Famous Literary Heritage of Ancient India

Our country is very rich in literary heritage. Literature means novels, poetry plays, prose and other creative written works. They are considered to have artistic qualities. They have permanent worth through their intrinsic excellence. These artistic writings are worthy of being remembered.

The Vedic Literature in Ancient India

The Vedas are the earliest literary works in India. The Rig Veda is the earliest record of the Indo-Aryan culture. Though devoted more to the study of spiritual and moral subjects, it contains frequent references to the daily life of the early Vedic people, their manners, customs, beliefs, their society, political organisation, their trade and occupations and their mode of warfare. These references put together enable us to construct a vivid picture of the ancient Indian society. There are many references in RigVeda which bear resemblance to Harappan Culture. In the RigVeda, is the Gayatri Mantra which is recited by millions of Hindus everyday. The RigVeda was followed by other three Vedas. The Samveda or the book of chants contains 1549 hymns taken from Rig Veda. Yajurveda is generally called the book of “sacrificial prayers”. It treats the principles of Yajnas sacrifices and some magical formulas and charms. The Atharvaveda contains hymns dealing mostly with special customs, magic and witchcrafts. It also throws light on Vedic civilization and culture.
The Brahmanas are the explanation of the meanings of the Vedic hymns. They were written by lamed priests to explain Vedic texts in simple prose. The Aryanakas are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas. They deal with philosophy and stress the path of knowledge.

The general body of early philosophical treatises is known as upanishad. Their number is about 200. They deal with high philosophical problems. What is this world? What becomes of one after death? Such questions are asked and boldly answered in the Upanishadas. The Vedanagas are the limbs of the Vedas and deal with such subjects as Grammer, Phonetics and Astronomy. The Upvedas deal with four secular subjects : (a) Ayurved (medicine), (b) Dhanurveda or military science (c) Gandharva veda or music (d) Shilpveda or architecture.

The Sutras represent the last phase of the Vedic literature. They are written in a very compressed style. They deal with the vedic rituals and customary law. The Sruta Sutra describe the itua1s of greater sacrifices. The Garahya Sutra describes the ceremonies connected with the domestic life from birth to death. The Dharam Sutra are the earliest works on law both religious and secular.

Six Schools of Hindu Philosophy

They make a systematic and logical examination of the doctrines
of life and Moksha. These schools are

(1) The Samkhya School of Kapila
(2) The Yoga System of Patanjali
(3) Nayaya School of Gautma
(4) The Vaisesika System of Kanda,
(5) Uttra Mimamsa of Vyasa
(6) Vedanta.

The Two Great Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata

The Ramayana was written by Rishi Valmiki and it is the oldest and the most popular epic. It is devoted to the celebration of the deeds of Rama. This work is the first example of Sanskrit Kavya and comprises of 21,000 couplets. The style is simple but highly literary. The Mahabharata is the longest epic in the world and contains more than 100,000 slokas or verses. Its main theme is “the Great epic of the War of the descendants of Bharata” but numerous other stories have been added to illustrate the main theme. It is believed to be the work of a legendary sage Vyasa. But in its present form it cannot be regarded as the work of one author. The Mahabharata is regarded as the “encyclopaedia” of moral teachings as conceived by Brahmanical mind.

The historical importance of the two great epics is really great. They reflect the social customs, political and religious conditions of the age. They vividly portray the virtues and vices and ideals of the people. These epics have considerably influenced the daily life of the Hindus. The lives of Rama and Sita have always supplied to Hindu men and women their ideals of life. Rama is still regarded as an ideal son and an ideal king. Sita is still regarded as a model of Indian womanhood for both purity and loyalty Lakshmana is still looked upon as an ideal brother. Similarly, Yudhishtra is regarded as an embodiment of truthfulness and Lord Krishna as an incarnation (Avtar) of God Vishnu.

Bhagvad Gita

Shrimad Bhagvada Gita is the most instructive and the most interesting portion of the Mahabharata. It is the most beaitftil and perfect song of the Supreme God. Hindus believe that it contains the very words of Shri Krishha incarnation (Avtar) of God Vishnu, to his disciple and friend
0 the Pandav hero Arjuna. It teaches the doctrine of rnshkama karma (work done without seeking any, reward) and Bizakii (loving faith) in God of Grace. Man must do his duty in a selfless way without any desire for reward. The Bhagvad Gita, for more than two thousand years, has deeply influenced the Hindu thought. It is read and revered by millions of Hindus to this day. It has been translated in almost all the living languages of the world. According to Aldous Huxley, “It is of enduring value not only for the Indians but for mankind”.

The Puranas

The Puranas are the storehouse of Indian philosophy and ancient Indian history They are eighteen in numbers. They deal with exploits of gods and heroic princes. Some Puranas gave the names of several kings of different dynasties, in succession. The main purpose of the Puranas was to propagate religion and morals and to create a fear of God in the minds of people. The exact date of the Puranas cannot be fixed but they are a valuable source of information for the history of the period before the 6th century B.C.

Panini’s Ashtadhyayi

Panini, the celebrated Sanskrit grammarian, flourished not later than the fourth century B.C. He was the author of the Ashtadhyayi, the most scientific work on Sanskrit grammar. According to Max Mullar, the Hindus and Greeks are the only nations which have developed the science of grammar and Panini perhaps is the greatest grammarian that the world has ever seen.

The Mughal Architecture

The Mughal Emperors were great builders. They raised a large number of palaces, mosques and forts and other buildings which are notable for the magnificence of their style and designs. The Mughal style of architecture was a mixture of various styles, partly foreign and partly Indian.

Babur had a very poor opinion about Indian architecture. So he summoned many skilled architects from Constantinople to construct buildings at many places in India. But most of the buildings built by Babur have perished. The two that have survived are the mosque in the Kabuli Bagh in Panipat and the Jama Masjid at Sambhal.

Humayun, in spite of his life of stress and strain found some time to erect some buildings. He erected a new fortress town of Din Panah. He also constructed a mosque at Fatehabad in the Hissar district of Haryana.
Sher Shah Sun was a reat builder. Among the buildings constructed by him, his mausoleum at Sasaram is the most famous. In this building, there is a harmonious combination of Hindu and Muslim architecture. Cunningham was so much impressed by it that he Qonsidered it better than the Taj Mahal. Another important building of Sher Shah was the Purana Qua at Delhi. The mosque inside the building is a structure of such admirable architectural qualities as to entitle it a high place among the buildings of Northern India.

Akbar: Emperor Akbar had a thorough understanding of architectural details. He gathered artistic ideas from the expert artists of his court. The most prominent buildings of Akbar are those at Fatehpur Sikri, his capital from 1569 to 1584. The prominent among Akbar’s monuments are the Buland Darwaza, the Jama Masjid, the tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti and the royal palace. The Buland Darwaza is 176 feet high. It is still the highest
Gateway in India and one of the highest in the world. The Jama Masjid described as glory of Fatehpur is one of the greatest and most beautiful mosques in India. But the most beautiful Mughal edifice at Fatehpur Sikri is the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti. Impressed by its finish and form, design and execution, the historians have said that the tomb stands distinguished from Itimad-ud-Daula’s tomb at Agra and the Taj Mahal. The other impressive buildings at Sikri are the house of Birbal, the house of princesses of Ambar, Sonahia Makan, the palace of Turkish Sultana and the Diwani-khas. Dr. V.A. Smith remarks that Fatehpur is a “romance in stone”.

Akbar also built a number of buildings at Agra. He constructed the Agra fort which was completed in 1572 A.D. The walls of this fort are 72 feet high and its circumference is one and a half mile. It has two gateways namely Delhi Gate or Elephant Gate and Amar Singh Gate. Inside the fort are Diwan-i-Aam and Dewan-i-Khas. Akbar also started the construction of a fort at Lahore. He built many palaces in this fort. Its walls had paintings of elephants, tigers and peacocks etc. These paintings show the influence of Hindu art. Later, Shah Jahan completed the construction of the Lahore fort. Akbar started the construction of his tomb at Sikandara near Agra but it was completed by Jahangir. About this tomb, Dr. Iswari Pal Prasad remarks that this building is unique among the sculptures of Asia.  Apart from the buildings and monuments mentioned above, Akbar’s style is visible in a number of forts, serais, schools, tanks and wells.

Under Jahangir. Jahangir did not take much interest in erecting buildings and monuments.  Nevertheless, two important buildings were erected in his times. One is Itmad-ud Daula’s tomb built by Nur Jahan in the memory of her father. It was wholly built of marble and is really a beautiful structure. The other is Jahangir’s tomb at Shadara near Lahore on the bank of river Ravi. It was also built by Nur Jahan.

Under Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan’s reign is most memorable in the history of India for the excellence of architecture. Shah Jahan was the “most magnificent builder”. He built palaces, forts and mosques at various places such as Agra, Delhi, Lahore, Kabul, Kandhar, Ajmer, Ahmedabad, Mukhlaspur and Kashmir. He carried the decorative art to perfection by making an extensive use of snowy marble in laid with precious stones.
The most magnificent of Shah Jahan’s buildings is the famous Taj Mahal at Agra. He raised, this building in the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is a spectacle of supremely moving béauty It has been described as “a dream in marble” and the queen of architecture. Though Shah Jahan invited eminent architects from Shiraz, Baghdad, Constantinople, Bokhara and Samarkand, yet most of them were from Delhi, Lahore, Multan and Kanauj. It took 22 years to complete the construction of the Taj Mahal and its total cost came to about three crore rupees.

The other important building constructed by Shah Jahan was the Red Fort (Lal Qua) at Delhi. The fort has many beautiful buildings such as Rang Mahal, Moti Mahal, Hira Mahal, Diwan-i-Am and Diwan-i-khas. Shah Jahan called the Dewan-i- khas as a “paradise on earth.” Shah Jahan’s peacock throne, “Takhat-i-Taus” was placed in the Dewan i-khas.
Shan Jahan demolished some buildings in the fort of Agra which were built by Akbar and built some new buildings in their place. The new buildings were Diwan-i- Am, Diwan-i-khas, Khas Mahal, Shish Mahal, Suman Burj and Moti Masjid. All these buildings are made of marble. Moti Masjid or Pearl Mosque is regarded as the “purest and the loveliest house of prayer”.

Shah Jahan laid the foundation of the city of Delhi and named it as Shah Jahan Abad. It was situated on the banks of the Jamuna.
Shah Jahan built a Jama Masjid opposite the Red Fort at Delhi. It is even more impressive and pleasing than the Pearl Mosque. It is a very large building and is made of red stone.

Under Aurangzeb. Being himself a puritan, Aurangzeb did not take much interest in the art of architecture. Moreover, as he remained busy in his Deccan campaigns, he could pay little attention to the development of architecture. In 1660 A.D., he constructed a Pearl Mosque in the Red Fort at Delhi. In 1674, he built a l3adshahi Mosque at Lahore. In 1679, he built the tomb of his wife Rabia-ud-Durrani at Aurangabad. This building shows that the art of architecture was on its decline during Aurangzeb’s times.

British Period: The British government in India also built great monuments. They got constructed the government buildings on the British pattern. The Victoria Memorial Hall, Writers Building and Fort St. William were built at Calcutta. They built Victoria Terminus
Railway Station (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji) at Bombay
which is a beautiful specimen of architecture. They also built most
magnificent Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Parliament House at New
Delhi. It was during this period that Shattar Manzil and Kausar
Bagh were built at Lucknow.

Medieval Art and Architecture During the Rule of Delhi Sultans

The Turks and the Afghans brought to India the styles and techniques of Persian and Central Asiatic architecture. These styles of art and architecture intermingled with the Indian styles which led to the development of a new style of architecture. The Turks used the dome and arch on a large scale in the buildings. The Delhi Sultans built the following important monuments.

Sultan Qutab-un-Din Aibek built Quwwat-ul Islam mosque at Delhi. It is a fine example of the IndoMuslim style of architecture. Aibek started the construction of Qutab Minar at Delhi but the building was finally completed by Iltutmish. Qutab Minar was originally intended to be a place for the Muazzin to call the faithfuls to prayer but later on, it became a tower of victory. It is essentially Islamic in form and design. It is very impressive and beautiful building. Aibek also laid the foundation of a mosque named Dhai Din Kr Jizonpada at Ajmer. Iltutmish built an Idgah and a Jama Masjid at Delhi.

Ala-ud-Din Khalji built a new city of Sri. He erected there a palace known as “The Palace of Thousand Pillars”. The palace was so named because the heads of a thousand Mongols were buried in its foundations. Ala-ud Din also built a fine mosque known as Jamait Khana. Another great building erected by him was the Ali Darwaza which is considered as the most treasured gem of Islamic culture.

The buildings of the Tughlaq period lack splendour. They are characterised by Islamic simplicity Ghyas-ud Din Tughlaq built the city of Tughlaqabad and his own mausoleum. Muhammad Tughlaq built the fortress of Adilabad adjoining the city of Tughiaqabad. Firoz Tughlaq was the most magnificent builder of all the Delhi Sultans. He built a number of palaces and cities. But the greatest monument of his reign are Kotla Firoze Shah, Kali Masjid, Lal Gumbad and his own mausoleum. The most important monument of the Lodhi dyrtasty is the Mothki Masjid built by Sikandar Lodhi.

Architecture in Regional Kingdoms

Many provincial governors were also patrons of art and architecture. They developed their distinctive styles of architecture. Bengal, Jaunpur, Maiwa and Gujarat have fine specimens of the architecture of those times. The famous Adina Masjid at Pand a built by Sikandar Shah was one of the largest mosques in the Muslim world. The Delhi Darwaza at Gaur (in Bengal) is a superb example of what can be achieved in brick and terracota. In Gujarat, architecture reached its highest development in the reign of Mahmud Baghera. The Jama Masjid built by Ahmed Shah and Mahmud Baghera at Champanir is a beautiful and lofty structure. The buildings erected by the Sharqi Sultans at Jaunpur present a synthesis of Hindu- Muslim architectural ideas. The Atala Devi Masjid which was completed in 1403 A.D. is one of the brilliant specimens of this style.
The Bahmani rulers were also great builders. Many magnificent buildings were constructed in the capital cities of Gulbarga and Bidar. Some of these were built in old style of architecture. But some are of Persian style such as the Masjid of Gulbarga and the Madras at Bidar. The Mausoleum of Ahmed Shah built by Ala-ud Din II at Bidar is a fine specimen of the art of this period. Its walls arid ceilings are decorated with paintings in brilliant colours in the Persian style. Some remarkable monuments of this Bahmani dynasty are found in Bijapur. The mausoleum of Mahmud Adil Shah, popularly known as Gol Gumbaz, shows the influence of Turkish art. Its enormous dome covers an area of 18000 square feet.

The rulers of Vijayanagar empire were famous for their patronage of art. They developed a distinct style of school of art, painting and architecture. They built palaces, public offices and temples decorated with sculptures and paintings. They are regarded as works of beauty and were admired by the foreign travellers. The city of Vijayanagar had a strong fortification and imposing gateways. Though it was completely destroyed by the Muhammaden invaders, its ruins are virtually “a vast open air museum of Hindu monuments”.

Vijayanagar was regarded as a city of temples. Of these, the temples of Pampapati, Vithal Swami, and Hazara Rama are very famous. They had huge gopurams and spacious mandapas. Many magnificent
temples were also erected in other parts of the kingdom. The temples at Vellore, Kanchipuram and Srirangapattam are notable. The Naiks of Madurai were also patrons of architecture. The temples at
Madurai and Rameshwaram stand witness to their keen interest in architecture. The art of sculpture also made progress. The art of making bronze images though began in the times of the Cholas, reached its 1ights during the time of Vijayanagar kings. The bronze image of Krishna Deva Raya is one of the best specimens of the art of this period.

Due to lack of state patronage, the Rajputs made no magnificent temples. However, some wealthy persons and communities built small temples in small towns and villages. Some specimens of Hindu architecture are found in Rajasthan. Rana Kumbha of Mewar erected numerous forts, palaces, temples and other buildings. Famous among them are the fort of Kumbhalgarh and the Kirti Satambha or Jai Satambha (pillar of
– victory) at Chittorgarh. The palaces at Chittorgarh are models of medieval Hindu architecture. There are ruins of buildings at Ambar near Jaipur belonging to this period. The palace of Man Singh at Gwalior is a remarkable specimen of the Rajput architecture of this period.

Famous Temples of Ancient India

In the south, the Chola kings were great patrons of art. They developed and perfected the Dravidian style of art and architecture. Their greatest monument in the Rajarajeshawara temple at Tanjore built by Rajaraja the great. Its construction was started in 1000 A.D. and was completed in 1010 A.D. Its main structure is 180 feet long and its great Shikhra (tower) is 190 feet high. The temple is crowned by a massive dome. Percy Brown remarks, “It is a landmark in the evolution of the building art in the South India”.

Another great monument of the Chola rule is the temple of Gangaikonda Cholapurama which was built during the reign of Rajindra I. Its design and style is similar to that of Tanjore temple. The main temple is built on a rectangle which is 240 feet long and 110 feet broad. The Mandapa of the temple is supported by 150 pillars. The walls of the temple are decorated with scenes depicting both gods and men. This temple is an excellent example of rhythm, dignity and poise. The temples in the south were also centres of social activity The village councils held meetings there. Schools were also attached to the temples.

In the reign of Pallava dynasty the temples had rock cut shrines. They were carved out of large rocks or cut into hill sides. The temple of Mahabalipuram near Madras (Chennai) is a famous temple of this type. There are many rock cut temples in the town of Kanchipuram.
The famous works of art of the Rashtrakuta period are Kailas temple, the Trimurti of Elephanta Caves and the Dasavatara temple. The magnificent Kailas temple at Ellora with its chamber of pillared halls cut out of the solid rocks was built in the time of Krishna I. The caves around the temple have stone cut images which depict scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The temples of this type are a fine combination of the Northern and Dravidian styles. The Hoyasalas built a magnificent temple
at Halebid near Belur. The rulers of the Hoyasala dynasty built the Hoysaleshwara temple at Dwarsamudra (modern Halebid) in 1150 A.D. It is made of greyish soap stone and is really tharmful. The exteriors and interiors of all the walls and doorways are decorated with beautiful sculptures.

The Bronze Sculptures of the Chola period

The art of sculpture reached its heights in the south during the Chola period. Sculptures formed an important part of every temple. The huge statue of Gomateshwar at S.ravana Belgola in Karnataka, the carvings of the Kailas temple at Ellora and the images in the Elephanta caves built by the Rashtrakutas are fine specimens of art of sculpture. The Chola period is famous for its images of metals. The bronze images produced during the Chola rule are full of grace and simplicity. The image of Nataraja Lord Shiva is a fine specimen of art of sculpture.

North Indian Temples, Forts and Buildings

The kings in the Northern India also contributed to the development of temple architecture. All the kings and the feudatory chiefs built temples. The Jagannath Temple at Pun (Orissa), the Lingaraja temple at Bhuwaneshwar and the Sun temple at Konark are fine specimens
of temple architecture. The Parsawnath Temple, the Vishwanath Temple and the Kaindriya Mahadev Temple at Khajuraho are the magnificent specimens of temple architecture of the Rajput period. The Dilwara Temple at Mount Abu in Rajasthan dedicated to the Jam Tirthankaras is built of pure marble. The well-known Shiva Mandir of Ellora built by the Rajput kings has won the admiration of the modern artists. The Solanki rulers of Kathiawar built many shrines and temples at Ahilwara in Gujarat and at Mount Shatranjya in Kathiawar. The temple of Tejpala is also a fine example of temple architecture. The Rajputs built magnificent forts and
palaces. The most famous forts are at Chitor, Mandu, Gwalior and Jaipur. The palace of Raja Man Singh at Gwalior and Hawamahal palace at Jaipur are beautiful monuments of art and architecture.


The art of sculpture made a great progress during the Rajput period
During the reign of Palas and Senas, statues were built of black stone. Dhiman-ina and Vitapala were the two prominent sculptors who adorned the court of Pala kings. One of the finest examples of art of sculpture was the great statue of Gomateswar at Sarvana Belgola. The statues of Nataraja, the dancing posture of Shiva, particularly those in bronze are considered as masterpieces of art of image making of this period.