Hindi language, spoken by a large number of people in India, has its roots in
the classical Sanskrit language. Hindi literature may be traced back to medieval
times when poets composed in languages such as Brajbhasha and Avadhi, which are
now regarded as dialects of Hindi. Prose writings came much later, and the first
work of HIndi prose is generally agreed upon as being the fantasy novel
Chandrakanta written by Devaki Nandan Khatri.
Hindi poetry is divided into four prominent forms or styles, being Bhakti (devotional - Kabir, Raskhan); Shringar (beauty - Keshav, Bihari); Veer-Gatha (extolling brave warriors); and Adhunik (modern).
Adi kaalIn ancient period of Hindi or Adi Kaal (before 1400 AD), Hindi literature was developed in the states of Kannauj, Delhi and Ajmer. Delhi was ruled by Prithviraj Chauhan and his court poet was Chand Bardai. His eulogy on Prithiviraj Chauhan called the Prithviraj Raso was considered one of the first works in the History of Hindi Literature. Kannauj's last Rathore ruler was Jayachand, who gave more patronage to Sanskrit (which was no longer the common man's language). His court poet was Harsha (whose major poetic work was Naishdhiya Charitra). Mahoba's royal poet Jagnayak (or Jagnik) and Ajmer's Nalha were other literary figures in this period. However, after Prithviraj Chauhan's defeat, most literary works belonging to this period were destroyed in Muhammad Ghori's campaign. Very few scriptures, manuscripts from this period are available and their genuineness is also doubted.
Some Siddha and Nathpanthi poets' works belonging to this period are also found, but their genuineness is again, doubted. Siddhas belonged to Vajrayana, a later Buddhist cult. Many argue that the language of Siddha poetry is not earlier Hindi, but Magadhi Prakrit. Nathpanthis were yogis who practised Hatha yoga. Some Jain and Rasau (heroic poets) poetry works are also available from this period.
In Deccan region in South India, Dakkhini or Hindavi was used. It flourished under the Delhi Sultanate and later under the Nizams of Hyderabad. It was written in the Persian script. Nevertheless, the Hindavi literature can be considered as proto-Hindi literature. Many Deccani experts like Sheikh Ashraf, Mulla Vajahi used the word Hindavi to describe this dialect. Others like Roustami, Nishati etc preferred to call it Deccani. Shah Buharnuddin Janam Bijapuri used to call it Hindi. The first Deccani author was Khwaja Bandanawaz Gesudaraz Muhammad Hasan. He wrote three prose works - Mirazul Aashkini, Hidayatnama and Risala Sehwara. His grandson Abdulla Hussaini wrote Nishatul Ishq. The first Deccani poet was Nizami.
In later part of this period and early Bhakti Kala, many saint-poets like Ramanand and Gorakhnath became famous. Earliest form of Hindi can also be seen in some of Vidyapati's Maithili works.
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. The main works in Avadhi are Malik Muhammad Jayasi's Padmavat and Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas. The major works in Braj dialect are Tulsidas's Vinay Patrika and Surdas's Sur Sagar. Sadhukaddi was also a language commonly used, especially by Kabir Das in his poetry and dohas. The Bhakti period also marked great theoretical development in poetry forms chiefly from a mixture of older forms of poetry in Sanskrit School and the Persian School. These included Verse Patterns like Doha, Sortha, Chaupaya etc. This was also the age when Poetry was characterized under the various Rasas. Unlike the Adi Kaal (also called the VirGatha Kaal) which was characterized by an overdose of Poetry in the Vir Rasa (Heroic Poetry), the Bhakti Yug marked a much more diverse and vibrant form of poetry which spanned the whole gamut of rasas from Shringara rasa, Vatsalya Rasa, Vir Rasa, Prema Rasa etc.. 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). Kabir and Guru Nanak belong to the Nirguna school, and their philosophy was greatly influenced by the Great Adviata Philosophy of Adi Sankaracharya. They believed in the concept of Nirgun Nirakaar Bramh or the Shapeless Formless One. The Saguna school was represented by mainly Vaishnava poets like Surdas, Tulsidas and others and was a logical extension of the Dvaita and Vishishta Advaita Philosophy propounded by the likes of Madhavacharya etc. This school was chiefly Vaishnava in orientation as in seen in the main compositons like Raamcharitmanas, Sur Saravali, Sur Sagar extoling Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. This was also the age of tremendous integration between the Hindu and the Islamic elements in the Arts with the advent of many Muslim Bhakti poets like Abdurrahim Khan who was a court poet to Mughal Emperor Akbar and was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. The Nirgun School of Bhakti Poetry was also tremendously secular in nature and its propounders like Kabir and Guru Nanak had a large number of followers irrespective of Caste or Religion.
In Ritikavya or Ritismagra Kavya period, the erotic element became pre-dominant in the Hindi literature. This era is called Riti (meaning 'procedure') because this was the age when poetry forms and theory developed to the fullest, as in the theoretical aspects and procedures of poetry writing as an Art Form reached to very high levels. But this over emphasis on poetry theory greatly reduced the Emotive Aspects of Poetry which was the chief aspect of the Bhakti movement and poetry content gradually started degenerating. The Saguna School of the Bhakti Yug split into two schools (Raama bhakti and Krishna bhakti) somewhere in the interregnum of the Bhakti and the Reeti Eras. The Reeti Era saw most of its work under the KrishnaBhakti banner, but the works had greatly degenerated in philosophical content from the pure forms of total Devotion to the Dualistic Supreme Being, more towards the erotic description of Shringaric aspects of Krishna's life, his Leela, his pranks with the Gopis in Braj, the description of the carnal/physical aspects of the beauty of Radha (Krishna's Consort). The poetry of Bihari, Ghananand Das fit this bill. The most well known book from this age is Bihari Satsai by Bihari (poet) which is a collection of Dohas about Bhakti (devotion), Neeti (Moral policies) and Shringaar (love).
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, the British 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 Prem sagar (or Prem Sagur) by Lallu Lal, 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 distingush themselves from the general masses, the learned Muslims used to write in Urdu (filled 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. Chandrakanta written by Devaki Nandan Khatri and also its sequel Chandrakanta Santati was considered the first authentic work of prose in the Adhunik kaal (modern period). A story of magical characters, kings and kingdoms, it reminds one of The Lord of the Rings series and was successfully manifested into an aponymous TV Serial.
The person who brought realism in the Hindi prose 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 Ajneya (Satchidananda Hiranand 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 brought experimentalism (prayogvaad) into the Hindi literature. His most famous novel is Shekhar Ek Jivani (1941).