Sanskrit literature refers to texts composed in Sanskrit language since the 2nd-millennium BCE. Many of the prominent texts are associated with Indian religions, i.e., Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and were composed in ancient India. However, others were composed central, East or Southeast Asia and the canon includes works covering secular sciences and the arts. Early works of Sanskrit literature were transmitted through an oral tradition for centuries before they were written down in manuscript form.
Hindu Sanskrit texts are manuscripts and historical literature related to any of the diverse traditions within Hinduism. A few texts are shared resources across these traditions and broadly considered as Hindu scriptures. These include the Shruti, namely the Vedas and the early Upanishads. Many scholars include the Bhagavad Gita and Agamas as Hindu scriptures, while Dominic Goodall includes Bhagavata Purana and Yajnavalkya Smriti to the list of Hindu scriptures.
The Smriti Sanskrit texts are a specific body of Hindu texts attributed to an author, as a derivative work they are considered less authoritative than Sruti in Hinduism. The Smrti literature is a vast corpus of diverse texts, and includes but is not limited to Vedāngas, the Hindu epics, the Sutras and Shastras, the texts of Hindu philosophies, the Puranas, the Kāvya or poetical literature, the Bhasyas, and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics, culture, arts and society.
Many ancient and medieval Hindu texts were composed in Sanskrit, many others in regional Indian languages. In modern times, most ancient texts have been translated into other Indian languagesand some in Western languages. Prior to the start of the common era, the Hindu texts were composed orally, then memorized and transmitted orally, from one generation to next, for more than a millennia before they were written down into manuscripts. This verbal tradition of preserving and transmitting Hindu texts, from one generation to next, continued into the modern era.
Tattvartha Sutra is a Jain text written in the Sanskrit language. It is regarded as one of the earliest, most authoritative books on Jainism, and the only text authoritative in both the Digambara and Śvētāmbara sects.
Texts of extinct Indic traditions
Modern Sanskrit literature
Literature in Sanskrit continues to be produced. These works, however, have a very small readership. In the introduction to Ṣoḍaśī: An Anthology of Contemporary Sanskrit Poets (1992), Radhavallabh Tripathi writes:
Sanskrit is known for its classical literature, even though the creative activity in this language has continued without pause from the medieval age till today. […] Consequently, contemporary Sanskrit writing suffers from a prevailing negligence.
Most current Sanskrit poets are employed as teachers, either pandits in pāṭhaśālas or university professors. However, Tripathi also points out the abundance of contemporary Sanskrit literature:
On the other hand, the number of authors who appear to be very enthusiastic about writing in Sanskrit during these days is not negligible. […] Dr. Ramji Upadhyaya in his treatise on modern Sanskrit drama has discussed more than 400 Sanskrit plays written and published during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a thesis dealing with Sanskrit mahākāvyas written in a single decade, 1961–1970, the researcher has noted 52 Sanskrit mahākāvyas (epic poems) produced in that very decade.
Similarly, Prajapati (2005), in Post-Independence Sanskrit Literature: A Critical Survey, estimates that more than 3000 Sanskrit works were composed in the period after Indian Independence (i.e., since 1947) alone. Further, much of this work is judged as being of high quality, both in comparison to classical Sanskrit literature, and to modern literature in other Indian languages.
Since 1967, the Sahitya Akademi, India’s national academy of letters, has had an award for the best creative work written that year in Sanskrit. In 2009, Satyavrat Shastri became the first Sanskrit author to win the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary award. Vidyadhar Shastri wrote two epic poems (Mahakavya), seven shorter poems, three plays and three songs of praise (stavana kavya), he received the Vidyavachaspati award in 1962. Some other modern Sanskrit composers include Abhiraj Rajendra Mishra (known as Triveṇī Kavi, composer of short stories and several other genres of Sanskrit literature), Jagadguru Rambhadracharya (known as Kavikularatna, composer of two epics, several minor works and commentaries on Prasthānatrayī).