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Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Thought on Theory and Criticism of Literature by Shailendra Chauhan

A Thought on Theory and Criticism of Literature by Shailendra Chauhan

The most important part of literary theory and criticism is poetics, the study of the structure of individual works and groups of works, for example, all the works of a particular writer or the works of a literary school or epoch. Poetics may be related to each of the major areas of literary theory and criticism. In literary theory it provides knowledge of the structure of any literary work (general poetics). Within the scope of literary history, historical poetics investigates the development of artistic structures and their elements, such as genres, plots, and stylistic images. The principles of poetics may also be applied in criticism in the strict sense. Stylistics occupies a similar position in literary theory and criticism. Stylistics may be included in literary theory as part of general poetics; here stylistics is the study of one level of the structure, the stylistic and language level. In literary history stylistics treats the language and style of a particular current or school. The stylistic study of contemporary works has almost always been one of the chief functions of literary criticism in the strict sense.

Contemporary literary theory and criticism encompasses a complex and changing group of disciplines. There are three main areas of study: literary theory, the history of literature, and literary criticism in the strict sense (literaturnaia kritika). The theory of literature investigates the general laws of the structure and development of literature. The history of literature studies the literary past as a process or one of the stages of this process. Literary criticism is concerned with the most recent, the “present” state of literature. It also interprets the literature of the past from the standpoint of modern social and artistic aims. Literary criticism in the strict sense is not universally accepted as being part of the scholarly discipline of literary theory and criticism. The three spheres of literary theory and criticism are closely related. Criticism, for example, is dependent on information derived from literary history and theory, which in turn take into account and reveal the significance of criticism. Moreover, secondary disciplines have arisen in literary theory and criticism, such as the theory and history of criticism in the strict sense, the history of poetics (as opposed to historical poetics), and the theory of the stylistics of artistic language. The various disciplines within literary theory and criticism also shift from one level to another: thus, criticism becomes material for the history of literature, for historical poetics, and for other studies. In addition to the principal disciplines already mentioned, there are many auxiliary disciplines, such as the study of archives relating to literary theory and criticism, the compilation of bibliographies of literature and criticism, heuristics, paleography, textual criticism and commentary, and the theory and practice of publishing. In the mid-20th century mathematical methods, especially those of statistics, were widely adopted in literary theory and criticism, primarily in prosody, stylistics, textual criticism, and folklore study, where quantifiable structural segments can be isolated more easily. The auxiliary disciplines are an indispensable foundation for the primary disciplines. As they develop and grow increasingly complex, however, they may set independent scholarly goals and acquire independent cultural functions.

Literary theory and criticism is in many ways linked to the humanities, some of which (philosophy, aesthetics) serve as its methodological basis; other branches of the humanities resemble literary theory and criticism in their goals and subject of investigation (folklore studies, art studies) or are related by a general humanistic orientation (history, psychology, sociology). The many links between literary theory and criticism and linguistics are based not only on common material (language as a means of communication and as the raw material of literature) but also on the contiguity of the epistemological functions of words and images and on an analogy between the structure of words and images. The close relation between literary theory and criticism and the other humanities was formerly reflected in the concept of philology as a synthesizing branch of learning, studying culture in all its written manifestations, including literary works. In the mid-20th century the concept of philology suggests the affinity between literary theory and criticism and linguistics; in the strict sense philology denotes textual criticism.

History of schools and trends. Literary theory and criticism originated in early antiquity in the form of mythological concepts, for example, the reflection in myths of the classical differentiation between the arts. Judgments about art are found in such ancient works as the Indian Vedas (tenth to second centuries B.C.), the Chinese Book of Legends (Shu Ching, 12th to fifth centuries B.C.), and the ancient Greek Iliad and Odyssey (eighth and seventh centuries B.C.).

In Europe the first concepts of art and literature were developed by the ancient thinkers. Plato dealt with aesthetic problems, including that of the beautiful, from the standpoint of objective idealism and examined the epistemological nature and educational function of art. He also contributed to the theory of art and literature, classifying literature as epic, lyric, or dramatic. Although Aristotle’s works Poetics, Rhetoric, and Metaphysics preserve the general aesthetic approach to art, they introduce several disciplines of literary study, including the theory of literature, stylistics, and especially poetics. Aristotle’s Poetics, containing the first systematic exposition of the fundamentals of poetics, initiated a long tradition of treatises on poetics. As time passed, however, these works became more normative, for example, Horace’s Art of Poetry. Along with classical poetics there developed rhetoric, initially the study of oratory and prose in general, for example, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, the works of Isocrates and Cicero, and Quintilian’s The Training of an Orator. The theory of prose and stylistics developed within the framework of rhetoric. The writing of treatises on rhetoric, as well as poetics, continued into modern times; in Russia M. V. Lomonosov published his Short Manual on Eloquence in 1748. Criticism in the strict sense also arose in Europe in antiquity, as may be seen from the early philosophers’ opinions about Homer and the comparison of the tragedies of Aeschylus and Euripides in Aristophanes’ comedy The Frogs (405 B.C.). Initially, criticism was inseparable not only from other areas of literary study but from art as a whole.

Significant differentiation in literary theory and criticism occurred in the Hellenistic age. During the period of Alexandrian philology (third and second centuries B.C.) literary theory and criticism, along with other studies, broke away from philosophy and formed its own disciplines, including biobibliography (the Tablets of Callimachus, the prototype of the literary encyclopedia), textual criticism to determine the authenticity of a text, and textual commentary and the publication of texts (Zenodotus of Ephesus, Aristophanes of Byzantium, and later Aristarchus of Samothrace). Later, comparative historical studies arose, for example, comparisons of classical works from the standpoint of the sublime and the beginning of the section entitled “Being” in the treatise On the Sublime, written in the first century A.D. by an unidentified author known as Pseudo-Lon-ginus.

Profound concepts of art and literature also developed in the Oriental countries in ancient times. In China the doctrine of the social and educational function of art evolved within Confucianism (Hsiin-tsu, c. 298–238 B.C.). The Taoist school developed an aesthetic theory of the beautiful in conformity with Tao, the universal creative principle (Lao-tzu, sixth and fifth centuries B.C.). In India problems of artistic structure were worked out in relation to theories of the psychological perception of art, called rasa (in Bharata’s Natyasastra, c. fourth century and later treatises), and theories of dhvani, the hidden meaning of works of art (in Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka,ninth century). Primary attention was given to style, that is, to the linguistic realization of artistic effects. In the Oriental countries general theoretical and aesthetic methods (alongside textual analysis and bibliographic work) predominated for many centuries. Research on the historical and evolutionary plane appeared only in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Byzantium and the Latin works of the Western European peoples were the links between ancient and modern literary theory and criticism. Stimulated by the study and collection of ancient works, literary study in Byzantium was primarily concerned with biobibliography and commentary. Important Byzantine works included one of the first European encyclopedic collections of literary works, Photius’ Myriobiblon (ninth century), containing paraphrases and evaluations of literary works; Suidas’ biographic dictionary of ancient authors (c. tenth century); commentaries on Homer, Pindar, and other authors by Johannes Tzetzes (12th century) and Eustathius of Thessalonica (12th century); and a treatise on rhetoric by Michael Psellus (11th century). In Latin works, philological study stressed the writing of compendiums and textbooks on rhetoric. At the same time, within a theological framework and often assimilating Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism, the philosophical and epistemological principles of literary theory and criticism were developed by St. Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century.

The Renaissance stimulated the creation of original poetics adapted to local and national conditions. The problem of language, extending beyond stylistics and rhetoric, became the general theoretical problem of establishing modern European languages as legitimate material of poetry. Important works on this subject include Dante’s treatise On Popular Speech (1304–07) and Du Bellay’s Defense and Illustration of the French Language (1549). The right of literary theory and criticism to deal with contemporary artistic phenomena was affirmed in Boccaccio’s lectures on the Divine Comedy and his biography The Life of Dante Alighieri (c. 1360). The moral significance of contemporary literature was the subject of the Englishman P.Sidney’s Defense of Poesie written in 1583. But inasmuch as modern literary theory and criticism was developing out of the “discovery of antiquity,” the Renaissance faced the problem of originality in its full force. Solutions to this problem ranged from attempts to adapt elements of classical poetics to modern literature (the application of the norms of the Aristotelian theory of drama to the epic in T. Tasso’s Discourse on the Art of Poetry, 1587) to the rejection of classical authorities (F. Patrizi’s On Poetry, 1586). The view of the classical genres as “eternal” canons coexisted with the sense of dynamism and incompleteness that was characteristic of the Renaissance. The prevailing tripartite division of man’s history into antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance (the term was first used by G. Vasari in his Lives, 1550) anticipated G. Vico’s theory of cycles and the doctrine of stages of cultural development expressed by the romantics and found in the dialectical philosophical systems of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Beginning in the late 16th century and especially in the age of classicism, the trend toward systematizing artistic laws became more pronounced, and the normative and pragmatic character of artistic theory was emphasized. In his Art of Poetry (1674), N. Boileau relegated general epistemological and aesthetic problems to the background and concentrated on constructing a harmonious poetics imbued with Cartesianism and conceived as a system of genre, stylistic, and linguistic norms. The exclusive and obligatory nature of Boileau’s norms made his treatise and such related works as J. C. Gottsched’s Experiment With a Critical Poetics for Germans(1730) and A. P. Sumarokov’s Epistle on Versification (1748) literary codes. Rationalism also stimulated attempts to achieve a deductive knowledge of art and to reduce all its elements to “one principle,” for example, imitation (C. Batteux’s The Fine Arts Reduced to One General Principle, 1746).

However, the 17th and 18th centuries also saw a strong trend opposing the normative approach to literary types and genres. In defending the mixing of genres S. Johnson pointed to Shakespeare’s works in his Lives of the Most Outstanding English Poets (1779–1781). D. Diderot advocated middle-class drama, a genre between tragedy and comedy. Finally, with E. Joung (Description of Original Works, 1759) and G. E. Lessing (Hamburg Dramaturgy, 1767–69), this tendency grew into an attack on all normative poetics, thus opening the way for the aesthetic and literary theories of the romantics. During the Enlightenment attempts were also made to explain the development of literature in terms of local conditions, particularly environment and climate (J. Dubos, Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, 1719; writings of Montesquieu and J. J. Winckelmann), which anticipated the later theories of determinism. In the 18th century the first courses in literary history were given, notably G. Tiraboschi’s History of Italian Literature (1772–82), T. War-ton’s History of English Poetry(1774–81), and J. La Harpe’s Lyceum, or Course in Ancient and Modern Literature (1799–1805), based on a historical consideration of the types of poetry.

It is more difficult to date the appearance of literary criticism in the strict sense, which evolved in the course of more than a century, from F. Malherbe, Boileau, and J. Dryden (whom S. Johnson called the father of English criticism) to Lessing, Diderot, J. Marmontel, and N. M. Karamzin, who was the first Russian to include in his magazine a substantial section devoted to criticism and bibliography.

In the late 18th century an important change occurred in European literary thought, shaking the stable hierarchy of artistic values. The inclusion of folklore in the scholarly study of medieval European and Oriental literatures cast doubt on the validity of models, whether classical or Renaissance. There developed a strong sense of the intrinsic merit of artistic criteria of different ages which ought not to be compared. This attitude was best expressed by J. G. Herder in his Shakespeare (1773) and Ideas Toward a Philosophy of Human History (1784–91). The category of the “unique” came to denote the literature of a given people or period, possessing its own measure of perfection. Following J. Hamann in studying the Eastern sources of classical Greek literature and approaching the Bible as an artistic work of a particular age, Herder created the preconditions for the comparative historical method.

The romantic view that different criteria existed developed into the concept of different cultural periods expressing the spirit of a particular people or era. Adhering to the classification of art forms proposed by J. F. Schiller (On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry, 1795), the romantics drew a distinction between classical (ancient) and modern (Christian) art forms. Recognizing the impossibility of restoring the classical form, the romantics stressed the endless mutability and capacity for renewal of art (F. Schlegel, Fragments, 1798). A. Schlegel applied this idea to literary history in his Berlin lectures on literature and art (1801–03) and his Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (1809–11).

However, in establishing modern art as romantic, as imbued with the Christian symbolism of the spiritual and infinite, the romantics imperceptibly, and despite the dialectical tone of their doctrine, restored the category of model (historically medieval art and regionally Oriental art). At the same time, in the idealist philosophical systems, culminating in Hegel’s philosophy, the idea of the development of art was embodied in a phenomenology of artistic forms dialectically replacing each other (Hegel’s symbolic, classical, and romantic forms). The nature of the aesthetic and the distinction between it and the moral and cognitive were established philosophically by I. Kant. The inexhaustible, “symbolic” nature of the artistic image was expounded in philosophical terms by F. Schelling. Another important aspect of Hegel’s philosophy was the right of mediated (discursive-scientific) knowledge to judge artistic phenomena since “art is not so disorderly that it could not lend itself to philosophical elucidation” (Estetika, vol. 1, Moscow, 1968, p. 19); this view stood in opposition to the intuitivist tendencies that prevailed among the romantics.

In the first quarter of the 19th century the scope of literary study expanded in the European countries. Many new courses were offered in literary history, notably those of F. Bouterwek inGermany, L. S. Sismondi in Switzerland, and A. Villemin in France. Disciplines arose that studied all aspects of the culture of a particular ethnic group, for example, the Slavic studies of J. Dobrovský, J. Kollár, and P. Šafařik. With the growing interest in literary history, attention shifted from great masters to the entire body of artistic facts and from world literature to the student’s own national literature, for example, G. G. Gervinus’ History of the Poetic National Literature of the Germans (1835–42). In Russian literary studies the place of ancient Russian literature was affirmed; philosophical criticism had not viewed ancient Russian literature as being part of the mainstream of European literary development and had therefore excluded it from its aesthetic system. A greater interest in pre-Petrine literature was shown in M. A. Maksimovich’s History of Ancient Russian Literature (1839), A. V. Nikitenko’s Essay on the History of Russian Literature (1845), and especially S. P. Shevyrev’s History of Russian Literature, Primarily Ancient (1846).

Several methodological schools arose in Europe, cutting across national boundaries. Among the first was the mythological school (its philosophical basis was the works on aesthetics of F. Schelling and the Schlegel brothers). Interest in mythology and folklore symbolism, which had been stimulated by romanticism (F. Creuzer’s The Symbolism and Mythology of the Ancient Peoples, Particularly the Greeks, 1810–12), grew among German mythologists, who discerned an Aryan protomythology (J. Grimm, German Mythology, 1835). The common features of primitive thought as recorded in language and legend were studied. In Russia the mythologist F. I. Buslaev did not restrict himself to studying mythology but traced its historical course, including the interaction of folk poetry and written works. Later the “young mythologists”—M. Müller in England, W. Schwartz in Germany, and A. N. Afanas’ev in Russia—posed the problem of the sources of myth.

In the second half of the 19th century the school of cultural history became prominent. It had evolved under the influence of many factors, including the deterministic trends in literary theory and criticism in the preceding century, the romantic interest in national and local “color,” and French historical science (F. Guizot, A. Thierry, and F. O. Mignet). Impressed by the successes of the natural sciences, the school of cultural history attempted to reduce causality and determinism in literary study to precise, tangible factors, such as H. Taine’s triune of race, milieu, and moment (History of English Literature, 1863–64). The traditions of this school were developed by De Sanctis (History of Italian Literature, 1870), W. Scherer (History of German Literature, 1880–83), and M. Meléndez y Pelayo (History of Aesthetic Ideas in Spain,1883–91). In Russia its adherents included N. S. Tikhonravov, A. N. Pypin, and N. I. Storozhenko. As the cultural history method developed, it not only underrated the artistic nature of literature, which was regarded primarily as a social document, but also revealed strong positivist tendencies that ignored the dialectical method and aesthetic criteria.

At the turn of the 20th century an antipositivist trend based on idealist premises arose in Western literary theory and criticism. It assumed three principal forms. First, mediated, intellectual knowledge was disparaged in favor of intuitive knowledge as applied to both the creative act and to judgments about art (H. Bergson’s Laughter, 1900). There were attempts not only to reject the system of traditional literary categories (types of poetry, genres) but also to prove that they were fundamentally inapplicable to art. In his Aesthetics (1902), B. Croce stated that all traditional classifications and poetic terminology determined only the external structure of a work, not its artistic value. In bringing intuition into conflict with reason and conceptual judgment, the intuitionists also questioned the scholarly validity of literary theory and criticism.

Second, efforts were made to overcome the superficial determinism of the cultural history school and to construct a classification of literature based on deep-rooted psychological and intellectual distinctions. Such was F. Nietzsche’s polarity of artistic types, derived from the classical gods Apollo and Dionysus: the plastic and musical, the contemplative, mental, form-creating principle as opposed to “vital,” emotional-aesthetic, turbulent, and at the same time tragic elements (The Birth of Tragedy From the Spirit of Music, 1872). Strongly influencing bourgeois and, especially, decadent aesthetics were the late Nietzsche’s irrationalism, his “tragic” relativism denying social and historical progress, and his antirealist notion of “myth-creation” in art. The Geistesgeschichte, or cultural-philosophical, school attempted to explain art in terms of deep-seated processes, above all the merging of the “epoch” (the “historical spirit”) and the “psychic” (the spiritual integrity of the individual). W. Dilthey, the leading representative of Geistesgeschichte posited three basic types of world view and artistic activity (positivists, objective idealists, and dualists). Rendering more concrete the philosophical approach to art, R. Unger considered general philosophical problems to be of lesser importance than such specific problems as fate, freedom and necessity, spirit and nature, and love and death (Philosophical Problems in Recent Literary Studies, 1908). Asserting the primacy of “emotional experience” (as a unity of the “psychic” and the “historical”) in literature and its link with the world view of an epoch, the Geistesgeschichte school ignored the social and class aspects of emotional experience. In developing the principle of histori-cism with respect to the alternation of artistic styles and forms, the school avoided explaining the lawlike regularities of the historical process and tended toward irrationalism and skepticism. It also minimized the importance of artistic structure since art was dissolved in the general world view of an epoch.

Greater attention to form was shown in H. Wölfflin’s theory of the structural differences between the art of the Renaissance and of the baroque (Principles of Art History, 1915), which was subsequently applied to literature by the German theoretician O. Walzel. A shortcoming of this approach was its tendency toward rigid classification, reducing the diversity of literature to one of two forms and exaggerating the spontaneous development of artistic forms.

The third manifestation of the anti positivist tendencies was psychoanalysis (S. Freud), which introduced the unconscious into explanations of art. The of Freudian psychoanalysis yielded meager results, such as explaining an artist’s entire creative work in terms of an “Oedipus complex.” Moreover, the psychoanalytic approach completely ignored social and ideological factors in literature. Applying psychoanalytic principles to art in a different manner, C. G. Jung formulated his theory of the collective unconscious (archetypes) in On the Relationship Between Analytical Psychology and the Literary Work, (1922).

The ritual-mythological school (N. Frye, M. Bodkin) developed under the influence of Jung’s analytical psychology and the ritual-mythological approach to the study of ancient cultures, represented by R. Smith and especially J. Frazer and his followers, the Cambridge school. The exponents of the ritual-mythological approach attempted to identify certain rituals and archetypes of the collective unconscious in the works of all ages, for example, initiation rituals corresponding to the psychological archetypes of birth and death. Similar views were held by E. Bjork in the United States, who attributed the symbolic effect of artistic works to magic rituals. Ritual-mythological criticism promotes study of genres and poetic devices (metaphors, symbols), but in its subordination of literature to myth and ritual, it submerges literary study beneath ethnology and psychoanalysis.

Currents based on existential philosophy occupied a special place in Western literary studies. Attempting to refute the view of history as a phenomenological process, these currents introduced the concept of existential time, to which great works of art correspond (M. Heidegger, The Origin of the Work of Art, 1935). E. Staiger made time the cornerstone of his classification of artistic styles and types of poetry, in which lyric, epic, and dramatic poetry express, respectively, the past, present, and future (Principles of Poetics, 1946; The Transformation of Style, 1963). Treating poetic works as self-sufficient, self-contained truth and “prophesy,” the existential “interpretation” avoids the traditional genetic approach and removes the work from its social and historical context.

Hindi literature has had a vibrant tradition of reflecting upon the reality and gets inspired by the dynamics of society. Tulsi’s Ramcharitmanas, a world class epic by portraying the unique character of Ram inspires every household where Ram is the ideal, a reference point for everyone. On the other hand , Munsi Premchand’s writings-be it the story like Kafan or Thakur Ka Kuan or his novels like Godaan, Sevasadan, Karmabhumi or Rangabhumi are as realistic as the reality itself. While reading Premchand one feels as if he/she is part of the same milieu about which the story is being written. The same could be said about Baba Nagarjun-recall his Akaal, a poem which vividly depicts famine of the 60s or his novel called Balchanma- and of Phanishwarnath Renu, the author of Maila Anchal and Parti Parikatha whose short story Maare Gaye Gulfam was adapted into a film ‘Teesri Kasam’  staring Rajkapoor by Basu Bhattacharya.

The key issue of a dynamic relationship between literature and reality-ie; society- has been mooted by philosophers from the very beginning. Plato was not willing to accord due status to literature specially the poetry and drama as he believed that art and literature is nothing more than imitation. Thus he argued that something that is unreal could be dangerous to the stability of what he called The Republic –or the city state. His disciple Aristotle, however, did not agree with Plato, though according to Aristotle too literature is nothing but imitation of real. But unlike Plato he considered imitation as an intellectual and creative process and claimed that it is something very natural. Intervening in this polemic - though in response to Thomas Peacock’s “The Four Ages of Poetry,”- the British Romantic poet P.B.Shelley strongly defended poetry and emphasized that poetry performs valuable moral and social functions. In A Defence of Poetry, he said “The functions of the poetical faculty are twofold: by one it creates new materials of knowledge, and power, and pleasure; by the other it engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them according to a certain rhythm and order which may be called the beautiful and the good…..  Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is that which comprehends all science, and that to which all science must be referred.” Karl Marx was another philosopher who ascribed secondary status to literature as part of what he described as the ‘Super structure’ which is always determined  by  the ‘Base’ comprised of Forces and Relations of Productions. Again it was the disciples or the followers, the later Marxist scholars like Louis  Althusser who stood to the point  that both the base and the superstructure are interdependent, although he maintained  the classic Marxist materialist understanding of the determination of the base “in the last instance”, albeit with some extension and revision.

Let’s not evaluate value of poetry by the number of books sold in the market. For even if we accept this criterion for the time being how to judge Tulsi’s Ramcharitmanas which is available in every household. Not only this, the couplets of Ramcharitmanas are recited even by the illiterates in the rural areas, though this practice is fading away now. Poetry has survived, as because it represents our inner voice. It expresses our emotion and rejuvenates, perhaps more easily and more effectively than the prose. Largely owing to its structure and style- in most of cases it being rhythmic-Poetry is probably closer to the human memory than the prose. Otherwise how to explain the fact that it is easier to recall and recite the couplets of Tulsi, Kabir, Sur, Raheem, Raskhan,  Dinkar and Dushyant and even Muktibodh. Hindi Literature which has inherited a rich poetic tradition. Right from very beginning the Hindi Literature has been enriched by the contributions from a large number of non-Hindu writers and scholars some of whom had foreign origin. A number of Muslim writers preferred to write in Hindi who became as popular as any other Hindu poet or writer. Poetry of Raheem and Raskhan are very dear to us. Amir Khusro, a Muslim who was born in India but whose father came from outside, has written a number of nazams in Hindi which are amazing. Recall his

Gori sovai sej par mukh par daare kes.
Chal Khusro ghar aapne, rain bhaee chahun des.

Or, the one which has been sung by luminaries like Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Sabri Brothers, Iqbal Hussain Khan Bandanawazi, Ustad Shujaat Khan, and Zila Khan.

Chhâp tilak sab chînî re mose nainâ milâike
Bât agam keh dînî re mose nainâ milâike

On the other hand, the great Hindi Novelist and story writer Premchand, a leading light of Indian Progressive Writers Movement started writing first in Urdu. In Urdu he would write by the name of Dhanpat Rai. The other well known Hindu name to be associated with Urdu writing is that of Firaq Gorakhpuri or Raghupati Sahay ‘Firaq’. What, however, is being emphasized is the fact that Hindi Literature that flourished in the company of Urdu in the Gangatic plain has led to and has been promoted by the secular Ganga-Jamuni culture of India.

The other vibrant aspect of Hindi Literature has been the active involvement of a large number of women writers and poetesses whose number is increasingly rising. This is surprising as India has been a caste ridden traditional society where women are expected to perform very limited role outside their hearth and households. This is more true about the Hindi-heartland where the tradition continues to resist against change. But as shown by Bhasha Singh, women folks have come forward breaking all kind of social and religious shackles in expressing their emotions and anguish in letters. They include from Meera to Mahadevi Verma to Mannu Bhandari and many more in between and after. But this does not negate the truth that in the past the traditional patriarchal feudal set up kept the women in the cage and treated  them as private property, an aspect depicted through  a brief but brilliant interpretation of ‘Women in Hindi Poetry’ by Rameshwar Rai.

During its travel of less than one thousand years Hindi literature has passed through several periods, produced numerous classics, invented several isms, inspired dance, drama, music and contemporary cinema.  Hindi literature begins its journey with Adi kaal or veer-gatha kaal (c1050-1375) characterized by personified creative style. Prithviraj Rasau an epic poem written by Chand Bardai, a court poet of Prithviraj Chauhan is the contribution of this phase.It is considered as one of the first works in the history of Hindi literature.  Bhakti kaal (c1375-1700) is the second phase and as the name itself suggests was inspired by Bhakti movement. Unlike the Adi Kaal or the Vir Gatha Kaal which was characterized by an overdose of Poetry in the Vir Rasa (Heroic Poetry), the Bhakti Yug marked a much more diverse and vibrant form of poetry which spanned the whole gamut of rasas such as  Shringara rasa (love) and Vir Rasa (Heroism). Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Tulsidas, Surdas, Kabir, Nanak and Abdul Raheem Khankhana were the product of this phase. The third phase Riti Kaal (c1700-1900) is so called as it was the age when poetic figures and theory were developed to the fullest. Some of the most well known literary figures from this age are Bihari, Matiram, Ghananand and Dev. Last is the ongoing Adhunik Kaal (c1900 onwards) which began more or less with  the  British conquest of India and  is characterized by several Yugas-(i) Bhartendu Yug associated with Bhartendu Harischandra (ii) Dwivedi Yug identified with Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi’s poetry of nationalism and social reform and that of Maithilisharan Gupta and (iv) Chhayavaad or the phase of Hindi ‘Romanticism’ and the literary figures belonging to this school are known as Chhayavaadi. Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Mahadevi Varma and Sumitranandan Pant, are the four major Chhayavaadi poets. The ongoing Adhunik Kaal has witnessed several genres such as the Realism identified with the name of Premchand; Agyeya’s Prayogvad (and Modernism as emphasized by Alok Rai, Nakenvad of the trio led by Nalin Vilochan Sharma: Pragativad of Muktibodh and Nai Kavita-Nai Kahani.

Hindi literature also incorporates in its ambit playwrights, travel literature, journalism and its contribution to Hindi cinema.

So far as playwriting is concerned, the two founding fathers Bhartendu Harischandra and Jaishankar Prasad and this should be supplemented by the contribution of IPTA-inspired Naya Theatre,  of Habib Tanvir, Jana Natya Manch of Safdar Hashmi; playwrights like Jagdish Chandra Mathur (Konark) and Upendranath Ashk (Anjo Didi), Mohan Rakesh, (Ashadh Ka Ek Din, Adhe Adhure and Lehron Ke Rajhans)  and Dharamvir Bharati (Andha Yug).The tradition of travel writing in Hindi is unlikely to forget the name of Rahul Sankritayan. Hindi Journalism has produced stalwards like Durga Prasad Mishra, Bhartendu Harischandra, Madan Mohan Malviya, Agyeye, Raghuveer Sahaya, Dharamveer Bharti etc. As far as cinema is concerned the detail has been done by Yatindra Mishra in his account of Hundred Years of Hindi Cinema. Suffice would be to recall some brilliant endeavours made in this field by Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khilari and Sadgati) Mirnal Sen (Kafan), Trilok Jeltley (Godaan) and Krishna Chopra along with Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Gaban) and a couple of more much before -all based on the writings of Premchand. And Basu Bhattacharya’s ‘Teesri Kasam’ of Renu, Shyam Benegal’s ‘Sooraj Ka satvan Ghora’ based on the work of Dharmveer Bharti, a film on ‘Sara Akash’ of Rajendra Yadav, ‘Pinjar’ on the story of Amrita Pritam and many more including some serials like the one on  Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas and  the other  on the first Hindi Novel Chandrakanta of Babu Devkinandan Khatri that had in the past compelled many to learn Hindi so that they could read it. Manish Chaudhary details the sensitive relation between Literature & Cinema.

However, any account or discussion on Hindi Literature is likely to remain incomplete in the absence of literary criticism. The prominent pillars of Hindi literary criticism include Acharya Ramchandra Shukla, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Ramvilas Sharma and Namvar Singh. These names strike one’s mind precisely because of the fact that they have been associated with a theoretical  issue of prime importance in the area of Hindi literature. Dr. Ramvilas Sharma was a ruthless critic. His criticism at places reflect his strong personal likings and disliking. He never hides his anger. He hits hard on his opponents, at times harder than they deserved. His biographical study on Nirala in thee huge volumes, evaluate contributions of Nirala first time with so much intensity. Also, his work on Mahavirprasaad dwivedi, Presents his time and contributions in big way.

An interesting issue came to light in the writings of Ramchandra Shukla who forcefully argued and established the fact that Tulsidas is the foundation stone, the main tradition in Hindi Literature. Against this view of Shukla the noted Hindi critique Hazari Prasad Dwivedi advocated that Tulsi is not the only tradition in Hindi as there is the tradition of Kabir which is as rich and vibrant as that of Tulsidas. Professor Namvar Singh in his Dusarii Paramparaa Kee Khoj   extends this argument further and tries to establish the thesis put forward by Dwivedi. Whether Hindi literature contains one tradition or two traditions or, instead, multi-traditions is unlikely to be settled. Our emphasis is that the dichotomy of to be, or not to be –either this or that-may not be a valid proposition all the time.


Shailendra Chauhan (b 1954) is a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, works as Dy General Manager in a Public Sector Undertaking of Govt. of India. He writes poems, short stories, criticism of Hindi literature. Also writes in English. He has many books published to his credit including poetry and fiction anthologies.
He has been editing an unscheduled little Magazine “Dharati” since 1979.
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