Indian literature is acknowledged as one of the oldest in the world. With over twenty two officially recognized languages, a huge variety of literature has been produced. The Hindu literary tradition dominated a large part of Indian culture. Apart from the sacred Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Bhakti movement further vitalized the Indian literary world. The period saw tremendous integration between the Hindu and the Islamic elements in the arts and inspired poets like Malik Muhammed Jayasi to write 'Padmavati' in Avadhi and Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana of the Mughal Court to become a great devotee of Krishna. The Nirguna school (believers of a formless God as opposite to the Saguna school who believed in a God with attributes) of the Bhakti poetry was tremendously secular in nature with poets like Kabir and Guru Nanak with large followers irrespective of caste or religion.
The Riti Kavya (poetry following traditional art forms) period saw 'Bihari Satsai' by Bihari and 'Premsagar' by Lallulal. It was during this period that the British officials realizing that 'Hindustani' had become the popular language of the northern India established the Fort William College in Calcutta in 1857. The College hired professors to write books in Hindi and Urdu. The learned Muslims used Urdu (enriched by Persian and Arabic vocabulary) while Hindi, especially Avadhi and Khariboli with Sanskritized vocabulary became prominent for the educated Hindus like Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Bhartendu Harishchandra. Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, Maithili Sharan Gupta, R.N. Tripathi, Gopal Sharan Sinha were other important literary contributors of this period.
This period also saw the rise of a number of newspapers and magazines, which further popularized khariboli. Devaki Nandan Khatri gave India its first authentic work of prose in the modern period. Munshi Premchand who introduced realism in Hindi prose literature became one of the most revered figures in the world of Hindi fiction. He was translated in many other languages. Jainendera Kumar, reputed for his psychological treatment and Hiranand Sachidanand Vatsyayan 'Ageye', known for his experimentalism, are also noted for their contribution. Twentieth century brought in a romantic upsurge, Chhayavaad, in Hindi literature with Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', Mahadevi Verma and Sumitra Nandan Pant, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar taking an edge over others for their emotional attachment to their country's quest for freedom.
In the postmodernist period, the excessive ornamentation of language has been replaced by simplicity with questioning authority and assertiveness of the long marginalized groups.
The rich Urdu literature which was initiated in the fourteenth century during Mughal India found popularity amongst the Hindu-Muslim elite gentry. Amir Khusro is credited with not only the growth of Urdu literature but also the language and the systemization of the north Indian Classical music tradition as 'Hindustani'. The very composition of the Urdu language with Prakrit, Persian and Arabic was a reflection of the new cultural amalgamation. Quli Qutub Shah, a century later, gave Urdu a totally Indian identity with Prakrit-Hindi and a minimized Persian usage devoid of Arabic. Urdu poetry with fine examples of linguistic and cultural synthesis resulted in voluminous corpus with Dastaan (long epic poems), Nazm (devotional poetry), Afsana (short stories) and Ghazals. Ghazals developed as the most popular form of Urdu poetry for a very long period producing poets like Faiz Dehlavi, Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Sauda, and Mir Dard, and in nineteenth century the renowned Asadullah Khan Ghalib, Mirza Mohammad Hadi Rusva, and in twentieth century, S.H. Manto, the popular short story writer. Urdu poetry is a fine example of linguistic and cultural synthesis. It remained, for a very long time, the primary literary language of many Hindus and Sikhs in India with Krishan Chandra as a fine example.
The richness of vocabulary, the synthesis of the two languages and the dependency on each other for projecting national sentiments of each developing period in India's cultural life as expressed in Hindi and Urdu literature has given India a rich literary heritage which needs to be preserved. Amir Khusro's versatility and popularity lies in his propagation of the Hindavi or the Hindustani essence. It was this essence which Premchand also advocated through his literature.
The Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre is devoted to preserving the cultural literary ethos of India. A literary history which shares and includes intellectual history, religious history, political history, people's history and so on and so forth. It is therefore important to preserve and vitalize:
- all the literature which speaks of the national consciousness.
- all that was once vigorous, may have later marginalized but is of current relevance.
- all that has been most innovative, creative and influential in history, even though it may not have the same potential today but is important to our identity and vital for learning.
- all that is continuously vigorous in the common cultural tradition as an antidote against decadence.
- all that has the potential of being classical.
- all enduring concerns and the passion of the community–the heroism, the devotion, the outrage