Hindi is a direct descendant of Sanskrit through Prakrit and Apabhramsha. It has been influenced and enriched by Dravidian, Turkish, Farsi, Arabic, Portuguese and English. It is a very expressive language. In poetry and songs, it can convey emotions using simple and gentle words. It can also be used for exact and rational reasoning.
The Hindi literary tradition is primarily one of verse and is also essentially oral. Prose was a late-comer to the Hindi literary scene, and the first work of prose in Hindi is generally agreed upon as being the fantasy novel Chandrakanta written by Devaki Nandan Khatri. The earliest works were composed to be sung or recited and were so transmitted for many generations before being written down. As a result, the earliest records of a text may be later by several centuries than the conjectured date of its composition.
The Medieval period (Bhakti Kaal)
Hindi literature may be traced back to medieval times when poets composed in dialects such as Brij-Bhasha and Avadhi. The medieval Hindi literature is marked by the influence of Bhakti movement and composition of long, epic poems. Avadhi and Braj were the dialects in which literature was developed. Bhakti poetry had two schools – the Nirguna school (the believers of a formless God or an abstract name) and the Saguna school (the believers of a God with attributes and worshippers of Vishnu’s incarnations).
In Ritikavya or Ritismagra Kavya period, the erotic element became pre-dominant in the Hindi literature.
Modern Period of Hindi literature (after 1800 AD)
Due to Maratha, British and Afghan influences, the Hindi of Central India was affected. Avadhi and Braj had lost their prestige as the language of the learned. Khari dialect became the chief literary language. Some mediocre literature was produced during early 18th century. Some examples are Chand Chhand Varnan Ki Mahima by Gangabhatt, Yogavashishtha by Ramprasad Niranjani, Gora-Badal ki katha by Jatmal, Mandovar ka varnan by Anonymous, a translation of Ravishenacharya’s Jain Padmapuran by Daulatram (dated 1824).
In 1857, East India Company established Fort William College at Calcutta. The College President John Gill Christ hired professors to write books in Hindi and Urdu. Some of these books were Premsagarby Lalloolal, Naasiketopaakhyan by Sadal Mishra, Sukhsagar by Sadasukhlal of Delhi and Rani Ketaki ki kahani by Munshi Inshallah Khan.
By this time, Hindustani had become the general public’s language. To distinguish themselves from the general masses, the learned Muslims used to write in Urdu (infested with Persian and Arabic vocabulary), while Khadiboli became prominent among educated Hindus. Khadiboli with heavily Sanskritized vocabulary or Sahityik Hindi (Literary Hindi) was popularized by the writings of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Bhartendu Harishchandra and others. Bhartendu Harishchandra preferred Braj dialect for poetry, but for prose, he deliberately used Khadiboli. Other important writers of this period are Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, Maithili Sharan Gupt, R N Tripathi and Gopala Sharan Sinha. The rising numbers of newspapers and magazines made Khadiboli popular among the educated people.
The person who brought realism in the Hindi literature was Munshi Premchand, who is considered as the most revered figure in the world of Hindi fiction and progressive movement. Before Premchand, the Hindi literature revolved around fairy or magical tales, entertaining stories and religious themes. Premchand’s novels have been translated into many other languages.
Jainendra Kumar, Phaneshwar Nath Renu and Ajenya (Satchidananda Vatsyayan) are the other popular figures of this time. Jainendra Kumar explored the human psyche in novels like Sunita and Tyagapatra. Renu’s Maila Aanchal is one of the major works of this period. Ajneya bought experimentalism (prayogvaad) in the Hindi literature. His most famous novel is Shekhar Ek Jivani (1941).
In 20th century, Hindi literature saw a romantic upsurge. This is known as Chhayavaad and the literary figures belonging to this school are known as Chhayavaadi. Jaishankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ and Mahadevi Varma are the major Chhayavaadi poets.