Under this name we include a vast literature that flourished in northern India in the medieval period and written in two rather different dialects, the eastern and the western. The latter, after the great flourishing of the bh ā kta schools, took over and was called brajbhākhā from the village of Braj, near Mathurā, which legend celebrates as the place where the loves of Kriṣṇa and Rādhā took place and from whose district they were the first Kriṣṇaite singers came out. Even in Hindi literature predominates, therefore, the religious motif: in Hindi not only sang the devotees of Krishna, but they are expressed and still express the great Indian asceticism figures, siddha, in which the ecstasy and violence of religious passion are almost always expressed in very noble verses. The authors of these mystical poems do not belong to the upper classes, but to the lower ones; indeed some were even untouchable: this explains that very lively sense that pervades them of the universality of religious experience, and that certainty that God is present in all and accessible to all, provided that our soul opens to him with full confidence.
Another character of this literature is the attempt to approach Islam to Hinduism, through a purified and less conventional form: the proximity of the two religions, which often lived in a state of continuous hostility, had naturally determined a tendency in the most sensitive spirits. to transcend form, to find in the intimate and immediate communion with God the overcoming of ritual conventions, or theological subtleties. Under the plurality of names there is only one God, which is precisely what one must feel in the depths of the soul. With several variations, this is the main topic sung by the poets of the Kabir school and its imitators.
Kabīr (15th century), Muslim by birth, weaver by profession, sings God in his essential form, beyond those attributes and qualifications that become a matter of dispute for men: God is heard, not discussed, theology repudiated, sincerity and vehemence of faith are translated into new images and inspire a personal and powerful style.
From the contrast between Muslim bigotry and Indian ceremonialism, on the other hand, the ideal motives that guided the life and work of Nānāk (1469-1538), who tried to bring the two religions closer together by insisting on those elements that affirmed the immediate communion of man. with God: he condemned idolatry, repudiated the caste system, but accepted the Hindu trinity: so that the Hindu religion in which he was born and the Muslim one cooperated in his spiritual formation. His work consists of songs recited by him in public for the edification of the people and then inserted in that collection which is called Grantha and which constitutes the bible of the Sikhs: simple poetry, without artifice, of a certain primitive robustness written in brajbhākhā with a lot of influence from the pañjabī dialect. Rājasthānī influence is instead heard in the songs of Dādu (who died in 1603) who continues the inspiration of Kabīr; with less vigor, but with great human tenderness. The God without attributes (which gives the name to this school called Nirguṇa), is sung here with deep emotion that sometimes recalls that of the seven bhākta.
The purely bh ā kta tradition, expression of the Kriṣṇaite school, inspires a rich literature, which pours out in the musicality of the verse the mystical ardors of a crowd of exultant and jubilant devotees on the symbolic loves of Kriṣṇa and Rādhā. Mirabhaī (1st part of the 15th century), daughter and wife of princes, brings in this poem all her feminine abandon while the blind singer Sūrdās not only translated the Bh ā gavatapur āṇ a into the language of the people, but composed a collection of hymns and chants, the S ū r S ā gar, which aroused great enthusiasm in the gatherings of devotees gathered to sing about heavenly love. In the midst of these communities supported by the same intense faith, great figures were born that the crowds adored as divine incarnations: the legend arose around these people who in a long succession of teachers and disciples seemed almost to be handed down the divine word. Thus was born the Bh ā ktam ā l ā, a collection of legends and legendary biographies whose most famous edition is that of Nabhadās also written in brajbhākhā and destined to have, in subsequent remakes and adaptations in other dialects, great popularity throughout India.
Apart from this mystical poem and bh ā kta it is worth remembering the Padumavat ī by the Muslim Mālik Muhammad Jaisī (mid-16th century), a kind of novel with historical background and with many legendary and allegorical elements.
The most popular poem of medieval Indian literature is written in eastern Hindī, namely the R ā m – carit – m ā nas that is “the lake of Rāma’s enterprises” also known as the Tuls ī k ṝ t-R ā m ā yana, or simply the Tuls ī R ā m ā yan, named after its author Tulsī (Tulasī) Dās (1532-1624). It is not a translation of Vālmiki’s poem, but a new and original remake, based on many sources and in which the epic element itself gives way to the lyricism of a profound faith that sees in Rāma no longer the hero, but the helpful and loving father. The musicality of the rhythms, the mystical inspiration that pervades it, the naturalness and sincerity of the scenes described, in which Tulsī Dās forgets the schemes and rules of rhetoric that bind Sanskrit poems to use only the free inspiration of his imagination, have made of R ā mcarit – m ā nas the most popular and read poem in all of India. The poem is written in caup āī alternated with doh ā, a style whose invention is attributed by tradition to Kabīr.
Hindōstānī spoken around Delhi is based on the western Hindī dialect and gradually enriched with Persian and Turkish elements: originally born among the people or soldiers (urdū derives from the Turkish ordu “field”) it spread slowly and then divided into two distinct currents: one known as hindōstānī or urdū in which the Persian element is prevalent and Persian characters are used: the other called hindī and adopted by the hindu, which uses characters called devanagari. The hindōstānī has reached today great nobility and dignity of style thanks to Mohammed Jqbal who, while imitating Arab and Persian models, has created an exquisite poetry in form and with a delicate lyrical inspiration.