History of Hindi Literature

Hindi Literature has this vast heritage behind it. But the form of present standard Hindi Literature in Hindi Language is of comparatively recent origin, not earlier than the first decade of the nineteenth century. It is built on the basic structure of a western Indo-Aryan dialect spoken in and around Delhi known as Khari Boli—an epithet originally used in a derogatory sense implying rough and crude speech.

Hindi has evolved as a distinct literary form of its own, out of several denote several dialects which had used in India since centuries.

Since centuries, many languages that are prevalent in India are :

  • Braj-bhasha in which Surdas sang,
  • Avadhi in which Tulsidas wrote,
  • Rajasthani in which the earliest secular literature in the form of heroic ballads appeared in north India and in which Mirabai sang,
  • Bhojpuri, the mother tongue of Kabir,
  • Maithili which in the hands of Vidyapati attained immense grace and power.

The early period of Hindi literature is known as Adikala. This period comes up to mid-fourteenth century. It may be noted that while the origin of Hindi is traced by scholars to the period between the 7th and 10thcenturies AD, it was only in the late 12th and early 13th centuries that Hindi literature could be said to have crossed the stage of infancy. The Adikala period was embellished by the Siddhas, the Jain poets, the Nathapanthis and the heroic poets. Chand Bardai’s Pritviraja Rasau was the earliest representation of the tradition of secular writing in Hindi (of the Rajasthan dialect). One of the pioneer experimenters in Hindi was Amir Khusrau.

From the middle of the fourteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century Bhakti kavya dominates Hindi literature. Kabir is the outstanding poet of the Nirguna School which believed in a formless or abstract God. Guru Nanak is another great poet of this school. The Saguna School believed in a God with attributes, a human incarnation, and this school is represented by the Vaishnava poets singing in praise of either Rama or Krishna. If the great champions of Krishna are Surdas and Vidyapathi, Tulsidas sang of Rama.

There was another school of writing called the Ritikavya kaal. Literally the word ‘riti’ means ‘a way’. In Hindi it refers to the special form giving predominance to the erotic element.

Historic poetry and epics were also written in this period. Muhammad Jayasi composed his Padmavat (Padmawat), a romantic epic, in the Hindi meter and dialect, but based on Persian masnavi style and written in Persian characters.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw Hindi literature enter the modern period. “Hindi had to face the difficult task of cutting a new broad channel into which the waters of its many tributaries could flow and which could be perennially fed from the vast reservoir of Sanskrit. This feat was performed by ‘Bharatendu’ Harishchandra and Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi”, says Krishna Kripalani. Bharatendu Harischandra is regarded as the father of modem Hindi literature. He deliberately chose the Khari Boli as the medium of prose and dramatic works, even as he used Braj-bhasha for his poetry. His writings reflect the urges and impulses of an age in which the old and the resurgent were inextricably woven together. His writings had an immense influence on other writers who enriched and modernized Hindi.

Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi brought a new vigor to literary activities and rejuvenated prose writing. Writers like Maithili Sharan Gupta reflected in their work a simultaneous growth of the old and the new. In his poetry rad1tional style in all its vitality is combined with the force of new ideals. He revived the epic tradition. It was an age when social, political and economic problems were taken up. Notable names of this school are Makhanlal Balkrishna Sharma ‘Navin’, Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’.

Then came the romantic upsurge which came to be known as Chayavada. Jayashankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ and Sumitranandan Pant were the leaders of this movement. Jaishankar Prasad’s Kamayani published in 1936 presents the psycho-biological journey of man through time and space. Mahadevi Varma is another major poet of the Chayavad School of Hindi Literature. Nature was given importance by these writers who wrote according to their inner urges.

After Chayavad came two rival trends. One was progressivism—Pragativada—or people’s poetry inspired by Marxian ideology. Yashpal, Nagarjun, Rameshwar Shukla and Naresh Mehta belong to this school. The other was Prayagavada or experimentalism, looking upon experi­ment or constant quest as the basic element of life and literature. Vatsyayam (Agyeya) initiated this movement. His Sekhar Ek Jivani is a noteworthy work. Others in this school are Dharmavir Bharati, Girija Kumar Mathur and Lakshmi Kant Verma.

In the field of fiction in Hindi Literature, the name of Premchand stands out. Munshi Premchand brought contemporary realism into the Hindi novel and short story. His imaginative insight into the life of the common folk, especially in the villages, and his simple and direct delineation of that life had a great influence on many other writers of the time. The ‘Progressive’ school owed much to Premchand. The post-Premchand novel is characterized by historical, psychological and progressive factors. Novels of ‘local colour’ are being developed.

In the field of drama, the first original drama in the real sense was Gopal Chandra’s Nahusa Nataka. But it was Gopal Chandra’s son ‘Bharatendu Harischandra’ who affected a compromise between the technique of Sanskrit and Western drama to evolve Hindi prose-drama in the real sense.

In the field of literary criticism, Acharya Ramchandra Shukla synthesized ancient Sanskrit poetics and modem Western criticism.