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Kāvya (Sanskrit: काव्य, IAST: kāvyá) refers to the Sanskrit literary style used by Indian court poets flourishing between c.200 BC to 1200 AD.[1] This literary style, which includes both poetry and prose, is characterised by abundant usage of figures of speech, metaphors, similes, and hyperbole to create its emotional effects. The result is a short lyrical work, court epic, narrative or dramatic work. "Kavya" 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 word.

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.[1]

One early epic work in this style is the Buddhacarita (a life of Buddha) 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.[2]


Kālidāsa, "India's greatest poet",[1] 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 Shishupala Vadha, an epic famous for its linguistic ingenuity, and Śrīharṣa (12th century CE), author of Naishadha Charita (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.[1]

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 Daśakumāracarita, the story of ten princes.


  1. ^ a b c d Macdonell 1900, ch. 11
  2. ^ J.K. Nariman: Literary History of Sanskrit Buddhism, Bombay 1919. Aśvaghoṣa and his School.


  • 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
  • Warder, A.K., (1989). Indian Kavya Literature, South Asia Books.
  • Kavya. (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

See alsoEdit