Twentieth-Century Marathi Literature

Shripad D Deo. Handbook of Twentieth-Century Literatures of India. Editor: Nalini Natarajan, Greenwood Press, 1996.


Marathi, a language spoken by more than 50 million people in western parts of India, can trace its literary history to about the eleventh century. In spite of such a long literary history, Marathi language and literature began to change with the British expansion and domination in western India. The decline of the Maratha Empire, degeneration during the latter part of the Peshava rule, and British colonization have had an impact in shaping educated, urban, middle-class Marathi culture and character during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the postcolonial years, the political movement to establish a separate state for Marathi-speaking people and its successful culmination in the establishment of the state of Maharashtra in 1960, with Bombay as its political and economic center, played a significant role in shaping Maharashtrian identity.

Maharashtra is geographically located between the north and south divide of the Indian subcontinent. In spite of its physical homogeneity, Maharashtra can be divided into four regions: the Konkan includes Bombay and the western coastal region; the Deccan includes Pune and the inland plateau; Marathwada includes Aurangabad and its vicinity; and Vidarbha includes Nagpur and the adjacent region. These regions of present Maharashtra were parts of different political entities before the British rule and thereafter.

This aspect of the history of these regions is important in understanding the divisions that existed before the establishment of the Maharashtra state in 1956. The fissiparous tendencies to break away from the domination of one region over others, to assert separate regional identity, or to establish independent status of their language have been observed throughout the postcolonial history of Maharashtra. The diaspora of Marathi speakers outside Maharashtra has a strong sense of cultural history. This is observed in large clusters of Marathi speakers in erstwhile states ruled by Maratha aristocrats, such as Indore, Gwalior, and Baroda.

The apparently strong sense of linguistic unity makes the underlying social and economic divisions as well as an almost continuous history of conflict between the Brahmans and the non-Brahmans. These conflicts encompass the use and control of economic resources, political power, and cultural domain. There have been attempts to homogenize Marathi culture, and they have been consistently resisted by the fragments of Marathi culture. The non-Brahmans comprise castes of artisans and cultivators, tribals and the dalits (untouchables). The expansion of the capitalist mode of production, incorporation into the global capitalist economic system, and modernization through planning have developed economic classes in addition to the urban-rural division. It is necessary to be aware of these fragments, as this chapter seeks to provide an overview of development of Marathi literature from the early years. The focus of the chapter, however, is on the contemporary period. The chapter is divided into four time periods with distinct characteristics. The discussion of major writers and their works in various genres during each time period is contextualized in their socioeconomic, cultural, and political structures and relations.

Pre-Nineteenth-Century Marathi Literature

The earliest known Marathi inscription, dated around A.D.983, is at the foot of the statue at Shravanbelgola in Karnataka. During the thirteenth century, a great variety of literature, such as treatises in astrology and medicine, folktales, stories for children, folksongs, and poetry, flourished in Marathi. The domination of orthodox Hindu traditions, rituals, and institutions through Sanskrit was pervasive. It was a period of change, when representatives of heterodox religious movements were challenging cultural hegemony of the Brahmans (Omvedt 1976, 53; Thapar 1966, 167).

The bhajans (religious songs) written by members of these cults were part of the oral traditions observed in many societies before the advent of the printing press. The major part of written Marathi literature was accessible to only high-caste Hindus who were either Sanskrit scholars, professional scribes, or rulers. Oral religiocultural presentations were commonly used for communicating literature to the masses or for religious and philosophical discourse.

The cultural challenge to Hindu orthodoxy was continued through the bhakti (popular religious) movement and its popular expression in the Vārkari (pilgrim) movement in Maharashtra. As Omvedt argues, the currency of the Vārkari movement since the thirteenth century partly reflects attempts by Brahmans to incorporate the cultural challenge within the bounds of the caste system (Omvedt 1976, 54-55). It is necessary to bear in mind that the Vārkari movement itself subsumed many contradictory trends representing a compromise between caste orthodoxy and anticaste forces. Another important element in its continuous popularity was the royal patronage received by the Vārkari movement.

Dnyaneshwar (1275-1306), Namdev (1270-1350), and Tukaram (1598-1649) are the major representatives of the Vārkari tradition in Maharashtra. Dnyanesh-war’s Dnyaneshwari (1290), a long and lucid Marathi commentary on the Bha-gvad Gita, has been represented both as an attempt at Sanskritization of the movement (Omvedt 1976, 55) and as a step toward making Sanskrit works accessible to the masses. Namdev is considered by many as the true founder of the Vārkari movement and its ambassador (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 16).

From the times of Dnyaneshwar and Namdev till the seventeenth century, Maharashtra saw the decline of the Yadav dynasty and the emergence of Muslim rule. The new Muslim rulers consolidated their political and military domination for the next three centuries. During this period, Maharashtra’s cultural and spiritual integrity was sustained by the teachings of Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Eknath, and other poet-saints of the Vārkari movement. The commonsense understanding of Hindu doctrines diffused throughout the population through the works of these poets and provided the necessary armor against the Muslim rule. The spontaneity of their poetry, philosophical message, and simplicity made it amenable to oral rendering by the masses.

During the first half of the seventeenth century, the cultural challenge of the Vārkari movement became stronger through the poetic works of Tukaram. For three centuries, Muslim rulers became more autocratic, the caste system became more rigid, and the society became more segregated. Tukaram’s Gatha exposed the hypocrisy of the contemporary religious leaders and opened the minds of common people to the deeper meanings of their life and to the path toward self-realization.

The rise of Shivaji (1627-80) and his successful efforts to forge a Maratha nation mark the beginning of a period of resurgence in the history of Maharashtra. During Shivaji’s times, Ramdas (1608-81), a poet-saint, came to prominence. He did not belong to the Vārkari movement. His work is different from that of other writers in Vārkari tradition in that he provides a strong militant expression to Hindu nationalism as a means of protection against the Muslim rule. The domain of political affairs was renounced by the Vārkaris because it would draw one into an arena of futile conflicts and lure one to pursue fame, adulation, and power. Ramdas, on the other hand, advocated the unity of Ma-rathas to propagate Maharashtra dharma. An important point here is that the change in sociopolitical conditions, with Shivaji’s rule, is reflected in the literary works of the period. In that sense, Tukaram and Ramdas can be perceived as “organic intellectuals” of their times, attempting to maintain cultural influence of intellectuals while inoculating their ideas in the fundamental processes of social transformation. It is also important to bear in mind that the orality and simplicity of the poetry, simple ovees (songs) sung by women while doing their household work, the spiritual songs— bhajans, abhangas, and shlokas —and the pōwadas, or ballads, describing real and mythical battles and conquests, facilitated the commonsense understanding of the times.

The prose of the times did not develop beyond the form of bakhar, which was used to record accounts of battles and administrative and political orders and events. These bakhars provide us with contemporary accounts of the times in clear and precise terms. This form flourished later during the times of the Peshwas (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 29; Kulkarni 1988a, 329-31).

The period after Shivaji’s death in 1680 is marked by social and political turmoil in Maharashtra. It also saw the paradox of stagnation and vigor. The followers of Ramdas did little new writing on their own and contented themselves in either replicating or idolizing the work of their guru. On the other hand, the Vārkari movement continued to maintain its appeal to the masses and retained its creativity. During this period, akhyan kavya, a form of poetry started by Eknath, flourished. Wamanpandit (1608-95), a contemporary of Ramdas, wrote translations of Sanskrit classics. He was notable for his command over language, philosophical erudition, and conscious literary artistry. This denotes resurgence of pedantic works emphasizing knowledge rather than inspiration and emergence of the elitist impulses in literature focusing on form and nuances unsullied by the social and political disquiet of the times.

The death of Auragazeb, the last of the powerful Mughal emperors, in 1707, provided the Maratha kingdom with much needed respite from the continuous struggle to maintain the integrity of its freedom. A sense of security and stability that began to spread throughout the kingdom was also accompanied by tendencies to expand geographically. The Maratha power, wielded by the Brahman peshawas (prime ministers) initially in the name of Shahu Maharaj and later almost independently, became a dominant force on the subcontinent. This political and military domination brought an era of relative prosperity in Maharashtra. Pune became the center of learning, culture, colorful social life, and political power. In spite of this, the rule of peshawas was not a particularly peaceful time because of intrigues and rifts within the kingdom, military attacks on the fringes of the empire, and personal ambitions of the peshawas and their noblemen who controlled parts of the empire.

Moropant (1729-93) is the dominant poet of this period, representing the tradition of Eknath, Wamanpandit, and Raghunathpandit. He read verse stories from the puranas (ancient texts) in temples, explaining them to lay audiences. The emphasis was on keeping the audience attracted through clarity of narration embellished with poetic elan, craftsmanship, and lyricism.

The expansion of the empire and the rise of the peshawas gave boost to the powadas. The balladeers sang about the military exploits and tragedies of the Maratha warriors. These powadas were sung before a variety of gatherings from courts to the villages. If powadas presented the heroism and exploits of Maratha soldiers on the battlefields, lāvani (romantic songs) gave expression to their love of sensual pleasure. Both these forms, popular even today, have a genuine folk flavor reflecting the speech and rhythms of the masses (Deshpande and Raja-dhyaksha 1988, 39).

Early Nineteenth Century

Even though 1818 can be a useful marker to denote the beginning of British rule in Maharashtra, the signs of the end of the Maratha Empire were visible for some time. Shivaji’s attempts to establish a centralized bureaucracy with control over revenues were intended to establish discipline over his unruly feudatories. Later, the peshawas tried to reverse this tradition by allowing the Maratha sardars (chiefs) to collect revenues on their own and establish their semiautonomous states in return for allegiance to fight against the Muslims.

The nature of relations between the state and society is also noteworthy for its consequences for the reach, structure, and form of political power (see Ka-viraj [1991], 74-76). The “sovereignty” of the state was two-layered. There was the distant, all-encompassing empire, but actual political suffering was inflicted on an everyday basis by the local autocrats. The communities themselves had considerable powers of self-regulation. Kaviraj makes a cogent point that these self-regulatory powers need not be interpreted in a romanticized image of democratic or unchanging communities. The “peculiar segmentary social arrangement” of these communities represented a mix of caste, religious denomination, and occupation. The economic relation of the state with these communities was in terms of tax and rent. The demands for rent or tax would vary depending on the military needs and the state’s ability to plunder, but it could not restructure the productive or occupational organization of these social groups. In short, the state could not claim to act on behalf of the society as a whole.

The feeling of unity among the Marathi speakers was lost as the peshawas restored the caste divisions of the society. Some of the Maratha aristocrats sought help from the British to bolster their personal power. After the conquest of Maharashtra was completed, the British made conscious efforts to win over the upper castes by providing protection of their personal property rights. It was not difficult for these groups to slip into a life of moral and intellectual degeneration while Brahmans asserted their domination over other groups through ritualism.

In such a sociopolitical situation, the British began the process of reconstituting India in their imagination. Their immediate objective was to consolidate their hold over the subcontinent and establish an administrative structure that could be run with willing cooperation of Indians. To achieve this objective, the education of Indians, to create “a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons, Indian in blood and color but English in taste, opinions, in morals and in intellect” (Macaulay in de Bary et al. 1958), became an urgent need. To impart education, books written in English and Marathi became necessary. The British officers felt it necessary to learn Indian languages for communication and effective control of administration, for which they employed the services of Indian scholars as language teachers.

American and Scottish missionaries were the other group interested in learning Indian languages to spread Christianity, which relies heavily on the teachings in the Bible. This necessitated translation, as well as knowledge, of Indic languages. William Carey, a professor at the Fort Williams College in Calcutta, played an important role in preparation of a grammar and dictionary of Marathi. The missionaries in Maharashtra, as in other parts of the subcontinent, were trying to deprecate Hindu culture, practices, superstitions, and gods to prepare for the spread of Christianity.

The language and style of books produced by the British differed markedly from the prose works written by the Marathi authors at the time or earlier. There was a clear disjuncture from earlier traditions in Marathi literature. The language took on the English avatar with a new diction and syntax. The introduction of the printing press, establishment of schools and colleges, and school textbook production contributed to the objectives of the colonizers. The emphasis on written form and reading skills once again put the upper castes in a relatively advantageous position vis-á-vis new rulers. The standardization of both the written and spoken form of Marathi by the British put devanagari as a script and a variety of Marathi spoken in and around Pune by educated people in dominant positions.

If printing technology helped the missionaries and administrators in diffusing their ideas and objectives, Maharashtrians began to explore new possibilities in the changed sociopolitical milieu. The periodicals in English provided a useful model for the educated Maharashtrians and an opportunity to revive interest in older Marathi poetry and other classics (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 48). Along with literary periodicals, there were other periodicals countering the attacks of the missionaries on Hinduism.

While upper-caste, educated Hindus were countering the missionaries, through writings on social, political, religious, and philosophical issues, they were also translating literary works from English. Printing technology and education enabled the non-Brahmans to forge alliances with the reformist elements among the Brahmans and later pave an independent path to reject the caste system. The revolutionary work of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule (1827-90) in educating women and persons from lower castes is important in this period. It is discussed in the chapter on Dalit literature. Gopal Hari Deshmukh (1823-92) was an important reformist writer of this period. Through his contribution to the weekly Prab-hakar, he criticized the superstition, indolence, and ignorance widespread in Maharashtra of his times and extolled the virtues of the British, namely, learning, efficiency, industriousness, and scientific knowledge.

The emergence of new forms of fiction, especially the novel, is attributed to political domination by the British, English education, and exposure to Western literature through English, as well as several indigenous narrative traditions that survived through constant mutation (Mukherjee 1985, 3). It is interesting to note that the word kadambari is used for “novel” in Marathi, acknowledging Ban-abhatta’s literary work in Sanskrit as the first of its kind in this genre. Following Nemade (1980), we can identify three strands of prose fiction in Marathi, specifically the novel, that have evolved and transmuted in different patterns since this time. The first strand is exemplified by Baba Padamanji’s Yamuna Pary-atana (1857). Padamanji, a convert to Christianity, represents reformist impulses in a functional way. The second is represented by Lakshman Halbe’s Muktamala (1861), denoting the imaginative-romantic urge. The third strand is exemplified by R. B. Gunjikari’s Mochanagad (1871), incorporating the revivalist-historical spirit. The story of Mochanagad, for example, is set in a hill fort in Maharashtra. Shivaji’s capture of the fort and the lives of imaginary characters enable the author to weave a happy, romantic tale. This pattern has been repeated since to depict Maratha history.

One literary form that managed to remain outside the sphere of influence of the British at the time was drama. Early Marathi drama retained its basis in Sanskrit or folk forms for some time. But dramas, along with periodicals, provided an effective means to resist the influence of the missionaries and infuse a new spirit of self-respect. As the first few generations graduated from colleges, the impact of, and exposure to, English literature was clear.

Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

The period between the demise of the peshawa rule, establishment of the British administration, and 1874 was characterized by the paradox of vigor and vulnerability. The introduction of an education system and printing technology, the spread of periodicals, and exposure to Western social, economic, and political thoughts brought a new vigor to the stagnated Maharashtrian society. The new class of educated people, exposed to Western ideas, began to see the problems and limitations of traditional social structure and relations. The attacks on Hindu culture, rituals, and philosophy by the missionaries also forced this class to reconsider many of the issues, social and spiritual, affecting their lives. Politically, the British rule had brought order and stability. This had also led this class to think about possibilities of social change in a decadent society. Their initial, tentative attempts to articulate the nature and possibilities of change exposed new cleavages in the society: orthodox and reformist, educated and uneducated, Brahman and non-Brahman, rulers and the ruled.

The year 1874 provides a useful benchmark in the history of Maharashtra to examine the change in character and tenor of an apathetic society. Vishnushastri Chiplunkar (1850-82), the son of an eminent scholar, started his own periodical, Nibandhamala, during that year. He single-handedly galvanized the educated middle class with a series of essays on a range of topics, such as literary criticism, need to rehabilitate the Marathi language, social problems and prevalent attitudes, political issues, and philosophical questions. He represents the conservative reaction to the reformist tendencies manifesting in the society. He wielded his pen like a rapier to attack educated people displaying servile attitude and mimicking the British. He brought precision, refinement, polish, ease, and compact writing style to the Marathi language. Even though he represents the conservative reaction to Westernization, he himself was consciously emulating Western authors and philosophers. He was inspired by Macaulay, Mill, and Johnson. He wrote a biography of Johnson and completed the translation of his Rasselas, started by his father. He, through his essays in Nibandhamala, laid the foundation of literary criticism in Marathi.

Chiplunkar’s impact on social, political, literary, and intellectual spheres of Maharashtra goes beyond his writings. He understood the importance of periodicals, printing, publication, and education in mobilizing public opinion and cultural reproduction. To achieve those objectives, he started his own printing press, a publishing house, periodicals—a magazine and two newspapers, Kesari (in Marathi) and Maratha (in English)—and the New English School in Pune. He attracted able, dedicated, and distinguished collaborators like B. G. Tilak, G. G. Agarkar, and M. B. Namjoshi. He deplored the tendency of the English education system to undermine the faith of the people in their own religion and culture. To redress the situation, the school, the periodicals, and the appeal to the glory of Maratha hegemony were arrayed.

Chiplunkar accomplished a great deal during his short life and left an enduring legacy of self-confidence for a people who seemed lost, self-expression through service to the society, and political radicalism for the educated Marathi middle class. His tendency of social conservativism, inherited and perpetuated by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, persisted and shaped social thinking in Maharashtra for a long time. He influenced a whole generation, which included Tilak, Agarkar, H. N. Apte (novelist), S. M. Paranjape (journalist), V. K. Rajawade (historian), K. K. Damle (poet), and litterateurs like N. C. Kelkar and L. R. Pangarkar. The revolutionary influence of Chiplunkar was, however, restricted to the middle-class, educated Brahmans. In 1873, a year before Nibandhamala began publication, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule had started his Satyshodhaka movement. He had started his schools for women and the untouchables in 1851 and 1852, respectively. Chiplunkar started his New English School in 1880. Dinbandhu, a weekly, was started by Phule and K. P. Bhalekar in 1877. Phule’s revolutionary work was “lost, stole, or strayed” in history books. Chiplunkar used his publication to viciously attack both Phule and Gopal Hari Deshmukh, the reformer, for allegedly borrowing from the Christian criticism of Hinduism.

In the period after Chiplunkar’s death, the existing schisms became more pronounced. Bombay, for example, by now an important commercial city, became a center of Western-educated, reform-minded, careerist middle class, while Pune symbolized the pride of traditional culture and idealism of the educated class, which believed in the possibility of social and cultural reproduction through nationalist education. Marathi society remained vulnerable to the perpetuation of the caste system and domination of the Brahmans, who were now the educated middle class. Even though the hegemony of the Brahmans in matters religious and spiritual was abating, their new position provided the measure of social change. The new middle class was reinventing reality: political, social, cultural, and literary.

Another important division that emerged in Maharashtra during the last decade of the nineteenth century was about the objectives of nationalist movement. Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (1856-95), a colleague of Chiplunkar and Tilak, argued, along with M. G. Ranade (1842-1901), that social emancipation should precede the struggle for political freedom. Their liberal views on social and cultural renaissance were at odds with those of Chiplunkar and Tilak. Agarkar broke away from the Kesari organization dominated by Tilak to start his own periodical, Sudharak, in 1887. His reasoned and rational views on social issues, his humanism, and his deep understanding of historical processes left a profound mark on the middle class and higher castes.

The intellectual ferment and social change left a profound impression on literature of the period. At the same time, developments in literature reflected and contributed to the process of change under way and mirrored different tendencies manifested during this period. Hari Narayan Apte (1864-1919), the first major Marathi novelist, wrote his first novel, Madhali Sthiti, in 1885. It is an adaptation of W. M. Reynold’s Mysteries of London. In his novel, Apte depicts the paradox of Western notions of modernity and the depravity of orthodoxy in the Pune of his times. The title of the novel has been explained as “state of middle classes” or “the transitional stage.” In it, Agarkar’s influence, his spirit of social reform, is more visible than Chiplunkar’s revival of the Marathi spirit. His Pan Lakshyat Kon Gheto? (1890) blends realism and idealism to trace the life of Yamuna, the narrator, from childhood to maturity. Though clearly a tragedy of Yamuna’s life, it is also an attempt to show the efforts to change women’s lives through education. In this 700-page, meandering story, the firstperson narrative is used to ensure authenticity. Through a conscious design, Apte develops narrative in a halting, recursive style to indicate the limited verbal resources of an uneducated and unsophisticated girl. As the character grows older, she is ready to discuss social conditions and social injustices facing women (Mukherjee 1985). The differences in the social surroundings of Bombay and Pune also delineate the contradictions of middle-class Marathi life. Bombay represents, in the novel, a world of social freedom, revival, and individualism while Pune is an orthodox and closed community. Yamuna moves to Bombay with her husband for two years. Those are the two happy years of her life. There she experiences being herself, away from the constant scrutiny and intrigue of her joint family in Pune. Through this novel, Apte depicts the subtle interpenetration of the social and the individual in nineteenth-century Maharashtra, embroiled in Brahman orthodoxy and reform movements.

Apte’s other novels, like Ganapatrao (1883), Mee (1893-95), and Jag He Ase Aahe (1897-99), show his maturity as a novelist attempting to react, reflect, and record the changing social and political milieu of Maharashtra. His contribution to the development of the historical novel in Marathi is equally significant. The educated middle class was showing an interest in the history of Maharashtra. It was the reaction of a people who had lost power and had yet to learn to deal with it. It was a moment when the story of the loss of power was to be told, not merely “how it happened” but with a theoretical perspective. As the educated class learned how the Maratha Empire was defeated, it was necessary to restore its “will to power” (Deshpande 1992). V. K. Rajawade’s historical research in Maratha history facilitated this process. The emergent nationalist ideology helped in the reinterpretation of the history. Apte’s historical novels need to be examined in this context. His first historical novel, Mysoracha Wagh (1890), was a sloppy adaptation of an English novel by Meadows Taylor on Tipu Sultan. His Ushakkal (1896) matches the merit of his social novels.

Apte develops splendid images of life during the Maratha period. The historical materials relating to the period were yet to be organized. He relied on folklore, legends, gossip, and whatever factual material was available to him to develop the ethos of those times. His Ushakkal is distinct as a historical novel in that it depicts a touching picture of the traditional values and norms dominating the lives of an older generation of the Deshmukh family. It also portrays the picture of a younger, idealistic generation with new ideas of self-respect, freedom, and loyalty within that same family. This intergenerational struggle within the family surpasses the intensity of clashes between the Muslims and the Marathas. Other novelists of the time did not match Apte in his craftsmanship, style, and social consciousness. K. R. Mitra (1871-1920) stands out for his translations of Bengali novels and stories in Marathi. He successfully introduced the gentle emotionalism of Bengali works in Marathi. It was a new element that enriched Marathi fiction (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 96). It is also an indication of the process of development of “national” consciousness under way.

If Marathi prose established itself as an effective instrument of communication and mobilization, poetry was liberated from the domination of Sanskrit poetics and the orthodoxy of the Marathi pandit poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. K. K. Damle, Keshavsut (1866-1905), the son of an ill-paid schoolteacher with a large family, is the one who opened new horizons for Marathi poetry. A contemporary of Hari Narayan Apte, he, too, was influenced by Agar-kar’s passion for social reform. His early poetry was influenced by the style and imagery of Sanskrit poetry. As he encountered English poetry, his own work began to reflect new style, words, and expressions. He began to blend the shloka structure in Marathi to the ode. Later, he also experimented with the sonnet and other forms to suit the expression. He was influenced by the English romantic poets, especially Wordsworth. This influence is to be seen in his choice of words, his ability to express his intense feelings as he experienced them and to look at the world from his own perspective. This subjective element was new to Marathi poetry. It is also a reflection of a society that was moving away from group consciousness and identity to a more individualized, self-centered identity. A new awareness of the presence of nature was being expressed in a simple and contemplative manner without resorting to stylized imagery and details. His poems like “Pushpaprat,” “Satareeche Bol,” “Nairutyekadil Waryas,” and “Ek Khede” exhibit these qualities (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 102).

The other facet of his poetry reflects reformist impulses. He felt an urgent need for social reform and for equality among men. His call to action is expressed in his poems like “Tutari” and “Nava Shipai.” If Keshavsut was breaking the molds of traditional poetry, his contemporaries followed different paths. Narayan W. Tilak (1862-1919) was a deeply religious person who rejected Hindu religious orthodoxy and wrote against social injustices, resonating his faith in God and humanity. Vinayak J. Karandikar’s (1872-1909) poetry represents the conservative, romantic reaction rejoicing in the glory of Maratha and Rajput history. As the nationalist movement became stronger, his sentiments enjoyed a wide appeal in Maharashtra. Ram Ganesh Gadkari, Govindagraj (1885-1919), T. B. Thombre, Balakavi (1890-1918), and Narayan M. Gupte, Bee (1872-1947), were other prominent poets of the period, but they did not necessarily follow the lead of Keshavsut.

Between 1885 and 1920, Marathi theater gained respectability, popularity, and maturity. From the early unscripted plays of Vishnudas Bhave in Sangli through translations and adaptations of Sanskrit and English plays, Marathi drama began to adapt to the new needs and times. The adaptations were now oriented toward performance and were influenced by commercial considerations. G. B. Deval’s (1855-1916) Sharada (1899) is his only original play that truly reflects the concerns of his times. Child marriage, especially very young girls marrying old men, was a burning issue at the time. Sharada uses this issue as its theme not only to criticize this practice and advocate social reform but also to paint a touching picture of the girl’s plight. Deval’s translations of Shakespeare’s Othello as Zunzarrao and Molière’s Sganarelle as Sanshayakallol remained popular for a long time.

Shripad K. Kolhatkar’s (1871-1934) versatility as a humorist, essayist, novelist, critic, and playwright is commonly acknowledged by critics. His Mook-anayak (1897) and Mativikar (1906) deal with social problems like drinking and widow marriage, but their popularity owed more to music and wit than to the themes. K. P. Khadilkar (1872-1948) was another successful playwright who skillfully blended theme, music, and dialogue in his plays. His Sawai Madhav-ravacha Mrutyu (1893) is a historical play, while Kichaka-vadha (1907) is an adaptation from a story in Mahabharat. The play gained publicity because of the ban by the British. It was argued that the villain of the play resembled Lord Curzon. His Bhaubandaki (1909) uses an episode in history to comment on the rift between the moderate and radical factions at the Surat session of the Indian National Congress (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 113). R. G. Gadkari’s Ekach Pyala (1919) and Bhavabandhan (1920) were popular for decades for their dialogues, songs, and humor. Marathi theater was already under the control of producers, who were able to assert their will on the playwrights to ensure commercial success. Formulaic use of classical music, humor, and crisp dialogue was emphasized to the detriment of theme and social content. Marathi theater soon slipped into a long period of decadence and stagnation.

Nationalism and Modernization

Bal Gangadhar Tilak died on August 1, 1920. His death marked the end of an era in the history of Maharashtra. Not only had his conservative social views and radical nationalist politics shaped Maharashtrian society during that period, but his legacy has persisted over the years. The nationalist discourse that he shaped created a “national consciousness” heavily influenced by concessions to scriptural or canonical authority. He did not subscribe to the progressive views embedded in liberal, secular, and rational attitudes that tended to look to the West for a model. The urban, educated middle class could not develop a broad social base for the national movement. He seemed to mobilize upper castes to transform society and stamp their hegemony. He did not make sustained overtures either to non-Brahman groups, to the peasants, or the burgeoning industrial working class to build real alliances. Partha Chatterjee has argued that “it is the content of nationalist ideology, its claims about what is possible and what is legitimate, which gives specific shape to its politics. The latter cannot be understood without examining the former” (Chatterjee 1986, 40).

The dichotomy of revivalist and reformist trends within the nationalist movement became fairly pronounced during this time. How to reach the goal of national independence, the methods, and the strategies became a contested terrain. India as “an imagined political community” superseding the one based on religion and dynasty had to be thought out and created. This idea of India as a nation, an “imagined political community,” was a fundamental change in the modes of apprehending the world that “made it possible to ‘think’ the nation” (Anderson 1983, 14-28). A group among nationalists believed that as long as the British had an edge over the Indians in the development and application of science and technology, the standard in religion, culture, and politics was set by the industrially advanced nations (Hutchins 1967, 124). Those Indians who were close to the colonial rule and its reward system shared the values and aspirations of the raj. To them, British rule in India was the first essential step toward a just, equal, and “modern” world (Nandy 1983, ix).

The nationalist thinkers began to assert that backwardness is not an inherent quality of their culture but the result of their subjugation by the attributes of “modernity” associated with the West. Our “nation,” acting as a collectivity, can adopt science, technology, and quest for progress from Western culture and combine it with the “spirituality” of the Eastern culture to forge a superior culture. This synthesis and quest for new “modernity” implied an elitist program. The limitations of elitist politics were clear by the 1920s. The necessity to maneuver between Western and Eastern notions in the ideological creation of the nation opened contradictory possibilities within the nationalist movement. Gandhi was involved in maneuvering a national political movement toward independence.

Labor unrest, unionization, and peasant agitations were on the rise in both Bengal and Maharashtra during 1920-21. The influence of Marxist ideas and the impact of the Bolshevik revolution were visible in industrial centers of Maharashtra.

The impact of the Bolshevik revolution and the appeal of Marxist views were quite widespread among the elite. They certainly appealed to the younger generation, which viewed Gandhian ideas as retrogressive. Even Jawaharlal Nehru found Marxist-Leninist ideas more interesting in the 1930s (Chandra 1975). It is no surprise that Marathi litterateurs found ideas like classless society or economic equality as a basis for organizing society refreshing. In Maharashtra, it was possible to see the impact of industrialization or economic inequality inherent in capitalist development in Bombay, the leading industrial center in India. Another reason for the attraction of Marxist ideas was that they went beyond the reformist ideas of Agarkar and Ranade. It is possible to see the contest between different ideologies to assert their hegemony. Gandhism did not influence the writers and their writings directly, but Mahatma Gandhi’s program for national reawakening struck a responsive note in Marathi literature, prominently in drama. Similarly, Marxist ideas also inspired many Marathi writers, but the mainstream of Marathi literature during this period remained under the sway of the urban, educated middle class.

In poetry, there was no dominant poet to set new directions. The innate relationship between sociopolitical changes taking place in the country and literary activity was beginning to atrophy. This was no accident. The educated, urban middle class in Maharashtra, which had dominated the literary scene as consumer and producer, was experiencing a loss of power in the Gandhian moment of nationalist movement. The dramatic changes in social, economic, and political life had left many youths confused. The new alternatives were drawing them in different directions. In 1925, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was established with an objective of reasserting the identity of the Hindus with the nationalist movement. It emerged in a period when the anti-Brahman movement started by Phule had found an articulate and powerful voice in B. R. Ambedkar. By the mid-1920s, the Congress and Khilafat alliance had collapsed, and there were riots between Hindus and Muslims in many parts of the country. In Maharashtra, the Muslims were a small minority. The anti-Brahman movement and greater participation of other castes in Gandhi’s nationalist agitation had left the middle-class Brahmans in a precarious position. Tilak’s influence had lasted for more than a decade after his death, but his followers were wary of Gandhi and the Congress. The formation of the RSS “was an upper caste bid to restore a slipping hegemony” (Basu et al. 1993, 10-11).

The retrogressive tendencies in Maharashtra’s political and social life are reflected in literature in different ways. C. S. Gorhe (1871-1937), Chandrashek-har, could be placed as a contemporary of Keshavsut, but his poetry belonged to an even earlier period. His poetry is a strange blend of the romantic and the classical. He was influenced by the works of Scott and Wordsworth. The technical virtuosity in his longer poems like “Kunjkunjana,” “Kavitaratri,” or “Godagaurava” are evocative of the pundit poets in Marathi. B. R. Tambe (1874-1941) had a much larger following. The musicality of his poetry was helped by the popularity of gramophone and radio. Poetry recitals had become a popular form of cultural event. The emphasis on sweet-sounding words, cadence, and lyricism was soothing to his predominantly Brahman readers and audience in a disturbed world. His influence on Borkar, Padgaonkar, and Bapat can be seen in their early works.

Ravikiran Mandal, formed in 1923, was a group of young poets in Pune that dominated the scene for some time. These middle-class, educated poets tried to avoid the verbal and emotional profligacy of Gadakari and social activism of Keshavsut in poetry. They favored romantic; mildly reformist; to some extent, nostalgic; and escapist views of life. If Yashwant D. Pendharkar, Yashwant, and Shankar K. Kanetkar, Girish, preferred to depict yearning pictures of the simple, virtuous life of rural Maharashra, Madhav T. Patwardhan, Madhav Julian, preferred to write love poems in the form of ghazals (lyrics) with a liberal blend of Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit words. His collection of poems, Gajjalanjali, was published in 1933. Many critics thought that his love poems were too personal, but they also signify a shift toward a self-oriented view, to be seen in later poetry. Kusumavati Deshpande has described this period as “an era of mediocrities” (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 138). This description fits the middle-class conformism obvious in the poetry and fiction of the time.

The Ravikiran Mendal faded slowly, but its presence remained through parodies of its style. P. K. Atre (1898-1969) published his collection of parodies, Jhenduchi Phule, in 1925. Atmaram R. Deshpande (1901-82), Anil, began to write poetry as a conscious reaction against the mediocrity and sweet unreality of Ravikiran Mandal. Anant Kanekar (1905-80) was another important poet who contributed to this process. Anant’s poetry represents an important convergence of romanticism and a profound sense of social inequality and moral indignation. His initial collection, Phulwat (1932), resonates a sensitive, precise, subjective, and delicate expression of love. His next two collections were Bhag-namurti (1940) and Nirvasita Chini Mulasa (1943). In Bhagnamurti, he employs muktachhanda, or free verse, to contemplate the decline and fall of civilization. This musing does not show despair but concentrates on causes of the decline. Here we see the return of passion for social change and a call for critical social consciousness. Nirvasita Chini Mulasa is a poem about an orphaned Chinese boy fleeing Japanese oppression. It clearly shows the poet’s ability to evoke powerful reactions: compassion, indignation, and humanity. An incessant experimenter, he developed a new form of sonnet, dashapadi, or a 10-line poem. He titled his collection by the same name in 1976, which received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1977. His other collections include Perte Vha (1947) and Sangati (1961).

Anant Kanekar’s collection of poetry, Chandarata (1933), shows awareness of incongruence of an industrial society that was coming into existence. The moonlight is juxtaposed with smokestacks (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988); rejection of religion by the worker is paired with a wealthy owner’s conspicuous idol worship. The poems are full of satire, protest, atheism, and socialist visions. Later, he concentrated on essays and travelogues, but his social commitment remained deep.

Two other important poets of Anil’s generation are B. B. Borkar (1910-84) and V. V. Shirwadkar (1912), Kusumagraja. Berkar’s initial poetry was swayed by B. R. Tambe, but he went beyond that mellifluousness to incorporate influences of poetry in several languages, the Portuguese culture of his native Goa, Bhakti poets, and Gandhian ideas. His important collections include Jeevan Sen-geet (1937), Dudhasagar (1947), Anand Bhairavi (1950), Chitraveena (1960), and Chaitra Punav (1970). He remained a classical poet by following the traditional patterns of rhyme and rhythm. He was a consummate craftsman of words that were chaste and delightful. He also wrote some novels, with the same facility for language and narration. His Bhavin (1950) depicts a compassionate picture of the life of a devadasi (temple dancer).

Kusumagraj established himself as a major port during the Quit India movement in 1942 with his first collection, Vishakha. His poems mirror the genuine nationalist spirit of the times. His other books, Jeevan Lahari and Kinare (1952), show “his humanism, revolutionary zeal and metaphysical probings” with “a powerful and lively expression” (Kanadey 1991, 66).

Two novelists, N. S. Phadke (1894-1978) and V. S. Khandekar (1898-1976), dominated the two decades before independence in terms of popularity; however, other novelists made significant contributions to the development of the genre. They included V. M. Joshi (1883-1943), S. V. Ketkar (1884-1937) and B. V. Warerkar (1883-1943) (see Karhade 1981; Deshpande and Rajadpadhyak-sha 1988). Joshi took the Marathi novel beyond the thematic of Apte’s novel: social reform and nationalist refashioning of history. His novels have women with a sense of identity as main characters. Joshi’s Ragini (1915) deals with the rights of women and the tension felt by middle-class, educated women of the time: an aggressive advocacy of women’s rights or traditional family ideal. Even though the novel is weak in structure, the contemporaneity of the theme is refreshing. Women who had begun to acquire education and were able to participate in the Gandhian moment of national struggle faced these questions. His other novels, Ashram Harini (1916), Nalini (1920), and Sushilecha Deva (1930), explore similar social themes. In Sushilecha Deva, he raises the issue of the conception of God and takes the discussion beyond the notion of an idol to interpret it as an ideal of service to humanity. The influence of Gandhian thinking is visible, as is the reason for unease among those who had assimilated Western rationalist thinking.

Ketkar was an iconoclast who, in 1920, became the first person to edit and publish an encyclopedia, Maharashtriya Dnyanakosha, in Marathi modeled after Encyclopedia Britiannica. He used novels as vehicles for his social thoughts. His novel Brahmakanya (1930), for example, takes up the issue of the status of a child in society from the marriage of a Brahman and a prostitute. In Paraganda (1926) and Gavasasu (1930), he picks up the theme of emigration to a foreign country and marriage there. The choice of settings for his novels, for example, Vidarbha, England, and the United States, also reveals his reaction to dominant tendencies in literature to focus on Pune and Bombay (Deshpande and Raja-dhyaksha 1988). He bared the cloistered, middle-class minds to decaying social institutions and problems beyond their limited experiences.

Warerkar’s novels present angry women characters reacting against their social circumstances. In his Vidhava Kumari (1928), for example, we see a rebellious child widow, and in Godu Gokhale, the heroine reacts strongly against social injustices and the subservient position of women in the institution of marriage. Warerkar’s Dhavata Dhota (1933) presents with authentic realism the life of a textile millworker facing an imminent strike. In Saat Lakhatil Eka (1940), he paints a somber picture of life oppressed by poverty and superstition in Konkan. Gandhi’s philosophy of dignifying simple village life and his message “back to the village” rekindled reformist awareness among middle-class writers. It later developed into a subgenre, gramin sahitya, or rural literature.

Khandekar’s early novels, like Hrudayachi Haaka (1930) and Kanchanam-ruga (1931), differ from the subsequent Ulka (1934) or Dona Dhauva (1934) in organization. But they have “artificial and complicated plots, sugary and fine sounding sentiments, uncomplicated characters, the writing laden with lavish fancy and the right touch of moral ardour” (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 158). Khandekar was not as prolific as Phadke, but he enjoyed a wider appeal, even outside Maharashtra. His novel Yayati was given the prestigious Jnanapith Award.

During the decades before independence, women writers made their mark on Marathi literature. Malatibai Bedekar (1904), Vibhawari Shirurkar, published her Kalyanche Nishwas (1933), a collection of stories, with an introduction by S. V. Ketkar (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988). In her stories, she raised complex social issues like women and marriage, or frustrations and mental anguish of educated, middle-class women. She argued that women’s education had neither made them happy nor helped them in facing newer problems. In her novel Hindolyawar (1934), she discusses the issue of extramarital love and a woman’s yearning to bear a child out of that relationship. This novel represents the defiant mood of educated women of the time, yet her use of a pseudonym indicates the fear of orthodox retaliation. Her maturity as a novelist is evident in Bali (1950), a sympathetic story of inmates of a criminal tribal camp. Other women writers of the period included Geeta Sane (1907), Prema Kantak (1906), and Girijabai Kelkar (1886-1980).

Marathi theater’s sunny days were clouded by the economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s. The dependence of theater groups on general economic conditions became clear during this period, when urban unemployment had increased, and the small town and rural patrons, facing declining prices of agricultural produce, could not continue their support. Development of motion pictures proved to be a more popular visual entertainment and contributed to the dismal picture. Wararkar’s plays provided some fillip during these dismal days through realism in production and social context back to the stage. His Kunjavihari (1908), Haach Mulacha Baap (1916), and Bhvomikanya Seeta (1955) are noteworthy. M. N. Joshi’s Municipality (1925) caricatured the activities of newly established local governments. The efforts to rejuvenate theater led to the formation of an organization called Natyamanvantara in the early 1930s. The effort did not last too long, but it brought S. V. Vartak (1885-1950) to prominence as a playwright. His adaptations of Henrik Ibsen and Björnstjerne Björnsen were produced with little success. This experiment also introduced, for the first time, a woman to play a female role on the professional stage (Desh-pande and Rajadhyaksha 1988).

If formulaic Ibsen did not catch on, a farcical and satirical treatment of social issues did. Vartak’s Takshasheela (1933), M. N. Joshi’s Municipality, S. P. Joshi’s Khadashtak (1927), and P. K. Atre’s Sashtang Namaskar (1933) were popular until the mid-1950s. Atre’s play makes fun of many social fads of the time, like physical exercise as a cure-all for problems, physical and sociopolitical; the effeminate stereotype of romantic poets; belief in astrology; and newly developed passion for movies. After a successful debut, Atre wrote Gharabaher (1934) and Udyacha Sansar (1938), focusing on the plight of women in middle-class, joint families. His Lagnachi Bedi and Bhramacha Bhopala were well-written comedies. His adaptation of Molière’s L’Avare as Kavadichumbak and Brandon Thomas’s Charley’s Aunt as Moruchi Marashi were also successful on stage (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988; Malshe 1988, 264-65). M. G. Ran-ganekar (1907) entered the scene as Atre shifted to successful careers in cinema, journalism, and politics, especially during the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation. Ranganekar’s Kulavadhu (1942) is a watered-down adaptation of Ibsen’s Doll’s House. It brought the urban, middle-class audience back to the stage. It established a pattern of “crisp dialogues spiced with humor, that scrupulously avoided exaggeration and verbal subtlety, plausible realism in the action and characters, and nimble movement” of story line, for subsequent plays (Desh-pande and Rajadhyaksha 1988; 187).

Anant Kanekar was one of the founders of Natyamanvantar. He successfully adapted from the works of Henrik Ibsen, John Galsworthy, James Barrie, and Oliver Goldsmith. He also contributed to the introduction of a new form to the theater, one-act plays. During this period, popularity of writers in English had increased in Maharashtra. The educated class took pride in reading and keeping up with trends in the West. In this milieu, one-act plays were introduced and established. Many prominent dramatists, like P. L. Deshpande, Shamrao Oka, M. G. Ranganekar, Madhav Manohar, and Vijay Tendulkar, began their literary careers by writing one-act plays.

Independence, Modernity, and Post-Independence Literature


Political independence of India was an occasion of mixed hope, despair, and anxiety in Maharashtra. The signs of a better future for the nation had raised the spirits of the people. The massacre in Panjab and other parts of the country following the partition, including Maharashtra, had created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. It was further exacerbated by the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Brahman from Maharashtra. The anti-Brahman sentiment peaked, resulting in reprisals against Brahmans, especially in rural areas and small towns. Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS drew wrath and animosity because both these organizations were predominantly Maharashtrian and Brahman. This tension remained in Maharashtra for decades.

At independence, there was the Bombay state, made up of Gujarat and Maharashtra, but no separate state for Marathi speakers. The domination of Bombay as a commercial metropolitan area distorted the economic development of the state and increased the influence of the bourgeoisie made up of the Gujaratis, the Marwaris, and the Parsis. The movement demanding a linguistic division of the state reached its peak after 1956, culminating in the present Maharashtra state in 1960. If nationalism had undertaken the task of reconstructing the history of India to suit its problematic, a similar project was under way for Maharashtra. The interpretation of Shivaji’s work and legacy has remained a contested terrain, over which both Brahmans and non-Brahmans have tried to interpret the history to suit the exigencies. The remnants of feudal and religious prerogatives were now being converted into the new democratic framework.

In the countryside, the landlord class was very much in command at independence, but not for too long. The land reforms changed the pattern of land-ownership from predominantly, Brahman control to Maratha and other intermediate castes. They were “a class of capitalist farmers in embryo, in the womb of the old order” (Byres 1974, 235). The Green revolution, development of agricultural cooperatives and control of rural cooperative credit, helped this class to consolidate its political and economic gains. Also important to our understanding of the times and literature in the postcolonial period is the character of the middle class that was now in control. It had taken on the mantle of the British. It has also assumed the position of organic intellectuals of the new regime chanting the mantras of modernization, industrialization, scientific frame of mind, technological development, economic planning, and progress. The intellectual discourse of the period was so dominated by Western notions of progress that progressive deterioration in the living conditions of workers, both agricultural and nonagricultural, and the rapacious profits made by the upper middle class and businessmen had made the masses wonder about the new era. As Kosambi writes in his review of Nehru’s Discovery of India, “The gain [made by this class] may be camouflaged by the ostentatious simplicity of white khaddar (homespun) and the eternal Gandhi cap” (1946, 395).

It was becoming clear even before 1947 that the Gandhian critique of modernity and his alternative vision for India were being garbled and appropriated by the modernizing, Westward-looking middle class. The problem was that Gandhi was seen by “the vast multitude of semi-naked masses as ‘lsquo;a great soul.’ Nehru being the political heir to Gandhi could justify his appropriation or rejection of Gandhism without remorse by saying that Gandhi was “utterly sincere,” “a great and unique man,” “a glorious leader,” but his vision of independent India was “impossible of achievement” (1938, 510). Gandhi’s methods were revolutionary, and his vision was religious and metaphysical, but it is not desirable or sufficient for state-building activities. This Nehruvian appropriation contributed to certain interrelated tendencies. For example, it reinforced the notion that to be modern is to look to the West and that the spirit of the age was described in terms of secularism, rationality, scientific curiosity, technology, and so on. The educated middle class and the bourgeoisie took it as a signal to reject the swadeshi and uncritically accept what was a historical presentation of the West. Partha Chatterjee has pointed out: “Nationalism sets out to assert its freedom from European domination. But in the very conception of its project, it remains a prisoner of the prevalent European [and American] intellectual fashions” (1976, 10).

In his Anakhi Kahi Kavita (1951), there is a conscious attempt to go beyond human destitution. There is an attempt to reconcile the Western values imbibed through education and the spiritual discourse of the native saints. As Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha (1988, 144) put it, “the spiritual strain that had been dormant came alive.” Even in his turn to the spiritual understanding of the modern world, he seems to cling to the rationalist approach. He strove for precision of expression in his poetry. Mardhekar’s poetry did not create a tradition in Marathi poetry, but it certainly changed its direction and form. It also marked a decline of romantic-humanist tradition in Marathi poetry.

He published his first collection of poems, Sadhana ani Itar Kavita, in 1931. Himaseka (1943) is acknowledged as his first major collection. He has published steadily since. A consistency in the theme has haunted his imagination, namely, woman in love. The multidimensionality of femininity, in his conception, is not restricted to the human, the emotive, or the individual. It embodies not the emotional needs of an individual but the essence of love that transcends time and event. “Radha is Rege’s paragon of such beloved. She is not just woman: she is the distilled essence of womanhood” (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988, 145).

His later collections of poetry include Dusara Pakshi (1966), Priyala (1972), and Suhrudgatha (1975). He also wrote three novels, two volumes of essays and literary criticism, and several plays. His poetry is compared to an exquisite piece of hand-carved ivory, and, hence, it is criticized for its lack of social context (Soman 1989, 11). It is also true that Rege could not have much impact on Marathi poetry.

Govind V. Karandikar (1918) started along the path paved by Keshavsut, Madhav Julian, and Savarkar but later turned to Mardhekar and Rege for inspiration (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988). His Mrudgandha (1954) and Dhrupada (1959) brought him recognition as an innovative poet.

Sharatchandra Muktibodh’s (1921-84) work was also influential in charting the modernist trend in Marathi poetry. It is influenced by Marxist ideas. He, too, confronts modern society, but his work projects a clarity and resolve to bring about social justice to all people. The inner loneliness and fragility of Mar-dhekar’s work are not to be seen in Muktibodh. There is a conviction of inherent human abilities and creativity, as well as an awareness of contradictions and inequalities of modern industrial societies. His first volume of poetry, Navi Ma-lawat (1949), attracted attention because of the expression of genuine social commitment and concern for the exploited classes of the industrial age. Yatrik (1957), his next collection, continued along the same path, unmasking the pretensions of the middle class. His poetry discomposed those segments of the middle class comforted by the conformist poetry of Tambe and the Ravikiran Mandal.

It is noteworthy that his poetry, in spite of its overt and genuine concern for the working classes, is not blaring. It is vivid, sensitive, intelligent, and imaginative. The recurring images of fire in his poetry denote both the destruction of the oppressive and exploitative social order and resurrection of just society (Kan-adey 1991, 139).

His trilogy of novels began with Kshipra in 1954 and followed with Had-dapar and Jan He Voltu Jethe. The characters in the trilogy are involved in the Quit India movement in 1942. The intellectual journey of the main character, Bishu, in search of a cohesive framework to understand social contradictions, enables Muktibodh to provide bold interpretation of social changes while reflecting on the interaction of individual and society (Kanadey 1991, 140).

Vasant Bapat’s (1922) poetry reveals his early association with a socialist organization. His patriotic songs charmed the youth of Maharashtra during the Quit India movement in 1942. His first collection, Bijali (1952), was followed by Setu (1957), Akravi Disha (1962), Sainya Chalale Pudhe (1965), Sakina (1975), Manasi (1977), and Pravasachya Kavita (1982). His poetry shows his sustained development and maturity as a poet.

Novel and Short Story

Gangadhar Gadgil (1923), with Arvind Gokhale, Vyankatesh Madgulkar, and P. B. Bhave, ushered in what Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha (1988) call the “new short story.” The newness implied in the label refers to the return of realism. Gadgil led the charge against the contrived romantic-imaginary world exemplified in the works of Phadke and Khandekar. The dehumanizing industrial world, horrors of war, the partition, and changing social reality provided the writers of his generation with many themes to explore in their works. The newness of short stories of Gadgil and his contemporaries lay in their willingness to experiment with new techniques and themes with a sense of purpose.

Gadgil has experimented with the stream-of-consciousness technique in his novel Liliche Phul (1955) to explore the inner conflicts of a person’s sexual tendencies. Gadgil has published many collections of short stories over his long literary career. His Manaschitre (1946), Kadu ani Goad (1948), Navya Wata (1950), Talawatila Chandane (1954), Vegale Jaga (1958), Gunakar (1965), Athavana (1978), and Uddhvastava Vishva (1982) are representative of his work. Gadgil also firmly established travelogue as a genre in Marathi literature. Earlier, Anant Kanekar wrote his Dhukyatun Lal Taryakade (1940), noting his impressions of travel in the Soviet Union and Western Europe. The informal, impressionistic sketches of people and places were refreshing. His Amachi Mati, Amache Aakash (1950) was about his travel in India with Dinanath Dalal, the artist. Gadgil’s Sata Samudrapalikade (1959) is a chronicle of his travels in Europe and the United States. It is more impressionistic than documentary, reflecting on places and individuals he encountered. In Gopuranchya Pradeshat (1952), he writes about his travels in south India. His descriptions of places reflect a sensitive and keen mind (Sheorey 1988, 1336-37).

Arvind Gokhale (1919) has earned his literary reputation through his contribution to the Marathi short story in the postindependence period. He has stayed with the genre throughout his career when his contemporaries ranged over other modes. As is common with many postindependence writers, an individual is the focal point of his stories. Both men and women, severally and in their relationships, have been the subjects of his stories. They are examined in different locales and situations. His stories are characterized by elegance, economy, restraint, and structure. His first collection, Nazarana, was published in 1944. He has written at a steady pace to produce more than 25 collections, of which Maher (1949), Mithila (1959), Anamika (1961), and Nakoshi (1977) are notable. Gokhale also made a conscious effort to sustain the short story as a genre in recent years. He brought out anthologies of short stories by other authors in Marathi. He has written about the work of well-known short story writers in other regional languages as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh (Sheorey 1988, 1437-38).

Novels and short stories by Vyankatesh Madgulkar (1927) contributed to the popular interest in literature after the 1950s. His novel Bangarwadi (1955) revolves around the experience of a young schoolteacher who moves into a small village. The initial feeling of being out of place gives way to an affinity for the people and the village. The novel is notable for its deceptively simple and direct style. In his later works, like Mandeshi Manase (1972) and Goshti Gharakadila (1977), he continues to draw on his knowledge of rural Maharashtra. He, along with D. M. Mirasdar and Shankar Patil, have popularized storytelling as a literary event. Shankar Patil’s stories are also situated in rural Maharashtra, but his subjects show greater variety, and his treatment of his characters and situations goes beyond the apparent dissonance.

Gauri Deshpande (1942) is one of the important women writers in contemporary Marathi literature. She has also published three collections of her poetry in English. She has made her mark on the Marathi short story and novel with themes and concerns that are closer to upper-middle-class cosmopolitan women (Raykar 1988, 932-33). Her Eka Paan Galavaya (1980) is a collection of three long stories. “Turungatil Patre” is a story of an urbane and sensitive young woman who is trying to comprehend her relationships to men in her life. The second story in the collection, “Madhya Latapatita,” is again a story of a happily married woman in that anxious transitory phase of approaching middle age. She is unsure of the meaning and purpose of her married life. She leaves her husband, with whom she is living in a foreign country, and returns to Bombay to reassess the meaning she was seeking. The last story in the collection, “Eka Paan Galavaya,” is about Radha, a woman past her middle age who has lost her husband recently. With a remarkable sensitivity, Deshpande depicts her struggles to free herself from the bonds of her children and friends to face her life ahead. Her recent novels, Teruo ani Kahi Dooraparyant (1985), Ahe He Asa Ahe (1985), and Chandrike Ga Chandrike (1987), show her quest to explore different dimensions of life in a refreshing way.

Regional Literature

The body of literature recognized in Marathi as “regional literature” owes much to the work of S. N. Pendse (1913). His novels have focused on lives and circumstances in a specific region of Maharashtra, namely, northern Konkan. His intimate knowledge of the economy, environment, and culture helps him re-create it with authenticity in his novels (Deshpande and Rajadhyaksha 1988). In his maiden novel, Elgar (1949), he handles the sensitive theme of communal discord in the wake of tragic events of Noakhali in a coastal village. Haddapar (1950) and Garambicha Bapu (1951) established his reputation in the Marathi literary world. His characters of school teacher Raje and Bapu are memorable. In Garambicha Bapu, he utilizes the natural environment of Konkan and the tradition-bound ways of the village community to narrate a romantic story. Hatya (1954) and its sequel, Kalandar (1959), Yashoda (1957), Rathachakra (1962), Lawhali (1966), and Octopus (1972) are representative of his work. He focuses on realistic pictures of the region and its people.

Jayawant Dalvi (1925) is a prolific writer who has handled short story, novel, humor, and drama proficiently (Govilkar 1988a, 843). He has more than 14 novels, 10 collections of short stories, eight plays, and more travelogues and collections of humorous stories. He writes with sensitivity, vigor, and compassion for human beings in contemporary society and their varied life-worlds. He has relied on the experiences of the middle class for his themes. However, in his novel Chakra (1963), he portrays the stark reality of slum life in a very provocative manner. This novel helped him in establishing his reputation as a competent writer. His other novels, Sare Pravasi Ghadiche, Vedagala, Swagat, and Adhantari are noteworthy. His play Sandhya Chhaya explores the problems and inner turmoil of an old couple. His other plays reflect his interest in contemporary social and political issues.

Gramina Sahitya

Gramina sahitya, or rural literature, focuses on life in rural Maharashtra (Ya-dav 1988, 1467-68). The focus is on the ways of life, traditions, and values of common people in villages. There is also a concern about the impact of urbanization and urban lifestyles, economic development, democratization and its influence on traditional hierarchies, and so on. It is interested in the conflict of two different worldviews: urban and rural, modern and traditional.

After independence and more so after Maharashtra state became a linguistically unified state and after the spread of education, economic planning, cooperatives, transportation and means of communication, panchayati raj (village government), and so on, a group of writers came forth from rural Maharashtra who could articulate the ethos of the countryside better. For more than 100 years, the literary output of the urban, middle-class, educated society was identified with Marathi literature. It represented their values, concerns, ideologies, and class consciousness almost to the exclusion of people from rural areas.

Rural literature has drawn attention to the distinctive features and problems of rural life. It has shown the wide diversity in dialects, customs, natural environment, and so on that exists in rural parts of Maharashtra. The folk literature and its forms that have flourished for centuries are less often employed as preferred modes of expression. R. V. Dighe is known for his realistic portrayal of rural life in Maharashtra, with which he was familiar from his childhood. He is recognized as the first to introduce this category, gramin sahitya, in Marathi. His major novels include Panakala (1939), Sarai (1943), and Pada Re Panya (1958). He also wrote short stories depicting lives of rural people. Though influenced by the works of H. N. Apte, Thomas Hardy, Sir Walter Scott, and Feodor Dostoyevsky, he delved deep into his own experiences and observations to sketch rural lives and its problems like untouchability, land tenure, and land-lessness (Dhere 1988, 1044-45).

Raosaheb Borade (1940) is credited for bringing the realities of Marathwada to mainstream Marathi literature (Manchankar 1988, 561). He is among the first generation of authors after independence who brought a new awareness and realism from their personal experiences of life in rural areas. His novel Pachola (1971) is a story of emotional stresses created in the lives of village craftsmen because of modernization. Narration by Parvati, the wife of a tailor, brings out the human dimensions of social change. The entire novel is written in Usman-abadi dialect, which lends it authenticity and charm. He has published more than 14 collections of short stories exploring different facets of rural life. Even the titles of his collections reflect his roots in rural life, for example, Perani (Sowing), Malani (Threshing), Valvan (Drying), and Rakhan (Guarding the Crop). He focuses on family as a unit and the emotional ties that fuse its members. He has focused on tensions in these relationships by privations, especially those felt by women. The impact of social institutions, customs, and traditions on individuals and community is explored with deep sympathy.

Historical Novel

Ranjit Desai (1928) is a versatile writer who excels in portrayal of historical times and figures (Govilkar 1988, 927-28). His novels Swami (1965) and Shri-man Yogi (1968) established him as a premier writer of historical novels. As in earlier novels in this category, the attempt is to resuscitate the grandeur and glory of the times of Shivaji and the Peshavas. He succeeds in that enterprise. He is very meticulous in detailing sociopolitical conditions of the times. His craftsmanship, development of characters, and attention to structure are notable. In his Shriman Yogi, based on the life of Shivaji, is a chapter on the relationship between Ramdas and Shivaji as the teacher and the pupil. This relationship, as mentioned earlier, has been challenged on the basis of historical documents. His other historical novels, including Lakshyawedha (1980) and Pawankhinda (1980), also show his proclivity to research his themes, times, and characters. In preface to his novel Lakshyawedha, he writes that historical facts and research are not adequate; the author has to let his imagination play a role. He has been criticized for his propensity to exaggeration and sentimentality in his work. He has written several plays, including Tansen, Bandha Reshamache, Ramashastri, Kanchanmruga, Garudajhepa, and Varasa, but his play based on the novel Swami has proved to be more popular.

Among other prominent historical novelists, N. S. Inamdar (1923) ranks high. Inamdar, too, digs into Maratha history for his characters and settings. His Jhep, Jhunja, Mantravegala, Rau, Shahenshah, Shikasta, and Rajeshri deal with the life and times of Shivaji, his son Sambhaji, and Aurangazeb. His work is characterized by attention to detail and skillful use of narration to develop his heroes. Shivaji Sawant (1940) has written novels using both historical and mythical characters. His Mrutyunjaya depicts the life of Karna, a character from Mahab-harata, but symbolically expresses the plight of the dalits. His Chhava is based on the life of Sambhaji.

New Trends

Bhalchandra Nemade’s first novel, Kosla, came out in 1963. It represented the beginning of a new trend in the Marathi novel. It is a story of Pandurang Sangavikar, a young man with rural upbringing who moves to Pune for higher education. This young man is alienated in his new social setting. Experiencing a persistent feeling of estrangement, he returns home, only to encounter further disillusionment. Pandurang’s acute experiences of his sister’s death, his father’s domination, and his own financial dependence are combined in a powerful way. The book marks the beginning of existentialist literature in Marathi and a reduced influence of the Phadke-Khandekar paradigm. Kosla ’s literary success provided an impetus to literature based on existentialist philosophy, which was influential in Europe through the works of Sartre and Camus. His subsequent novels, Bidhar (1975), Jarila, and Jhul (1979), have not been able to sustain the promise. However, many others took their cues to write within the existentialist mode at that time and since then. Notable among them are Bhau Padhye, Vasant Abaji Dahake, Kiran Nagarkar, T. V. Sardeshmukh, and C. T. Khanolkar (Machwe 1988, 1245-46).

Dilip Chitre took on the cause of modernism in Marathi poetry after Mar-dhekar. He is known for his poetry, short stories, and literary criticism. He acknowledges his affinity with surrealism and expressionism in Europe, which has made a deep impact on his literary work. There is a meditative quality congruous with the bhakti poets like Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar. In his work, there is a continuous search for the warp and irrationality of contemporary life. Over the years, literary critics have had no qualms about his sensitivity and intellect, but they have criticized him for his elitism and deliberate abstruseness.

Chitre was one of the leaders of the little magazines movement in the urban Marathi literary world (Hatkanagalekar 1988, 737). His publication Shabda was influential among those who were looking to the West, especially the United States, for new ideas and inspiration in the 1960s. He remained an icon for those who were advocating modernity in literature in the Western conception. His initial collection of poems, Kavita (1960), is representative of this period. After that period, he has been diligently attempting to mediate the Western aesthetic and literary traditions with the indigenous. His collection of short stories, Orpheus (1968), his travelogue, Sheba Ranichya Shodhat (1970), and his later works, Kavitenantarchya Kavita (1978), Kavya (1982), Tirakasa ani Chaukasa (1990), and Ekuna Kavita (1991), reflect his conscious search for identity, a dilemma facing every sensitive, educated Indian laid exposed to Western culture.

Manik Godghate (1940), Grace, is one of the important contemporary poets. Like many of his contemporaries, he is trying to convey the experiences of struggles to comprehend the meaning of existence. Grace’s refined and perceptive mind draws on traditional images to express the poignancy of human existence. The lyrical quality, wondrous imagination, and sensuous, colorful poignancy characterize his literary work (Machwe 1988, 1432). His first collection of poems, Sandhyakalachya Kavita (1967), brought him recognition and honor. His Rajaputra and Darling (1974) and Chandramadhavicha Pradesh (1977) were well recognized by critics and readers. He has also published collections of essays, Churchbell (1974) and Mitava (1987).

Besides his three collections of poetry, Khanolkar also wrote six original plays and more adaptations. His Eka Shoonya Bajirao (1966) is a memorable play for its exploration of surreality. His Abhogi, Rakheli, Avadhya, and Sagesoyare take place at a level of reality that is neither symbolic nor phantasmic nor psychoanalytic. There is a reflective thought informed by deeply held values that has interpreted the reality. His 10 published novels depict the grinding lives of lower-middle-class people. Arrogant and moneyed people provide the counterpoise within the established traditions. Social customs and traditions dominate social interaction in his novels, but there is a conscious attempt to analyze their impact.

The literary reputation of P. L. Deshpande (1919) rests on his plays, humorous stories, and one-man performances. He has attracted urban, middle-class audiences with his versatility as an entertainer. His humorous stories primarily draw on experiences and responses of the urban lower middle class to everyday situations. His early collections, Khogir Bharati (1949), Nasti Uthatheva (1952), and Gola Berij (1960), have been popular.

He has adapted works of Western playwrights in Marathi over the years (Ma-nohar 1988, 934), for example, Gogol’s Inspector General as Amaladar (1952), Rudolf Basier’s Barrets of Wimpole Street as Sundar Mi Honar (1958), Shaw’s Pygmalion as Ti Phularani, Brecht’s The Three Penny Opera as Teen Paishan-cha Tamasha (1978), and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex as Raja Oedipus (1979). His original play, Tujhe ahe Tujapashi (1957), presents two contrasting worldviews, indulgence of Kakaji and Gandhian idealism of Acharya. The younger characters attracted to the Gandhian message of simple life are finally converted to a life of comfort and enjoyment. The play has proved extremely popular with urban, educated audiences. Its message helped them to repulse Gandhian ideals for their hypocrisy and idiosyncracies. It was a variant of Nehruvian repudiation of Gandhism as inappropriate for the modern world.

Durga Bhagwat (1910) symbolizes the conscience of intellectuals and intellectual traditions in contemporary Maharashtra. A noted anthropologist and folklorist, she has made a mark on Marathi literature through her creative and critical work. Her Rutuchakra (1956), Bhava Mudra (1960), Vyasaparva (1962), Ru-paranga (1967), and Pais (1970) well represent her creative contributions, and Lokasahityachi Ruparekha and Ketakari Kadambari (1967) represent her critical works. She writes in a remarkably simple and informal style (Kulkarni 1988, 426). Her Rutuchakra is unique in Marathi literature for its sensitive and informed description of nature in different seasons, its influence on, and relation to, human lives, folklore, and customs. She has brought her scholarship and mature understanding to explore many new subjects; for example, Aswal (1982) is a study of Indian bears. She was elected the president of Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (an annual conference of Marathi writers) at Karad in 1975 during the emergency. From her position, she spoke out against the censorship and restraints on freedom of speech imposed on writers. Mukta (1977) is a collection of her speeches on many topics germane to writers. This collection reflects her dedication and unequivocal commitment to freedom of expression.


Vijay Tendulkar (1928) has remained the preeminent dramatist in Marathi for the last three decades. With his plays translated and staged in other regional languages, he has gained wider recognition and reputation. Both Tendulkar and other younger playwrights wanted to give theater “a new form” and experiment with all aspects of it, including content, acting, decor, and audience communication (Nadkarni 1990, 9). He started writing plays in the 1950s, but they remained within the experimental and theater groups. Here the term “experimental theater” can be interpreted as a synonym for “modern” and “Western.” In his early one-act plays, he used the techniques common in contemporary European and American theater. His Shrimant (1955) deals with the familiar theme of the conflict between the rich and the poor in a capitalist society. It also explores the predicament of a lower-middle-class family with the problem of premarital pregnancy. Both Shrimant and the subsequent Gharate Amuche Chhan deal with the corrupt, money-driven, and selfish lives of the rich who are morally vacuous. Many of his early plays are fairly conventional in dramatic form and style, but in his later ones he has experimented with both, but not in a contrived fashion.

Gangadhar Gadgil (1980, 48-78) divides Tendulkar’s work in two periods, 1953-68 and 1968-80, for convenience of analysis. The plays included in the first period are Shrimant, Manus Nawache Bet, Ashi Pakhare Yeti, Saree Ga Saree, Mi Jinkalo, Mi Haralo, Shantata, Court Chalu Ahe, and Madhalya Bhinti. The plays written during the first period focus on the lives and concerns of lower-middle-class characters: financial strains, specter of joblessness, inadequate income of those with jobs, problems of housing and high rent, marriage and oppression of women, and so on. The stark realism of his work is accentuated by his use of humor and satire, with telling effect. He has an uncanny ability to develop a complete image of the characters with relative ease through few but cogent details. In Shantata and Court Chalu Ahe, he has interwoven the rehearsal of a play and a real life story to produce intense dramatic encounters where reality and fiction become difficult to separate.

The plays in the second period break away from the milieu of the middle class and probe the sociopolitical and historical realm. Gidhade (1971), Sak-haram Binder (1972), Ghashiram Kotwal (1973), Bhalyakaka (1974), Bhau Mu-rarrao (1975), and Bebi (1975) are, in Gadgil’s judgment, better conceived compared to some of the first period. Ghashiram Kotwal, his most popular play, was published in 1973, but it was performed in December 1972. This play, a dance and musical spectacle, on one level, is a biting commentary on the hypocrisy of the dominant castes/classes in society, on another level. Its characters are historical figures, and it is set in the Peshwa period, but it is not a historical play. It is a fictional account of the social circumstances that can create characters like Ghashiram. The theme of the play, the debauchery of the orthodox Brahmans of Pune and impoverished Ghashiram’s willingness to offer his daughter to the demands of lecherous Nana Phadanavis, created a storm of social protest in Pune. Tendulkar’s play makes use of chorus as well as kirtan, a folk music form used primarily to narrate religiomythical stories, with incisive effect.

Barve (1990, 22-25) has argued that Tendulkar “can rejoice in the beauty and nobility in the world but he is not blind to the ugly and ignoble in it … [H]is literary tendency is of realistic, soft but poignant expression.” Gadgil (1980) has argued that Tendulkar’s work is wanting in many ways by literary standards when compared to his reputation and popularity. Barve (1990, 23), on the other hand, asserts that Tendulkar is interested in “individual identity of man and his social existence.” Tendulkar’s work may not seem to carry the “burden of intellectual speculation,” but it offers “something, beyond words.” There is little doubt that Tendulkar’s work has taken Marathi theater away from the clichéd and contrived work of earlier generations.

Anil Barve (1948-84) was a political activist in the Naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India. His journalistic reports brought him to prominence. His first novel, Thank You, Mr. Glad (1975), is a story of an encounter between Virbhushan Patnaik, a Naxalite prisoner, and Mr. Glad, the British superintendent of the jail. Patnaik is awaiting his execution in the Rajmahendry jail for his political activities. The conversion of the autocratic jailer, who shoots his ward at his request and takes his place in the cell, is riveting. He adapted the play in 1977 with success. His other novels, Dongar Mhatara Jhala (1977) and Akara Koti Gallon Panee (1978), deal with tensions between an aging communist and a retired army officer and between a corrupt mine owner and a decent engineer, respectively. His play Hamidabaichi Kothi (1979) is a tale of a prostitute, Hamidabai, whose kothi (brothel) has fallen on lean days. The play captures the suffering of the woman and her attempts to escape the brothel life. Barve goes beyond the transient emotional or subjective elements to focus on the social origins of the tragedy. Barve has brought realism with all the starkness back to the Marathi novel and drama (Manohar 1988, 399-400).

Mahesh Elkunchwar (1939) and Satish Alekar (1949) represent the new generation of playwrights who followed, like Tendulkar, the path away from the professional Marathi theater. Elkunchwar’s plays have drawn social criticism throughout his career. He has shown willingness to take on topics that go against middle-class moral values and orthodox social norms. His plays have been translated into English and Hindi. He has been publishing plays since 1970, and his plays have been staged by prominent producers (Machwe 1988, 1160). His first play, Sultan, was followed by Garbo (1973), Rudravarsha (1974), Vasanakand (1975), Yatanaghar (1977), Party (1981), and Wada Chirebandi (1987). In his quest to explore interaction between human relationships and the morality that supposedly holds society together, he projects the conflictual outcome. His one-act plays, starting with Sultan, brought new intensity to the genre in Marathi. Critics have faulted him for focusing on sex and violence to attract audiences (Kanadey 1991, 28-29) or for openly discussing social taboos like the incestual relationship between brother and sister in his Vasanakand. Others have praised him for bringing to light the practices that society does not want its members to discuss or practice and thus pushing the limits of social discourse.

Satish Alekar also has stayed primarily with experimental theater. His plays Micky ani Memsaheb and Mahanirvan (1974) established him as a promising young playwright. His other plays include Mahapur (1977), Begum Barve (1979), and Shaniwar, Raviwar (1982). His Mahanirvan is a satire of the practices and morality of the urban, lower-middle-class Brahmans. The death of a tenement dweller provides a platform to launch his black comedy, which alternates between a farce and tragedy.

Summing Up

The economy, polity, and society of Maharashtra were influenced by the British colonial rule, as was the literature. The relative impact varied in different periods in the past, depending on the larger forces at work. Throughout the period, the label “Marathi” was predominantly defined by the Brahman, educated, and middle class, which subsumed many divergent, congruent, and contradictory social structures and relations. Orthodoxy, progressive groups, revivalism, and reformist forces have contributed to this discourse, but non-Brahman groups were treated as marginal to this process.

Since the first decades of this century, those who promoted and articulated the cause of modernity in the name of change, newness, and universality were borrowing from the West. This was to be seen in adaptations and translations of literature from Europe and North America. The anxiety to become modern, with few exceptions, has led to mimicry or withdrawal into an illusory or torpid outlook on life. One has to read annual reviews in Sahitya Akademi’s journal, Indian Literature, to confirm the uninspired literary output in Marathi.

In this enervated condition, the dalit writers have been infusing some passion, but their work is downplayed by the dominant groups. This has led to the formation of various literary organizations representing disparate interests pursuing different goals, leaving modernity’s project in Marathi literature with an uncertain prospect.