Marathi can be traced back far beyond
the 10th century. It descends from Sanskrit through Pali, Maharashtri
and Maharashtra - Apabhramsa. A gradual process of change and
modification in the spoken language has led to the present Marathi. The
origin and growth of Marathi literature is indebted to two important
events. The first was the rise of the Jadhava dynasty whose capital was
Devgiri. The Jadhavas adopted Marathi as the court language and
patronized Marathi learned men. The second event was the coming of two
religious sects known as Mahanubhav Panth and Warkari Panth, which
adopted Marathi as the medium for preaching their doctrines of devotion.
Writers of the Mahanubhav sect contributed to Marathi prose while the
saint-poets of Warkari sect composed Marathi poetry. However, the latter
group is regarded as the pioneers and founders of Marathi literature.
Marathi literature first made its appearance in the 10th century AD and can be grouped into two ages: Ancient or Old Marathi literature (1000-1800) and Modern Marathi Literature (1800 onwards). The former consisted mainly of poetry composed in metres and restricted to the poets choice of words and rhythms. It was particularly devotional, narrative and pessimistic for old Marathi poets hadnt been able to develop satire, parody, irony and humor into their poetry.
Old Marathi Literature covers about eight centuries. Its pioneers and founders were Mukundaraj (Vivekasindhu) and Dnyaneshwar (Dnyaneshwari) whose younger contemporary Namdeo (1270-1350) wrote devotional verses in a simple language for the people. Two centuries later came the great saint and greater poet Eknath whose Ekanathi Bhagavata is a literary masterpiece of Marathi literature. Eknath had a simple and attractive style of composing poetry and was the founder of secular poetry in Marathi. Mukteshwar (1574-1645) later developed this style, and his version of the Mahabharata is the best example of a great narrative poem in Marathi. In the history of Marathi literature, Tukaram (1608-1651) has been given a unique stature. A real genius, Tukarams poetry came forth from his wonderful inspirations. He was a radical reformer and is called Sant (saint) Tukaram. Terseness, clarity, vigor and earnestness were found in every line of his poetry.
Tukarams associate Ramdas (1608-1681) Dasabodha is an inspiring and impressive piece in Marathi. 18th century Marathi poetry is well represented by Vaman Pandit (Yathartha Dipika), Raghunath Pandit (Nala Damayanti Swayamvara) and Shridhar Pandit (Pandavpratap, Harivijay and Ramvijay). However, the most versatile and voluminous writer among the poets was Moropanta (1729-1794) whose Mahabharata was the first epic poem in Marathi. The historical section of the old Marathi literature was unique as it contained both prose and poetry. The prose section contained the Bakhars that were written after the foundation of the Maratha kingdom by Shivaji. The poetry section contained the Padavas and the Katavas composed by the Shahirs. The period from 1794 to 1818 is regarded as the closing period of the Old Marathi literature and the beginning of the Modern Marathi literature.
The modern period has been divided into four ages. The first period starts from 1800 to 1885, the second from 1885 to 1920, the third from 1921 to 1945, and finally the last period continues till now. In this period, almost all forms of literature in prose and poetry were developed and even scientific literature was produced. Under the British rule, attempts were made to enrich both the language and literature. The Raja of Tanjore got the first English Book translated to Marathi in 1817. Several more such attempts were made and translation work was encouraged a lot. Chhatre, Bal Shastri Jambhekar, Lokahitavadi and Jotiba Phule wrote on various topics in Marathi. The first Marathi newspaper was started in 1835 and Baba Padamjis Yamuna Paryatan was the first Marathi novel written on social reform in 1857.
However, this period was a lean one for original poetry and only translations of Sanskrit poems were produced. Establishment of the University of Bombay in 1858 and the starting of the newspaper Kesari in 1880-81 gave a boost to the development of Modern Marathi Literature. Keshavasuta (1866-1905), the first Marathi revolutionary poet, launched Modern Marathi poetry with his first poem.
In this period two groups of poets, Ravikiran Mandal and Kavi Tambi, together encouraged some great poets like Ananta Kanekar (Chandarat), Kavi Anil (Phulwat) and N G Deshpande. Poetry after 1945 explores human life in all its shades. B S Mardhekar set the fashion of this trend for P S Rage, Vinda Karandikar, Vasant Bapat and Shanta Shelke.
Vishnudas Bhave was the pioneer of Marathi drama which was born in 1843. Other great dramatists were B P Kirloskar (Saubhadra), G B Deval (Sharada), R G Gadkari (Ekach Pyala), Mama Varerkar (Apporva Bangal) and P L Deshpande (Amaldar). Marathi stage is still following its rich tradition and is a very popular form of entertainment.
Novels were not far behind, and the first to be published was Madhali Sthiti by Hari Narayan Apte (1864-1919). Natha Madhav, CV Vaidya, Prof V M Joshi, V S Khandekar, Sane Guruji, Kusumvati Deshpande, Kamalabai Tilak are the prominent novelists of the Marathi language. The short story and essay forms came into existence in this period through Diwakar Krishna, H N Apte and V S Gurjar. S M Mate, Durga Bhagwat, N S Phadke are well-known essayists in Marathi. Marathi occupies a distinct position in the field of Indian Literature and will continue to do so in future.