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The beginning of the Sanskrit literature may be traced back to the Rigvedic period (1500-1200 B.C.) which can be regarded as religious in character only in the widest sense of the term. Rigvedic poetry contains all the aspects of a poem which are present in a Kavya by way of themes and styles. The Vedas comprise of sacred hymns, sacrifical formulae and quite a few hymns which are of secular character.

Literature produced in the periods that followed are more interested in rituals, religion and philosophy. Yet in the Brahmanas, Arayankas and the Upanishads there occur passages that are remarkable for their literary beauty.

Then there was a period commencing with the age of Panini (5th century B.C.) when books on ancillsry sciences or Vedangas were written e.g. Panini's Ashtadhyayi, Pingalas work on metres etc. In the third period of Sanskrit known as the Classical period we have the epics, Mahakavyas, Puranas, Narrative poems, Prasasti Kavyas (adultory poems) and Sandesha Kavyas (message poems). The two great epics, Mahabharata of Vyasa and Ramayana of Valmiki are two outstanding creations of the Indian poetical genius. They have considerably influenced the life, culture and literature of India.

The theme of the Mahabharata (the biggest epic of the world) is the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas in the plains of Kurukshetra. The Bhagvad Gita (the holy book of the Hindus) is one of the many episodes of this epic. The Ramayana deals with the adventures of Rama in 24,000 couplets. Brihatkathamanjari of Kshemendra and Kathasaritasagara of Somdev are important Katha literature. Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma is the oldest collection of fables in Sanskrit literature (4th century A.D.).

The Mahakavyas which according to accepted cannons must contain majestic descriptions of war, nature and political intrigues are th prise of Sanskrit literature. Asvaghosa's Buddha Charita and Saundrananda are Buddhist Mahakavyas, Kumarasambhava of Kalidasa deals with the puranic story of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati and the birth of Skanda. The poem opens with the scintillating description of the Himalayas.

Raguvamsham is another Mahakavya of Kalidasa where the poet can be seen at his best. The later poets are guided more by the form than the spirit behind the form. However, the greater among them are Bharavi (c. 600), Bhatti (7th century), Kumaradasa sand Magha (c. 700). Among the message poems it is the Meghaduta of Kalidasa that has set the pattern. Of the other 50 message poems the more well known are Sukasandesa, Chatakasandesa and Hamasasandesa. The Harshacharita and Kadambari, both by Bana Bhatt are justly regarded as the crowning achievements of the Sanskrit prose fiction.


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