According to records the oldest poetry in Gujarati is attributed to Shalibhadrasuri, a 7th century Jain monk, who composed the Bharateswara Bahubali Ras. Subsequently a number of Jain monks continued to compose short poems called Rasas right up to the end of the 18th century. Vaishnava poetry (its theme being devotion to lord Vishnu) made its debut in the 15th century in the compositions of Narsingh Mehta. His poems portray Lord Krishna as a playful child, friend, lover and also a muse of the poets.
Raje, Raghunath das, Pritam, Ratno and Muktananda were some of the great contributors to devotional poetry. In the mid-18th century, Vallabh left his artistic touch in a collection of songs, popular even today. Premananda, one of the greatest medieval poets, introduced the famous ‘Akhyana’. His command over the language and treatment of the subjects are remarkable indeed.
With the advent of the British in the 19th century, poetic literature touched greater heights. Dalpat and Narmad were stalwarts of this age. A few decades later the Gandhian influence became predominant. The noted poets of this period were Kalapi, Kant, Nanalal and Balavantrai Thakor.
Noted poets associated with the freedom struggle included Sundaram, Shesh, Snehrasmi and Betai. During the 40s, there was an upsurge of communist poetry influenced by progressive thinkers like Meghani, Bhogilal Gandhi, Swapnastha among others preached class conflict and hatred of religion through their writings. Umashankar Joshi’s famous works are Gangotri, Vishwashanti (World Peace), Nishith (The God of Night), Mahaprashtan (Great Departure) Abhijna (Recognition) and Satapada (Seven Poems). His writing, greatly inspired by Tagore, enriched Gujarati poetry.
Among the prominent prose writers in the late 19th century was Naval Ram, who was also a critic. Nand Shankar, first novelist of his time, wrote Karanghelo a historical fiction. Govardhanram’s Saraswati Chandra is a masterpiece not only in Gujarati but also in Indian literature. This was the first social novel based on contemporary issues and their solutions.
With the establishment of the Gujarat Vidyapith, literary activities were further accelerated. Kanhaiyalal Munshi ‘s noted works are "Mari Kamala', 'Varni Vasulat', 'Kono-Vank', 'Patan-ni-Prabhuta', 'Gujarat-no-Nath', 'Prithvi Vallabh', 'Rajadhi Raj', 'Kakani Shashi', 'Gujarat' & Its Literature among others. Ramanlal Desai is noted for his works like ‘Divya Chakshu’ and ‘Bharelo Agni’. Other famous literary figures in this era were Kishorelal Mashruwala (essayist), Ramnarayan Pathak (critic and short story writer), and Darshak (dramatist).
Marathi literature probably commenced with religious writings by saint-poets belonging to various religious sects. The earliest saint-poets were Mukundaraj who wrote Vivekasindhu, Gyaneshwar (1275─1296) who wrote Dnyaneshwari, a 9000-couplets long commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Namdev, Eknath (1528─1599) and Mukteswar, who translated the great epic Mahabharata into Marathi. The saint-poet Tukaram transformed Marathi into a rich literary language. Ramdas's (1608─1681) Dasabodh and Manache Shlok are famous.
Other well-known works upto 1800’s A. D are Yatharthadeepika by Vaman Pandit, Naladamayanti Swayamvara, by Raghunath Pandit, Pandava Pratap, Harivijay, Ram Vijay, by Shridhar Pandit.
The late nineteenth century in Maharashtra was marked by English education, progressive ideas and modernity. The first Marathi newspaper was started in 1835. Many books on social reforms were written by Baba Padamji, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Justice M G Ranade among others. Lokmanya Tilak's newspaper Kesari, set up in 1880, provided a wide platform for literary creativity.
Poets like Keshavsuta, Balakavi, Govindagraj, wrote poetry,influenced by the Romantic and Victorian English poetry. PK Atre was a renowned politician and satirist. Sane Guruji (1899-1950) contributed to the children's literature with works are Shyamchi Aai (Shyam's Mother), Astik (Believer), Gode Shevat (The Sweet Ending) etc. Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar (1889-1976)'s Yayati won him the Jnanpith Award for the year 1975. He also wrote many other novels and short stories.
Contemporary literary figures include Ranajeet Desai whose novel Yugandhar has been widely acclaimed. Vijay Tendulkar has contributed greatly to Marathi drama. His famous plays include, Sakharam Binder, Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe and Ghasiram Kotwal.