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Not only does literature provide valuable insights into culture, history, and sociology, it also imparts order to man’s experiences. Gujarat, the westernmost state of India, has a rich literary tradition. Narratives, theatre, folk songs, and aphorisms pertaining to this region can be traced back to the Sultanate period. Stories and messages have evolved over time and gained a cult status as myths and legends.

History of the Language can be Divided into Three Periods

  • Old Gujarati Period – Alternately referred to as ‘Apabrahmsa’, this period stretches from 10th or 11th century AD to 14th century AD
  • Medieval Gujarati Period – This period stretches from 15th century AD to 17th century AD
  • Modern Gujarati Period – Starting from 17th century AD till current times.

Aspects of Gujarati Literature

The wave of the Bhakti Movement swept the country between 12th and 17th centuries. Gujarati literature is widely considered to have risen along with the spread of Bhakti Movement. Narsinh Mehta (1414-1481) is credited to have begun the rise of Gujarati Literature as we know it and is fittingly called the ‘Father of Literature.’ He dedicated his entire life to practicing and advocating altruistic ideals and compassion for fellow humans, despite being widely opposed by his own community.

Around 12th century AD, the people of Gujarat were widely influenced by the teachings of Acharya Ramanujcharya and Acharya Madhavcharya. The philosophies of these refuters of Shankaracharya’s preaching influenced the people of Gujarat. Between the 14th and 18th centuries, numerous Jain literary stalwarts were responsible for bringing about a new wave of thinking to Gujarat. Their writings were responsible for influencing thousands and are still passed on as legacies. Around the same time, the great Bhakti poet, Mirabai, also gained prominence. The first female poet, she was venerated by the common public, is regarded even better than most other composers, musicians, poets, and lyricists, who wrote in praise of God.

The Muslims lay siege on Cambay, Anhilwad, Somnath, Idar, Junagadh, and laid the foundation of Ahmedabad in 1412 AD. At this time, Sanskrit and Prakrit were the two languages in uses and the only kind of literature that existed was religious.

Premanand (1636-1734) helped popularise ‘Akhyan’ – the art of storytelling in verse. The poet Mannbhaat wore rings on his fingers and created music by striking them repeatedly on a copper pot. His music was accompanied by songs, and often, akhyans. In the 19th century, the poet Narmad rose to prominence and broke new ground as far as the literary forms of prose and poetry are concerned; and all this through his work on social revolution. He wrote extensively about self-government and was a vocal supporter of a single national language. He understood the need for a unified language for a unified country and advocated this viewpoint all his life. A social fanatic, he opposed religious orthodoxy, and consequently, published ‘Dandiyo’ – a newsletter specifically aimed to raise awareness against the rule of the British. He also pioneered the use of western literary forms in Indian literature.

Between 1886 and 1907, Govardhan Tripathi, duly influenced by the like of Narsinh Mehta and Mirabai, rose to prominence. He is responsible for producing the novel ‘Sarasvatichandra.’ In this novel, he provided a moving description of the society, its complexities and how social reforms can be brought about to revolutionise the lifestyle of the people. ‘Sarasvatichandra’ is easily the most influential piece of literature in Gujarati.

The poet Girdhar is credited with producing the verified ‘Ramayana’ in 1815 AD. He also wrote a poem depicting the story of Krishna’s marriage with a Tulsi plant in the appropriately titled ‘Tulsivivah’. Ranchod Bhakta, Ranchodji Divan, Hari Bhatt and several others created Gujarati Literature on Krishna during this period.

Between 1887 and 1971, K M Munshi produced a remarkable work – the history of the Solanki Dynasty, while Pannalal Patel provided a realistic yet poetic account of rural Gujarat. Sunadaram exploited the plight of the poor by turning it into the subject he wrote about exclusively, and Zaverchand Meghani (1897-1947) collected and published the vibrant selection of oral traditions of Saurashtra.

With the advent of World War 1, a new era dawned on Gujarati Literature – that of Gandhi. Gandhian literature was famous for its social consciousness, nationalistic fervour and rampant humanism. It thrived from 1915-1945. The Literature of this era is famous for its patriotic overtones. Critics like K M Munshi, Meghani, Mansukhlal Jhaveri, Rasiklal Parikh, Darshak as Nagindas Parekh, Anantrai Raval, Kaka Kalekar, Snehrashmi, among a lot many others, contributed to this new wave of Gujarati Literature. This was also a time when western forms like short story and plays were duly adopted into the Gujarati literature by the likes of Chunilal Madia, Gulabdas Brokers, and Jayantilal Dala.

Post this wave of Gandhian Literature, traditional poets and critics like Ramanlal Joshi, Yashwant Shukla, Dhirubhai Thakkar, Chandrakanth Sheth, Niranjan Bhagat, Suresh Dalal, replaced the patriotic and nationalistic authors. This is when the Gujarat Vidyapeeth became the heart of all literary activities. Here, brand new value systems were established and due emphasis was given to traditional Gujarati literature. A new flood of various forms of rose found a home in Gujarati literature – novels, biographies, short stories, diaries, plays, essays, letters, criticisms, travel books.

At present, the literature in Gujarat is no longer constrained within the boundaries of Gujarati language. English has found its places safely and comfortably and with each passing day, more and more authors are experimenting with language and writing styles and producing remarkable and path-breaking multilingual pieces of literature. International authors too have discovered a new market for their books translated in Gujarati. The likes of Paulo Coelho and J K Rowling are widely read in Gujarati.

With book launches, special meets with authors, literary debates, blogging, review sessions, and social media on the rise, literature, and more specifically, knowledge, has found its place in Gujarati literature. The advent of internet has taken the world of literature by storm, providing a platform for young writers. The themes are youth-oriented and publishers produce and market books especially for the young adult populace. New media of publishing have also emerged. Print on Demand services, Google open book source, easy availability of e-books have all contributed to the promotion of literature.

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