Great authors of classical Sanskrit
When we discuss the poetry in classical Sanskrit, the earliest name that comes up is that of the Buddhist poet, Ashvaghosha. He lived in the 1st century AD, and composed the Buddhacharita, the life story of the Buddha. The Girnar Inscription of Rudradaaman, dated 150 AD, is the earliest surviving example of courtly Sanskrit prose. There has been vehement criticism about the Classical Sanskrit literature that "it is artificial, over-ornate, lacking in true feeling, or even an example of wasted and perverted ingenuity". And critics also went to the extent that "learning and adaptation to circumstances were given more importance than the pure flow of genius.… As a result Sanskrit poetry not only became artificial but followed a traditional scheme of description… The magic of the Sanskrit language…also led the poets astray and led them to find their amusement in verbal sonorousness." These criticisms are partly true, according to an other set of critics.
The celebrated works of poetry during the classical period are: Kumarasambhava and Raghuvamsham by Kalidasa, Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi, Shishupala Vadha by Magha, Naishadhiya Charitam by Harsha. A special feature of the classical period of Sanskrit is the Drama, which marks the closing centuries of BC and the early ones of AD. Experts have opined that the Indian Drama was influenced partly by the Greek plays and partly by the Vedic mythology. It is noticeable that the term for a curtain is 'yavanika' in Sanskrit. 'Yavanika' is derived from 'yavana' meaning 'of Greek'. This indicates the influence the Greeks had in the development of the Indian Drama. Notable dramatists of ancient India are : Shudraka, Bhasa, Ashvaghosha and Kalidasa. One of the earliest known Sanskrit plays is Mricchakatika (The Clay Cart), composed by Shudraka in the 2nd century BC.
Apart from these classics of poetic works and plays, Sanskrit of that period saw the creation of some celebrated works like Bharat'a Natyashastra, Katha Sarit Sagara (an Ocean of Stories), and Jayadeva's Gita Govinda. Natyashastra deals with the different arts like music, dance, literature and theatre to express one's feelings. Bharata laid down specific rules and guidelines for these arts. Bharata was the one who defined the nine rasas – adbhuta, hasya, shringara, shaanta, bibhatsa, vira, karuna, bhaya and raudra. Katha Sarit Sagara was a poetic adaptation in Sanskrit of Brihat Katha, written in the 5th century BC, in the Paishachi dialect. Gita Govinda is the love story of Radha and Krishna. It is written in an enchanting language and style, and it is highly musical too. Gita Govinda became famous all over the country for these qualities and several of Indian languages brought out translations of this Sanskrit work and all of them became highly popular. Gita Govinda too was instrumental in popularizing the Krishna legend in a never-before–experienced thrill.
By 12th century AD, Sanskrit began to decline, mostly for political reasons. There were huge intrusions and invasions from abroad and the great empires of Hindu Kings cracked and crumbled. The Islamic, European and other armed forces with trade in their mouth and religious conversions in their heart, brought about sea changes in the socio-political texture of the country, and a casualty was Sanskrit. But the fact remained that this great language was instrumental in defining the Hindu culture of the country by providing great epics, philosophic works as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishad and the Veda, the great work of Grammar, and or the arts, the works of Charaka and Sushruta in the realm of Ayurvedic medicine, Yoga, and even the enquiries into the nature and its evolution through ages. Mention has to be made of Yavanajataka, the earliest surviving treatise on astrology (3rd century), the Vedanga Jyotisha of the Maurya period. The Pancha Siddhantika of Varhamihira is another work of significance. Arybhatiya, is the earliest treatise in Indian mathematics (500 AD). Panchatantra and Hitopadesha are two important collections, discussing stories of wonderful common sense, and of symbolic brilliance. Using animals and birds as character, the Panchatantra became the earliest collection of its kind and it cast a tremendous influence on generations.