Although the history of Marathi language can be traced back to the 8th century, the earliest extant written work appeared only in the 11th century . The Yadava dynasty (1189-1320 A.D.) contributed greatly towards the origin and growth of Marathi literature. The Marathi literature can be grouped into two ages: Ancient or Old Marathi literature (1000-1800 A.D.) and Modern Marathi Literature (1800 onwards).
(a) The Old Marathi Literature consisted mainly of poetry composed in metres and was devotional and narrative in content. Its pioneers were the saints Mukunda Raj, Jnandeva and Namdeo. Mukunda Raj’s ‘Viveka Sindhu’ is considered as the first major work in Marathi. Jnanadeva’s ‘Bhavartha Dipika’ and ‘Amritinabhava’ are two other great works in Marathi. The two new religious sects known as ‘Mahanubhav Panth’ and ‘Warkari Panth’, which adopted Marathi as the medium for preaching their doctrines, are considered as the pioneers of Marathi prose and poetry. The important works of the ‘Mahanubhava’ writers include: ‘Lila Caritra’ (1273), ‘Govinda Prabhu Caritra’ and ‘Siddhanta Sutra Patha’.
The great saint-poet Eknath’s ‘Ekanathi Bhagavata’ is a literary masterpiece of Marathi literature. Eknath is considered as the founder of secular poetry in Marathi, a trend that was carried forward by Mukteshwar (1574-1645) in his version of the Mahabharata. Tukaram (1608-1651) was the greatest saint-poet of Marathi, who wrote over 3000 ‘abhangas’. His associate Ramdas (1608-1681) also composed an inspiring literary work in Marathi called ‘Dasabodha’.
(b) The Modern Period can be divided into four ages. The first period starts from 1800 to 1885, the second from 1885 to 1920, the third from 1921 to 1945, and the last from 1946 to the present. This period witnessed the development of all forms of prose and poetry, including scientific and technical literature. Several attempts were made to translate English works into Marathi. Chhatre, Bal Shastri Jambhekar (1810-1846), Lokahitawadi, Krishna Hari Chiplunkar and Jyotiba Phule wrote on various topics in Marathi.
Keshavasuta (1866-1905) is credited with the launching of the Modern Marathi poetry movement in 1885. Around 1923, a group of poets led by Madhav Julian (1894-1939) formed a group called ‘Ravikiran Mandali’, which soon became eminent on the Marathi literary scene. B.R.Tambe, Chandra Shekar Gorhe, Manorambai Ranade were the prominent poets outside the ‘Ravikiran Mandali’. The Mandali was challenged by modern poets like Anil (1901-1982) and Anant Kanekar (1905-1980), whose works signalled the advent of a new form of poetry in Marathi. B.S. Mardhekar, P.S. Rage, N.C.Kelkar, S.K.Kolhatkar, C.V. Joshi and Shanta Shelke are some other well-known names of the last phase of the Modern Period of Marathi literature.
Hari Narayan Apte’s (1864-1919) ‘Madhali Sthiti’ was the first novel to be published in Marathi. Baba Padamji’s ‘Yamuna Paryatan’ (1857) was the first Marathi novel written on social reform. Natha Madhav, Prof V.M. Joshi, V.S. Khandekar, Kusumvati Deshpande and Kamalabai Tilak are the prominent novelists of the Marathi language. Diwakar Krishna, H.N.Apte and V.S.Gurjar are renowned short story writers while S.M. Mate, Durga Bhagwat, N.S. Phadke are well-known essayists in Marathi.