Indian epic poetry

Indian epic poetry

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Indian epic poetry is the epic poetry
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 written in the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

, traditionally called Kavya (or Kāvya; Sanskrit: काव्य, IAST: kāvyá). The Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

and Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

, originally composed in Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 and translated thereafter into many other Indian languages, are some of the oldest surviving epic poems on earth and form part of "Itihāsa" ("History").

Sanskrit Epics



The ancient Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 epic
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

s, the Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

and Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

, also termed Itihāsa ("History") or Mahākāvya ("Great Compositions"), refer to epic poems that form a canon of Hindu scripture
Hindu scripture
The Literature regarded as central to the Vedic and Hindu literary tradition was originally predominantly composed in Sanskrit. Indeed, much of the morphology inherent in the learning of Sanskrit is inextricably linked to study of the Vedas and other early texts....

. Indeed, the epic form prevailed and verse remained until very recently the preferred form of Hindu
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 literary
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 works. Hero
Hero
A hero , in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, their cult being one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion...

-worship was and is a central aspect of Indian culture, and thus readily lent itself to a literary tradition
Tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

 that abounded in epic poetry and literature. The Puranas
Puranas
The Puranas are a genre of important Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religious texts, notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.Puranas...

, a massive collection of verse-form histories
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 of India's many Hindu god
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

s and goddesses, followed in this tradition. Itihāsas and Purāṇas are mentioned in the Atharva Veda and referred to as the fifth Veda.

The language of these texts, termed "Epic Sanskrit", constitutes the earliest phase of Classical Sanskrit, following the latest stage of Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit is an old Indo-Aryan language. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language...

 found in the Shrauta Sutras.

The famous poet and playwright Kālidāsa
Kalidasa
Kālidāsa was a renowned Classical Sanskrit writer, widely regarded as the greatest poet and dramatist in the Sanskrit language...

 also wrote two epics: Raghuvamsha (The Dynasty of Raghu) and Kumarasambhava
Kumarasambhava
Kumārasambhava is a Sanskrit epic poem by Kālidāsa; the first eight cantos are accepted as his authorship...

(The Birth of Kumar Kartikeya), though they were written in later Classical Sanskrit rather than Epic Sanskrit. Other Classical Sanskrit epics are the “Slaying of Śiśupāla” Śiśupālavadha of Māgha
Magha
Magha may refer to:* Magha , a month in the Hindu calendar* Magh , the same month in the Bengali calendar* Magha , an 8th century Sanskrit poet, who wrote Shishupala-vadha...

, “Arjuna and the Mountain Man” Kirātārjunīya
Kirātārjunīya
Kirātārjunīya is a Sanskrit kavya by Bhāravi, written in the 6th century or earlier. It is an epic poem in eighteen cantos describing the combat between Arjuna and lord Shiva in the guise of a kirāta or mountain-dwelling hunter. Along with the Naiṣadhacarita and the Shishupala Vadha, it is one of...

 of Bhāravi
Bharavi
Bharavi was a Sanskrit poet known for his Mahakavya , the Kirātārjunīya in 18 cantos based on an episode from the Mahabharata.-Time and place:...

, the “Adventures of the Prince of Nishadha” Naiṣadhacarita of Śrīharṣa and "Bhaṭṭi's Poem" Bhaṭṭikāvya of Bhaṭṭi.

Kannada epic poetry



Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

 epic poetry mainly consists of Jain
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 religious literature and Virashaiva literature. Asaga
Asaga
Asaga was a mid-9th century Digambara Jain poet who wrote in Sanskrit and Kannada language. He is most known for his extant work in Sanskrit, the Vardhaman Charitra . This epic poem which runs into 18 cantos was written in 853 CE. It is the earliest available Sanskrit biography of 24th and last...

 wrote Vardhaman Charitra (Life of Vardhman Mahavir), an epic which runs in 18 canto
Canto
The canto is a principal form of division in a long poem, especially the epic. The word comes from Italian, meaning "song" or singing. Famous examples of epic poetry which employ the canto division are Lord Byron's Don Juan, Valmiki's Ramayana , Dante's The Divine Comedy , and Ezra Pound's The...

s, in 853 CE, the first Sanskrit language biography of 24th and last Thirthankara of Jainism
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

, Mahavira
Mahavira
Mahāvīra is the name most commonly used to refer to the Indian sage Vardhamāna who established what are today considered to be the central tenets of Jainism. According to Jain tradition, he was the 24th and the last Tirthankara. In Tamil, he is referred to as Arukaṉ or Arukadevan...

, though his Kannada language version of Kalidasa's epic poem, Kumārasambhava, Karnataka Kumarasambhava Kavya is lost. The most famous poet from this period is Adikavi Pampa
Adikavi Pampa
Pampa , called by the honorific Ādikavi is one of the greatest Kannada poets of all time.He is very famous even today for his philosophical beliefs...

 (902-975 CE), one of the most famous writers in the Kannada language
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

. His Vikramarjuna Vijaya
Vikramarjuna Vijaya
Vikramarjuna Vijaya , also known as Pampa Bharatha is a classic work of the 10th century Jain poet Pampa . It is an Kannada version of the great epic, the Mahabharata of Vyasa. Pampa choose the Arjuna, the central figure of the Pandava Clan, as the hero of his epic...

(also called pampa bharatha) is hailed as a classic even to this day. With this and his other important work Adipurana
Adipurana
Adipurana is a 10th century Kannada text written in Champu style, a mix of prose and verse, dealing with the ten lives of the first tirthankara, Adinatha, also known as Rishabhanatha . This work is known to be the first work of Kannada poet Adikavi Pampa . It is based on the story narrated by...

 he set a trend of poetic excellence for the Kannada poets of the future. The former work is an adaptation of the celebrated Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

, and is the first such adaptation in Kannada. Noted for the strong human bent and the dignified style in his writing, Pampa has been one of the most influential writers in Kannada. He is identified as Adi kavi. (First poet). It is only in Kannada that we have a Ramayana
Ramayana
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic. It is ascribed to the Hindu sage Valmiki and forms an important part of the Hindu canon , considered to be itihāsa. The Ramayana is one of the two great epics of India and Nepal, the other being the Mahabharata...

 and a Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

 based on the Jaina tradition in addition to those based on Brahmanical tradition.

Shivakotiacharya
Shivakotiacharya
Shivakotiacharya , a writer of the 9th-10th century, is considered the author of didactic Kannada language Jain text Vaddaradhane . A prose narrative written in pre-Old-Kannada , Vaddaradhane is considered the earliest extant work in the prose genre in the Kannada language...

 was the first writer in prose style. His work Vaddaradhane
Vaddaradhane
Vaddaradhane by Shivakotiacharya is the earliest extant prose work in Kannada. It is a didactic work consisting of nineteen stories and is based on Harisena's Brhatkathakosa. It gives a detailed description of the life of Bhadrabahu of Shravanabelagola. The work is dated to the 9th century but...

 is dated to 900 CE.
Sri Ponna
Sri Ponna
Sri Ponna was a Kannada poet in the court of Rashtrakuta Dynasty king Krishna III . The emperor honoured Ponna with the title "emperor among poets" for his domination of the Kannada literary circles of the time, and the title "imperial poet of two languages" for his command over Sanskrit as well...

(939-966 CE) is also an important writer from the same period, with Shanti Purana as his magnum opus. Another major writer of the period is Ranna
Ranna
Ranna was one of the earliest poets of Kannada language.Ranna, Adikavi Pampa and Sri Ponna together are called "three gems of Kannada literature".-Early days:Ranna was born on 949 C.E. in Muduvolalu Bagalkot district, Karnataka....

(949-? CE). His most famous works are the Jain
Jainism
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state...

 religious work Ajita Tirthankara Purana and the Gada Yuddha (The Mace fight), a birds' eye view of the Mahabharata
Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Nepal, the other being the Ramayana. The epic is part of itihasa....

, set in the last day of the Battle of Kurukshetra
Kurukshetra
Kurukshetra is a land of historical and religious importance. Historically the land belonged to Punjab now a district in Haryana state of India. It is a holy place and is also known as Dharmakshetra . According to the Puranas, Kurukshetra is named after King Kuru, the ancestor of Kauravas and...

 and relating the story of the Mahabharata through a series of flashbacks.
Structurally, the poetry in this period is in the Champu style, essentially poetry interspersed with lyrical prose.

prabhulingaleele
Prabhulingaleele
Prabhulingaleele is an epic poem written by Indian Virashaiva poet Chamarasa in the shatpadi metre. The book narrates the life story of the Devine incarnation Allama Prabhu....

, Basava purana
Basava purana
The Basava purana in Telugu was written by Palkuriki Somanatha at 13th C. Later it is translated in to kannada by Bhima kavi. This is the epic poem narrating the life story of Basaveshwara....

, channabasavapurana
Channabasavapurana
This is the epic poem written by Virupaksha pandita in kannada . This book narrates the life story of channabasavanna as the incarnation of lord Shiva...

, basavarajavijaya
Basavarajavijaya
It is written by shadaksharadeva of 17 C. The book narrates the life story of Basavanna and ther sharanas.The book is written in champu style and it is the last of the champu tradition started by pampa....

 are few of the epics under virashaiva tradition

Tamil Epics



The post-sangam period (2nd century-6th century) saw many great Tamil
Tamil literature
Tamil literature refers to the literature in the Tamil language. Tamil literature has a rich and long literary tradition spanning more than two thousand years. The oldest extant works show signs of maturity indicating an even longer period of evolution...

 epics being written, including Cilappatikaram
Cilappatikaram
Silappatikaram Silappatikaram has been dated to likely belong to the beginning of Christian era, although the author might have built upon a pre-existing folklore to spin this tale. The story involves the three Tamil kingdoms of the ancient era, the Chola, the Pandya and the Chera...

(or Silappadhikaram), Manimegalai, Seevaga-chintamani, Valayapati and Kundalakesi
Kundalakesi
Kundalakesi is a fragmentary Tamil epic written by Nagakuthanaar. Tamil literary tradition places it among the five great epics, alongside such works as the Manimekalai and Cilappatikaram. Its time period has been estimated to be before fifth century C.E.-Sources and content:Of the five great...

. Later, during the Chola period, Kamban (12th century) wrote what is considered one of the greatest Tamil epics — the Kamba ramayanam
Kambaramayanam
Ramavataram , popularly referred to as Kamba Ramayanam , is a Tamil epic that was written by Kamban during the 12th century. Based on Valmiki's Ramayana in Sanskrit, the story describes the life of King Rama of Ayodhya...

 of Kamban, based on the valmeeki Ramayana.

Hindi Epics


The first epic to appear in Hindi
Hindi
Standard Hindi, or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi, also known as Manak Hindi , High Hindi, Nagari Hindi, and Literary Hindi, is a standardized and sanskritized register of the Hindustani language derived from the Khariboli dialect of Delhi...

 was Tulsidas
Tulsidas
Tulsidas , was a Hindu poet-saint, reformer and philosopher renowned for his devotion for the god Rama...

' (1543–1623) Ramacharitamanas
Ramacharitamanas
Shri Ramcharitmanas , also spelt Shri Ramcharitamanasa, is an epic poem in Awadhi, composed by the 16th-century Indian poet, Goswami Tulsidas...

, also based on the Ramayana. It is considered a great classic of Hindi epic poetry and literature, and shows the author Tulsidas in complete command over all the important styles of composition — narrative, epic, lyrical and dialectic. He has given a human character to Rama
Rama
Rama or full name Ramachandra is considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism, and a king of Ayodhya in ancient Indian...

, the Hindu Avatar
Avatar
In Hinduism, an avatar is a deliberate descent of a deity to earth, or a descent of the Supreme Being and is mostly translated into English as "incarnation," but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation"....

 of Vishnu
Vishnu
Vishnu is the Supreme god in the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God....

, portraying him as an ideal son, husband, brother and king.

In modern Hindi literature, Kamayani
Kamayani
Kamayani is a Hindi epic poem by Jaishankar Prasad . It is considered one of the greatest literary works written in modern times in Hindi literature...

 by Jaishankar Prasad
Jaishankar Prasad
Jaishankar Prasad , one of the most famous figures in modern Hindi literature as well as Hindi theatre.- Biography :...

 has attained the status of an epic. The narrative of Kamayani is based on a popular mythological story, first mentioned in Satapatha Brahmana. It is a story of the great flood and the central characters of the epic poem are Manu
Manu (Hinduism)
In various Hindu traditions, Manu is a title accorded to the progenitor of mankind, and also the very first brahman king to rule this earth, who saved mankind from the universal flood. He was absolutely honest which was why he was initially known as "Satyavrata"...

 (a male) and Shraddha (a female). Manu is representative of the human psyche and Shradha represents love. Another female character is Ida
Ida (goddess)
Ida is a Hindu goddess of the earth, abundant food, and nourishment. She is also the granter of any blessings evoked through her.-Further reading:...

, who represents rationality. Some critics surmise that the three lead characters of Kamayani symbolize a synthesis of knowledge, action and desires in human life.

Apart from Kamayani
Kamayani
Kamayani is a Hindi epic poem by Jaishankar Prasad . It is considered one of the greatest literary works written in modern times in Hindi literature...

; Kurukshetra
Kurukshetra
Kurukshetra is a land of historical and religious importance. Historically the land belonged to Punjab now a district in Haryana state of India. It is a holy place and is also known as Dharmakshetra . According to the Puranas, Kurukshetra is named after King Kuru, the ancestor of Kauravas and...

(1946), Rashmirathi
Rashmirathi
Rashmirathi , meaning 'the Sun's charioteer', is one of the most popular epic poems of the great Hindi poet, Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'. It is one of the most appreciated works of Dinkar other than "Kurukshetra".-About the poem:...

(1952) and Urvashi (1961) by Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'
Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar'
Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar was an Indian Hindi poet, essayist and academic, who is considered as one of the most important modern Hindi poets. He remerged as a poet of rebellion as a consequence of his nationalist poetry written in the days before Indian independence...

 have attained the status of epic poetry
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

.