The History Of Literature I

September 23, 2020 Category: History


{1  Though its Vedic form predates Classical Antiquity, Sanskrit was eventually refined and formalized during the 2nd century B.C. by such stalwarts as Patanjali, Paṇini, and Katyayana.  Its original script was Old Brahmi–itself a variation on the Phoenician alphabet (alt. Old Aramaic script). Vedic Sanskrit eventually yielded a panoply of Prakrits, which themselves ramified into an array of scripts.}

{2  Meanwhile, Pyrrho of Elis pioneered Skepticism in Ionia.  And Euclid pioneering mathematics with is “Elements” in Egypt, while both Callimachus of Cyrene and Apollonius of Perga achieved renown as a great scholars at the Library of Alexandria.  I explore the history of intellectual activity in my essay, “Islam’s Pyrite Age”.}

{3  Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor who embraced Stoicism, ruled two centuries prior to the Roman Catholic magisterium overtaking the Roman imperium.  It is no coincidence that the Constantinian Emperor best known for his philosophical writings, Julian, was the one who dissented against Nicene Christianity.}

{4  Later, the Persian scholar, Rozbih pur-i Dadoe of Fars would adapt it as the “Kalileh o Demneh” [“Kalilag and Damnag”] c.750.  That would be followed by Rudaki’s version, “Anvar-i Suhayli” in the 12th century.}

{5  MoM is said to have disdainfully referred to this renown poet as “the leader of the poets into hellfire”.  What prompted this contempt could have been any of a number of things.  Imru al-Qays was, of course, a pagan; his material tended to be bawdy; and he was very eloquent–all three are strikes against him.  His name means “man of the deity, Qays”.}

{6  Al-A’sha was likely a Christian.}

{7  Even further back, the region would have made use of scripts that combined Semitic and Greek influences–notably Dadanitic.  The first major work of CA grammar was the “Kitab” by Abu Bishr Amr ibn Uthman ibn Qanbar of Basra (a.k.a. “Sibawayh”) from the late 8th century.  The first dictionary (laying out the newly-established CA lexicon) was the “Kitab al-Ayn” by Ibadi linguist, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi of the Azd, who was also in Basra during the late 8th century.  For more on this topic, see my essay on “The Syriac Origins Of Koranic Text”.}

{8  Ka’b al-Ashraf was not killed just for subversive speechifying, but for alleged treason (aiding and abetting the Quraysh, so the story goes).  Suffice to say: Persecution of poets–based on such allegations–was standard under the new Mohammedan regime.}

{9  Suffice to say, magnanimity was not MoM’s strong suit.  For the self-proclaimed “Seal of the Prophets”, forbearance was anathema.  Even the most celebrated example of MoM’s alleged magnanimity, his seizure of Mecca, is based on farce–a matter I explore in “Mohammed’s Seizure Of Mecca”.}

{10  After all, history is written by the victors.  Dissidents had few advocates to record their pariah status.  Note that subversion came in forms other than just writing.  ANY expression that was seen as subversive was dealt with harshly.}

{11  It is interesting to note that Tarafa’s half-sister (Al-Khirniq bint Badr) was a well-known female poet–an occurrence that would become unheard of once Mohammedism overtook the Middle East.  Predictably, ALL of these poets were declared “jahiliyyah” (blasphemous; literally translated as “ignorant”) by Mohammedan impresarios; and thereafter summarily dismissed.}

{12   Today, there are many who are well aware of this ignominious record, yet choose not to acknowledge it.  Ironically, pretending to not know about what is clearly documented in Muslims’ own exalted accounts is an affront to those who purport to hold those accounts in such high esteem. To pull this off, one is forced to exalt such material while simultaneously disregarding it.}

{13  Known as “Rudaki”, the great poet served as a court panegyrist for the Samanid ruler, Nasr II of Bukhara, but was banished when his writing fell out of favor, dying in poverty as an outcast for his insubordination.  This was yet another example of how irreverence (read: free speech) was not tolerated.}

{14  His verse is characterized by mysticism and allegory; not by doctrinal obsession.  He is also well-known for his “divan”, as well as the “Ilahi-Nama” and “Mukhtar-Nama”.}

{15  Islamic scholar, Shahab Ahmed, described Hafez’s “divan” as “the most widely-copied, widely-circulated, widely-read, widely-memorized, widely-recited, widely-invoked, and widely-proverbialized book of poetry in Islamic history.”  It should be noted that Hafez was not halal.  Indeed, he romanticized wine-drinking and had an overtly libertine attitude toward life.  His verse was suffused with sensuality and conviviality rather than with piety.  Tellingly, his patron was a physician (employed in the Muzaffarid court in Shiraz) rather than a cleric.}

{16  There were, of course, exceptions to the rule.  For example, the work of conservative Song writer, Zhu Xi established orthodoxy in the 12th century.  We can find episodes of censure ANYWHERE if we look for it.  The tyrannical Chinese ruler, Shi Huang (a.k.a. King Zheng of Qin) persecuted dissidents in the 3rd century B.C.  He even perpetrated the infamous “burning of the books”.  The aforementioned Ji Kang was executed after continually rebuffing–and thus publicly embarrassing–military ruler, Sima Zhao.  Such exceptions were notable precisely because they were so exceptional.  For a list of great thinkers of the Far East during Islam’s “Golden Age”, see my essay: “Islam’s Pyrite Age”.}

{17  We could go on and on.  The execution of Boëthius in 524 would set an odious precedent that would continue on through the persecution of Peter Abelard in 1140-42, the Condemnations of 1277, the excommunication of William of Ockham in 1328, the execution of Jan Hus in 1415, Tomas de Torquemada’s reign of terror in the 1480’s and 90’s, the exile of Tycho Brahe from Denmark in 1597, and the burning of Giordano Bruno in 1600.}

{18  In addition to Luo Bin-wang (the contemporary of MoM), here are fifteen of the most notable Tang writers:

  • Lu Zhaolin of Fan-yang (7th century)
  • Wang Bo of Jiang-xi (7th century)
  • Yang Jiong of Shaan-xi (7th century)
  • Xuan-zang of Luo-yang / Henan (7th century)
  • Meng Haoran of Xiang-yang (late 7th / early 8th century)
  • Xu Xuan-ping of Hui-zhou (late 7th / early 8th century)
  • Du Fu of Henan (8th century)
  • Li Bai of Sui-ye [a.k.a. “Li Po”] (8th century)
  • Wang Wei of Chang’an (early 8th century)
  • Han Yu of Henan (late 8th / early 9th century)
  • Bai Juyi of Tai-yuan [a.k.a. “Po Chu-i”] (late 8th / early 9th century)
  • Li Shang-yin of Henan (9th century)
  • Du Mu of Henan (9th century)
  • Courtesan, Yu Xuan-ji (9th century)
  • Li He [Chang-ji] (9th century)

All these writers were producing material even as the “Recitations” was still be compiled–a topic discussed in my essay: “Genesis Of A Holy Book”.}

{19  The library was commissioned by the Medici family.  Of course, that was only a generation after followers of Girolamo Savonarola burned thousands of heretical books at the infamous “Bonfire of the Vanities”.}

{20  He composed “Ben Tehillim” [Son of Psalms], “Ben Koheleth” [Son of Ecclesiastes], and “Ben Mishlei” [Son of Proverbs].}

* * *

APPENDIX 1: Other Medieval Writers In Dar al-Islam

There are a few middling Muslim writers worth noting during Islam’s “Golden Age”–most of whom were Persian.  Here are sixteen who lived between 900 and 1500:

  • Persian poet, Ayyuqi of Ghazna, who penned the love-story of Varqa and Golshah (10th century)
  • Sufi mystic, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Jabbar ibn al-Hasan of Nippur [a.k.a. “Al-Niffari”], who composed an anthology of devotional verse, the “Kitab al-Mawaqif” [Book of Standings] (10th century) *
  • Persian poet, Badi al-Zaman of Hamadan, who invented the form of lyrical folktales known as “Maqamat”.  The form would later be developed by Al-Hariri of Basra in the following century (10th century)
  • Ghaznavid poet, Abul Qasim Hasan Unsuri of Balkh (late 10th / early 11th century)
  • Persian (Sufi) poet, Abu-Sa’id Abul-Khayr of Balkh / Khorasan (late 10th / early 11th century)
  • Persian poet, Abu Najm Ahmad [ibn Ahmad ibn Qaus] Manuchehri of Damghan (11th century)
  • Persian poets, Anvari of Khorasan and Khaqani of Shirvan; as well as the (Sufi mystic) Attar of Nishapur (12th century)
  • Syrian writer, “Majd al-Din” Usama [ibn Murshid ibn Ali] ibn Munqidh [al-Kinani al-Kalbi] of Shaizar dedicated his memoir, the “Kitab al-Itibar” [Book of Learning By Example] to Saladin (12th century)
  • Persian poet, Bahram-e Pazhdo [as well as his son, Zartosht] (13th century)
  • Andalusian (Sufi) poet, Ibn Arabi of Murcia (13th century)
  • Berber (Malzuza / Zenata) poet, Abu Faris Abdl-Aziz ibn Abd ar-Rahman al-Malzuzi of Meknes (13th century)
  • Andalusian / Maghrebi poet, Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Musa ibn Said (13th century)
  • Persian (Sufi) poet, Khwaja of Kerman [a.k.a. “Khwaju”] (14th-century) **
  • Sumatran (Sufi) poet, Mahzah Fansuri of Aceh, who’s panentheistic / mystical poetry was banned by the Sultan (15th century)

Their oeuvre was primarily comprised of romances and mysticism.  Such material was permitted by the authorities simply because it did not threaten to disrupt the established Islamic order. ***

It should be noted that censorship has not been unique to Islam.  Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church has been the primary culprit for the last two millennia (ref. Catherine Nixey’s “The Darkening Age”).  Until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, the Church officially banned books by Descartes, Spinoza, Copernicus, Galileo, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Voltaire, Darwin, and Marx via the “Librorum Prohibitorum”.  In other words: the Vatican forbade all the most important works of the Enlightenment.  The Church even banned literature–such as Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas.  Even when it finally rescinded the bans, the Vatican stated that the bans were still morally binding.

Modern Judaic theocracy is no better.  The Judeo-fascist regime in the modern nation-State of Israel has draconian censorship laws–criminalizing such things as the (eminently democratic) Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which is endorsed by anyone concerned with human rights.  Section 173 of the government’s legal code makes it a crime to publish anything “that is liable to crudely offend the religious faith or sentiment of others.” (!)  The term “Nakba” (for the ethnic cleansing that occurred pursuant to the nation-State’s founding) has been banned in all textbooks.  This odious modus operandi is not limited to Abrahamic theocracy, though; it is typical of ANY illiberal regime–as the stringent censorship in Soviet Russia attested; and as it continues to the present day in China and North Korea.  It is no coincidence, then, that the most brainwashed polities in the world today can be found in Israel, China, and North Korea.

{*  Al-Niffari was a Sufi mystic about whom almost nothing is known.  Note that his “Kitab al-Mawaqif”, a compilation of visions, should not be confused with the “Mawaqif fi Ilm al-Kalam” [Stances on the Knowledge of Theology] by Adud al-Din al-Iji of Shiraz–a book of Ash’ari commentary from the 14th century.}

{**  He is perhaps most famous for his love story about Persian prince, Homay and Chinese princess, Homayun.}

{***  Note that these writers did not generally write in Islam’s liturgical language, CA.  Indeed, none were Arab[ian]. (!)  More to the point, none had institutionalized dogmatism–of ANY kind–to thank for their literary achievements.  The closest we might come to a writer steeped in dogmatism was the 10th-century Sufi writer, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Jabbar ibn al-Hasan of Niffar.}

APPENDIX 2:  A Contrast With Modern Arabic Literature 

There are two purposes here.  First, to debunk the supposition that the Islamic world was a boon to literature.  Second, to defuse the fetishization of Koranic verse (as an unsurpassed literary triumph).

The contempt for scholarship (free thought) and literature (free speech) dates back to the advent of Christianity–whereby anything deemed heretical was decried.  And the disdain for “poets” dates all the way back to Plato’s “Republic”, in which the Athenian philosopher expressed concern about–and even contempt for–“poets” qua SOPHISTS (rather than with those who were simply excelling in the literary arts).

As we’ve seen, pursuant to the Islamic take-over of Arabia, poets–male or female–became a persecuted lot.  This was a tragic development, as poetry was a significant part of Arabian / Bedouin culture up until the Mohammedan movement established dominion the region.

Within Dar al-Islam, writers whose work surpasses that of the Koran is nothing new.  It has been occurring since the first appearances of the holy book:

  • In the 8th century, it was the Persian writer, Bashar ibn Burd of Basra (executed for heresy, by the caliph).
  • In the 9th century, it was Abul Atahiyya of Kufa (imprisoned for offending the caliph).
  • In the 10th century, it was Al-Mutanabbi of Aleppo / Kufa (assassinated for offending the authorities).
  • In the 11th century, it was Abul Ala al-Ma’arri of Aleppo.  

And so on.  They were all likely correct in their modest claim of besting the Koran’s inimitability [“i’jaz’], as the bar they had to clear was quite low.

The zany trope that Koranic verse exhibits an unsurpassed–nay, unsurpassable–eloquence is immediately shown to be farcical upon simply reading / hearing a few lines of the “Recitations”.  We soon find that the only thing miraculous about the Koran is that anyone thinks that there is anything miraculous about it.

In the midst of their feverish apologetics, what many Koran fetishists do is construe grandiloquence as eloquence; audacious rhetorical flourishes as profundity; provocativeness as erudition; puissance as credence.  If one is sufficiently infatuated with the IDEA that a text is miraculous, one will be apt to see even the crudest phraseology as exquisite.  True Believers are routinely mesmerized by is mundane to the rest of us.  Such is the nature of fetishization.

For such delusive thinking, consider the 8th-century Persian writer, Roozbeh Pur-i Dadoe, who translated Borzuya’s Pahlavi version of the “Pancha-tantra” into Syriac…which was then translated into medieval Arabic. *  This final rendition of the work (entitled “Kalila[h] and Dimna[h]”) is considered by many to be the greatest prose in Arabic from the Middle Ages.

How are we to approach works that were originally composed in ARABIC when evaluating them IN ENGLISH?  When it comes to exploring existential themes in a serious way, we might look at one of the greatest literary achievements of the modern era: Adonis’ “Aghani Mihyar al-Damashqi” [Songs of Mihyar of Damascus].  Does the eloquence and profundity of this work–composed in MODERN Arabic–come through after it has been translated into English.  Of course.  Yet are we to suppose that a work composed in Classical Arabic is so deficient that it cannot be conveyed well in an alternate language?

We might also note the amazing works of literature enumerated in part II of this essay.  Most have been translated into myriad other languages–with the virtue of the prose always shining through.  Certainly, Classical Arabic is not exempt from this phenomenon.

During the 19th century, there arose such famed poets as the Mughal writer, Mirza Asad-ullah “Beg / Khan” (a.k.a. “Ghalib”) and Kashmiri writer,  Muhammad Iqbal of Punjab (considered the father of Pakistan).  These men opted to primarily write in Farsi and the variant of Hindi now known as “Urdu” (respectively).  This is telling.

In the modern day, there has been a plethora of great Arabic writers–all of whom have clearly bested the mediocre caliber of Koranic verse.  Notable was the late Arabian writer, Abdul Rahman Munif (d. 2004), who’s books were banned–and his Saudi citizenship revoked–by the House of Saud.  In Egypt alone there have been many brilliant writers of Fus[h]a (formalized modern Arabic, a.k.a. “Fusha”).  A dozen of the most notable:

  • Taha Hussein (d. 1973)
  • Tawfiq al-Hakim (d. 1987)
  • Yusuf Idris (d. 1991)
  • Yahya Haqqi (d. 1992)
  • Zaki Naguib Mahmoud (d. 1993)
  • Naguib Mahfouz (d. 2006)
  • Khairy Shalaby (d. 2011)
  • Mohamed El-Bisatie (d. 2012)
  • Ibrahim Aslan (d. 2012)
  • Bahaa Taher
  • Son’allah Ibrahim
  • Hamdi Abu Golayyel

Other examples of contemporary Arabic literati include:

  • Iraqi writers: Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi (d. 1936), Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (d. 1964), Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati (d. 1999), and Nazik al-Mala’ika (d. 2007)
  • Lebanese writers: Gibran Khalil Gibran (d. 1931), Hanan al-Shaykh, Elias Khoury, and Wadih Saadeh
  • Syrian writers: Nizar Tawfiq Qabbani (d. 1998), Halim Barakat, Ali Ahmad Said Esber (the aforementioned “Adonis”, who has lived in exile since 1956), and Haidar Haidar (who’s novel “Walimah li A’ashab al-Bahr” was banned in most Arab countries)
  • Palestinian writers: Ghassan Kanafani (d. 1972) and Mahmoud Darwish (d. 2008)
  • Moroccan writers: Mohamed Choukri (d. 2003), Bensalem Himmich, and Muhammad Baradah
  • Tunisian writers: Ali al-Du’aji (d. 1949), Habib Selmi, and Mustapha Tlili (d. 2017)

The list goes on and on.  There’s the Jordanian poet, Mustafa Wahbi al-Tall (d. 1949).  There’s the Omani writer, Jokha al-Harthi. **  There’s the Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk.  There’s the Kurdish writer, Yasar Kemal (d. 2015).  There’s the Sudanese writer, Tayeb Salih (d. 2009).  Such men are exceptional; and the exceptions have proven the rule.  That these literary talents have excelled in Arabic exposition belies the ineluctability of Koranic verse.

Note that most Algerian writers composed their works in French–as with, say, Kateb Yacine, Mohammed Dib, Mouloud Feraoun, Malek Haddad, Mouloud Mammeri, Malek Bennabi, and (non-Muslim) Albert Camus. ***  Why?  French offered far more opportunity for eloquence than did Arabic; and their target-audience (those who were interested in modern literature) was–not coincidentally–primarily French-speaking.

Translating the Koran AND the compositions of such authors into English imposes the same alleged handicap–a parity that enables us to make a fair comparison.  Invariably, whether in Arabic or English, one will find that Koranic verse doesn’t even come close to measuring up to the best the Arab world has to offer.

The point here is simple: Anyone who insists that good writing in Classical Arabic cannot be translated into English is on the losing side of the argument.  The mere suggestion of the Koran’s inimitability is not a defense of the Koran; rather, it is an insult to all great Arabic writers; as well as a sign of one’s own literary deficiencies.  To those who indiscriminately play the “Lost In Translation” card, the most prudent reply is simply: “Don’t blame the translation.  Blame the source material.  Translation works perfectly fine, thank you very much.”

The juxtaposition between the great modern writers of Fus[h]a and Koranic verse (which was originally composed in Syriac, then rendered in CA) is stark; and we do the former a grave disservice by insisting their work can’t hold a candle to Islam’s holy book…in a misguided attempt to maintain the illusion of the Koran’s unsurpassed eloquence.

Those well-versed in Arabic–Classical or modern–might even go the other way, taking the verse of, say, Keats or Emerson and translating it from English into CA…then making the comparison.  Result: The puerility–and often, inanity–of Koranic verse becomes all-the-more evident.

We can survey the extensive offering of Arabic literature today, and see whether or not THOSE works translate well into English.  As it turns out, they do.  As the above list of modern writers using the Arabic language attests, we find that good writing in Fus[h]a shines through when read in English.

How about “One Thousand And One Nights” (a.k.a. “Arabian Nights”)…an anthology that includes well-known tales like “Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves”, “Aladdin’s Magical Lamp”, and “The Seven Voyages Of Sinbad The Sailor”?  Though some of these tales derived from other sources, all were eventually composed in Arabic.  Comparing the Koran to THESE classic works–in Arabic–yields a verdict that is almost certainly embarrassing to the former.  What of the material found in the so-called “Maqamat” (anthology of medieval Arabic poetry)?  It is clearly superior to Koranic verse; yet their compilers did not claim to be the mouthpiece for the Creator of the Universe.  So what gives?

We can even go a step further, and contend that it is an insult to ALL great authors with literary works in Arabic to suggest that the contents of the Koran bests than their writing.  For the fact of the matter is that the Koran is very shoddy writing.

So what was the impact Islam had on the literary scene?  As we’ve seen, by the the time the Enlightenment was gathering steam, Occidental literature was flourishing.  Meanwhile, in the Muslim world, the literary scene was languishing.  Indeed, by then, Dar al-Islam had been intellectually sclerotic for many centuries.  (For more on this, see part I of my essay on “The History Of Salafism”.)

As I hope to have shown, free speech was not something that flourished within the Ummah.  That liberal voices were also stifled in most of Christendom under the draconian laws of the (intellectually bankrupt) Roman Catholic Church does not exonerate Dar al-Islam from this dismal record.  We are left, then, with a stifling precedent that sadly persists to the present day in many precincts of the Muslim world–just as MoM would have wanted it.

{*  Persian author, Roozbeh Pur-i Dadoe hailed from Shahr-i Gor in Fars, though he spent most of his career in Basra.  His name was retroactively Arabized to “Abu-Muhammad Abd-ullah Ruzbeh ibn Daduya” (a.k.a. “Ibn al-Muqaffa”) in an effort to make it seem as though his rendition of the tale was the first major work in Classical Arabic.  He died shortly before c. 760, long before Arabic had become a literary language.}

{** Ref. “Ladies Of The Moon” [alt. “Celestial Bodies”].  Other contemporary Muslimah writers are enumerated in part II of my essay, “The History Of Female Empowerment”.}

{*** I base my assessment here on the widespread esteem that the works of these men have received (from literati who are fluent in both Arabic and English).  I have never actually read Shakespeare’s King Lear either, but I know that the play is widely recognized to be a masterpiece (even after being translated into other languages); and so would not hesitate to reference it in order to make a similar point.}

APPENDIX 3: Hindu / Jain Lore

Folklore, by its very nature, undergoes metamorphoses over time, as circumstances–and sensibilities–change.  An illustration of this is the Persian “Arda Wiraz Namag” [Book of Arda Viraf], tale of the dream-journey of a devout Zoroastrian–probably the legendary “Wishtasp” [alt. “Vishtaspa”]–to the next world.  The work was first composed during the Sassanian era, but did not assume its final form until the 9th, 10th, or even 11th century–after a long series of recensions and emendations.

Here’s the twist: In the original (Zoroastrian) literature, “Vishtaspa” is the quintessence of righteousness.  Yet after Persia became Islamic, his portrayal was given drastic a make-over.  In the so-called “Sistan” heroic cycle of the Middle Ages, he was rendered “Goshtasp”, the villain of the fabled Kayanian Dynasty–an execrable character who betrayed his native Iran by allying himself with the dreaded Romans, and even imprisoning his own son: the Iranian hero “Esfandiar”.

Hindu lore gets the gold medal for continuous production of new material over the course of millennia–starting with the earliest Vedic literature.  The material of Vyas[a]’s “Mahabharata” (4th century B.C.) dates back to the period of the quasi-mythical Kuruk-shetra War: 12th thru 8th century B.C.  The collection of fables in Vishnu-sharma’s “Pancha-tantra” (3rd century B.C.) underwent a long metamorphosis in the ensuing centuries. And Valmiki’s “Rama-yan[a]” (5th century B.C.) was made into a plethora of versions throughout the Far East–as I enumerate in my essay on “Mythemes”.

Indian legends stem from a myriad of landmark works, beginning with the “Vetala Pancha-vimshati” collection of tales (i.e. the “Vetala tales”; a.k.a. the “Baital Pachisi”) from Late Antiquity.  The most notable include:

  • The “Manav[a] Dharma-shastra” [a.k.a. the “Manu-Smriti”; the story of Manu delivering the laws] (2nd century)
  • Vimalasuri’s “Pauma-charya” (2nd century)
  • The “Divya-vadan[a]” (2nd century)
  • Ilango Adigal’s “Cilappati-karam” [Tale Of An Anklet] (2nd century)
  • Sithalai Sathanar’s “Mani-mekalai” (2nd century)
  • The “Markan-deya” Purana (3rd century) *
  • The “Matsya” Purana (3rd century)
  • The “Vayu” Purana (4th century)
  • The “Kuntalakesi” (4th century)
  • Kalidasa’s “Raghu-vamsha” (5th century)
  • The “Vishnu” Puranas (5th century) *
  • Subandhu’s “Vasa-vadatta” (5th century)
  • Vyasa’s “Skanda” Purana (6th century) *
  • Gunadhya’s [now lost] “Brihat-katha” (6th century) **
  • Bharavi’s “Kirata-Arjuna” [“Of Arjuna and Kirata”] (6th century) ***

That was all before the fabled ministry of Mohammed of Mecca.  There were several major works written around Mohammed’s lifetime:

  • Banabhata’s “Kadambari”
  • Yativrsabha’s “Tilo[k]ya Panatti”
  • Dandin’s “Dash[a]-Kumara-charit[r]a”
  • Bharavi’s “Mahakavya”
  • The Tamil stories in the “Tevaram” section of the “Thirumurai”
  • The “Shishupal[a] Vadha” by Magha of Sri-Mal[a] Nagar [Gurjara-desa] (a revamping of the Mahabharata)

After Mohammed’s death, the production of Hindu lore continued apace:

  • Bhavabhuti’s tales of Rama in the “Maha-vira-charit[r]a” and “Uttara-Rama-charit[r]a” (8th century)
  • “Mahakavi” Swyambhudev’s “Ritthanemichariu” and “Pauma-Chariu” (8th century)
  • Jinasena’s “Hari-vamsha” Puran[a] (8th century)
  • Kanha and Abahatta’s “Charyapada” (8th or 9th century)
  • Silanka’s “Cauppana maha-puri-sacariya” (9th century)
  • The “Kalika-Puran[a]” (late 9th / early 10th century)
  • Gunabhadra’s “Trishasti-laksana” maha-Puran[a] [a.k.a. the “Adi-puran[a]”] (10th century)
  • “Mahakavi” Pushpadant’s “Naykumar-Chariu” and “Jasahar-Chariu” (10th century)
  • Ranna’s “Ajit[h]a-Puran[a]” (10th century)
  • T[h]iruthakka T[h]evar’s “Jeevaka Jinta-mani” (10th century)
  • The [Jain] “Neelakesi” (10th century)
  • Ksemendra’s “Brhatka-thamanjari” (11th century)
  • Somadeva’s “Katha-sharit-sagara” (11th century) ****
  • Hema-chandra’s “Trishas[h]t[h]i-S[h]alaka Purus[h]a-charit[r]a” (11th or 12th century)

Meanwhile, the animal fables found in the Panchatantra (by Vishnu Sharma of Odisha; 3rd century B.C.) eventually led to Narayan Pandit’s “Hitopadesha” over a millennium later (8th or 9th century A.D.)…as well as the “Kalila[h] and Dimna[h]” in the Middle East.  Being animal fables, everyone recognized that these were fictional tales; but the tendency for hallowed stories to be unwittingly altered over time is nevertheless operative–irrespective of pretenses about presenting ACTUAL “history”.

Hindu folktales–as sacred histories–continued to develop through the Middle Ages–as exemplified by Goswami Tulsidas’ “Ram[a]-charitmanas[a]” and the great Telugu epic, “Amuktamalyada”, commissioned by King Krishna-deva-raya of Vijayanagara (both during the 16th century).  Hindu lore even indulged in prophecy–as with the “Bhavishya” Purana.

In sum: All folklore undergoes a metamorphosis over time.  The tales found in ANY of the world’s scriptures underwent the same sort of process that we see here with the tales in Hindu texts.  The definitive form of a cherished tale is rarely its original form.

{*  The earliest “Puran[a]” was from the 3rd century.  The collection of fables continued to be developed through the 10th century.  This long metamorphosis is demonstrated by such collections as the “Bhagavata”, “Shiv[a]”, “Brahmanda”, “Vamana”, “Kurma”, and “Linga” Puranas. The origins of each it is difficult to date.}

{**  This collection of Indian legends continued to be developed–especially in the 11th century.  The three most notable: Somadev[a] in his “Katha-saritsagar[a]”, Ksemendra in his “Brihat-katha-manjari”, and Buddha-svamin in his “Brihat-katha-Shloka-Samgraha”.}

{***  Also from the 6th century was Varahamihira’s “Surya Siddhanta”–a formal text of Hindu cosmology.  The earliest texts of Hindu cosmology was Sphujidhvaja’s “Yava-najataka” (“Sayings of the Greeks”; 2nd century B.C.)  That was followed by the “Vasishtha Siddhanta” (4th century), the “Romaka Siddhanta” (5th century), Gudapada’s “Mandukya Karika” (6th century), and Adi Shankara’s “Viveka-chudamani” (7th century).  Funny how it never occurred to the Abrahamic deity to inform the peoples of the Far East of the “true” explanations of the universe.  We’re expected to believe he watched half the world get everything wrong for centuries upon centuries before he saw fit–at long last–to clarify things.  And, further, we are entreated to suppose that he eventually opted to do so in the 7th century, by delivering a memo to an illiterate Bedouin merchant in the Hijaz.}

{****  The “Ocean of Streams of Stories” was based on the “Vetala Pancha-vimshati” collection of tales (i.e. the “Vetala tales”; a.k.a. the “Baital Pachisi”). It would, in turn, serve as the basis for the later “Sin[g]ha-san[a] Battisi” (alt. “Vikram[a]-ditya Simha-san[a] Dvatrim-shika”; “Sin[g]ha-san[a] Dvatrim-shati”; “Vikram[a] Charita”). These were tales about the fabled emperor, Vikram[a]-ditya of Ozene [Ujjain; alt. Patali-putra], who is rendered king Shali-vahana of Pratish-thana in Jane legend.}

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