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Literature is only a reflection of the national mind of a people.

Indians have always worshipped "sacred utterances" (Brih) as divinities incarnates. Story telling has, moreover, been a fine Indian art since the creation of epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, more than 3,000 years old. Thanks to the prodigious powers of memory Brahmins have captivated countless attentive ears with tales of gods and demons, heroes and villains enrapturing village audiences of every age and stage of life to this day. Valmiki, author of the Ramayana, was a wandering bard inspired to recite his great Epic when he saw a hunter shoot down a dove, and watched its heartbroken mate fly in anguished circles over that corpse. Valmiki was so moved by what he saw that he sat pondering the cruelty and poignant beauty of life until his body was covered with an anthill.

``Indian literature alone has been able to blend successfully the best features of tradition with modern concepts. Although deeply bound to tradition, it offers answers to contemporary issues and problems' says Dr. Martin Kampchen, the German writer.

Kalidasa, who lived in the reign of Chandragupta II, who named his greatest work for its heroine, Shakuntala. The best Sanskrit work of dramatic art, has been translated into every major language and is almost as as well known outside India as the Mahabharata is. As the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German Poet, Dramatist, Novelist himself put it after first reading Shakuntala

"Wills du den Himmel, die Erfe, mit einem Namen begreifen; Nenn'ich, Shakuntala, Dich, und so is Alles gesagt." ("Would you capture heaven and earth with a single name? I say to you then, Shakuntala, and all is said!") The idea of giving a prologue to Faust is said to have originated from Kalidasa's prologue, which was in accordance with the usual tradition of the Sanskrit drama.

In Russia part of Kalidasa's play Shakuntala was translated by Nikolai Karamzin in 1792-1793. In the preface of this publication Karamzin wrote that the play contained poetry of outstanding beauty and was an example of the highest art.

(source: A History of India - By K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, and G. Kotovsky Moscow, Volume I and II 1973 p. 169).

The Sakuntala furor has lasted till almost today. One of the noblest "overtures" in European music is the Sakuntala overture of the Hungarian composer Carl Goldmark (1830-1915).

(source: Creative India - By Benoy Kumar Shenoy p. 110).

H. H. Wilson who used to be professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University, has said:

"It is impossible to conceive language so beautifully musical or so magnificently grand, as that of the verses of Kalidasa.'"

(source: The Discovery of India - By Jawaharlal Nehru Oxford University Press ISBN: 0195623592 p 160 ).

Soviet historians, K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, and G. Kotovsky, authors of A History of India, Moscow, Volume I and II 1973, refer to work of Kalidasa:

"one of the pearls of ancient Indian literature." and as "an illustrious page of history of world's culture."

(source: A History of India - By K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, and G. Kotovsky Moscow, Volume I and II 1973 p. 169).

Of all these Muslim scholars, Alberuni (AD 973 - 1048), a Muslim scholar, mathematician and master of Greek and Hindu system astrology, wrote twenty books. He left the most detailed accounts of India's civilization. In the introduction to his translation of Alberuni's famous book, Indica, the Arabic scholar Edward Sachau summarizes how India was the source of considerable Arabic culture:
“The foundations of Arabic literature was laid between AD 750 and 850. It is only the tradition relating to their religion and prophet and poetry that is peculiar to the Arabs; everything else is of foreign descent… Greece, Persia, and India were taxed to help the sterility of the Arab mind… What India has contributed reached Baghdad by two different roads. Part has come directly in translations from the Sanskrit, part has traveled through Eran, having originally been translated from Sanskrit (Pali? Prakrit?) into Persian, and farther from Persian into Arabic. In this way, e.g. the fables of Kalila and Dimna have been communicated to the Arabs, and book on medicine, probably the famous Caraka.”

(source: Alberuni (AD 973 - 1048), a Muslim scholar, mathematician and master of Greek and Hindu system astrology, wrote twenty books. In his seminal work, "Indica" (c. 1030 AD). he wrote Alberuni's India - by Edward Sachau. Low Price Publications, New Delhi, 1993. (Reprint). First published 1910 -- translated in 1880s.)

Long before Kalidasa, another famous play was produced - Shudraka's "Mrichhkatika" or Clay Cart, a tender rather artificial play, and yet with a reality which moves us and gives us a glimpse into the mind and civilization of the day. The Little Clay Cart offers interesting insight into Guptan society and ancient Indian legal procedures, and its poor hero, Charudatta, is human enough to fall hopelessly in love with a courtesan.

An English translation of Shudraka’s “Mrichhkatika” was staged in New York in 1924.

Mr. Joseph Wood Krutch, (1893-1970) the dramatic critic for The Nation, and author of The Measure of Man on Freedom Human Values, Survival and the Modern Temper. He wrote of the play as follows:

“Here, if anywhere, the spectator will be able to see a genuine example of that pure art theatre of which theorists talk, and here, too, he will be led to meditate upon that real wisdom of the East which lied not in esoteric doctrine but in a tenderness far deeper and truer than that of the traditional Christianity which has been so thoroughly corrupted by the hard righteousness of Hebraism …..A play wholly artificial yet profoundly moving because it is not realistic but real….Whoever the author may have been, and whether he lived in the fourth century or the eighth, he was a good man and wise with the goodness and wisdom which comes not from the lips or the smoothly flowing pen of the moralist but from the heart. An exquisite sympathy with the fresh beauty of youth and love tempered his serenity, and he was old enough to understand that a light-hearted story of ingenious complication could be made the vehicle of tender humanity and confident goodness….Such a play can be produced only by a civilization which has reached stability; when a civilization has thought its way through all the problems it faces, it must come to rest upon something calm and na´ve like this. Macbeth and Othello, however great and stirring they might be, are barbarous heroes because the passionate tumult of Shakespeare is the tumult produced by the conflict between a newly awakened sensibility and a series of ethical concepts inherited from the savage age. The realistic drama of our own time is a product of a like confusion; but when problems are settled, and when passions are reconciled with the decisions of an intellect, then form alone remains….Nowhere in our European past do we find, this side the classics, a work more completely civilized.”

(source: The Discovery of India - By Jawaharlal Nehru Oxford University Press ISBN: 0195623592 p. 164).

For more information on Indian literature, please refer to the chapter on Sanskrit.











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