Marathi language was derived from the
Maharashtri Apabhramsha. The history of Marathi literature can be divided
into six periods :
During the first two periods Marathi literary genius occupied itself chiefly with religious and philosophical expression chiefly in verse. Viveka Sindhu (sea of knowledge) by Mukundaraj, a yogi of Natha Pantha is accepted as the first major work. The origin of Marathi prose is also to be found in the Yadava period. The credit for it goes to another religious sect called the Mahanuvbhavas. They made Marathi a vehicle for the propagation of religion and culture.
An extremely effective revolt against Hindu orthodoxy came from Jnanadev. Jnanaeshwari commentary on Bhagvat Gita and Amritanubhav are his two masterpieces. Saintly singers sprang up in all castes and communities. Namdeva, who was a tailor became a disciple of Jnanadev. He became a great poet propagating a devotional cult called Varkari Panth. Gardeners, potters, goldsmiths and such other people extolled Bhagwat Dharma in acceptable verse.
In the Bahamani period, conversion to Islam took place on a mass scale. The flame of Hindu religion was, however kept up with considerable zeal. The works of Eknath are to be specially remembered in this connection. He was a great saint and a social reformer. His Bhavarth Ramayana brought the message of Bhagvat cult to the people with great power. Jainism too enriched Marathi in this age.
When we pass on to the third period, the most notable aspect is the contribution of Christian missionaries in Goa. Father Sephens (1549-1619) who came to India, studied Marathi language so well that he could compose charming verses in it. His Krista Purana is considered a classic on the model of Jnaneshwari.
The dawn of 17th century was most eventful in the political and literary history of Maharashtra. Tukaram (1608-49), the greatest saint poet of the language contributed in such measure to devotional poetry that he is remembered with great veneration even today. A shudra by birth, he wrote 3000 Abhangas. Their appeal is timeless. He was followed by Ramadas.
Coming to the Peshwa period, Krishnadayarnava and Sridhara are the leading poets. New literary forms were successfully experimented with during the period and classical styles were revived, especially the Mahakavya and Prabandha forms. A period of transition followed in the first half of the 19th century. In 1818, Maharashtra lost its freedom to the British. Keshavasut, the father of modern Marathi poetry published his first poem in 1885. The years in between witnessed a great change in the literary scene. Infact, modern Marathi literature took shape during this period.
As in other Indian languages, the Christian missionaries played an important role in the production of scientific dictionaries and grammars. Periodicals slowly became popular, starting with Digdarshan in 1840 about the same time Darpan, the daily newspaper, also came into being. Modern Marathi prose flourished through various new literary forms like the essay, the biographies, the novels, prose, drama etc. Chiplunkar's Nibandhmala (essays), N.C.Kelkar's biographical writings, novels of Hari Narayan Apte, Phadke and V.S.Khandekar, and plays of Mama Varerkar and Kirloskar's are particularly worth noting. Apte's novel Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto which deals with the poignant experience of a child widow has been translated into many Indian languages.
Similarly Khandekar's Yayati which has won for him, the Jnanpith Award is a very noteworthy novel. Vijay Tendulkar and C.T.Dhanolkar have written and produced a good number of plays which have earned a reputation beyond the border of Maharashtra during the last quarter of a century. B.S.Mardhekar wrote the first stream of conciousness novel in Marathi viz. Ratricha Divas (1942) and it was a great success. Ratha Chakra (chariot wheel, 1962) by S.N.Pendse explores the relationship between physical environment and mental life.