Secular Literature in Ancient India

The Secular literature refers to the non-religious literature. The literature available to us can be classified into two groups namely indigenous literature which for the sake of convenience can be further sub-divided into religious and nonreligious and foreign literature of the foreign travellers.

 The mass of non-religious literature is comprised of Dharmashastras, biographies, chronicles, works on politics and grammar, classical Sanskrit literature and several scientific works. It is not possible to mention all, since the numbers are huge comprising from every dynasty. The Dharmasutras compiled in 500-200 BCE and the Smritis (circa 200 BCE – 900CE) together with their commentaries are called Dharmashastras. Thes are law books dealing with norms of social behaviour besides personal, civil and criminal law. From them we infer about social practices prevalent in those times. The Buddhacharitaand the Saundaranandaby Ashvaghosha, and Harshacharita by Banabhatta, are some of the important biographies of ancient times. Kalhan’s Rajtarangini, the 12th century historical chronical of Kashmir is the best example of the earliest historical writing.

Noteworthy works on politics and grammar include Kautilya’s Arthashastra which provides rich material for the study of ancient Indian polity and economy. Kamandaka’s Nitishastra and Panini’s Ashtadhyayi provide information about the janapadas or the territorial 8 states of pre-Mauryan times. Patanjali’s Mahabhashya is a commentary on Panini but also furnishes accounts of post-Mauryan times. Aryabhata’s Aryabhatiya and Varahamihira’s Brihatsamhita are important astronomical texts while Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are renowned works on medicine. Of the ancient dramas, the Dutavakya, Balacharita, Svapna-Vasavadatta by Bhasa, the Mudrarakshasa and Devichandragupta by Vishakadatta and the classic works of Kalidasa including both kavyas and dramas such as Äbhijnanshakuntalam, Malvika-Agnimitram, Raghuvamsa etc. reflect the social and cultural conditions of the times of which the writers belonged.

Besides the Sanskrit works, we also have some Tamil works constituting the corpus of Sangam literature assigned to the early centuries of the CE. The Sangam literature is a major source of information for the social, economic and political life of the people living in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the early centuries of the CE. A number of dynastic historical chronicles have been found in different parts of Northern India. Only some important chronicles are mentioned below. In Gujarat the following wellknown works have been discovered: the Ras-Mala and Kirti-Kaumudi of Somesvara, the Prabandha-Kosa of Rajasekhara, theVasanta-Vilasa of Balachandra etc. These works contain both fables and facts. In Sind, in early thirteenth century, with the initiative of the Arabs, was started the writing of local historical chronicle named the Chachnama. It narrates in details the Arab conquest of Sind. Only the translated versions of the Chachnama in Persian have reached us. They also contain the historical background of the century previous to the Arab conquest of Sind i.e. the early seventh Century.

Local chronicles of Nepal are known as Vamsavalis. Early portions of these works are, “purely mythical”, while the accounts narrated in them since first century CE contain some materials relating to history of Nepal as they bear a list of the names of Kings with the duration of their reigns. In Assam local chronicles of Kamarupa Sansnavali are one of the important sources for reconstructing the history of late Hindu period of Kamarupa in Assam.

1 thought on “Secular Literature in Ancient India”

  1. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this excellent blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share this site with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *