History of Gujarati Literature

Gujarati evolved from a dialect of the Gurjara Apabhramsa. Gujarati Literature reached a distinctive form by the 12th century. Jain influence is strongly evident in the early stages of its development. Jain authors transformed the Rasa, originally a folk dance, into melodious dramatic poetry. The first literary work distinctly Gujarati was the Bharateswara Bahubali Rasa of Salibhadra, composed in 1185 AD. A shorter and more lyrical form of poetry is the phagu in which the main theme is that of viroha or separation. Prose was developed by Jain scholars. Manikyasundarisuri’s Prithvichandra is a fine example of poetic prose.

By mid-fifteenth century Hinduism under the Bhakti movement began to inspire the literary works. Narsi Mehta has left a large collection of poems and songs, the most famous being Govinda Gamana and Sudama Charitra. There is a controversy about Mirabai—whether she belongs to Gujarati or Rajasthani literary tradition. Nakara and Vishnudasa are writers of the period influenced by Vedantic thought. Bhalana rendered Bana’s Kadambari in Gujarati In verse form.

In the next period, after Akbar formed the province of Gujarat separating it from Marwar, there was Premanand, supreme at narrative poetry. However, it was in the nineteenth century that the modern period began under the impact of the West. Dalapatram and Narmad were the leaders of this new age. Both were scholars and classical poets.

The novel appeared as a popular form of writing. Karma Ghelo (1866) by Nandashankar was the first novel in Gujarati but one that opened immense possibilities in the field was Saraswatichandra by Govardhanram Tripathi. A love story with a social relevance, the work is considered one of the classics of modern India. K.M. Munshi was another important influence on Gujarati prose and fiction with his historical and social novels. Gandhi’s impact on Gujarati prose style was noteworthy as he gave it a simple and direct approach.

Gujarati literature has flourished after independence. Sundaram’s Kavyamangala and yatra is major poetic works. Umashankar Joshi is another great writer whose Vishwashanti, on the life and work of Gandhi, and Saptapadi are well-known poetic works. Drama has flourished with K.M. Munshi, Joshi Jayanti Dalal and others doing much to establish the value of one-act plays. The veteran in Gujarati drama is Chandravadan Mehta whose Agagadi is considered a landmark in the field. The Pannalal Patel has won the Jnanpith Award for 1985 with his Manvini Bavai.