The Maharashtri Apabhramsa developed into Marathi language quite early, but the Marathi literature emerged in the latter half of the 13th century. For about three hundred years, the literature—all in verse—was mainly religious and philosophical in spirit Mukundaraja’s Viveka Sindhu is considered to be the first major work in the Marathi language. Mukundaraja belonged to the Natha cult. Another religious sect, the Mahanubhavas made a significant contribution to Marathi prose and poetry. The Bhakti movement produced the great Jnandeva whose Bhavartha Dipika (the popular Jnaneswari) and Amritanubhava are standard religious books for Maharashtrians. Namdeva and Eknath were other poets in the same tradition of Marath Language.
In the 17th century a significant contribution was made by Christian missionaries to enrich Marathi literature. The Kristapurana of Father Thomas Stephens is a noteworthy example. In Hindu literature, there were Tukaram’s incomparable Abhangas which made a direct appeal to the people through their lyrical intensity. The secular poetry of this period found expression in the Povadas—ballads of valor and warfare—and Lavanis-romantic and erotic.
The nineteenth century saw modernity enter Marathi literature. A revolution in poetry was brought about by K.K. Damle alias Keshavasut who created new norms in the poetry of love, nature, social consciousness and neomyticism. By 1930 a group of poets called Ravi Kiran Mandal created new patterns of content and prosody. Most noteworthy among them are Madhav Tryambak Patwardhan and Yashwant Dinkar Pendharkar.
The first Marathi grammar and the first dictionary appeared in 1829. Journals became popular. Bal Gangadhar Shastri Jamblekar who started the daily Darpan (1831) and the periodical Digdarshana (1841) and Bhan Mahajan who founded Prabhakara was pioneer in new prose. The essays of Krishna Hari Chiplunkar and Gopal Hari Deshmukh roused people to a consciousness of their heritage. Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar founded the Kesari (1881) which later attained all- India importance under Lokmanya Tilak. Several of the nationalist leaders did invaluable service to the language with their writings Jyotiba Phule, Gopal Agharkar, N.C. Kelkar, V.D. Savarkar and, of course, Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
As for the novel, Hari Narayan Apte did much in the field of the social novel. V.S. Khandekar’s Jayati won him the Jnanpith Award in 1974. Another Marathi writer to win this award for poetical and other works is V.V. Shirwader, popularly known as Kusumagraj. Ratricha Diwas by B.S. Mardhekar is the first stream-of-consciousness novel in Marathi. S.N. Pendse is another well-known novelist whose book Ratha Chakra is noteworthy.
Marathi drama had its origin in religious celebrations. The form achieved maturity in the work of Annasaheb Kirloskar. Dramatists like Vijay Tendulkar and C.T. Dhanolkar have written plays of international repute.