Indian literature is the oldest in the world. India has 18 officially recognized languages, and a huge variety of literature has been produced in these languages over the years. In Indian literature, oral and written forms prevail. Hindu literary traditions dominate a large part of Indian culture. Apart from the Vedas which are a sacred form of knowledge, there are other works such as the Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharatha, treatises such as Vaastu Shastra in architecture and town planning and Artha Shastra in political science.
Devotional Hindu drama, poetry and songs span the subcontinent. Among the best known are the works of Kalidas (writer of the famed Sanskrit play Shakuntala) and Tulsidas (who wrote an epic Hindi poem based on the Ramayana). Tamil poetry of the Sangam poetry is well renowned.
The most famous works in Sanskrit are the Hindu holy texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, Manusmriti. The great epics are Ramayana and Mahabharata. Panini's Ashtadhyayi standardized Sanskrit grammar and phonetics. Kalidas is considered as the Shakespeare of Sanskrit. His Shakuntala and Meghdoot are most famous Sanskrit plays. Some other famous plays were Mricchakatika by Shudraka, Bhaasa's Svapna Vasavadattam and Ratnavali by Sri Harsha. Later poetic works include Geeta Govinda by Jayadeva. Some other famous works are Chanakya's Arthashastra and Vatsyayana's Kamasutra.
The most notable Prakrit language was Pali. Pali literature includes Buddhist philosophical works, poetry and some grammatical works. Major works in Pali are Jataka tales, Dhammapada, Addhakatha, Mahavansha etc. Some of the major Pali grammarians were Kachvaayan, Moggalaan and Varruchi (who wrote Prakrit Prakash). Many of Ashvaghosha's plays were written in Shaurseni Prakrit. Another major work in Shaurseni was Karpoormanjari. Kalidasa, Harsha and Haal used Maharashtrian Prakrit in some of their plays and poetry. Many Shwetambar Jain works are also written in the Maharashtri Prakrit. Many plays (like those of Ashvaghosha) and Jain works were written in the Ardha Magadhi Prakrit.
Tamil literature has been in existence for more that 2500 years. Tolkaappiyam has been credited as its oldest work, whereas the exact origins of Thirukkural is unknown. The golden age of Tamil literature was during the Sangam period, roughly 1800 years ago. The classic works of this period are Silapadhigaaram, Manimekalai and Sivakasinthamani. Tamil literature is know for its secular traditions, although its authors had strong religious beliefs. Thirukkural is considered to be the greatest of Tamil works. See Tamil literature for details.
Hindi literature started as religious and philosophical poetry in medieval periods in dialects like Avadhi, Brij etc. Most famous figures from this period are Kabir, Tulsidas. In modern times, Khadi dialect became more prominent and a variety of literature was produced in Sanskrit.
Chandrakanta written by Devaki Nandan Khatri is considered to be first prose work in Hindi. Munshi Premchand was the most famous Hindi novelist. The chhayavadi poets include Maithili Sharan Gupt, Jaishankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant, Mahadevi Varma, Ramdhari Singh 'Dinkar' etc.
Among other traditions Urdu poetry is a fine example of linguistic and cultural synthesis. Arab and Persian vocabulary based on the Hindi language resulted in a vast and extremely beloved class of ghazal literature, usually written by Muslims in contexts ranging from romance and society to philosophy and devotion to Allah. Urdu soon became the court language of the Mughals and in its higher forms was once called the 'Kohinoor' of Indian languages.
In the last century, several Indian writers have distinguished themselves not only in traditional Indian languages but also in English. India's only Noble Laureate in Literature was the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore. Other major writers who are either Indian or of Indian origin and derive much inspiration from Indian themes are R. K. Narayan, Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Raja Rao, Jhumpa Lahiri and Bharati Mukherjee.
Literature in other languages