Indian Language and Literature - Ancient India for Kids

Indian language and literature

Harappan pictograph writing

One of the earliest known writing systems came from India, probably around 2500 BC. Unfortunately, we can't read the Harappan writing yet. But we know people were using this writing to mark their property, so other people couldn't steal it, and to keep track of things. The writing was in pictographs, like Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Rig Veda
Sanskrit version of the Rig Veda

After the Aryan invasion, about 1500 BC, the Harappan writing was forgotten, and nobody in India could write at all for the next thousand years.

When people did start to write again, around 500 BC, it may have been an idea they got from seeing Persians write. But the Indians did not use Persian script. Instead, they used an alphabetic writing called Sanskrit. One of the first things they wrote down was a poem called the Rig Veda. There were three other Vedas as well but they are less famous. They also wrote down the Upanishads, which are commentaries and explanations of the Vedas.

Around 300 BC, people wrote down the Ramayana, a long story about Prince Rama and his wife Sita. And they also wrote down the Mahabharata. Part of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita, a lot of advice about the law and how people should behave.

About the same time, people began to collect traditional stories called Jataka tales and write them down too. Most of these stories have a lesson or a moral: they are the origins of the English stories of Chicken Little and the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg and many others. Many of the Greek stories we know as Aesop's Fables also come from older Jataka tales.

When many people in India converted to Islam in the 1100s AD, they began to read Arabic stories and poetry, and many writers found new inspiration there. Lalla Arifa, for example, was a Sufi woman who wrote in the 1300s AD. She wrote short poems about being abused by her husband and her husband's family at home, and about leaving to become a Sufi religious leader.

The Rig Veda
The Ramayana
The Mahabharata
The Bhagavad Gita
Jataka Tales
Lalla Arifa
Ancient India
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