(Sample Material) IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 1 - "Culture-Literature"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains GS Online Coaching Programme

Subject: General Studies (Paper 1 - Indian Heritage and Culture, History & Geography of the World & Society)

Topic: Culture-Literature


Some four thousand odd years ago, the Harappan people knew how to write; unfortunately, their script has not yet been deciphered and we do not know anything about their language. But the literary tradition of India clearly goes back more than 3000 years, and during this period was dominated by Sanskrit, first in its Vedic and later in its classical form. By the time Panini’s Grammar had standardised Sanskrit (about 5th century BC), language had developed another branch besides Sanskrit—the language of the masses, Prakrit or Middle Indo-Aryan (though these terms came into use much later). Prakrits are recorded in various local dialects, based on geographical and regional factors. Middle Indo-Aryan is divided into three stages covering a period ranging from 500 BC to 1000 AD. The first stage is represented by Pali and the inscriptions of Asoka. The term Prakrit In its narrow sense applies to the second stage, and it has various dialects—Maharashtri, Sauraseni, Magadht, Ardhamagadhi. The third stage is represented by what is known as Apabhramsa.

The emergence of the modern Indo-Aryan languages dates from the period after 1000 AD when already the division of regional languages was assuming the shape that it has today. The main group of Indo-Aryan languages stretches across north and central India. The literary development of these language took place at various times. Apart from the Muslim influence, the development of the modern Indo-Aryan languages followed the same lines. An important new feature in the modern languages, as opposed to the earlier Middle Indo-Aryan was the extensive introduction of Sanskrit loanwords. After the eighteenth century, under the impact of British rule and European contact as well as the introduction of printing, the range of subjects for literature widened and was modernised. Literary output increased. The processes initiated at that time have continued till the present day.

The Dravidian languages are Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, of which Tamil was the earliest to be developed for literary purposes. The Dravidian language came into being before the Indo-Aryan, according to scholars. It had three branches— (i) the northern branch of Brahui spoken in Baluchistan, Kurukh and Malta spoken in Bengal and Orissa; (ii) the central branch comprising Telugu and dialects such as Kui, Khond, etc.; (ill) the southern branch comprising Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam besides dialects like Tulu, Badaga, Toda, Kodagu, etc. Tamil developed uninhibited by the competition of Sanskrit or Prakrits, because the Tamil country was the furthest removed from the centre of Aryan expansion. The Tamil language was less influenced by Sanskrit than the other three Dravidian languages, and the number of Sanskrit and other Indo-Aryan loanwords in it is fewer. Kannada and Telugu were inhibited at first because their region was the dominion of the Andhra Empire whose administrative language was Prakrit. But by the ninth-tenth centuries there are plenty of literary works In both languages. Two other distinct speech families, the Nishada or Austric (the oldest and most indigenous) and Ktrata or Sino-lndian, have also existed for 3000 years or more. India never really had a common language used by the masses. Even when Sanskrit grew to prominence and was widely used, ifwas still the language of the learned sections of the population. With independence the question of a common language came up, and it was decided— by a very narrow margin—that Hindi would be the national language of India. The Constitution lists 18 languages in the Eighth Schedule after the Seventy-First Amendment, Act 1992.

Languages in the 8th Schedule

Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Sindhi.
The Sahitya Akademi has approved, besides the constitutionally recognised languages, English, Dogri, Malthili and Rajasthani for its activities. A brief survey of the Indian languages and their development, writers and their works is given in the following pages.


Sanskrit has been instrumental in lending a continuity to Indian civilization. In its heyday it was spoken and used In all regions of India including the Dravidian south. While Tamil has maintained a more or less independent literary tradition, all other languages in India have taken freely from Sanskrit vocabulary and their literature is permeated with the Sanskrit heritage. Sanskrit is perhaps the oldest language in the world to be recorded. Classical Sanskrit which developed from the Vedic held sway from about 500 BC to about 1000 AD. In independent India it is listed among the languages of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution though it is not the official language of any state.

The hymns of the Rig Veda are the seeds of Sanskrit literature. Orally handed down for long, these hymns not only served the purpose of religion but also as a common literary standard for the Aryan groups in India. After 100,0 BC there developed an extensive prose literature devoted to ritual matters—the Brahmanas; but in these too there are examples of story-telling, terse and abrupt in style. The next milestone in the history of Sanskrit is the Grammar of Panini—the Ashtadhyayi The form of the Sanskrit language as described by him became accepted universally and was fixed for all time. Probably, around the time Panini was codifying the Sanskrit language, the practice of writing began.

In the field of secular literature Sanskrit epic poetry [mahakavya) was the next most important development. The story of the Mahabharata was handed down orally for at least a thousand years after the battle It celebrates before becoming relatively fixed in writing. Dvaipayana or Vyasa is r corded first to have sung of this fearsome struggle oi his own time. Vaisampayana later elaborated the epic; Lomaharsana and Ugrasravas are supposed to have recited the complete Mahabharata which scholars call itihasa. The story of the battle of eighteen days between the Kauravas and the Pandavas on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and the victory of the righteous was probably composed in the epic form not earlier than about 100 BC. The Ramayana, traditionally ascribed to Valmiki whom Bhavabhuti anothers call the ‘first kava, is considered to have bten composed around the first century BC. On the face of it, it is the story of the adventures of Rama, but involved in this story are unforgettable conflicts of human passions.

Asvaghosa’s (first century AD) are the earliest epics now available to show the full-fledged kavya technique. His Buddhacharita and Saundarananda present the Buddhist philosophy of the shallowness of the world through the delights of poetry—the ornament of language and meaning. Later, in the “fifth century AD, came Kalidasa with his Kumarasambhava which gives the story of the origin of Kartikeya, son of Shiva and Raghuvamsa, a portrait gallery of the kings of Rama’s line, illustrating the four ends, virtue, wealth, pleasure and release, pursued by different rulers. To the sixth centurv belonas Rharav/whose epic Kiratarjuniya presents a short episode from the Mahabharata as a complete whole. Rich description and brilliant characterisation are matched by a heroic narrative style.

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