Many gods, many voices: the Murty Classical Library is uncovering India’s dazzling literary history

Neel Mukherjee in New Statesman:

AkbarClassical Indian literary tradition is dizzyingly multicultural and multilingual. The vastness of the subcontinent and the number of peoples and languages it contains ensured this plurality. Administratively, too, a state of multum in parvo prevailed: successions of empires and dynasties only ever managed to rule limited (if large) parts, leaving autonomous regions under different powers. No one empire before the central Asian clan that came to be known in the 16th century as the Mughals managed to bring far-flung areas under a centralised administration and local societies continued to exist even under their expanding rule.

From around the beginning of the Common Era for a millennium, Sanskrit held a long, unbroken sway as the language of power and culture before being contested by vernacular languages. Knowledge of Sanskrit would certainly unlock a large quantity of classical Indian literature for modern readers but – as with Europe and Latin – it is possessed by only a select few. Yet Sanskrit allowed Prakrit languages, the “natural” or informal languages, to flourish in a way that, over time, gave them enough power, complexity and confidence to overthrow it as the language of literary production.

More here.