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Marathi language was derived from the Maharashtri Apabhramsha. The history of Marathi literature can be divided into six periods :

  1. The Yadava period 1189-1320 A.D.
  2. The Bahamani period 1320-1600 A.D.
  3. The Maratha period 1600-1700 A.D.
  4. The Peshwa period 1700-1850 A.D.
  5. The British period 1850-1947 A.D.
  6. Contemporary period 1947 onwards.

During the first two periods Marathi literary genius occupied itself chiefly with religious and philosophical expression chiefly in verse. Viveka Sindhu (sea of knowledge) by Mukundaraj, a yogi of Natha Pantha is accepted as the first major work. The origin of Marathi prose is also to be found in the Yadava period. The credit for it goes to another religious sect called the Mahanuvbhavas. They made Marathi a vehicle for the propagation of religion and culture.

An extremely effective revolt against Hindu orthodoxy came from Jnanadev. Jnanaeshwari commentary on Bhagvat Gita and Amritanubhav are his two masterpieces. Saintly singers sprang up in all castes and communities. Namdeva, who was a tailor became a disciple of Jnanadev. He became a great poet propagating a devotional cult called Varkari Panth. Gardeners, potters, goldsmiths and such other people extolled Bhagwat Dharma in acceptable verse.

In the Bahamani period, conversion to Islam took place on a mass scale. The flame of Hindu religion was, however kept up with considerable zeal. The works of Eknath are to be specially remembered in this connection. He was a great saint and a social reformer. His Bhavarth Ramayana brought the message of Bhagvat cult to the people with great power. Jainism too enriched Marathi in this age.

When we pass on to the third period, the most notable aspect is the contribution of Christian missionaries in Goa. Father Sephens (1549-1619) who came to India, studied Marathi language so well that he could compose charming verses in it. His Krista Purana is considered a classic on the model of Jnaneshwari.


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