In this article we will discuss about the evolution of Hindi literature in India during the medieval age.
It is usually held that the Hindi language was evolved during the period between 7th and 10th century A.D. But notable works in this language were produced only in the 11th century A.D. Popularity of this language was mainly due to the patronage extended to it by the provincial rulers.
The earliest work produced in Hindi was Prithviraj Raso written by Chand Bardai at the court of Prithviraj Chauhan of Delhi. In this book Chand Bardai describes the life of the warrior king Prithviraj and gives an account of the war with Muslims. Another contemporary of Chand Bardai was Jagnayak, the author of Alha Khand.
In this work Jagnayak describes in lyric deeds of love and war of two brave warriors Alha and Udal of Mahoba. Another work of the same period is credited to Bhatt Kidar entitled Jayachand Parkash in which he has given the exploits of Jai Chand, the ruler of Kanauj.
Sarangdhar wrote Hamir Raso and Hamir Kavya in which he gives a glowing account of the brave deeds of Raja Hamir Dev Chauhan of Ranthambor. Similarly works like Vijaypal-Raso by Nalh Singh, Bimldeva-Raso by Narpati Nath, Khuman-Raso by an unknown bard, were produced. Thus we find that the Hindi literary activities were mainly confined to Rajasthan. The early Hindi works were mainly bardic or religious. This literature is also designated as heroic ballads because they dealt with brave deeds of Rajput Chiefs and warriors.
During Sultanate period, Hindi did not fully grow, although it was gradually becoming the language of the people residing in Central India. With the spread of the Bhakti Movement this language greatly flourished. Saints like Gorakhnath, Namadeva, Kabir, etc. composed Bhajans, Pads (Hindi verses).
It is said that Kabir alone wrote about twenty thousand verses. His compositions possesses a force and charm of its own which went a long way in forging a sense of unity amongst the Hindus and the Muslims. His literature went a long way in popularizing Hindi. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, also rendered great service to the cause of Hindi literature.
He composed a number of verses which possess a poetic value of their own. Other Bhakti saints like Dadu Dayal, Sunder Das, Maluk Das, Sunder Vilas, Dharamdas also created religious literature in Hindi. But the most important compositions in Hindi were by Mirabai, famous melody singer from Rajasthan.
The Sufi saints also played an important role in popularizing Hindi literature. Sufi saints like Mulla Daud composed Chandawat, Kutban wrote Mrigawat, Manzan wrote Madhu Malti and Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote famous Padmavat.
Jayasi, according to K.M. Ashraf, “was greater even than Amir Khusrau, for while that latter was more or less confined in his treatment to Muslim society and adhered to the orthodox views of Islam, the former had drunk deep at the springs of both Hinduism and Islam, and was, as a matter of fact, more Hindu than Muslim in his outlook on life. He is the oldest vernacular poet of Hindustan of whose works we have any uncontested remains.”
These writers expounded the cardinal principles of Sufism in their works. But the most important contribution to the growth of Hindi literature was made by Amir Khusrau. He was a poet at the court of Khilji and Tughlaq rulers and was a writer of high order. He made use of simple Hindi language in his compositions, particularly in his riddles. The simplicity and the direct appeal of his compositions became popular, with the general masses.
When the Mughals came to the scene, Hindi had already developed as a literary language. The first two Mughal rulers did not pay much attention to its promotion, however, Hindi literature received new encouragement under Akbar.
According to A.L. Srivastva, “The reign of Akbar constitutes the golden age of Hindi poetry. The influence exercised by his glorious and victorious reign, his well-known preference for Hindu thought and mode of life, together with his policy of complete religious tolerance and recognition of merit, combined with peace, both internal and external, engendered a bracing atmosphere for the development of thought and literature. The result was that many first-rate Hindi poets produced remarkable poetic works which have become classics.”
Akbar’s courtiers included some of the prominent literary figures such as, Raja Birbal, Raja Man Singh, Raja Bhagwan Das, Prithviraj Rathor. Other notable poets and writers in the court of Akbar were Narhri, Karan, Harinath, Gang and Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan.
The last named wrote Dohas in Hindi which are popular even today and are read with great interest and admiration. His book Rahim Satsai has occupied a very high position in Hindi literature. It may be noted that most of the Hindi literature produced during the Mughal period was religious in character. It dealt either with Krishna worship or Rama cult. Further most of the literary figures flourished in the area around Brajbhumi, or the valley of Jamuna.
Tulsi Das was without any doubt the most outstanding of these scholars. He spent most of his time at Banaras and produced twenty-five works of high standard. The most outstanding work of Tulsi Das was Ram Charit Manas popularly known as the Ramayana.
Tuisi Das divided this epics into seven books and deals with the life of Ram Chandra and sings of the noble deeds of Rama. According to Grierson the Ramayana has become “the one Bible of a hundred millions of people”. Kissan Keane says, “Ramayana as a creation in the Hindi literature and as an expression of religion stands supreme.”
Sardar Panikkar says that “Tulsi Das saved Hinduism from schisms and cults; for the religion of the Ram charit Manas, in spite of the exaltation of Rama as the supreme being, was catholic enough to hold all sects and provided the strong motive force of Bhakti which has since then remained the basic factor of Indian popular religion.”
The other important works of Tulsi Das include Ram Gitawali, Vinay Patrika, Parwatt Mangal, Janki Mangal, Dohawali and Vailragya Sandipani.
It may be noted that Tulsi Das wrote in the language of the people and can very well claim to be the poet of India. His works are admired not only because of their rich poetical value but also because of their spiritual value.
Sur Das was another important Hindi poet who wrote about Krishna in prolific style. He wrote many inspiring songs about the early life of Lord Krishna as well as love of Krishna and Radha. He wrote in Brajbhasha as his most popular work is Sur Sugar.
The other works attributed to Sur Das are Sur Saravali, Sahitya Lehari which are now not available. He lived at the court of Akbar and was popularly known as the blind bard of Agra. Critics have accorded Sur Das as high place in Hindi literature as is accorded to Tulsi Das.
However, they have not been able to reach at an agreement as to who was superior. In fact, K B. Jindal says, “Sur and Tulsi are the great luminaries in our literary firmament, but as to which of them shed brighter luster, it is difficult to decide.”
V.A. Smith however, holds, “Among the numerous Hindu poets who graced the court or reign of Akbar the second place after Tulsi Das is accorded by unanimous consent to Surdas, the blind bard of Agra.
Amongst the Muslim scholars who wrote Hindi poetry, the name of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan stands out distinctly. He wrote didactic poetry of a high order. Though Abdul Rahim Khar Khanau was also a prominent scholar of Persian, Arabic, Turki and Sanskrit, he rendered excellent poetry in Hindi and Rajasthani.
His several hundred verses which have come down to us, enjoy an honorable position in the Hindi literature. Another Muslim poet which deserves mention was Ras Khan. He was a devotee of Lord Krishna and composed a number of poems in which he depicted the life of Sri Krishna in the woods of Varindaban. Akbar is himself said to have composed certain verses in Hindi.
It may be noted that during the times of Akbar the literary activities were not confined to the court and nobles alone. Hindi was becoming popular with the common people and a large number of scholars and poets were found in almost all parts of the country .
These scholars were patronized by the local land lords and well to-do people. It is not possible to enumerate the names of all the persons who rendered valuable contribution to the Hindi literature during Akbar’s time.
Jahangir was also great patron of Hindi scholars. His love of Hindi poetry is evident from the fact that he was so much pleases with the composition of a Hindi poet that he gave him an elephant as a reward Some of the Hindi literary figures which adored the court were Jacrup Gosain, Rai Manohar Lal, Bishan Das but probably the most important poet of his time was Kesava Das who wrote several poetic works.
The most outstanding and well known work of Keshva Das was Virshing Deva Charitra and Jahangir Chaodrikca. Jahangir’s own brother Danij al was also a noted poet of Hindi.
Shah Jahan continued the tradition of encouraging Hindi poets. It is on record that he honoured two Hindi poets from Trihut by bestowing of them a grant of Rs. 1,600/- and a robe of honour. His court was also adorned by number of Hindi scholars like Sundar, Ravi Raj, Chintamani, Mali Ram, Bihari and Kavindra Acharya.
The last named scholar wrote a poem in mixed Awadhi and Braj-bhasha in praise of Shah Jahan and named it Kavindra Kalpataru. Deva Kavi who produced many works of religious poetry, was patronized by Mirza Raja Jai Singh. Two other scholars wrote verses in Hindi viz. Pran Nath of Pandu and Dadu of Ahmedabad.
In the Medieval times other rulers of India also patronized Hindi scholars and poets. Bhushan was patronized by Shivaji and Chhatrasal Bundela. He produced important works like Shiva Bawani, Chhatrasal Shatak and Shivraj Bhushan. Another notable authors of Hindi literature was Bihari Lal Chaube who rendered valuable contribution to Hindi literature.