarati literary prose in its present sense began only in the 19th century. The forerunner in this case was Narmad, who began by writing essays meant to be read before an audience. Topics ranged from literary, socio-political to religious subjects. He was also instrumental in the coinage of new terms and phrases to give more meaning and a better understanding to his writings. The era is called the social reform era. Among the prominent names in the late 19th century was Naval Ram, who besides indulging in essays was a noted book critic. Nand Shankar was the first novelist of his time and wrote Karanghelo a historical fiction. Govardhanram’s Saraswati Chandra is a classic not only in Gujarati literature but also in Indian literature. This was the first social novel based on contemporary issues and their solutions.

This period saw the emergence of new values and Indianisation of literature. During this time the Gujarat Vidyapith became the centre of all literary activities. Novels, short stories, diaries, letters, plays, essays, criticisms, biographies, travel books and all kinds of prose began to flood Gujarati literature. Kanhaiyalal Munshi was, however, absolutely untouched by this change and made a mockery of the Gandhian principles. Ramanlal Desai, on the other hand, novelist, dramatist, literary critic and short storywriter all rolled into one is the true representative of the Gandhian era, whose works include ‘Divya Chakshu’ and ‘Bharelo Agni’. Other pioneers of this era were Kishorelal Mashruwala (essayist), Ramnarayan Pathak (critic and short story writer), and Darshak (dramatist).

Gujarati Literature: What it is today
The post-independence era saw Gujarati poetry in its more brutal and subjective light. Old imagery and symbolism were done away with, being replaced by fresh ideas of modernization. Here too, the West left its mark, with the socio-cultural ideas giving way to critical modernization. Noted among the poets are Suresh Joshi, Gulam Mohamed Sheikh, Harinder Dave, Chinu Modi, Nalin Raval, Adil etc.

Post-independence prose literature saw two distinct trends of the traditional and the modern. The former deals mainly Ethical and moral values, while the latter is an influenced mix of surrealism, symbolism and existentialism, rather than wasting its time with moral values and religious beliefs. Eminent writers of this school of thought include Chandrakant Baxi, Suresh Joshi, Madhu Rai, Raghuvir Chowdhury, Saroj Pathak and others.

The growth of Gujarati Prose Literature has definitely seen a monumental growth, from what it had been, in the last two centuries. So much so, that Gujarati Literature now stands counted among the front-runners in Indian Literature to date.
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