Out knowledge of the development of Sanskrit literature in the early centuries A.D. is based
on writings from the Gupta period. However, tradition associates the work of Ashvaghosha and out-standing writer and play
Wright, one of the founders of Buddhist Sanskrit literature and a major philosopher- with the reign of Kanishak (the early second century AD). Many of his works remain unknown, but fragments of the following poems in Sanskrit have been preserved: Buddhacharita ("A life of the Buddha") Saundarananda (Sundari and Nanda) and the drama shariputraprakarana. (A drama dealing with Shariputra's Conversion to Buddhism). In ancient India these works of Ashvaghosha had enjoyed wide popularity and the Chinese pilgrim I-tsing who visited India in the seventh century wrote that the "poem" so gladdened the heart of the reader that he never tired of repeating it over and over again.
Although the Buddhacharita and the Shariputraprakarana treated only Buddhist themes and
propagated the teaching of the Buddha they possessed artistic qualities. Ashvaghosha adheres to the epic tradition and his characters lives are filled with drama and rich emotional experience.
In his plays Ashvaghosha lays the foundation of ancient Indian drama which was to come into its own in the works of such writers as Bhasa, Kalidasa and Shudraka. Thirteen plays are attribute to Bhasa but it is as yet difficult to establish which of these early were written by this remarkable dramatist. Bahsa also made use of the epic tradition, although his plays were constructed strictly according to the laws of classical drama. Some modern scholars maintain, and with ample justification, that a number of the plays attributed to Bhasa are the most ancient moderls of Indian tragedy. This was, there is not doubt a bold innovation on the part of Bhasa who thus defined established artistic canon. This trend in ancient Indian drama was developed by the Shudraka, author of the play Mrichhakatiak (The title Clay Cart), which tells of the ardent love of an impoverished merchant for a courtsan.
Possibly the greatest in ancient Indian literature is the work of Kalidasa, (late fourth-early fifth century), poet and dramatist, whose wrirtings represent an illustrious page in the history of world culture. Translations of Kalidasa's works penetrated to the West at the end of the eighteenth century and were well received.
There is good reason to believe that Kalidasa was native of Mandasor in Malwa. It is, therefore, argued that he was brought up in close touch with the court of Ujjain, an active center of commercial and economic activity in western India. Kalidasa's early descriptive poems, the Ritussamhara and the Meghaduta probably belong to the reign of Chandragupta-II, and his dramas to that of Kumaragupta.
It appears that Kalidasa was a prolific writer but as year scholars have only discovered three plays : Shankuntala, Malavikagnimitra, Vikramorvashi (Urvashi won by Valour), the poem Meghadutta (the Cloud Messenger) and two epic poems : the Kumarasambhava (the Birth of Kumara) and Raghuvansha (Raghu's Line)
The core of all Kalidasa writings is man and his emotions, his wordly concerns, his joys and sorrows, His work represents a significant step forward in comparison with the writings of Ashavaghosha who depicted in idealized image of the Buddha and his faithfull disciples. Many of Kalidasa's heroes are kings: the poet not only extolled their exploits, but he also condemned their ignoble deeds. Some of Kalidasa's works bear witness to the growth of the epic poem, the so-called mahakavya. Both in his plays and poems Nature and Man's emotions are distinguished by their lyric quality and humanism. Without swerving from earlier traditions Kalidasa stood out as an innovator in many respects.
Also, the very fact that tragic themes do not figure with the exception of Mrichcha Katika by Shudrak shows that the higher strata of society primarily sought entertainment.
In ancient India considerable advances were also made by the theator. In the Gupta age special treatises concerning dramatic art started to appear, which provided detailed expositions of the aims of the theratre and theatrical
entertainments, the various genres used in thetheatre etc.
When ancient Indian plays first made their way to Europe, many scholars wrote that the Indian theatre owed its roots to ancient Greece. However it has since emerged beyond
doubt that the theatre in India came into being quite independently. More over Indian the atrical tradition goes further back than that of ancient Greece and is much richer as far as theory is concerned.
In the Gupta age the earliest of the Puranas were compiled. These collections of legends about gods, kings and heroes that embody the mythological and cosmological ideas of ancient Indians were compiled over a very long period and subjected to far-reaching editing and modification.
Some of the Dharmashastras such as the Laws of Yajnavalkya (third century AD) or the laws of Narada (fourth and fifth centuries AD) also date from the early centuries AD. Worthy of note among the landmarks of Sankrit literature is the Panchatan to (third and fourth centuries AD) a collection of tales and pafables which is very popular both in India and beyond its borders. In the early Middle Ages translations of this work appeared in Pehlevi, Syriac and Arabic. In the Middle East the collection was known as all the influence of the Panchatantra on both Eastern and Western literature was considerable.
It was also in the Gupta period that the first works of literature from Southern India written in Tamil appeard. One of the most famous these early works in Tamil was the Kural a collection of parables. The compilation of which is traditional ascribed to a representative of the farmers' caste, Triuvalluvar.The Kumar was undoubtedly based on material derived from folklore and already in ancient times won enormous popularity. In the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. Collections of Lyrical poems in Tamil also appeared. The literature of other south Indian appear later in the early Middle Ages.
In the end it may be noted that both Sanskrit poetry and prose were greatly encouraged through royal patronage. However it was literature of the elites since Sanskrit was known only to them but not to the people. The Sanskrit plays of this period show that the characters of high social status speak Sanskrit: whereas those of lower status and women speak Prakrit. This particular feature throws light on the status of Sanskrit and Prakrit in society.