Culture in the Medieval Period


Sanskrit and Persian functioned as the link languages in the country. Arabic works under the Mughals were largely confined to religious subjects, though a few poets composed verses in Arabic. Persian was the official language of the Mughal court.

Several Persian poets who visited India during the 16 th and 17th centuries helped create a rich synthesis in a new genre of Persian literature known as Sabaq Hindi (‘Indian style’). The patronage given to the exponents of this particular school continued from Akbar to Shah Jahan, and included notable Indian and Persian writers like Faizi, Urfi, Naziri, Talib Amuli, Kalim, Ghani Kashrniri, Saib and Bedil.

The most striking feature, however, was the growth of regional languages. This was, in a large part, due to the patronage extended to them by the local rulers. In course of time, the regional languages matured and many literary works were composed in these languages.

Languages in Early Medieval Period

North India The growth of regional languages was an important feature of these centuries. Regional languages such as Marathi, Gujarati and Bangla developed from the dialects spoken by the common people. This development was accelerated by the Bhakti saints, who preached in vernacular languages.

South India Sanskrit and other regional languages, such as Tamil, Telugu and Kannada prospered under the Cholas. Many literary and religious works were translated into these languages. Kamban translated the Ramayana into Tamil. Nannayya and Tikkana translated the Mahabharata into Telugu. Kannada was enriched by the writings of Pampa, Ponna and Ranna, popularly known as the three jewels of Kannada which also became popular because the Lingayats preached in it. In the later centuries, these regional languages became centred in different parts of south India.

The Sultanate Period

Regional languages flourished during this period. This was largely because of the Bhakti saints, who preached in the language which was used in the region where they lived. The two forms of Hindi-Braj and Avadhi, became popular. Other regional languages that developed were Punjabi, Gujarati, Bangla, Marathi, Oriya, Assamese, Sindhi, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Tamil. The Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata came to be translated in different regional languages.

Persian was introduced in India by the Turks. It continued to remain important for more than eight centuries. In course of time, Persian and Hindi fused to give birth to a new languageUrdu. The word ‘Urdu’ means camp. The new language was called a camp language because it evolved and developed in the camps of soldiers. They came from all parts of the country and spoke their native languages. There was an urgent need to develop a common language which could be understood and spoken by all. Urdu developed to fill in this need. Sanskrit came to be used on ceremonial occasions.

The Mughal period

Persian was the official language of the Mughal Empire. All administrative records were maintained in Persian. The proceedings of the court were also in this language. Akbar had the Mahabharata and the Ramayana translated into Persian. Famous books in Arabic and Turkish were also translated into Persian. Many original works in this language were also written.

Hindi also developed as an important language. Towards the end of the empire, Urdu became an important language for literary expression. Mirza Ghalib was a pioneering Urdu poet.

Literature in Early Medieval Period

Literature prospered because it was patronised by kings of all the dynasties that ruled during the medieval period.

North India Most literary works of the period are in Sanskrit. Katha-saritasagara, a collection of stories, is a popular work in Sanskrit. Among historical works, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini is important. It is the history of Kashmir and its rulers. Jayadeva composed a beautiful poem on the love of Krishna and Radha. It is called Gita Govinda. Biographies of kings were also written. Bilhana’s Vikramankadeva-charita is a good example.

South India Literary activity prospered under the Cholas. A remarkable feature of this period was the growth of regional literature. The Tamil saints composed their works in Tamil and other languages. Kamban translated the Ramayana into Tamil. Many works were composed in Kannada also. During this period, the Mahabharata was also translated into Telugu.

The Sultanate Period

The literature of the period consisted of translations as well as original works. Famous Sanskrit works were translated into many regional languages, and into Persian and Arabic. Famous original works include that of Amir Khusrau in Persian, Srinadha’s Haravilasa in Telugu, Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat in Hindi and the poems of Vidyapati in Maithili.

Vijayanagar Kingdom

Literature progressed in the kingdom of Vijaynagar. The rulers encouraged Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Sayana wrote commentaries on the Vedas. Krishnadeva Raya himself, was a great Telugu and Sanskrit scholar. He composed a poem called Amuktamalyada in Telugu. He patronised manylearned men in his court. This included the eight great Telugu scholars, collectively called the ‘Ashtadiggaja’.

The Mughal Period

Akbar encouraged the growth of literature. He had Abul Fazl and Faizi, two great scholars, in his court. Abul Fazl wrote the Akbarnama, a biography of Akbar. Ain-i-Akbari is a part of Akbarnama.

Akbar patronised Hindi and Persian poets. His reign shows a tremendous growth in Hindi literature. Vallabhcharya, Keshavdasa, Rahim, Tulsidas and Surdas were the famous Hindi poets of this time. The dohas composed by Rahim are still recited. Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitamanas. Many books in Persian were also written during this period.

The other Mughal emperors also patronised learning and literature. Persian was the court language. Jahangir’s memoirs, Tuzuk-i-Zahangiri, is in Persian. Abdul Hamid Lahori wrote Padshahnamah. Dara Shikoh translated the Bhagwad Gita and the Upanishads into Persian. A number of dictionaries in Persian were also composed.

Hindi literature prospered during this period. The poetry of Sant Kabir and Tulsidas became very popular. Sur Sagar of Surdas, Prem Vatika of Raskhan and Satsai of Bihari were the important works in Hindi literature.

Urdu literature also developed. In the eighteenth century, Delhi and Lucknow became the main centres of Urdu poetry and literature.


Leave a Reply