Kāvya (Devanagari: काव्य, IAST: kāvyá) refers to the Sanskrit literary style used by Indian court poets flourishing between c.200 BCE and 1200 CE.[1][2]

This literary style, which includes both poetry and prose, is characterised by abundant usage of figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, and hyperbole to create its emotional effects. The result is a short lyrical work, court epic, narrative or dramatic work. Kāvya can refer to the style or the completed body of literature. Aśvaghoṣa (c. 80–150 AD), a philosopher and poet considered the father of Sanskrit drama, is attributed with first using the term.[citation needed]

Early kāvyaEdit

Although very little literature in the kāvya style written before the time of Kālidāsa (5th century CE) survives, it can be assumed from quotations in Patañjali's grammatical treatise the Mahābhāṣya (2nd century BCE), as well as from poems written on various inscriptions of the 4th to 6th centuries CE, that it dates back to an early time.[2]

One early epic work in this style is the Buddhacarita[A][a] by Aśvaghoṣa (2nd century CE). Only the first half of this survives in Sanskrit, and the rest in a Chinese translation made c. 420 CE.[4]


Kālidāsa [b][c] is believed to have lived in the early 5th century CE. He is the author of two epics, the Raghuvaṃśa and Kumārasambhava. These two epics are traditionally known as mahākāvya "great epics".

Other writers of great epics were Bhāravi (6th century CE), author of Kirātārjunīya; Māgha (c. 7th Century CE), author of Śiśupāla·vadha, an epic famous for its linguistic ingenuity, and Śrīharṣa (12th century CE), author of Naiṣadhīya·carita. Another epic often called a mahākāvya, is Bhaṭṭikāvya, which is simultaneously a narrative and a manual of grammatical instruction. It is believed by some to have been written by the 7th-century poet and grammarian Bhartṛihari.[2]

Prose writersEdit

Those who wrote in prose included Subandhu (5th or 7th century CE?), author of Vasavadatta, a romantic tale, and Bāṇabhaṭṭa (also called Bāṇa) (7th century CE), author of Kadambari, a romantic novel, and of Harṣacarita, a biography written in poetic prose.

Another well-known writer of the period was Daṇḍin (7th–8th century CE), who as well as poetry, wrote the Kāvyādarśa, a discussion of poetics, and the Daśa·kumāra·carita.[B]


  1. ^ the work calls itself a mahākāvya[3]
  2. ^ "India's greatest poet" - Macdonell [2]
  3. ^ called by many the Shakespeare of India, with Monier Williams said to be the first to do so.[5]


  1. ^ a life of Buddha
  2. ^ the story of ten princes


  1. ^ Macdonell, p. 318.
  2. ^ a b c d Macdonell 1900, ch. 11
  3. ^ Macdonell, p. 319.
  4. ^ J.K. Nariman: Literary History of Sanskrit Buddhism, Bombay 1919. Aśvaghoṣa and his School.
  5. ^ Kale, p. xxvi.


  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale,(1928). A History of Sanskrit Literature. (Oxford University Press).
  • Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1900), "Kāvya or court epic" , A History of Sanskrit Literature, New York: D. Appleton and company CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  • Warder, A.K., (1989). Indian Kavya Literature, South Asia Books.
  • Kavya. (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  • Winternitz, M. A History of Indian Literature. Oriental books, New Delhi, 1972
  • Gonda, Jan A History of Indian Literature, Otto Harrasowitz, Wiesbaden.
  • Monier-Williams, Monier. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. London: Oxford Clarendon Press.

See alsoEdit