Literature in Gujarati can be divided
mainly into Prose and Poetry. In the medieval period, poetry was
actually the means of expressing religious sentiments and the first
poetry of the language was Bharateswara Bahubali Rasa. It was composed
by Shalibhadrasuri, a 7th century Jain monk. A number of Jain Sadhus
followed his example and composed short story poems called Rasas till
the end of the 18th century. While in the 15th century, Narsingh Mehta
was bringing in a new era of Vaishnava poetry. His poems portray Krishna
as a playful child, a lover, a friend and the poets muse. He
became a source of inspiration for his successors in composing not only
similar poetry but also philosophical poems.
Raje, Raghunathdas, Pritam, Ratno and Muktananda were some of the great contributors to devotional Gujarati poetry. In the 18th century, Vallabh left his artistic touch in devotional songs like Garbo and Garbi. They are popular even today. Premananda, the greatest medieval poet introduced the famous Akhyana. He had a wonderful command over the language, treated the subject in an outstanding way and had a great understanding of human nature. Jains and non-Jains have written narrative poems using Sanskrit as well as Prakrit fiction as the source.
With the advent of the British in the 19th century, Guajarati poetic literature soared to new heights. Narmad and Dalpat were the pioneers of this age. In 1886, Narsingharaos collection of lyrical poems Kusummala, was published. Poetry was getting restricted to the elite class and Mahatma Gandhi urged poets to write for the masses. The noted poets of this century like Kalapi, Kant, Nanalal and Balavantrai Thakor were all greats in their respective style of writing. Literature produced under Gandhis influence is known as Gandhian literature and the era as Gandhian era.
Gujarati poets of this time wrote about social order, the struggle for independence and especially about Gandhi himself. Umashankar, Sundaram, Shesh, Snehrasmi, Betai and many more were the principal poets of this era. During the 40s, there was a rise in communistic poetry and this inspired a movement for progressive literature. Meghani, Bhogilal Gandhi, Swapnastha and others preached class conflict and hatred of religion through their writings. Highly inspired by Tagores dialogue poems, Umashankar Joshi enriched the existing Gujrati literature by writing in the same manner. His two such poems are Prachina and Mahaprasthan.
Poetry of post-independence era is more subjective and brutal, discarding old imageries and symbols and replacing them with new ideas. The main representatives of this age are Suresh Joshi, Gulam Mohamed Sheikh, Harinder Dave, Chinu Modi, Nalin Raval, Adil Mansuri and others.
Gujarati literary prose in the real sense begins from the 19th century. Narmad was the leader in this field and began by writing essays meant to be read before an audience. His essays dealt mainly with social revolution, but he also wrote on literary, social, political and religious subjects. Narmad coined new words and phrases, using them to explain his ideas. His contemporary was Dalpat, an essayist and dramatist. The era starting from Narmad is called the social reform era. Naval Ram of this age was a critic of distinction besides writing literary essays and book reviews. Nand Shankar was the first novelist of his time and wrote Karanghelo, a historical fiction. Govardhanram is another great novelist whose Saraswati Chandra is a classic not only in Gujarati literature but also in Indian literature. It was the first social novel, which mentioned contemporary problems and their solutions. During this period, the Gujarat Vidyapith became the centre of all literary activities where new values emerged and more emphasis was given on Indianisation. Novels, short stories, diaries, letters, plays, essays, criticisms, biographies, travel books and all kinds of prose began to flood Gujarati literature. However, Kanhaiyalal Munshi was absolutely untouched by this change and made a mockery of the Gandhian principles while Ramanlal Desai (novelist, dramatist, literary critic and short storywriter all rolled into one) was the true representative of the Gandhian era. His works include Divya Chakshu and Bharelo Agni. Kaka Kalelkar was a voluminous writer and subjects included travel, culture, nature, sociology and biography. Other pioneers of this era were Kishorelal Mashruwala (essayist), Ramnarayan Pathak (critic and short story writer), and Darshak (dramatist).
The post independence prose literature had two distinct trends that of traditional and modern. The former deals more with ethical values and its main writers were Gulabdas Broker, Mansukhlal Jhaveri, Vishnuprasad Trivedi and others. While existentialism, surrealism and symbolism have influenced the latter. The modernists want to do away with moral values and religious beliefs. The eminent writers of this trend are Chandrakant Baxi, Suresh Joshi, Madhu Rai, Raghuvir Chowdhury, Saroj Pathak and others. Gujarati prose has recorded growth and literary feats quite rapidly in less than two hundred years and now can be counted among the front benchers in Indian literature.