Chandrakanta: The First Hindi Bestseller
The literary work Chandrakanta would evoke little reaction from people today. While some may remember it from a popular adaptation of the work on TV by Doordarshan in the 90s, few realize that this novel, written by novelist Babu Devakinandan Khatri in 1892 marked a great milestone in Hindi language and literature. It took the language of modern Hindi, as we know it and its Devanagari script to the masses. Known as the ‘First Hindi bestseller’ and the ‘First Hindi fantasy novel’ Ramchandra Shukla, the noted historian of Hindi Literature in his book Hindi Sahitya ka Itihas or the History of Hindi Literature claims that Chandrakanta created a readership for Hindi literature, which was in its nascent stage at the time. Such was the popularity of the novel, that even a century after its publication, the book cover boasts of how ‘countless people learnt Hindi just to read this novel’.
Chandrakanta is the story of Princess Chandrakanta of Vijaygarh who is in love with Prince Birendra Singh of the rival kingdom of Naugarh. It is essentially a love story with lots of magic and fantasy. Khatri introduces ‘Aiyyars’ who are fashioned as part ninjas and part magicians, who can take any shape and are well versed with magic tricks. Adding to all the drama are secret caves, hidden treasures, mysterious Yogis and palace intrigues. A 1891 advertisement for the novel read-