Marathi Literature

Marathi literature is a Sanskrit-derived language spoken mainly in the Indian state Maharashtra and written in the Devanagari script.

Yadava Period: The early Marathi literature was written during the Yadava period (850- 1312). It was mostly religious and philosophical in nature. It started with the writings of the saint-poets belonging to Mahanubhava and Warkari sects.

Shaskarbhatta Borikar is the first known poet who composed hymns in Marathi. Mukundraj’s Vivek Sindhu, with its 18 chapters and 1671 verses, is considered as the first major book in Marathi literature. He also composed Param Amrit which consists of 14 chapters and 303 verses. Both the works deal with the Advaita philosophy.

Dhyaneswar (1275-1296) was a prominent Marathi literary figure. His major works are Amrutanubhav and Bhavartha Deepika. The latter contains 9000 couplets on the Bhagavad Gita and long couplets on Saint Namdev.

Sultanate Period: The Bahmani Sultanate (1347-1527) and the Bijapur Sultanate (1527-1686) had relatively little activity in patronising Marathi literature. The Warkari saint-poet Eknath (1533-1599), the main successor of Dhyaneswar, was a major Marathi literary figure during this period. He wrote several abhangs (devotional poems), narratives and some minor works that dealt with the Bhagavata Purana. He also wrote Bhavarth Ramayan, Rukmini Suayamvar, Bharud, etc. However, Khrista Purana was written by the Goa-based missionary Thomas Stephens in a mixed language of Marathi and Konkani, It was first published in 1616 in the Roman script, and tells the story of Jesus Christ.

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Maratha Period: When the Marathi-speaking people formed their own kingdom in the 17th century, the development of the Marathi literature accelerated remarkably. Although their leader Shivaji was coronated in 1674, he had been in power since earlier. Tukaram and Samarth Ramdas were the well-known poets of the early Maratha period. Tukaram (1608-1650) was the most prominent Marathi Warkari spiritual poet identified with the Bhakti movement an had a great influence on the later Maratha society. His contemporary Samarth Ramdas composed Dasbodh and Manache Shlok in Marathi. In the 18th century, several well-known works like Yathartha Deepika by Vaman Pandit, Nala-Damayanti Swaymvara by Raghunath Pandit, Pandava Pratap, Harivijay, Ramvijay by Shridhar Pandit and Mahabharata translated by Moropant were produced. The historical section of the old Marathi literature contained the Bakhars and the Kauravas. Krishna Dayaram and Sridhar were other leading poets during the Peshwa rule.

British Period: The first Marathi grammar and dictionary were compiled in 1829 by the pandits and Shastri’s employed during the reign of M. Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay. The Christian missionaries introduced Western forms to the Marathi literature. The first English book was translated in Marathi in 1817. The first Marathi newspaper started in 1835. Many books on social reforms were written by Baba Padmaji, Jyotiba Phule, Gopal Hari Deshmukh, M. G. Ranade, Harinarayan Apte and others.

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At this time Marathi dramas began to flourish. The first play was V. A. Bhave’s Sita Swayamvar in 1843. Later Kirloskar and G.B. Deval brought out a romantic aroma and social impact. K.P. Khadilkar set the trend of political playwriting. These were followed by stalwarts like R. G. Gadkari and Prahlad Keshar Atre. The modern Marathi poetry started with Joytiba Phule’s compositions. The later poets like Keshavastu, Balakavi, Gobinda Ray, and Ravi Kiran wrote poetry influenced by romantic and Victorian English poetry. They were largely sentimental and lyrical. Sane Guruji (1899-1950) contributed to the children’s literature in Marathi. His major works are Shyamchi Aai, Astik and Gode Shehata. He translated and simplified many Western classics and published them in a book of stories titled Gode Goshti (sweet stories).

Post-independence Period: Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar (1889-1976) won the Jnanpith Award in 1975 for his novel Yayati. He also wrote many other novels, short stories, essays, etc. The Marathi drama flourished between the 1960s and 1970s, with literary figures like Vasant Kantekar, Kusumagraj and Vijay Tendulkar.

The major paradigm shift began with the Avant-garde modern poetry of B.S. Mardhekar. The Little Magazine movement gained momentum in the mid-fifties. Dalit literary movement also gained strength, influenced by the philosophy of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Balachandra Nemade is a well-known novelist, critic and poet. Sharad Rane is a well-known figure in child ren’s literature. The notable poets include Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, Namdeo Dhasal, etc. Vilas Sarang and Shyam Manohar are well-known fiction-writers.

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Another major paradigm shift in Marathi literature began in the nineteen nineties with modern aspects. In the post-nineties, the ‘New Little Magazine Movement’ gained momentum, and poets like Manya Joshi, Hemant Divate, Sachin Kalkar, M.N. Kale, Nitin Kulkarni, touched the new areas of post-modern life. Marathi science fiction has a rich heritage and boasts of modern complex stories.