The early Marathi literature written during the Yadava (850-1312 CE) was mostly religious and philosophical in nature. The earliest known Marathi inscription found at the foot of the statue at Shravanabelgola in Karnataka is dated c. 983. However, the Marathi literature started with the religious writings by the saint-poets belonging to Mahanubhava and Warkari sects during the Yadadva reign. The Yadava kings patronized the two religious sects and the marathi language, which had been adopted by these sects as the medium for preaching their doctrines. During the reign of the last three Yadava kings, a great deal of literature in verse and prose, on astrology, medicine, Puranas, Vedanta, kings and courtiers were created. Nalopakhyan, Rukmini Swayamvar and Shripati's Jyotishratnamala (1039) are a few examples.
Bhaskarbhatta Borikar of the Mahanubhava sect is the first known poet to have composed hymns in Marathi. Mukundraj's Vivek Sindhu, with its 18 chapters and 1671 verses, is considered as the first major book in the Marathi language. He also wrote Param Amrit, which contains 14 chapters and 303 verses. Both the works deal with the Advaita philosophy.
Dnyaneshwar (1275–1296) was the first Marathi literary figure who had wide readership and profound influence. His major works are Amrutanubhav and Bhavarth Deepika (popularly known as Dnyaneshwari). Bhavarth Deepika is a 9000-couplets long commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.
Namdev, the Bhakti saint and contemporary of Dnyaneshwar is the other significant literary figure from this era. Unlike Dnyaneshwar, Namdev composed religious songs not only in Marathi but also in Hindi. some of his Hindi compositions are included in the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
There was relatively little activity in Marathi in the early days of the Bahmani Sultanate (1347–1527) and the Bijapur Sultanate (1527–1686). The Warkari saint-poet Eknath (1533–1599), the main successor of Dnyaneshwar, was a major Marathi literary figure during this period. He made available an authentic, edited version of Dnyaneshwari, which had been forgotten after the Islamic invasion of Deccan. He also wrote several abhangs (devotional poems), narratives and minor works that dealt with the Bhagavata Purana He wrote Eknathi Bhagwat, Bhavarth Ramayan, Rukmini Swayamwar Hastamalak, and Bharud. Dasopant was another minor but notable poet from this era. Mukteshwar (1574-1645), the grandson of Eknath, too, wrote several works in Marathi including a translation of the epic Mahabharata.
Krista Purana, written by the Goa-based Christian missionary Thomas Stephens, was first published in 1616. It is written in a mix of Marathi and Konkani languages, and the first copy was printed in the Roman script, and tells the story of Jesus Christ.
The Marathas, the Marathi-speaking natives, formed their own kingdom in the 17th century. The development of the Marathi literature accelerated during this period. Although their leader, Shivaji, was formally crowned as the king in 1674, he had been the de facto ruler of a large area in Western Maharashtra for some time. Tukaram and Samarth Ramdas, who were contemporaries of Shivaji, were the well-known poets of the early Maratha period. Tukaram (1608–1650) was the most prominent Marathi Warkari spiritual poet identified with the Bhakti movement, and had a great influence on the later Maratha society. His contemporary, Samarth Ramdas composed Dasbodh and Manache Shlok in Marathi.
In the 18th century, several well-known works like Yatharthadeepika (by Vaman Pandit), Naladamayanti Swayamvara (by Raghunath Pandit), Pandava Pratap, Harivijay, Ramvijay (by Shridhar Pandit) and Mahabharata (translation by Moropant) were produced. The historical section of the old Marathi literature contained the Bakhars and the Katavas. Krishna Dayarnava and Sridhar were other leading poets during the Peshwa rule. Mahipati, the author who wrote the biographies of the Bhakti Saints also belonged to this era.
The first Marathi grammar and dictionary were compiled in 1829 by the pandits and shastris employed during the reign of Mountstuart Elphinstone, the Governor of Bombay. The Christian missionaries introduced the Western forms to the Marathi literature. However, according to Hartmut Scharte, Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit, University of California, Los Angeles, USA vide his book "A History of Indian Literature - Grammatical Literature", the author of the first Marathi Grammar was Venkata Madhava, who was a lecturer in Fort St. George College, Madras (now Chennai). Venkata Madhava's three works on Marathi (as was spoken by the then large Maratha colony of Tanjore) exist only in the autographs of the author or his assistant Bhima Pandita. His Marathi Grammar book "महाराष्ट्र प्रयोग चंद्रिका" was written cir. 1827. It has 227 sutras in Samskrt and is accompanied by a Samskrt commentary, a Marathi commentary and Marathi illustrations. The Samskrt section is written in Devnagari script and the Marathi in Modi script. The grammar which generally follows the Siddhanta Kaumudi in its design, was probably meant to introduce Marathi to the neighbouring Tamil speakers.
The first English Book was translated in Marathi in 1817. The first Marathi newspaper started in 1835. Many books on social reforms were written by Baba Padamji (Yamuna Paryatana, 1857), Jyotiba Phule, Gopal Hari Deshmukh (Lokhitwadi), Mahadev Govind Ranade, Hari Narayan Apte (1864–1919) and others.
Marathi at this time was efficiently aided by Marathi Drama. Here, there also was a different genre called 'Sangit Natya' or Musicals. The first play was V.A. Bhave's Sita Swayamvar in 1843 Later Kirloskar (1843–85) and G.B. Deval (1854-19l6) brought a romantic aroma and social content. But Krishnaji Prabhakar Khadilkar (1872-1948) with his banned play Kichaka-Vadh (1910) set the trend of political playwriting. These were followed by stalwarts like Ram Ganesh Gadkari and Prahlad Keshav Atre.
The modern Marathi poetry began with Jyotiba Phule's compositions. The later poets like Keshavsuta, Balakavi, Govindagraj, and the poets of Ravi Kiran Mandal (such as Madhav Julian) wrote poetry which was influenced by the Romantic and Victorian English poetry. It was largely sentimental and lyrical. Prahlad Keshav Atre, the renowned satirist and a politician wrote a parody of this sort of poetry in his collection Jhenduchi Phule.
Sane Guruji (1899–1950) contributed to the children's literature in Marathi. His major works are Shyamchi Aai, Astik and Gode Shevata. He translated and simplified many Western Classics and published them in a book of stories titled Gode Goshti (Sweet Stories).
Beginning of journalism
On 24 October 1841, Govind Vithal Kunte began Prabhakar. Kunte was the first professional Marathi journalist. Prabhakar eulogised Indian art and culture. Jnyanodaya was begun in 1842 by Christian missionaries in Western India. Jnyan Prakash was started on 12 February 1849 in Pune. It was edited by Krishnaraj Trimbak Ranade. It was a weekly till 1904, when it became a daily. It ceased publication in 1951. It was a prestigious journal and supported education and social reform. Hari Narayan Apte, a famous Marathi novelist served as its editor. Some of its contributors included Mahadev Govind Ranade and Gopal Krishna Gokhale.
In the early years of Marathi journalism, most periodicals were concerned with spreading education and knowledge. These include Jaganmitra (from Ratnagiri), Shubh Suchak (from Satara), Vartaman Dipika, Vartaman Sangrah. In 1862, Induprakash was begun in Bombay (now Mumbai). It was a bilingual journal, edited by M.G. Ranade. It criticised orthodoxy and was the mouthpiece of many social reforms. In 1877, Jyotiba Phule and Krishnarao Bhaskar began Deenabandhu, as part of the Dalit upliftment movement. Deenabandhu was the organ of the Satyashodhak Samaj founded by Phule.
On 4 January 1881, Bal Gangadhar Tilak began Kesari, along with Gopal Ganesh Agarkar. In 1887, Agarkar left to start Sudharak (bilingual) along with Gopal Krishna Gokhale. After Agarkar's death in 1895, it ceased publication. In 1889, K. Navalkar started the weekly Vartahar to highlight atrocities committed by Europeans. In 1890, Haribhau Apte began Karmanuk as a family entertainment paper. It contained articles on science. Also in 1890, Anandrao Ramachandra Dharandhar started Bhoot published every new and full moon day. It was the first Marathi paper to carry cartoons on political and social matters. It was very popular but ceased publication in 1904.
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Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar (1889–1976)'s Yayati won him the Jnanpith Award for 1975. He also wrote many other novels, short stories, essays etc. His major works are Don Dhruv (Two Poles), Ulka (Meteorite), Krounchavadh, Jalalela Mohar, Amrutvel.
The Marathi drama Flourished in 1960s and 1970s, with literary figures like Vasant Kanetkar, Kusumagraj and Vijay Tendulkar. This drama movement was supported by Marathi films which did not enjoy a continuous success. Starting with V. Shantaram and before him the pioneer Dadasaheb Phalke (during the British period), Marathi cinema went on to influence contemporary Hindi cinema. Marathi language as spoken by people here was throughout influenced by drama and cinema along with contemporary literature.
The major paradigm shift in sensibility began in the forties with the avant-garde modernist poetry of B.S. Mardhekar. In the mid fifties, the little magazine movement gained momentum. It published writings which were non-conformist, radical and experimental. Dalit literary movement also gained strength due to the little magazine movement. This radical movement was influenced by the philosophy of Babasaheb Ambedkar and challenged the literary establishment which was largely middle class, urban, and upper caste people. The little magazine movement threw up many noted writers. Bhalchandra Nemade is a well-known novelist, critic and poet. Sharad Rane is a well-known child literary figure. The notable poets include Arun Kolatkar, Dilip Chitre, Namdeo Dhasal, Vasant Abaji Dahake and Manohar Oak. Bhau Padhye, Vilas Sarang, Shyam Manohar, Suhas Shirvalkar and Visharm Bedekar are well known fiction writers.
The another major paradigm shift in Marathi sensibility began in the nineties with the another avant-garde modernist poetry of poets associated with Abhidhanantar and Shabadavedh. In the post nineties, this 'new little magazine movement' gained momentum and poets like Shridhar Tilve Manya Joshi, Hemant Divate, Sachin Ketkar, Mangesh Narayanrao Kale, Saleel Wagh, Mohan Borse, Nitin Kulkarni, Nitin Arun Kulkarni, Varjesh Solanki, Sandeep Deshpande, Vasant Gurjar touched the new areas of post-modern life. The poetry collections broughtout by Abhidhanantar Prakashan and the regular issues of the magazine Abhidhanantar is taking Marathi poetry to the global standards. Another leading wave in contemporary Marathi poetry is the poetry of non-urban poets like Arun Kale, Bhujang Meshram, Pravin Bandekar, Shrikant Deshmukh and Veerdhaval Parab.
Marathi science fiction has a rich heritage and boasts of modern complex stories. A few well known Marathi science fiction authors are Dr. Jayant Narlikar, Dr Bal Phondke, Subodh Javadekar, Niranjan Ghate, and Laxman Londhe.
Marathi language is rich in producing encyclopedias or 'kosh'. Shreedhar Venkatesh Ketkar's 'Dnyaankosh', Siddheshwarshastri Chitrao's 'Charitra Kosh', Mahadevshastri Joshi's 'Bharatiy Sanskrutikosh', and Laxmanshastri Joshi's 'Dharmakosh' and 'Marathi Vishwakosh' are reputed encyclopaedias in Marathi.
It was in 1958, that the term "Dalit literature" was used for the first time, when the first conference of Maharashtra Dalit Sahitya Sangha (Maharashtra Dalit Literature Society) was held at Mumbai, a movement inspired by 19th century social reformer, Jyotiba Phule and eminent dalit leader, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Baburao Bagul (1930–2008) was a pioneer of Dalit writings in Marathi. His first collection of stories, Jevha Mi Jat Chorali (जेव्हा मी जात चोरली) (When I Concealed My Caste), published in 1963, created a stir in Marathi literature with its passionate depiction of a cruel society and thus brought in new momentum to Dalit literature in Marathi. Gradually with other writers like, Namdeo Dhasal (who founded Dalit Panther), these Dalit writings paved way for the strengthening of Dalit movement. Notable Dalit authors writing in Marathi include Arun Kamble, Shantabai Kamble, Raja Dhale, Namdev Dhasal, Daya Pawar, Annabhau Sathe, Laxman Mane, Laxman Gaikwad, Sharankumar Limbale, Bhau Panchbhai, Kishor Shantabai Kale, Narendra jadhav, and Urmila Pawar.
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