Literary And Scholarly Studies During British Indi1

Literary and Scholarly studies during british India

Bengali Literature

Before the impact of the West, the Bengali literature had two distinct sources—that of the learned and the well-to-do, and of the common people. The aristocratic type of literature, that is the former type, was patronised by the Courts, the Chiefs, the landlords.

The poets who wrote for the common people were kabiwals, Kirtanias, Yatras, lappa, Panchi, Dhop etc. But the difference in the form and content of the aristocratic and the common types of literature was not radical.  

From the beginning of the nineteenth century a new order began to emerge and a fresh era was inaugurated in Bengali literature. It was, in fact, after the establishment of the Fort William College that important steps towards the development of modern Indian languages were taken.

In order to teach the young English officials Indian langu­ages the college had to undertake compilation works in different sub­jects and in different languages for the instruction of the students. Dr. Gilchrist was responsible for production of books in Hindustani, Persian and Arabic while William Carey was for Bengali and other languages. Bengali scholars who wrote text books were Mrityunjay Vidyalankar. Ramram Basu, Chandi Charan Munshi, Rajib Lochan Mukhopaydhyaya etc.

The Christian missionaries, were another agency in the develop­ment of Bengali prose—Carey, Marshman and Ward were the pioneers in this regard. Their main contributions were works on Bengali gram­mar, Dictionary, Translation from English. Felix Carey was respon­sible for the production of the first volume of an encyclopaedia dea­ling with Physiology and Anatomy. Kalimohan Banerjee an early con­vert to Christianity edited an encyclopaedia in thirteen volumes called Vidya Kalpadruma. Works on history, philosophy, science etc, were also brought out.

The development of the Bengali language was largely helped by the contributions of the journals like Samachar Darpan, of the Serampore missionaries, Sambad Kaumudi of Ram Mohan Roy, Tattwabodhini Patrika of Devendranath Tagore – Sambad Prabhakar of Iswar Chan­dra Gupta. Organisations like School Book Society established in 1817 arranged for the supply of cheap books for the schools, and pub­lication of translation of books in Bengali on subjects like history, geography etc.

The Vernacular Literature Society founded in 1851 published books meant for use as rewards and prizes. Among its publications were translation of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, St. Pierre’s Paul and Virginia, Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and Elizabeth’s the Exiles of Siberia, the different types of movements such as social, religious and political gave a great impetus to the production of litera­ture.

In James Long’s catalogue of Bengali Works 1400 Bengali books and pamphlets have been listed as have been produced in the first half of the nineteenth century. Of the writers of the period Ram Mohan must be reckoned as the precursor and leader. His claim to be recognised as the father of, the Bengali prose literature rests on his originality in composing Bengali in lucid, simple style “at the same time persuasive, orderly and suave, unruffled by winds of emotion or pas­sion”. His works were mainly in prose but he was also a master in poetical composition. He translated Bhagavad Gita in verse and composed many religious songs.


The progress of English education, foundation of edu­cational newspapers and associations, and the efforts of the Christian missionaries gave a great impetus to Gujarati language. In 1814 The Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor within the Government of Bombay was founded by Archdeacon Barnes which gradually set up six schools four in Bombay city one in Surat and one in Broach; in 1826 it set up another school at Ahmadabad. Under the patronage of this society Ranchhorbhai Girdharbhai who had learnt English produced first series of Gujarati text books and became the guide of almost all the aspiring youngmen who took to literature and social reform. The work was carried forward by the students of Elphinstone College founded in 1827 and of the Bombay University founded in 1857.

Kinloch Forbes, an Assistant Judge at Ahmadabad took interest in the study of Gujarati language and history and secured the services of poet Dalpatram Dayabhai who collected old manuscripts and folk­songs and folk-tales. In 1848 Forbes founded at Ahmadabad the Gujarat Vernacular Society later named Gujarat Vidya Sabha and started the first Gujarat fortnightly called the Buddhiprakas. After his transfer to Surat he set up a similar society there and started a literary journal called Surat Samachar. Dalpatram’s zeal for social reforms found expression in his poems.

Some of his poems found place in the school text books and had an influence over the young minds for nearly forty years. His poem Hunnarkhanni Chadai (1850) dealt with the evil effects of modern industries on Indian crafts, and was regarded as the first expression of Swadeshi. Narmada Sankar Lal-shankar was the most outstanding literary figure of the second half of the nineteenth century.

His principal works are on Gujarati prosody, Gujarati figure of speech, Gujarati dictionary and a Dictionary my­thology. He is regarded as the father of modern Gujarati prose. The only other important prose writer of this period was Navalram Laksh- miram who was a friend of Narmada Shankar. Other important writers were Mahipatram Rupram Nandshankar Tuljashankar.

Marathi Literature

With the passing of the Peshwa’s kingdom into the hands of the British in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, a situation similar to that had developed in Bengal began to rise in ‘the Bombay Presidency and factors—political, social and economic began to operate as they did in Bengal. The Marathi language and literature began to be transformed in the way similar to that of Bengal.

Marathi literature in the eighteenth century and earlier was large­ly in verse expressing folk sentiments of love and heroism as well as conveying religious and moral teachings. A new literary deve­lopment began with Eknath and followed by writers like Tukaram, Mukteswar Ramdas etc. In the eighteenth century Marathi literature, mainly poetry, had two distinct divisions, one secular and the other reli­gious and classical.

In the secular literature were the love lyrics, histori­cal ballads etc. while in religious and classical group, composition in imitation of Ramayana and Mahabharata, legends of Puranas etc. appea­red. In prose there was not much excellence to start with and there were adaptations from Sanskrit fables and lores like Betal Panchaishi, Singhasan Battisi etc. Letters, despatches and official records cons­tituted the third form of prose.

The new trend in literature made its appearance from the begin­ning of the nineteenth century. The Christian missionaries were pioneers in the new Marathi language and literature and Carey pub­lished the first Marathi grammar with the help of Marathi Pandit Vaijnath in 1805. In 1814 the Serampore Press published the first Marathi book Singhasan Battisi. Under the patronage of Monstuart Elphinstone, the first governor of Bombay Presidency Bombay Na­tive Education Society was founded in 1920 which undertook preparation of text books in local vernacular. English treatises on sur­veying, mensuration, anatomy nosology and materia medica were tran­slated in Marathi.

School Book Society founded in 1822 encouraged production of books for schools boys as well as adults and Goldsmith’s History of Rome, Malcolm’s Persia, Wilk’s History of the Arabs and History of the Chinese, works on Physics, Chemistry, Ethics, History of Gujarat,  Orme’s Account of Hindusthan. Ain-i-Akbari, Sikandamama etc. were listed for translation by the Society. In this way the foundations of the new Maratha Prose were laid through which secular and scientific knowledge was propagated.

In 1833 the government took a retrograde step by setting up the Bombay Board of Education presided over by Sir Erskine Perry, which became a strong protagonist of English and began to discourage pub­lication in local varnacular. But Bal Sastri Jambhekar, Dadoba Pan-duranga took up the challenge and wrote a number of Marathi books.

An urge and taste for reading Marathi had been created by the Maratha journals that came out at that time. In 1832 Bombay Darpan the first Marathi journal was established by Jambhekar and a second journal Digdarshan came out in 1840. Bhau Maharaja brought out Prabhakar in 1841. Likewise Dnyanodaya, Dnyan Prakash, Vicharlahari etc. came out in subsequent years. These Marathi journals gave a great stimulus to Marathi writing as well as reading Marathi literature.

Urdu & Hindi Literature

Under the new conditions Urdu and Hindi began to make rapid progress. While Urdu followed the normal course of progress, Hindi was hampered by a hesitancy as to whether Braja Bhasa or Khari Boli should be adopted as literary language. While Braja Bhasa possessed considerable treasure of literature both prose and poetry, Khari Boli was not considered to be sufficiently elegant as a medium of poetical composition.

But after the establishments of the Fort William College books were being produced in Khari Boli and the language was shown to have the capability of serious writings. But in the hands of Sadasukhlal, Lalluji Lai, Sadal Misra and Insallaih Khan Khari Boli was used in prose composition to excellent effect.

As to the dialect to be used in Hindi poetry the controversy continued. Develop­ment of Hindi as a vigorous language took place in the nineteenth cen­tury. Hindi journals, historical treatises, essays and dramas prepared the ground for subsequent development of Hindi language and litera­ture.

Some of the important Hindi prose writers such as Raja Shiva Prasad, (1823-95) who was responsible for writing a history of India in three volumes used many Persian words in his work. Raja Lakshaman Singh based his composition on highly elegant Sanskrit style while Bharatendu Harish Chandra followed a middle course, and based his dramas on English models.

Hindi poetry composed in Braja Bhasa was largely revivalist in nature. It was not until Sridhar Pathak (1859-1928) made use of Khari Boli in Hindi poetry that the tradition of exclusive use of Braja Bhasa for Hindi poetry was broken, His lead was followed by many others and the Khari Boli became the main medium of the new Hindi poetical lite­rature.

Urdu developed with even pace and had already made great pro­gress. It was in the writings of Ghalib that Urdu prose and poetry showed new, modern trends. Ghalib’s style of prose in his letters-simple yet rich conversational style became a model for modern expression. In poetry Ghalib’s preference to meaning and thought, spontaneity of style and expression, originality in use of simile and metaphors marked a great advance in Urdu literature.

The foundations of the new school of Urdu literature were laid by Md. Husain Azad and Altaf Husain Hali at Lahore to promote progressive Urdu literature. Md. Husain Azad composed poems in new style and in new themes such as Sham ki Amad, i.e. Advent of Evening, Mathnavi Hubbi Watan i.e. Love of Mother land, Dad-i-lnsaf, i.e. Praise of Jus­tice, Zanustan i.e. Winter, and Khwab-i-Amn, i.e. Dream of Peace. Hali’s contribution was even greater. He was equally great poet, prose- writer and a critic. His poems dealt themes of patriotism, social re­forms Nature, elegy etc.

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