Chapter 6 – Indian Languages & Literature-I: The Role of Sanskrit and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata

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Ever since human beings have invented script, writing has reflected the culture, lifestyle, society and the policy of contemporary society. In the process, each culture evolved its own language and created a huge literary base.

The Role of Sanskrit

  • Sanskrit is the mother of many Indian languages. The Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Dharmasutras are all written in Sanskrit. There is also a variety of secular and regional literature.

  • By reading about the languages and literature created in the past, we shall be able to understand our civilization better and appreciate the diversity and richness of our culture.

  • Sanskrit is the most ancient language od our country. It is one of the twenty-two languages listed in the Indian Constitution.

  • Sanskrit is perhaps the only language that transcended the barriers of regions and boundaries. From the north to the south and the east to the west there is no part of India that has not contributed to or been affected by this language.

  • The writings of kalidasa have added beauty to the storehouse of Sanskrit writings.

Image of Literary works

Image of Literary Works

The Vedas

  • The Vedas are the earliest known literature in India. The Vedas were written in Sanskrit and were handed down orally from one generation to the other.

  • Vedas is one of our most remarkable achievements. The word ‘Veda’ literally means knowledge.

  • In Hindu culture, Vedas are considered as eternal and divine revelations. They treat the whole world as one human family Vasudev Kutumbakam.

  • There are four Vedas, namely, the Rig-Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

The Upanishads

  • The word Upanishad is derived from upa and nishad that is ‘sitting down near’. Groups of pupils sit near the Guru to learn from him in the Guru-shishya parampara or tradition.

  • The Upanishads mark the culmination of Indian thought and are the final parts of the Vedas.

  • There are more than 200 known Upanishads, one of which the Muktika, gives a list of 108 Upanishads this number corresponds to the holy number of beads on a mala or Hindu rosary.

  • The Upanishads form an important part of our literary legacy. They deal with questions like the origin of the universe, life and death, the material and spiritual world, nature of knowledge and many other questions.

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata

  • Our two great epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Ramayana of Valmiki is the original Ramayana. It is called Adi Kavya and Maharishi Valmiki is known as Adi Kavi.

  • The Ramayana presents a picture of an ideal society. The other epic, the Mahabharata, was written by Ved Vyas.

  • Originally it was written in Sanskrit and contained 8800 verses and was called ‘Jaya’ or the collections dealing with victory.

  • In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince and elaborates on different Yogic and Vedantic philosophies with examples and analogies.

  • Bhagavad Gita spoke of positiveness in human actions. It also spoke of duty towards God and human beings alike forgetting about the results.

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