The literary tradition of India goes back more than 3,000 years, and during the greater part of this time it was dominated by Sanskrit, first in its Vedio, and later in its classical form. The early Aryan invaders of India brought with them, along with other elements of a developed culture, a language of great richness and precision, and a highly cultivated poetic tradition.
The chief custodians and exponents of this poetic art were the families of priests, eventually to develop into the Brahman caste, who were also the guardians and practitioners of the Vedic religion. The hymns to various deities composed by members of these families were orally preserved, first among the several families concerned, and were eventually united into one great collection known as the Rig Veda.
This text not only served the purposes of religion, but it provided a common literary standard for the Aryan tribes of India. The compilation of the later Vedas followed after no great interval, and the corpu s of Vedic poetry, whose beginnings may be fixed somewhere round 1300 B.c, was probably complete in the main by about 1000 b.c.
After this date hymn, were no longer composed in the old poetic tradition, and instead there developed an extensive prose literature devoted to ritual matters, in a form of language notably younger than that of the hymns, and showing some signs of being based on a dialect situated somewhat further to the east.
This prose literature was also entirely oral, and its language is remarkably uniform. The period of the older Brahmanas, as these prose texts are called, may be put roughly at 1000-800 b.c., but the language continued to be used without noticeable change for two or three centuries more.