In this article we will discuss about the state of Sanskrit literature in the Medieval India.
Though the Sultans of Delhi did not patronize Sanskrit literature and there were hardly any Sanskrit poets or scholars at their courts, certain important Sanskrit works were translated into Persian. This was done mainly with a view to make available to the foreign readers useful information contained in the Sanskrit literature.
Despite the lack of royal patronage, lot of Sanskrit literature was produced during this period. This was mainly due to the encouragement extended to Sanskrit by the Hindu kings of Vijayanagar— Warangal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bengal and the Pallavas of the South. Thus we find that the Sanskrit literature was mainly produced in areas which were free from Muslim dominations.
However, the Sanskrit language was placed at a pedestal of scholarship and lost its connection with the masses. Prof. Sherwani has observed that “Though there was not that initiative and creative urge in that language as was marked in the age of Imperial Guptas or even earlier, and there was Panini, Patanjali or Kalidasa in the Middle Ages, still the torch was handed down to posterity.”
One of the first historical works to be produced in Sanskrit during the Medieval time was Kalhana’s Rajalarangini dealing with the history of Kashmir. This was followed up by Prithvirajavijaya and Hammiravijaya, two works produced during the 12th century.
Another outstanding piece of literature in Sanskrit was Vidyaranaya’s Rajakakinirnaya dealing with history of Vijayanagar. While Rajnatha dealt with the reign of Saluva Narasiniha in his Satuvabhyudaya.
In the South particularly outstanding works were produced in Sanskrit during the Medieval times. Mention may he made in this respect to the Dharmo Shastra of Madhavacharya and commentaries of Kataya Vema and Mallinatha. During this period beautiful kavita was also produced which was mainly devotional, satirical, erotic and allegorical in character.
In Bengal Kalluka published his Commentaries on the Code of Manu. Chandeshwara wrote a digest of the Smritis. But the most outstanding work produced in Bengal was Gita Govinda by Jayadeva. It dealt with the love story of Radha and Krishna. The other notable literary figure who made useful contributions to the Sanskrit literature in Bengal was Chaitanya.
Among the Muslim rulers who patronized Sanskrit were Muhammad Ghori, Zianu-l-Abidin of Kashmir, Mahmud Begarha of Gujarat, etc. Muhammad Ghori also known in history as Muizz-ud-din Mohammed bin Sam, is said to have kept an effigy of Hindu Goddess Lakshmi on his gold coins.
These coins also contained legend in Sanskrit. Zianu-l Abidin of Kashmir deputed the famous Sanskrit scholar Jonaraja and Srivara for the completion of Rajatarangini to bring the history of Kashmir up-to-date.
In fact two Volumes were compiled under his orders and are entitled Davitiya Rajatarangini and Tritiya Rajatarangini. Mahmud Begarha patronized the great Sanskrit poet Udayaraja, who compiled Rajaoinoda, a work in seven volumes dealing with the life and works of Sultan.
The Mughal rulers, particularly Akbar and after, also patronized Sanskrit learning because they were keen to get the gems of Sanskrit literature rendered into Persian language. Akbar appointed Bhanuchandra and Siddha Chandra who wrote a commentary on Bana’s Kadambari.
Bihari Krishnadas wrote’ Parri Prakaska in which he gave Sanskrit equivalents of large number of Persian term. Another outstanding work produced during the times of Akbar was Ramavinoda by Ramachandra, an official of Akbar.
During Akbar’s time the Ramayana and Mahabharata were also translated into Persian. The famous story of Nala and Damayanti was also rendered into Persian by Faizi and was given the name of Maanavi Nal-o Daman.
Certain technical works like Bhaskara’s Lilavati, Panchatantra and Simhosanad vatrinshatika were also translated in Persian during Akbar’s time. In addition to the works mentioned above, many other Sanskrit works were compiled or translated during the time of Akbar either under his order or under the orders of his nobles.
During the time of Jahangir also a large number of Sanskrit works were translated into Persian. Certain new works were also produced during his time. The prominent amongst them are Kirtisamullasa and Danmhahcharitra by the poet Rudra. Jagannath, the prominent Sanskrit scholar also lived at the court of Jahangir and enjoyed his patronage.
He was granted the title of ‘Panditraj’ and produced outstanding Sanskrit works like, Manoramalcucamardana on grammar, Chitramimansakhandana on rhetoric, and Asafvijaya, a eulogy of Asaf Khan.
During the times of Shah Jahan also Sanskrit scholars were patronized. Apart from Jaganath, the great Sanskrit scholar who flourished at the court of Jahangir, certain other scholars also lived at the court of Shah Jahan.
These included Vanshidhar Misra and Harinarayana Misra. The prominent works produced in Sanskrit during Shahjahan’s reign include, Munishvar’s SiddhanUuarvabhauma, Bhagavati Svamin’s Kavyaviruiaprabodha and Vedangaraja’s Parri Prakaaka.
In addition to the above scholars Abdul Hamid Lahauri, a great historian of Shah Jahan, has mentioned several other names of Sanskrit poets who received patronage from the Emperor.
Aurangzeb, the next ruler was orthodox and had no soft cheer for Sanskrit learning. He stopped extending patronage to Sanskrit scholars. However, Sanskrit learning continued to flourish. Some of the outstanding works compiled during the time of Aurangzeb include Raghunath’s Muhurtamala and Chaturbhuja’s Ratakalpadruma.