Ancient Indian Literature

India had a glorious tradition in composing literature from very ancient times. Both religious and secular literatures were composed. Alongside, books on philosophy, grammar, history and scriptures in Pali, Prakrit, Magadhi and Sanskrit were also written.

Pre-Gupta Period:

In Pre-Gupta period besides Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Ardha-magadhi etc. were medium of writing. In India, Telegu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannad were the ages in use.

  1. Onwards 3rd century B.C., the teachings of Buddha were composed in Pali. Jatakas on the life of great Buddha were also composed in this period.
  2. Maurya age witnessed remarkable progress in literature. Literary works were produced in Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit. Some of the important literary works produced during the Maurya rule include Arthasastra of Kautilya, Ashtadhyayi of Panini, and Kalpasutra of Bhadrabahu etc. Most probably great literary figures like Vasavadatta, Subamdhu, Vatsayana produced their literary works dur­ing this period. Taxila, Pataliputra were famous seat of lit­erature. A number of Jaina scholars like Jambuswami, Brabha Swarnbhova, etc. also flourished during this age.
  3. During the Sunga rule Patanjali wrote Mahabhasya.
  4. The Satavahana rulers were also patron of learning. They adopted Prakrit as official language and Brahmi as script. Hala, a Satavahana ruler composed Sattasi, in Marathi, Gunadhya, a minister, wrote Brihatkatha in Paisachi Prakrit. Sarvaraman produced Sanskrit grammar Katantra.

Kushana Period:

Large numbers of Sanskrit literature, both religious and secular, were produced in the Kushana period. Kanishka’s court was adorned with great scholars like Asvaghosa, Nagarjuna, Vasumitra, Charaka etc. Asvaghosha wrote biography of Buddha Buddhacharita. His two other famous compositions were Sundarananda kavya and Vajnasuchi. “Mahavivasa-sutra”, a commentary on Tripitakas, was written in the 4th Buddhist council convened by Kanishka.

Gupta Period:

The Sanskrit literature got boost in Gupta era. The king Samudragupta was a poet himself. He was given the title “Kaviraj”. Harisena, his court-poet, wrote Allahabad Prashasti. Chandragupta-II was famous as Vikramaditya. He had in his court the famous poet Kalidasa who produced Raghuvamsam, Kumarsambhaba, Meghdutam, Abhigyan Sakuntalam, Ritusamhara, Malavikagnimitram. These works made Kalidasa, the Sanskrit literature and India, world famous. Besides Kalidasa poet Bhababhuti, grammarian Bhartihari, Philosopher Kumaril Bhatta, Gandpad Bharbi was noteworthy scholars present in this period.

Pala Period:

In Pala regime, Sanskrit and Prakrit were mixed which became known as Goudiya style. Then during Sena era again Sanskrit came back and took the front seat. In this period Sridhar Bhatta wrote Nayakandali. Sandhyakar Nandi wrote Ramcharita. During the time of Pala regime Silbhadra, Santi Raksit, Atis Dipankar, Dansil, Kumarabajra, Dibakar Chandra were famous writers.

Sena Period:

King Sena was a writer himself. He wrote two books, namely Danasagara and Advutsagara. But he could not complete Advutsagara and his son Lakshmana Sena completed the book. King Lakshmana Sena was also a poet. He encouraged the men of letters. During his regime out of a number of poets Jayadeva was the best. He wrote the famous Geetgovindam. Halayudh was a known pundit of that time. Besides him Govardhan, Saran, Dhoyi and Umapati Dhar were very famous as writer and scholar.

 South India:

In South India, Tamil language developed in spite of dominance of Sanskrit. Many books were written in Tamil and some of them were very famous.


In this time religion and science were attached to each other. From the ancient times learned people watched the sky, stars and planets. So, astronomy became very popular. Beside astronomy mathematics came into prominence. The number (use of number) came out in India and reached other countries.

 Aryabhatta, Barahamihir were the famous astronomers of that time. Aryabhatta’s world famous work ‘Surya Siddhanta’ and Barahamir’s ‘Brihot Samhita’ showed the world many truths, about the Sun, the Earth, the Moon etc. Charaka and Susruta wrote books of Medical Science.


The most notable paintings of ancient India were seen in Ajanta, Bagh, Ellora and Badami caves. Even today these cave paintings draw lakhs of people from all over the world. Sulapani was a famous painter of that age. He illustrated many scripts in books like Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita and others.

By Amit Agarwal