In Adi Kaal or the ancient period of Hindi (prior to 1400 AD), Hindi literature was in its infancy and being developed in the states of Kannauj, Delhi and Ajmer. Delhi was ruled by Prithviraj Chauhan and his court poet was Chand Bardai. His eulogy on Prithiviraj Chauhan called the Prithviraj Raso was considered one of the first works in the history of Hindi Literature.The royal poet of Mahoba (Bundelkhand region of modern Uttar Pradesh) Jagnayak, and Nalha from Ajmer were other literary figures in this period. However, after having defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, Muhammad Ghori wantonly destroyed most literary works belonging to this period as part of his campaigns.
Another prominent dialect Dakkhini or Hindavi was used in the Deccan in southern India. It flourished under the Delhi Sultanate (12th century) and subsequently under the Nizams of Hyderabad (1724─1948). Though, written in the Persian script, Hindavi literature can be considered as proto (primitive)Hindi literature. Many Deccani eminent men of letters like Sheikh Ashraf, Mulla Vajahi used the word Hindavi to describe this dialect while Shah Buharnuddin Janam Bijapuri who outshone his contemporaries, chose to call it Hindi; yet others like Roustami, Nishati etc preferred to call it Deccani.
The medieval period of Hindi literature, known as Bhakti Kaal,stretches from the 14th to the 17th century; it is marked by the influence of Bhakti (devotion to a personal 7 God) movement and composition of long, epic poems. During this era Avadhi and Braj were the major dialects in which literature was being developed. The main works in Avadhi are Malik Muhammad Jayasi's Padmavat and Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas. The major works in Braj dialect are Tulsidas's Vinay Patrika and Surdas's Sur Sagar.
Sadhukaddi was also a language commonly used, especially by Kabir in his poetry and dohas. This was also the age when Poetry was characterized under the various Rasas. In this age, poetry spanned the whole range of rasas from Shringara (erotica), Vatsalya (filial affection), Vir (valour) to Prema ( love) etc.
Bhakti poetry had two schools ─ the Nirguna school (belief in a formless God or an abstract name) and the Saguna school (belief in a God with attributes and worshippers of Vishnu's incarnations). Kabir and Guru Nanak belong to the Nirguna school. The Saguna school was represented by mainly Vaishnava poets like Surdas and Tulsidas.This age witnessed tremendous integration between the Hindu and the Islamic elements in the Arts, with the rise of many Muslim Bhakti poets like Abdurrahim Khan who was Emperor Akbar’s court poet and a great devotee of Lord Krishna.
During the Ritikavya or Ritisamagra Kavya period, the erotic element came to dominate the existing Hindi literature. This era is called Riti ('procedure') because this was the age when poetry forms and theory developed to its fullest, as in the theoretical aspects and procedures of poetry writing as an art form reached the acme of its brilliance.
The Riti era saw most of its work under the Krishna Bhakti banner, but the works had greatly degenerated in philosophical content,deviating from the pure forms of total devotion to the dualistic Supreme Being, and tilting more towards the erotic description of Krishna's daily and personal life, his leela (activites and doings), his pranks with the Gopis ( village belles) in Braj, the description of the carnal/physical aspects of the beauty of Radha (Krishna's consort). The poetry of Bihari, Keshavdas, Chintamani Tripathi, Padmakar and Ghananand Das are examples in this case.
Owing to Maratha, British and Afghan influences, the Hindi of Central India underwent gradual transformation. Avadhi and Braj lost their prestige as the languages of the learned people. In its stead, Khari dialect (A variation of Urdu/Hindi that is presently used by the government and taught in schools. Its vocabulary contains a large amount of Persian and Arabic words) became the chief literary language. The literature was produced during this period include Chand Chhand Varnan Ki Mahima by Gangabhatt, Yogavashishtha by Ramprasad Niranjani, Gora-Badal ki katha by Jatmal. In 1857, the British East India Company established Fort William College at Calcutta. The College President John GilChrist hired professors to write books in Hindi and Urdu. Some of these were Prem sagar by Lallu Lal, Naasiketopaakhyan by Sadal Mishra, Sukhsagar by Sadasukhlal of Delhi and Rani Ketaki ki kahani by Munshi Inshallah Khan.
By this time, Hindustani had become the general language of the public. To distinguish themselves from the masses, the erudite Muslims wrote in Urdu (replete with Persian and Arabic vocabulary), while Khadiboli became prominent among educated Hindus.
Khadiboli with a heavily Sanskritized vocabulary which further transformed into Sahityik Hindi (Literary Hindi) was popularized by the writings of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Bhartendu Harishchandra (1849–1882) among others. It would be interesting to note that this dialect is the officially approved version of the Hindi language that has been included in the list of official languages of India.
Other reputed writers of this period are Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, Maithili Sharan Gupt (1886– – 1965), Jainendra Kumar, Phanishwar Nath ‘Renu’ and ‘Ajenya’ (Satchidananda Hiranand Vatsyayan). Maithilisharan Gupt is considered the pioneer of the usage of Khariboli in poetry.
The writer who introduced the element of realism in the Hindi prose writing was Munshi Premchand(1880–1936), who is considered as the most revered figure in the world of Hindi fiction and progressive movement. Before Premchand, Hindi literature revolved around fairy or magical tales, entertaining stories and religious themes. Premchand's novels have been translated into many other languages.
In the 20th century, Hindi literature witnessed a romantic upsurge, known as Chhayavaad; the literary figures belonging to this school are known as Chhayavaadi. Chhayavad, which literally means, "shadow-talk" uses metaphors to paraphrase the issue being discussed. Jaishankar Prasad, Mahadevi Varma , Sumitranandan Pant and Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala' are the best-known names in this genre. Jaishankar Prasad's Kamayani, which is a description of the Pralaya (great deluge) of the Hindu mythology, is considered to be one of the best works of Hindi poetry, second only to Tulsidas's Ramacharitamanas.
The modernistic poets who were inextricably associated with the freedom movement include Makhanlal Chaturvedi (1889–1968), Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904–1949) Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’(1908–1974) and Shivmangal Singh ‘Suman’ among others.
Urdu literature made its debut somewhere around the 14th century in Mughal India, and was nurtured by the educted elites of the Mughal courts. The presence of the Muslim gentry in a largely Hindu India, did not dominate the consciousness of the Urdu poet , the way Islamic and Persian traditions did. The flamboyant Urdu language had a rich lexicon derived from Prakrit (an offshoot of Sanskrit) coupled with Arabo-Persian words. Some of the noted literary men who used this language include Mirza Asadullah Khan (a.k.a Ghalib, 1797-1869) Although Ghalib wrote in Persian as well, he is better known for his ghazals written in Urdu. His ghazals contain Urdu heavily laden with Persian. Before Ghalib, the ghazal was mainly an expression of love and agony, but Ghalib intoduced the elements of philosophy, the woes of human life among other things, thus vastly expanding the purview of the ghazal.
Ghalib's closest rival was the Delhi-based poet Zauq (1789 ─1854) who happened to be a tutor to Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the then emperor of India. The idioms used by Zauk ere homely, his language polished, and his diction elegant. The two of them unanimously admired and acknowledged the supremacy of Meer Taqi Meer, a towering figure of Urdu Poetry in those times.Yet another distinguished contemporary of Ghalib was the poet Momin (1800─1851), whose ghazals had a distinctly lyrical flavour.
In the later period, other luminaries of Urdu poetry/lyrics include Allama Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), who will be remembered forever for his “Saare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara”, ‘Josh’ Maliahabadi (1898─ 1982), the prefix to his name was meant to depict his passion for poetry. Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911─1984) Kaifi Azmi (1919─2002), and Sahir Ludhianvi (1921─1980), both of whom penned numerous lyrics for Bollywood movies and even otherwise had carved niches for themselves in the annals of the language.
The oldest account of the history of the region known today as Kashmir, is to be found in Rajtarangini( literally: River of kings), a book written in Sanskrit by Kalhana during the 1147–1149 AD period. The book records the glorious heritage of Kashmir, save about 120 verses which depict the anarchy and chaos that prevailed in the area, during the reign of a King named Kalash.
Rajatarangini also narrates that the capital city of Srinagar had been was founded by the Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, and that Buddhism had reached the valley during this period, from where it spread to Central Asia, Tibet and China.
Owing to its strategic geographical location, Kashmir came under the influence of external, cultural currents and cross currents ─ Persian, Turkish, Arabic, to name a few. The local literary works therefore, were greatly influenced by the tongues of foreign invaders and visitors. To quote as an illustration, even today Kashmiri language is written in Urdu script, there being no distinctive Kashmiri script.
The use of the Kashmiri language in literary compositions is believed to have commenced with the poetess Lalleshvari (a.k.a Lal Ded) (14th century), who is famous for her mystical verses. The famous Nunda Reshi, who was her contemporary, also wrote powerful poetry. In the 16th century Habba Khatun introduced the element of Lol into Kashmiri poetry, Lol is synonymous with the English 'lyric'. It conveys one brief thought and is replete with melody and love.
The other major names who specialised in the poetry of mystic love were Rupa Bhavani (1621─1721) Arnimal (d. 1800), Mahmud Gami (1765─1855), Rasul Mir (d. 1870), Paramananda (1791─1864).
The Sufi poets of Kashmir, Shamas Fakir, Wahab Khar, Soch Kral, Samad Mir, and Ahad Zargar also made substantial contribution to the literature.
Ghulam Ahmad Mahjur(1885─1952), Abdul Ahad Azad (1903─1948), and Zinda Kaul (1884─1965) figure among the noted modern poets of Kashmir. During 1950s, several well-educated youth turned writing both poetry and prose in the Kashmiri language, in the process greatly enriching Kashmiri literary writing. Among these writers are Dinnath Nadim, Rahman Rahi, Ghulam Nabi Firaq, Amin Kamil (1923-), Ali Mohd. Lone, Akhtar Mohiuddin and Sarvanand Kaul 'Premi'. Among the latter day writers are Hari Krishan Kaul, Rattanlal Shant, Hirdhey Kaul Bharti, and Moti Lal Kemmu.