In this article we will discuss about the development of literature during the Sultanate period in India.
Some historians have described the period of the Sultanate as barren from literary point of view. But, the majority of historians do not accept this view. They say that a medium success was achieved in the field of literature during this period. Literature was produced not only in Persian and Sanskrit but also in other regional languages.
The Sultans of Delhi and rulers of provincial dynasties provided shelter to different scholars who produced historical, religious and literature in other fields of knowledge as well. The same way, books in the form of drama, poetry, prose etc. were written.
Therefore, it cannot be accepted that there was no literary progress during this period. But, while the Persian literature suffered from religious bias, the Sanskrit literature suffered from originality. The only notable achievement, thus, was the beginning of literatures of regional languages in which saints of Bhakti movement also participated.
The Sultans of Delhi were interested in the progress of Persian literature. Al-Beruni, who visited India in the company of Mahmud of Ghazni was a great scholar. He was well-versed in Persian and also studied Sanskrit. He gave a vivid account of India which provides us valuable information regarding affairs of India in the eleventh century.
Most Sultans of Delhi provided patronage to scholars of Persian at their court which helped in the growth of Persian literature. Khwaja Abu Nasr, poetically surnamed Nasiri, Abu Bakar Bin Muhammad Ruhani, Taj-ud-din Dabir and Nur-ud-din Muhammad Awfi were famous scholars at the court of Sultan Iltutmish. Nur-ud-din wrote Lubab-ul-Albab and the Jaw am i-ul-Hikayat wa Lawami-ul-Riwayat.
Many Muslim scholars from Persia and Central Asia fled away from there because of the Mongols and found shelter at the courts of Sultan Balban and Ala-ud- din Khalji. Each of them participated in the enrichment of Persian literature and therefore, Delhi became one great centre of its learning.
Prince Muhammad, eldest son of Sultan Balban was a patron of scholars of his times, that is, Amir Khusrav and Amir Hasan Dihalvi. Amir Khusrav made use of Hindi words in his poems which was a novelty. He has been regarded as the greatest Persian poet of his age and is said to have written more than four lakhs of couplets.
He wrote a number of prose books also, most famous of them being the Khazain-ul-Fatuh, Tughluq-nama, and the Tarikh-i-Alai. Badr-ud-din Muhammad was the most famous poet of Persian at the court of Muhammad Tughluq. Historian Isami was also his contemporary writer. Sultan Firuz Tughluq wrote his autobiography and provided patronage to historians Ziya-ud-din Barani and Shams-i-Siraj Afif.
Sultan Sikandar Lodi wrote many verses and provided patronage to different scholars. Rafi-ud-din Shirazi, Shaikh Abdulla, Shaikh Azizulla and Shaikh Jamal-ud-din received patronage from Lodi Sultans. A large number of scholars flourished at the courts of provincial rulers as well.
Sayyid Muin-ul-Haq was famous in Sindh, Ibrahim Farukhi flourished in Bihar and Fazlullah Zain-ul-Abidin was a scholar of Gujarat. The Bahmani ruler Taj- ud-din Firoz Shah was a scholar and so was Mahmud Gawan who worked as a Prime Minister in that kingdom.
Among historians of the period of the Sultanate, Al-Beruni, Hasan Nizami who wrote Taj-ul-Maasir, Minhaj-ud-din Siraz, the author of Tabqat-i-Nasiri, Zia-ud-din Barani who wrote Tarikh-i-Firozshahi and the Fatwah-i-Jahandari, Shams-i-Siraj Afif, the author of another Tarikh-i-Firozshahi, Yahya-bin- Ahmad, the author of Tarikh-i-Mubarakshahi and Khawaji Abu Malik Isami who wrote Futuh-us-Salatin have been regarded as the most famous ones. Translation of certain Sanskrit books was also done in Persian language during this period.
The Hindu rulers, particularly those of Gujarat, Warangal and the Vijayanagara empire, provided encouragement to Sanskrit literature. All sorts of works—poetry, prose, drama etc. were produced in Sanskrit and good works on philosophy and religious commentaries were written by different scholars.
Thus, extensive literature was produced in Sanskrit during this period. Hammir Deva, Kumbha Kama, Prataprudra Deva, Basantraja, Vemabhubhala, Katya Vem, Virupakaya, Narsingh, Krishnadevaraya, Bhupal and many other alike rulers patronised Sanskrit scholars and encouraged their writings and some of them were themselves scholars.
Agastaya was a great scholar at the court of Prataprudra Deva who wrote the Prataprudradeva- Yasobhusan and the Krishna-charita. Vidya Chakravartin who was at the court of Vir Ballal III wrote the Rukamani-Kalyan and Madhan who flourished at the court of Virupakya, the ruler of Vijayanagara wrote the Narkasur-Vijay. Vaman Bhatt Bana was a famous scholar of this period and wrote books in drama, prose and poetry. His one famous work was the Parvati-Parinaya.
Vidyapati was another great scholar who wrote the Durgabhakti-tarangini besides many other works. Another scholar Vidyaranya wrote the Sankar-Vijava. Divakara, Kirtiraja, and Srivara were other famous scholars of Sanskrit. The Jain scholar Nayachandra wrote the Hammir-Kavya. King Virupakya wrote the Narayanvilas and Krishnadevaraya wrote the Jambavati-Kalyan besides some others.
The great Bhakti saint Ramanuja wrote commentaries on the Brahmasutra, Parthasarathi wrote a number of books on the Karma-Mimansa. Jayadeva produced his famous work the Gita-Govinda, Jai Singh Suri wrote the Hammir-Mad-Mardana and Gangadhar produced the Gangadas Pratap Vilas. Kalhan the famous historian of Kashmir wrote the Rajatarangini which was further completed by Jonaraja and Srivara in the second and the third the Rajatarangini afterwards.
One of most the famous works on Hindu law, the Mitakshara was written by Vijnanesvara and the great astronomer, Bhaskaracharya also flourished during this period. Many other works, besides these, were produced by different scholars which prove that even without the protection of Muslim- rulers, the Hindus persisted in their efforts to enrich Sanskrit literature. However, the literature of this period mostly suffered from lack of originality.
Hindi, Urdu and Other Regional Languages:
The one novelty of this period in literary field was the beginning of literature in different regional languages of India. The khari-boli and Braj-bhasa mostly spoken in western Uttar Pradesh provided the base for the growth of Hindi literature.
Some of the famous works written in Hindi during this period were the Prithviraj Raso of Chand Bardai, the court-poet of Prithviraj Chauhan, the Hammir Raso and the Hamir Kavya written by Sarangdhar and the Alha-Khanda produced by Jagnayaka. Urdu language was first called Hindvi.
It marked its beginning during this period though could develop only afterwards. Amir Khusrav, however, has been regarded as a writer of both Hindi and Urdu. Vidyapati Thakur who wrote works in Sanskrit, Hindi and Maithili encouraged the beginning of Maithili literature towards the end of the fourteenth century.
The saints of Bhakti movement who gave their messages in the languages of the people also helped in the growth of different regional languages and, thereby, their literatures. This period, thus, witnessed the beginning of the growth of practically all regional languages of India like Bengali, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, etc.
The Marathi literature began to grow during this period. Chakradhar, Bhaskar, Bhatt and Mukandaraya were the early poets and writers of Marathi. Afterwards saints of Bhakti-cult did a lot towards enrichment of Marathi literature. Saint Janeswar wrote his commentary on the Gita called the Janeswari in Prakrit Marathi. It was most appealing to the masses.
Eknath who flourished nearly 250 years after Janeswar translated the Bhagwat in Marathi and wrote Rukmani-Swayamber and the Bhawarth-Ramayan. His writings were also very popular. But above all, the Abhangas of Saint Tukaram are most famous in the Marathi literature of this period.
The Gujrati literature also developed during this period. Several Jain monks helped in building it up by their writings. The Bharatbahubali Ras of Gunaratna Suri, the Shil Ras of Vijay Bhadra, the Gautam Swami Ras of Udaywant and the Shant Ras of Sunder Suri were poetic works in Gujrati.
Saint Narsingh Mehta composed more than one lac verses in Gujrati in devotion to Lord Krishna. Several Sanskrit texts were also translated in Gujrati. The Panchatantra, the Ramayana, the Gita and the Yogavasistha were translated in Gujrati prose while, in poetic form, Vatzo wrote the Subhadra Haran, Vachharaja wrote the Ras Manjari and Tulsi wrote the Dhruva. Thus, both prose and poetry of Gujrati began to take shape.
In Bengali, the works of Vidyapati and Chandidas provided stimulus to the growth of Bengali literature. Several rulers of Bengal also patronized Bengali. Sultan Nusrat Shah of Gaur got the Mahabharat translated into Bengali while Sultan Hussain Shah got the Gita translated into Bengali by Maladhar Vasu.
One of the nobles of Hussain Shah got the Mahabharat translated into Bengali by Kavindra Parmeswar. Then Chaitanya and his disciples enriched the Bengali literature by their songs and Bhajans. In the South, Tamil literature got impetus because of the Saiva movement in the 13th and 14th century. The rulers of Vijayanagara gave incentive to the growth of literature of Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, etc.
Thus, this period witnessed the growth of literature in different fields and different languages and was remarkable at least from two points of view. One was that historical texts were prepared during this period because of the Muslim court-writers which was mostly neglected by the Hindus; and, secondly, it marked the beginning of literatures of different regional languages in India.