Gujarati language evolved from one of the dialects of the standard Gurjara Apabhramsha and got a distinctive form by the 12th century. The history of Gujarati literature falls into four broad periods: 1) 1250-1456, 2) 1456-1650, 3)1650-1825 and 4) 1825-1975.
By about 1250 Gujarat became an individual political unit with considerable achievements in art and literature. Sanskrit was cultivated and libraries were established in the monasteries. Saivism became strong. Heroic romance, historical chronical and the romantic tales are the principle narrative forms of the early period. Rasa, originally a folk dance was converted into a melodious dramatic poetry by Jain authors.
Phagu, a more lyrical and shorter poem became popular. Jinapadmasuri, Rajshekharasuri and Jayashekharasuri (all of the 14th century) were important poets who popularized Phagu. Romantic tales in verse were also in vogue. The Jain scholars took to writing in prose which was elegant and simple. Prithvichandra (1422) by Maniksundarasuri is a reputed work of poetical prose.
In the second period, Hinduism takes the place of Jainism at the source of literary expression. The epics and puranas flow into Gujarati. The great poets of the period are Narsimha and Mirabai. Narsimha Mehta(1414-1480), though not the first Gujarati poet, is considered to be the father of Gujarati poetry. His Govinda Gamana and Sudama Charita are very well known.
Mirabai (1499-1547) is the most celebrated woman poetess of India. Her bridal devotion to Lord Krishna has a ring of purity and is a fine example of the sublimation of the sex element. After that comes Bhalana (1434-1514), the great scolar and artist who has adapted Kadambari, Nalakhyana and Ramabalacharita. Balanas prose work Kadambari has been rendered in a versified form.
Nakara (1500-1575) and Vishnudasa (1564-1632) enriched the Akhyana literature.The Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas were brought in an assimilable form by them. Akho (1591-1656) of Ahmedabad was the champion of Vedantic poetry.
Thus we come to the third period when Akbar formed the province of Gujarat separating it from Marvad. Premanand is the finest poet of this period. He brought the Akhayana technique to perfection. The 16th century was rich in romantic tales which were written both by Jain and non-Jain poets alike.
We thus come to the modern period where the impact of the west is clearly seen in the literary productions. Dalpatram (1820-1898) and Narmad (1833-86) were the leaders of this new age. Namdashankara's Karana Ghelo (1866) is the first novel in Gujarati. But the most celebrated novel Saraswatidhandra (1887-1901) in four volumes came from the pen of Govardhanram Tripathi. It is considered to be one of the great classics of modern India. It is a love story with social and spiritual relevance. In the field of fiction, we have the stalwart, K.M.Munshi. He is the author of several historical and social novels and a master of Gujarati prose.
Coming to the contemporary period, Gujarati flourished in all genres of literature, the most outstanding poets are Sundaram and Umashankar Joshi. Kavyamangala and Yatra are considered major collections of Sundarams poetry. Joshi's Vishwashanti is a long poem on the life and works of Gandhiji. Equally well known is his last collection of poems entitled Saptapadi (1981). C.C.Mehta is a veteran in the field of drama. His Agagadi is considered a landmark in Gujarati literature. Kaka Kalelkar's autobiography Smarana Yatra is a magnificent form of writing. Equally fascinating are the short stories of Gulabdas Broker.
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