Maithili language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The word "Maithili" in Devanagari script
Native to India and Nepal
Region Northern Bihar, Terai of Nepal, Nepalese Mithila and Madhesh of Nepal
Ethnicity Maithil and Maithali
Native speakers
30 million (2000–2001)[1]
Central (Sotipura)
Khortha (Eastern)
Tirhuta (Mithilakshar)
Kaithi (Maithili style)
Official status
Official language in

India, 8th schedule of Constitution of India, Bihar;

NepalNepal : National language in Constitution of Nepal 2015 and Second national language in Interim Constitution 2007 [2]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mai
ISO 639-3 mai
Glottolog mait1250[3]

Maithili (/ˈmtɨli/;[4] Maithilī) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in Nepal and northern India by 34.7 million people as of 2000, of which 2.8 million were Nepalese residents. It is the second largest national language of Nepal written in the Devanagari script.[1] In the past, Maithili was written primarily in Mithilakshar.[5] Less commonly, it was written with a Maithili variant of Kaithi, a script used to transcribe other neighboring languages such as Bhojpuri, Bajika, Magahi, and Awadhi.

In 2002, Maithili was included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, which allows it to be used in education, government, and other official contexts.[6] It is recognized as one of the largest languages in India and is the second most widely used language in Nepal.[7]

In 2007, Maithili was included in the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063, Part 1, Section 5 as a language of Nepal. In 2015, a new constitution promulgated had given Maithili the status of one of the national language of Nepal.[8]

Geographic distribution[edit]

In India, Maithili is mainly spoken in northern Bihar in the districts of Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga and in part of the Supaul and Saharsa districts. Madhubani and Darbhanga constitute cultural and linguistic centers. Native speakers also reside in Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai.

In Nepal, Maithili is spoken mainly in the Terai, viz in the districts of the Janakpur Zone such as Sarlahi, Mahottari and Dhanusa Districts, in the Sunsari District of the Koshi Zone, and in the Siraha and Saptari Districts of the Sagarmatha Zone. Janakpur is an important religious centre.[1] It is spoken by castes and ethnic groups such as the Brahmin, Kayastha, Chamar, Khatawe, Kurmi, Rajput, Yadav, and Teli.[5] A constitutional provision foresees the introduction of Maithili as medium of education at the primary school level.[7]


In the 19th century, linguistic scholars considered Maithili as a dialect of Bengali or Hindi language and grouped it with other languages spoken in Bihar. Hoernlé compared it with Gaudian languages and recognised that it shows more similarities with Bengali and Nepali languages than with Hindi. Grierson recognized it as a distinct language and published the first grammar in 1881.[9][10]

Chatterji grouped Maithili with Magadhi Prakrit.[11]


Maithili varies greatly in dialects.[12] Several geographic variations of Maithili dialects are spoken in India and Nepal, including Dehati, and Kisan. Some dialects such as Bantar, Barmeli, Musar and Tati are spoken only in Nepal, while the Kortha, Jolaha and Thetiya dialects are spoken in India. All the dialects are intelligible to native Maithili speakers.[1]

Other dialects include:


Maithili dates back to the 14th century. The Varna Ratnākara is the earliest known prose text, preserved from 1507, and is written in Mithilaksar script.[9]

The name Maithili is derived from the word Mithila, an ancient kingdom of which King Janaka was the ruler (see Ramayana). Maithili is also one of the names of Sita, the wife of King Rama and daughter of King Janaka. Scholars in Mithila used Sanskrit for their literary work and Maithili was the language of the common folk (Abahatta).

With the fall of Pala rule, disappearance of Buddhism, establishment of Karnāta kings and patronage of Maithili under Harasimhadeva (1226–1324) of Karnāta dynasty, Jyotirisvara Thakur (1280–1340) wrote a unique work Varnaratnākara in pure Maithili prose, the earliest specimen of prose available in any modern Indo-Aryan language.

In 1324, Ghyasuddin Tughluq, the emperor of Delhi invaded Mithila, defeated Harasimhadeva, entrusted Mithila to his family priest Kameshvar Jha, a Maithil Brahmin of the Oinvar family. But the disturbed era did not produce any literature in Maithili until Vidyapati Thakur (1360 to 1450), who was an epoch-making poet under the patronage of king Shiva Simha and his queen Lakhima Devi. He produced over 1,000 immortal songs in Maithili on the theme of erotic sports of Radha and Krishna and the domestic life of Shiva and Parvati as well as on the subject of suffering of migrant labourers of Morang and their families; besides, he wrote a number of treaties in Sanskrit. His love-songs spread far and wide in no time and enchanted saints, poets and youth. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu saw divine light of love behind these songs, and soon these songs became themes of Vaisnava sect of Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore, out of curiosity, imitated these songs under the pseudonym Bhanusimha. Vidyapati influenced the religious literature of Asama, Banga and Utkala.

After the invasion of Mithila by the sultan of Johnpur, Delhi, and the disappearance of Shivasimha in 1429, Onibar rule grew weaker and the literary activity shifted to present-day Nepal.

The earliest reference to Maithili or Tirhutiya is in Amaduzzi's preface to Beligatti's Alphabetum Brammhanicum, published in 1771. This contains a list of Indian languages amongst which is 'Tourutiana.' Colebrooke's essay on the Sanskrit and Prakrit languages, written in 1801, was the first to describe Maithili as a distinct dialect.

Many devotional songs were written by vaisnava saints, including in the mid-17th century, Vidyapati and Govindadas. Mapati Upadhyaya wrote a drama titled Pārijātaharaṇa in Maithili. Professional troupes, mostly from dalit classes known as Kirtanias, the singers of bhajan or devotional songs, started to perform this drama in public gatherings and the courts of the nobles. Lochana (c. 1575 – c. 1660) wrote Rāgatarangni, a significant treatise on the science of music, describing the rāgas, tālas and lyrics prevalent in Mithila.

The Malla dynasty's mother tongue was Maithili, which spread far and wide throughout Nepal from the 16th to the 17th century.[citation needed] During this period, at least 70 Maithili dramas were produced. In the drama Harishchandranrityam by Siddhinarayanadeva (1620–57), some characters speak pure colloquial Maithili, while others speak Bengali, Sanskrit or Prakrit. The Nepal tradition may be linked with the Ankiya Nāta in Assam and Jatra in Odisha.[citation needed]

After the demise of Maheshwar Singh, the ruler of Darbhanga Raj, in 1860, the Raj was taken over by the British Government as regent. The Darbhanga Raj returned to his successor, Maharaj Lakshmishvar Singh, in 1898. The Zamindari Raj had a lackadaisical approach toward Maithili. The use of Maithili language was revived through personal efforts of MM Parameshvar Mishra, Chanda Jha, Munshi Raghunandan Das and others.

Publication of Maithil Hita Sadhana (1905), Mithila Moda (1906), and Mithila Mihir (1908) further encouraged writers. The first social organization, Maithil Mahasabha, was established in 1910 for the development of Mithila and Maithili. It blocked its membership for people outside from the Maithil Brahmin and Karna Kayastha castes. Maithil Mahasabha campaigned for the official recognition of Maithili as a regional language. Calcutta University recognized Maithili in 1917, and other universities followed suit.

Babu Bhola Lal Das wrote Maithili Grammar (Maithili Vyakaran). He edited a book Gadyakusumanjali and edited a journal Maithili.

In 1965, Maithili was officially accepted by Sahitya Academy, an organization dedicated to the promotion of Indian literature.

In 2002, Maithili was recognized on the VIII schedule of the Indian Constitution as a major Indian language; Maithili is now one of the 22 national languages of India.[6]

The publishing of Maithili books in Mithilakshar script was started by Acharya Ramlochan Saran.

Writing system[edit]

Consonants in Mithilakshar

Maithili was traditionally written in the Maithili script, also known as Mithilakshar and Tirhuta. Devanagari script is most commonly used since the 20th century.[16]

The Tirhuta (Mithilakshar) and Kaithi scripts are both currently included in Unicode.

Maithili calendar[edit]

Main article: Tirhuta Panchang

The Maithili calendar or Tirhuta Panchang (तिरहुता पंचांग) is followed by the Maithili community of India and Nepal. It is one of the many Hindu calendars. It is a sidereal solar calendar in which the year begins on the first day of Baishakh month, i.e., Mesh Sankranti. This day falls on 13/14 April of the Georgian calendar. Pohela Baishakh in Poschim Banga, Rangali Bihu in Assam, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, and Vaishakhi in Punjab are observed on the same day. These festivals mark the beginning of new year in their respective regions.

Names and approximate lengths of Maithili months[17]
No. Name Maithili (Devanagari) Sanskrit Days (Traditional Hindu sidereal solar calendar)
1 Baishakh बैसाख वैशाख 30 / 31
2 Jeth जेठ ज्येष्ठ 31 / 32
3 Asharh आषाढ़ आषाढ 31 / 32
4 Saon सावोन श्रावण 31 / 32
5 Bhado भादो भाद्रपद,भाद्र,प्रोष्ठपद 31 / 32
6 Aasin आसिन आश्विन 31 / 30
7 Katik कातिक कार्तिक 29 / 30
8 Agahan अगहन अग्रहायण,मार्गशीर्ष 29 / 30
9 Poos पूस पौष 29 / 30
10 Magh माघ माघ 29 / 30
11 Fagun फागुन फाल्गुन 29 / 30
12 Chait चैति चैत्र 30 / 31


The most famous literary figure in Maithili is the poet Vidyapati (1350–1450), who wrote his poems in the language of the people, i.e., Maithili, at a time when state's official language was Sanskrit and Sanskrit was being used as a literary language. The use of Maithili, instead of Sanskrit, in literature became more common after Vidyapati.

The main characteristics of Magadhi Prakrit is to mutate 'r' into 's', the 'n' for n, of 'j' for 'y', of 'b' for 'y' In the edicts of Ashoka the change of 'r' to 'h' is established. Mahavir and Buddha delivered their sermons in the eastern languages. The secular use of language came mainly from the east as will be evident from the Prakritpainglam, a comprehensive work on Prakrit and Apabhramsa-Avahatta poetry. Jyotirishwar mentions Lorika. Vachaspati II in his Tattvachintamani and Vidyapati in his Danavakyavali have profusely used typical Maithili words of daily use.

The Maithili script, Mithilakshara or Tirhuta as it is popularly known, is of a great antiquity. The Lalitavistara mentions the Vaidehi script. Early in the latter half of the seventh century A.D., we find a marked change in the northeastern alphabet and the inscriptions of Adityasena exhibit this change for the first time. Forward the eastern variety develops and becomes the Maithili script which ultimately comes into use in Assam, Bengal and Nepal. The earliest recorded epigraphic evidence of the script is to be found in the Mandar Hill Stone inscriptions of Adityasena (c. 7th century A. D.), now fixed in the Baidyanath temple, Deoghar.[18]

The Kamrupa dialect was originally a variety of eastern Maithili and it was, no doubt, the spoken Aryan language throughout the kingdom which then included the whole of Assam valley and whole of North Bengal with the addition of the district of Purnea. The language of the Buddhist dohas is described as belonging to the mixed Maithili—Kamrupi language.[19]

Early Maithili Literature (ca. 700–1350 AD)[edit]

The period was of ballads, songs, and dohas. Some important Maithili writers of this era were:

  • Kavi Kokil Pre-Jyotirishwar Vidyapati
  • Jyotirishwar Thakur (1290–1350) whose Varnartnakar is the first prose and encyclopedia in any southern Nepali language and northern Indian language.

Middle Maithili Literature (ca. 1350–1830 AD)[edit]

The period was of theatrical writings. Some important Maithili writers of this era were:

Modern Maithili Literature (1830 AD to date)[edit]

Modern Maithili came into its own after George Abraham Grierson, an Irish linguist and civil servant, tirelessly researched Maithili folklore and transcribed its grammar. Paul R. Brass wrote that "Grierson judged that Maithili and its dialects could fairly be characterized as the language of the entire population of Janakpur, Siraha, Saptari, Sarlahi, Darbhanga and Madhubani".[20]

In April 2010 a translation of the New Testament into Maithili was published by the Bible Society of India under joint copyright with Nepal Wycliffe Bible Translators.

The development of Maithili in the modern era was due to magazines and journals mainly concentrated at Janakpur. Some important writers of this era are:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Lewis, M. P. (ed.) (2009). Maithili Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
  2. ^ International Institute for Democraticy and Electoral Assistance (2015). "Constitution of Nepal 2015. Preliminary Draft, Unofficial English Translation by IDEA." (PDF). 
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Maithili". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ "Maithili". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ a b Yadava, Y. P. (2013). Linguistic context and language endangerment in Nepal. Nepalese Linguistics 28: 262–274.
  6. ^ a b Singh, P., & Singh, A. N. (2011). Finding Mithila between India’s Centre and Periphery. Journal of Indian Law & Society 2: 147–181.
  7. ^ a b Sah, K. K. (2013). Some perspectives on Maithili. Nepalese Linguistics 28: 179–188.
  8. ^ Government of Nepal (2007). Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007
  9. ^ a b Yadav, R. (1979). "Maithili language and Linguistics: Some Background Notes". Maithili Phonetics and Phonology (PDF). Doctoral Disseration, University of Kansas, Lawrence. 
  10. ^ Yadav, R. (1996). A Reference Grammar of Maithili. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, New York.
  11. ^ Chatterji, S. K. (1926). The origin and development of the Bengali language. University Press, Calcutta.
  12. ^ Brass, P. R. (2005). Language, Religion and Politics in North India. iUniverse, Lincoln, NE.
  13. ^ Ray, K. K. (2009). Reduplication in Thenthi Dialect of Maithili Language. Nepalese Linguistics 24: 285–290.
  14. ^ "Maithili Variation". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  15. ^ Yadav, R. (1992). The Use of the Mother Tongue in Primary Education: The Nepalese Context. Contributions to Nepalese Studies 19 (2): 178–190.
  16. ^ Pandey, A. (2009). Towards an Encoding for the Maithili Script in ISO/IEC 10646. University of Michigan, Michigan.
  17. ^ Maithili Calendar, published from Darbhanga
  18. ^ Choudhary, R. (1976). A survey of Maithili literature. Ram Vilas Sahu.
  19. ^ Barua, K. L. (1966). Early history of Kamarupa. Lawyers Book Stall, Guwahati, India, 234. Page 318
  20. ^ Brass, P. R. (1974). Language, Religion and Politics in North India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974. page 64
  21. ^ Mishra, V. (1998). Makers of Indian Literature series (Maithili): Baldev Mishra. Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. ISBN 81-260-0465-7. 

External links[edit]