History of Sanskrit

The Struggle for Empire 1000 – 1300 A.D.    

Quote Shri K M Munshi “S had been placed on a pedestal of scholarship and sanctity, assuming a more learned character. Prakrit and Apabhramsa had receded in the background. Some of the dialects of the regions – desabhashas – had become vehicles of the living thought and emotions of the people. This Age saw the literary activity in these dialects which laid the foundation of modern Indian languages and their literature, including Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada and Telegu, as also old Gujarati, sometimes called Western Rajasthani, of which modern Gujarati, Jaipuri, Marwari and Malvi are the descendants”.

The close of the last period witnessed the decline of Sanskrit literature. It lost touch with the common man, began to cater for the Pandit and the court. There was an ever-widening breach between the languages of the drama and those in every day life. These characteristics equally marked this period too. The break up of empires into smaller states did encourage S learning but the productions are nothing new but rehashes of earlier works. In short, the creative urge was over.

Muslim invasion cannot be said to be responsible for the decay of Sanskrit literature. The decay had set during the earlier period. The tightening up of Smriti rules and the insular tendency it created contributed its bit to stifle the free spirit. With the loss of contact with the outside world our literature became stagnant and lost freshness of outlook. Thus the writers during this period were mere intellectuals trying to reproduce according to a set pattern.

A:    Mahakavyas

The only outstanding work of this period is the Naishadhacharita of Sriharsha who probably lived in the latter half of the 12th century. It describes the life of Nala up to his marriage with Damayanti. Kshemendra, the 11th century polymath and court-poet of King Ananta of Kashmir, gives us the epitomes of the two great epics in his Bharata-manjari and Ramayana-manjari, his Dasavatara-charita though neither a Mahakavya nor a religious poem describes the ten incarnations of Vishnu.

Some Jain writers have adopted the form and spirit of the Mahakavya for presenting Jain Legends in a poetic garb, as also historical or biographical accounts. Among the Jain epics are Yasodhara-charita and Manikya Suri which are Digambara / Svetambara versions of the narrative. The Jains have made a considerable contribution to Sanskrit Kavya during this period.

Lyrics – To Bengal goes the credit for having produced in Jayadeva a master of Sanskrit diction who in his Gita-govinda has attained very great heights of S lyric poetry. He lived in the 12th century and was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. The Meghaduta of Kalidasa was responsible for the production of numerous Duta-Kavyas in this epoch of imitations and counterfeits.

Anthologies – Of anthologies a literary form which originated shortly before 1000 AD, there are several valuable specimens during this period. The importance of anthologies for a historian of literature cannot be overemphasized. The earliest anthology during this period, the Subhashitavali of Vallabhadeva is prior to 1160 a.d.

Historical Poems – Real history finds no place in S literature, nor is there any conscious historical element in any of the works comprising it” observes Whitney in his introduction to A Sanskrit Grammar. Before Kalhana there does not seem to be any author who took to historical writing with a great degree of seriousness. The Purana works apart even the Harsha-charita smacks more of romance than history.

Why did India fail to produce any historical works in the modern sense? Different reasons are given. It is said that the idea of composing realistic history aiming at objective history is entirely out of harmony with the spirit of S literature and its conception of art with its emphasis on imaginative and impersonalized creations. Also according to the Indian view, as presented in the Mahabharata and other works Truth is not verbal accuracy but that which is beneficial for humanity. Truth is valid so far as it leads to human good. It is also likely that the doctrine of karma prevented them from making any realistic and historical surveys of the events of the past.

There is the celebrated Kashmiri Kalhana –12th century – who gave is the Rajatarangini the chronicles of the kings of Kashmir from the beginning to his own days.

B:   Drama

Will not get too much of detail but there were legendary plays, court comedies, Prakaranas (which follow the middle class life) and semi-historical plays. Champus is a peculiar stule of literary composition written in different prose and verse, styled as Champu, became popular with authors from the 12th century onwards and was a special favorite of South India.

There was story literature, romantic and didactic tales fables too. The earliest work on fables in S is the Panchatantra, its purpose being to give instructions to some princes in morals and rules of worldly life. It is written in mixed prose and poetry, the former being employed for the narrations of the story and the latter for summing up its moral and also for incorporating certain verses of didactic support.

C:    Grammar

The period after 1000 ad marks the stage of progressive deterioration in the study of grammar. There is a rise in the number of schools intended to simplify the science for the enlightment of the laity. There are numerous recasts of the Ashtadhyaya of which may be mentioned the Dhatuvritti of Kshirasvamin. Among the non-Panian systems, the Chandra school disappeared but it is still studied in Tibet and Ceylon thanks to the Balavabodha, a popular recast of the Chandra grammar by Kasyapa, a Ceylonese Buddhist monk.

D:   Medicine

Chakrapanidatta – 11th century from Bengal wrote commentaries on Charaka and Susruta called Ayurvedadipika and Bhanumati. He also wrote Sabdachandrika, a vocabulary on vegetable as well as mineral substances and Dravyagunasamgraha, a work on dietetics. Sarangadhara’s Samhita mentions the use of opium and quicksilver, and stresses the importance of pulse in diagnosis. These are some major works during this period.

E:    Mathematics and Astronomy

First in point of time comes the Trisati of Sridhara – 11th century but the most imp treatise on maths are the two chapters titled Lilavati and Bijaganita in the Siddhantasiromani of Bhaskaracharya – 12th century. Two chapters in this work i.e. Gola and Grahaganita are the most valuable writings on astronomy.

F:    Music

The Sangitamakarana attributed to Narada perhaps belongs to the 11th century. It deals with music and dance in two parts. In seven chapters, it not only embraces the views of all ancient writers but also contributes to original discussion and definition. It deals with musical notes, melodies, technical terms, and measures of time, musical instruments and dancing.

The corpus of the Puranas was complete in the Gupta Age and additional matter incorporated in the subsequent period. Dr Hazra’s researches on chronology of the Smriti chapters in the Puranas reveal that the bulk of the major Puranas, was we have them was finalized by the end of the 9th century.

Summary  - We may conclude by noticing several important contributions to S literature during this period. In kavya there was Naishadhiya, the last of the Mahakavyas. Another watermark mahakavya was Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. In lyrics was Gita-govinda. Under technical and scientific literature some valuable work is found in grammar, poetics and music. Three new grammatical systems were started during this period. Among various lexical works Vaijayanti, Visvaprakasa and works of Hemchandra demand special reference. The most valuable contribution, however, is to the Dharmasastra literature in the shape of commentaries and digests. Among commentators were a galaxy of celebrities like Apararka, Kulluka and Govindraja. Another valuable contribution is the encyclopedic works, which made their first appearance during this period e.g. Manasollasa by king Somesvara. Though the period is not rich in creative art and works of outstanding merit, the general output is prolific and the performance on the whole is creditable, especially when the disturbed political condition is taken into account.

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