Suniti Kumar Chatterji's
"Languages and Literatures of India (Cultural Heritage of India Volume
V)" with an introduction by K M Munshi is a comprehensive and illuminating
investigation of India's rich linguistic and literary past. This prestigious
book digs into the various languages and literary traditions that have evolved
over the Indian subcontinent. Chatterji methodically investigates the
development, effects, and contributions of these languages and their connected
literatures with scholarly expertise and profound insights. This book is an
exceptional resource for researchers, language enthusiasts, and cultural
enthusiasts, providing a deeper understanding and appreciation of India's
linguistic and literary fabric.
From The Jacket
The Present volume attempts to make a systematic study of India's great literary heritage preserved in various languages of the country, old as well as modern. A perusal of the forty-nine articles in this volume enables one to appreciate the basic phenomenon that despite various diversities-geographical, political, ethnographical, and linguistic-the fundamental unity of India clearly shines forth, and India since time immemorial has formed a solid single unit not only on the cultural plane, but also on the intellectual and literary.
The Volume is indeed an encyclopaedia in its scope and range, and it will certainly provide an authentic and valuable contribution towards the study of Indian languages and literatures in their glory and grandeur; it will also afford a spectacular display of the genius of India reflected in various branches of knowledge. It is needless to add that the literary heritage of India constitutes a priceless possession covetable to any nation, however great it may be, by any standard.
The Cultural Heritage Of India
Volume I: The Early Phases
Volume II: Itihasas, Puranas, Dharma And Other Sastras
Volume III: The Philosophies
Volume IV: The Religions
Volume V: Languages And Literatures
Volume VI: Science And Literatures
Volume VI: Science And Technology
The First volume, with an Introduction by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Includes contributions by thirty one scholars about early Indian life and culture. It traces the growth of the two great Indian ideals-unity in diversity and divinity of man (pp. lxiv+652 & 9 illustrations).
The Second volume, with an Introduction by Dr. C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar and Contributions from thirty-eight scholars, reaffirms India's ideals and shows how they bind together diverse races into a common pattern (pp. xxviii + 738).
The Third volume, with an Introduction by Dr Surendranath Dasgupta and contributions from thirty-five scholars, presents Indian philosophy in its different aspects. Again a thread of unity is discernible among the (pp. xxi + 695 & illustrations).
The Fifth volume carries an Introduction by Dr. K. M. Munshi and contributions from fifty other scholars. It deals with the literary heritage of India right from the Vedic times. The volume elaborately brings out the basic unity of Indian culture and civilization through the fusion of Sanskrit and Sanskritic languages with the Dravidian, Austri, and Sino-Tibetan languages (pp. xxv + 839)
The sixth volume, with an Introduction by Dr Raja Ramanna and contributions from twenty-nine other distinguished scientists, presents a connected account of India's achievements in science and technology (pp. xx + 550 & 25 Illustrations).
This is the first and at present the only systematic, and so far as it goes, authoritative encyclopaedia of Indian culture. The printing and the get-up are simply superb. -The Philosophical Quarterly, India.
One of the most notable enterprises of its kind yet attempted in any Asiatic country reached fruition in India recently with the publication of three volumes in which a survey is made of the whole field of Indian religion, history, and culture. - The Straits Times, Singapore, S. S.
The Cultural Heritage of India is a monumental compendium of the treasures of Indian thought of centuries. - Romain Rolland
The volumes are a contribution of the highest value to all students of Indian thought. - Professor A. B. Keith, Edinburgh.
I feel positive that the publication of these volumes will prove to be of great service not only to India, but also to the rest of the world, where ignorance of India and Indian culture has been a very great obstacle to the due appreciation of the part played by India and Indians in the civilization and progress of the world. -General J. B. M. Hertzog, sometime Prime Minister of the union of South Africa.
A work that is encyclopaedic in scope. The vigour with which India is asserting her individuality and cultural importance points towards a renaissance that will enrich not only India, but the rest of the world as well. -The New York Times, New York.
We get from this encyclopaedic book the impression of a people who at their best display the most exquisite refinement of feeling, the subtlest grace, the nicest delicacy. And it may happen that it will be to India, as well as to Palestine, that we shall have to look for the spirit which will unite men in building a Kingdom of God upon earth. - The Time Literary Supplement, London.
The Present volume fifth of the celebrated series, The Cultural Heritage of India, published by the Ramakrishna Mission institute of Culture, attempts to make a systematic study of India's great literary heritage preserved in various languages of the country, old as well as modern. A perusal of the articles in this volume enables one to appreciate the basic phenomenon that despite various diversities-geographical, political, ethnographical, and linguistic-the fundamental unity of India clearly shines forth, and India since time immemorial has formed solid single unit not only on the cultural plane, but also on the intellectual and literary.
Indian life and thought and Indian literature in ancient, medieval, and modern times (until very recently) have remained imbedded in the Upanisads, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas. Without a knowledge and appreciation of these, no knowledge and appreciation of Indian literature, even for the modern age, is possible. These great works have exercised a tremendous fascination on the Indian mind for some 2,000 years and more, and left a profound influence on all Indian literatures. In fact, these works are India: and in all the languages of India and their literatures, it is the content and the spirit of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas, with the Upanisads and Dharma-sastras in the background, that have found and are still finding their full play and their natural abode. They have moulded the life and literature of India and constitute the greatest literary heritage of the country. The cultural unity of India, ancient, medieval, and modern, has been primarily nurtured through them. There is, besides, the huge corpus of literature in Sanskrit that has grown round the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy and various other aspects of human knowledge and interest, to which scholars and writers from different parts of India had contributed. This 'matter' of ancient India or of the Sanskrit world forms the bed-rock of the medieval and modern literatures in most of the modern languages of India. Even a brief perusal of the histories of Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu literature, as well as of those which have not been as yet recognized in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution (viz. Maithili, Magahi, Bhojpuri, Nepali and Rajasthani), will show that, looming behind all these literatures not only as their background but also as their perpetual inspirer and feeder, there are the towering mountains of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas (especially the Bhagavata Purana) and the philosophy of the Vedanta as in the Upanisads and the Bhagavad-Gita, the ideologies and the ritualism of the Yoga and Bhakti and of the Dharma-sastras, and the poetry of the classic writers of Sanskrit like Kalidasa, Banabhatta, and Bhavabhuti. (There is no lack of the 'matter' of the Sanskrit world in Sindhi, Kashmiri Urdu, and even Tamil, either; but it is there in a comparatively restricted measure.) There are of course the special gifts of the Jaina and Buddhist literatures, which are also regarded as priceless treasures of India, but the influence of the Brahmanical literature of ancient India remains supreme. The streams of the Jaina and Buddhist Literatures easily and naturally merged into the wider 'Hindu', i. e. Brahmanical-cum-Jaina and Buddhist atmosphere, bringing some of their own elements to extend and diversify as well as unify the whole. One of the salient features of almost all the modern Indian languages is that they follow more or less the same pattern in the process of their literary development and growth. Thus, it may be said that if one passes from one modern Indian literature into another, there will be no sense of entering into a different climate. And this will be still more true if one passes from Sanskrit literature into that of any modern Indian language.
Indian literature, like Indian civilization, is marked by its spirit of acceptance and assimilation. It has imbibed any features from other literatures over the centuries. In the modern period, many features of Western literature have found a welcome entry in the literature of this country. It may be asked to what extent the 'matter' of Islam has been assimilated in Indian literature, Sufistic Islam had many points in common with the Vedanta and Yoga and the essentials of higher Hinduism. The way of the Sufi (Sufiyana tariqa) was, therefore, easily successful in bringing to the Hindus a closer understanding of Islam and vice versa. Through Sufism we find a considerable amount of spiritual understanding between Hindus and Muslims all over the country. Thus in literature, although the divergences in religious practices of the Hindu and the Muslim, when each tried to be specially orthodox in his own way, have been noticed, there have been the spirit of laissez-faire and a broad spirit of tolerance and compromise and integration which have never been absent in Indian literature.
The real integration of India into one single entity, in spite of some basic and fundamental racial, linguistic, and cultural diversities has taken place through the Upanisads, the epics, the Puranas, the Dharma-sastras, and the philosophical literature in Sanskrit, in the ancient and medieval times; and on this integration stand the cultural oneness and the political unity of India.
This has been strengthened during the last one hundred and fifty years by the impact of the mind of Europe on the Indian mind through the literature of English; and the inestimable service of this last in modernizing the mind of India and making it once again conscious of its great heritage of the past and of its stupendous unity cannot be too highly rated. English has been one of the greatest gifts of the modern age to India. The results of this we find in all the modern Indian Literatures.
India is a multi-racial, multi-lingual, and multi-religious country, and in spite of this diversity in racial type, speech, and religious outlook, there has been all through history for the last 3,000 years a great tendency towards an integration of these diverse elements-integration into one single type, which can be called pan-Indian. Of course, there has not been in many cases a complete assimilation. But the various elements have had their interplay in the evolution of Indian life, culture, and religion, as well as to a large extent of a common Indian physical type as of a common Indian mentality.
The Indian people, composed of diverse racial elements, now speak languages belonging to four distinct speech families-the Aryan, the Dravidian, the Sino-Tibetan (or Mongoloid), and the Austric. It has been suggested by some that over and above these four groups, there might have been one or two more-there seems to be some evidence from linguistics for this idea. But nothing definitely has yet been found, and we are quite content to look upon these four groups as the basic ones in the Indian scene. People speaking languages belonging to the above four families of speech at first presented distinct culture groups; and the Aryans in ancient India were quite conscious of that. Following to some extent the Sanskrit or Indo-Aryan nomenclature in this matter, the four main 'language-culture' groups of India, namely, the Aryan, the Dravidian, the Sino-Tibetan, and the Austric, can also be labeled respectively as Arya. Dramida or Dravida, Kirata, and Nasada. Indian civilization, as already said, has elements from all these groups, and basically it is pre-Aryan, with important Aryan modifications within as well as Aryan super-structure at the top. In the four type of speech represented by these, there were, to start with, fundamental differences in formation and vocabulary, in sounds and in syntax. But languages belonging to these four families have lived and developed side by side for 3,000 years and more, and have influenced each other profoundly-particularly the Aryan, the Dravidian, and the Austric speeches; and this has led to either a general evolution, or mutual imposition, in spite of original differences, of some common characteristics, which may be called specifically Indian and which are found in most languages belonging to all these families: e.g. the cerebral or retroflex sounds of t, d, r, n, and l; the use of 'post-positions' in the declension of the noun; points of similarity in the structure of the verb; compound verbs; 'echo-words'; etc.
Of these linguistic and cultural groups, the Aryan is the most important, both numerically and intrinsically. As a matter of fact, Indian civilization has found its expression primarily through the Aryan speech as it developed over the centuries-through Vedic Sanskrit (Old Indo-Aryan), then Classical Sanskrit, then Early Middle Indo-Aryan dialects like Pali and Old Ardha-Magadhi, then Buddhist and Jaina Sanskrit and after that the various Prakrits and Apabhramsas, and finally in the last phase, the different Modern Indo-Aryan languages of the country. The hymns and poems collected in the four Vedas, probably sometime during the tenth century B. C., represent the earliest stage of the Aryan speech in India, known as the Old Indo-Aryan. Of these again, the language of the Rg-Vedic hymns gives us the oldest specimens of the speech. From the Punjab, the original nidus of the Aryans in India, Aryan speech spread east along the valley of the Ganga, and by 600 B. C., it was well established throughout the whole of the northern Indian plains up to the eastern borders of Bihar. The non-Aryan Dravidian and Austric dialects (and in some places the Sino-Tibetan speeches too) yielded place to the Aryan language, which, both through natural change and through it adoption by a larger and larger number of people alien to it, began to be modified in many ways; and this modification was largely along the lines of the Dravidian and Austric speeches. The Aryan speech entered in this way into a new stage of development, first in eastern India (Bihar and the eastern U. P. tracts) and then elsewhere. The Punjab, with a larger proportion of born Aryan-speakers, remained true to the spirit of the older Vedic speech-the Old Indo-Aryan-to the last, to even as late as the third century B. C., and possibly still later. This new stage of development, which became established during the middle of the first millennium B. C., is known as that of Middle Indo-Aryan or Prakrit. The spoken dialects of Aryan continued to have their own lines of development in the different parts of North India, and these were also spreading over Sind, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and northern Deccan, as well as Bengal and the sub-Himalayan regions. The whole country in North, East, and central India was thus becoming Aryanized through the spread of the Prakrit or Middle Indo-Aryan dialects.
While spoken forms of the Aryan speech of this second stage were spreading among the masses in this way, a younger form of the Vedic speech was established by the Brahmanas in northern Punjab and in the 'Midland' (i.e. present day eastern U. P.) as a fixed literary language, during the sixth-fifth centuries B. C. This younger form of Vedic or Old Indo-Aryan, which was established just when the Middle Indo-Aryan (Prakrit) dialects were taking shape, later came to be known as Sanskrit or Classical Sanskrit. Sanskrit became one of the greatest languages of Indian civilization, and it has been the greatest vehicle of Indian culture for the last 2,500 years (or for the last 3,000 years, if we take if we take its older form Vedic also). Its history-that of Vedic-cum-Sanskrit-as a language of religion and culture has been longer than that of any other language-with the exception possibly of written Chinese and Hebrew. It may be noted that Vedic and later (Classical) Sanskrit stand in the same relation to each other as do Homeric and Attick Greek. Sanskrit spread with the spread of Hindu or ancient Indian culture (of mixed Austric, Mongoloid, Dravidian, and Aryan origin) beyond the frontiers of India: and by A. D. 400, it became a great cultural link over the greater part of Asia, from Bali, Java, and Borneo in the South-East to Central Asia in the North-West, China too falling within its sphere of influence. Gradually, it acquired a still wider currency in the other countries of Asia wherever Indian religion (Buddhism and Brahmanism) was introduced or adopted. A great literature was built up in Sanskrit-epics of national import, belles' letters of various sorts including the drama, technical literature, philosophical treatises-every department of life and thought came to be covered by the literature of Sanskrit. The range and variety of "Sanskrit literature is indeed an astonishing phenomenon, unmistakably testifying to the uniquencess of the wisdom and genius of the ancient Indian masterminds and the expressiveness of the language in a style which has been universally acclaimed as one of the richest and the most elegant the world has ever seen.
The various Prakrits or Middle Indo-Aryan dialects continued to develop and expand. Some of these were adopted by Buddhist and Jaina sects in ancient India as their sacred canonical languages, notably Pali among the Buddhists (of the Hinayana school) and Ardha-Magadhi among the Jains. The Literature produced in these languages particularly in Pali (and also Gandhari Prakrit) migrated to various Asian countries where original contributions in them came into existence. The process of simplification of the Aryan speech, which began with the Second or Middle Indo-Aryan stage, continued, and by A. D. 600 we come to the last phase of Middle Indo-Aryan, known as the Apabhramsa stage. Further modification of the regional Apabhramsas of the period A. D. 600-1000 gave rise, with the beginning of the second millennium A.D., to the New Indo Aryan or Modern Indo-Aryan Languages, or bhasas, which are Current at the Present day.
The New Indo-Aryan languages, coming ultimately from Vedic Sanskrit (or 'Sanskrit', in a loose way), are closely relate to each other, like the Neo-Romanic languages derived out of Latin. It is believed that in spite of local differences in the various forms of Meddle Indo-Aryan, right up to the New Indo-Aryan development, there was a sort of pan-Indian vulgar or koine form of Prakrit or Middle Indo-Aryan. But local differences in Middle Indo-Aryan grew more and more pronounced during the centuries round about A. D. 1000, and this led to the provincial New Indo-Aryan languages taking shape and being born. Taking into consideration these basic local characteristics, the New Indo-Aryan speeches have been classified into a number of local groups, viz. (i) North-Western group, (ii) Southern group, (iii) Eastern group, (iv) East-Central or Mediate group, (v) Central group, and (vi) Northern or Himalayan group. The major languages of the New or Modern Indo-Aryan speech family are: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Urdu. Kashmiri, one of the major modern Indian languages, belongs to the Dardic branch of the Indo-Iranian group within the Aryan family. Although Dardic by origin, Kashmiri came very early under the profound influence of Sanskrit and the later Prakrits which greatly modified its Dardic bases. Most scholars now think that Dardic is just a branch of Indo-Aryan.
Dravidian is the second important language family of India and has some special characteristics of its own. After the Aryan speech, it has very largely functioned as the exponent of Indian culture, particularly the earlier secular as well as religious literature of Tamil. It forms a solid bloc in South India, embracing the four great literary languages, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu and a number of less important speeches all of which are, however, overshadowed by the main four. It is believed that the wonderful city civilization of Sind and South Punjab as well as Baluchistan (fourth-third millennium B. C.) was the work of Dravidian speakers. But we cannot be absolutely certain in this matter, so long as the inscribed seals from the city ruins in those areas like Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, etc. remain undeciphered. The art of writing would appear to have been borrowed from the pre-Aryan Sind and South Punjab people the beginnings of the Brahmi alphabet, the characteristic Indian system of writing connected with Sanskrit and Prakrit in pre-Christian centuries, may be traced.
The Dravidian speech in its antiquity in India is older than Aryan, and yet (leaving apart the problematical writings on the seals found in Sind and South Punjab city ruins) the specimens of connected Dravidian writing or literature that we can read and understand are over a millennium later than the oldest Aryan documents. Of the four great Dravidian languages, Tamil has preserved its Dravidian character best, retaining, though not the old sound system of primitive Dravidian, a good deal of its original nature in its roots, forms, and words. The other three cultivated Dravidian speeches have, in the matter of their words of higher culture, completely surrendered themselves to Sanskrit, the classical and sacred language of Hindu India. Tamil has a unique and a very old literature, and the beginnings of it go back to about 2,000 years from now. Malayalam as a language is an offshoot of Old Tamil. From the ninth century A. D. some Malayalam characteristics begin to appear, but it is from the fifteenth century that Malayalam literature is almost as old as Tamil; and although we have some Telugu inscriptions dating from the sixth/seventh century A. D., the literary career of Telugu started from the eleventh century. Tamil and Malayalam are very close to each other, and are mutually intelligible to a certain extent. Kannada also bears a great resemblance to Tamil and Malayalam. Only Telugu has deviated a good deal from its southern neighbours and sisters. But Telugu and Kannada use practically the same alphabet, which is thus a bond of union between these two languages.
Peoples of Mongoloid origin, speaking languages of the Sino-Tibetan family, were present in India at least as early as the tenth century B. ., when the four Vedas appear to have been compiled. The Sino-Tibetan languages do not have much numerical importance or cultural significance in India, with the exception of Manipuri or Meithei of Manipur. Everywhere they are gradually receding before the Aryan languages like Bengali and Assamese. The Austric languages represent the oldest speech family of India, but they are spoken by a very small number of people, comparatively. The Austric languages of India have a great interest for the student of linguistics and human culture. They are valuable relics of India's past, and they link up India with Burma, with Indo-China, with Malaya, and with Indonesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. Their solidarity is; however, broken as in most places there has been penetration into Austric blocs by the more powerful Aryan speeches with their overwhelming numbers and their prestige. Speakers of Austric in all the walks of life (they are mostly either farmers, or farm and plantation, or colliery labourers) know some Aryan language. In some cases they have become very largely bilingual. Their gradual Aryanization is a process which started some 3,000 years ago when the first Austrics (and Mongoloids as well as Dravidians) in North India started to abandon their native speech for Aryan. But in the process of abandoning their own language and accepting a new one, namely the Aryan, the Austrics (as well as the Dravidians and the Sino-Tibetans) naturally introduced some of their own speech habits and their own words into Aryan. In this way, the Austrics and other non-Aryan peoples helped to modify the character of the Aryan speech in India, from century to century, and even to build up Classical Sanskrit as the great culture speech of India. As the speakers of the Sino-Tibetan and Austric languages had been in a backward state living mostly a rather primitive life in out-of-the-way places, their languages do not show any high literary development excepting, as already said, in the case of Meithei or Manipuri belonging to Sino-Tibetan, which has quite a noteworthy and fairly old literature. They had, however, some kind of village or folk-culture, connected with which there developed in all these languages an oral literature consisting of folk-songs, religious and otherwise, of folk-tales, and of their legends and traditions. And a literature, mainly of Christian inspiration, has been created in some of these speeches by translating the Bible in its entirety or in part. Songs, legends, and tales of the Austric languages have been collected and published, particularly in Santali and Mundari, and in Khasi. Munda and Santali lyrics give pretty, idyllic glimpses of tribal life, some of the Munda love poems having a rare freshness about them; and a number of Santali folk-tales are very beautiful. A few of the folk-tales prevalent in the Sino-Tibetan speeches are also beautiful (e.g. the Mikir tale of a young man who had a god's daughter as his bride, and the Kachari story of a young man who got a swan-maiden as his wife), but they do not appear to compare favourably with the Santali and Mundari languages in the matter of both lyric poems and stories. A systematic study of these languages started only during the nineteenth century when European missionaries and scholars got interested in them. I have discussed in detail the speeches of the Sino-Tibetan and Austric families prevalent in the country in my contribution to this volume, entitled 'Adivasi Languages and Literatures of India.
There is, as already said, a fundamental unity in the literary types, genres, and expressions among all the modern languages of India in their early, medieval, and modern developments. The reason of this unique phenomenon is that there has been a gradual convergence of Indian Languages belonging to the different linguistic families, Aryan, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, and Austric, towards a common Indian type after their intimate contact with each other for at least 3,000 years.
This volume of The cultural Heritage of India is indeed an encyclopaedia in its scope and range, and it will certainly provide an authentic and valuable contribution towards the study of Indian languages and literatures in their glory and grandeur; it will also afford a spectacular display of the genius of India reflected in various branches of knowledge. It is needless to add that the literary heritage of India constitutes a priceless possession covetable to any nation, however great it may be by any standard.
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