Marathi is the language of more than fifty million people mostly residing in Maharashtra, the region in western India with Bombay as its capital. However, the name Maharashtra does not occur in the Ramayana, nor in the Mahabharata. The Chinese traveler Yuan-Chwang referred to this area, in the seventh century as Mo-ha-la-cho. In tenth century Al Beruni mentions the Marhatta region with Thane as its capital. Till then Konkana was not included in this area; Soparak was its other name (modern Sopara, the harbour).
There is no unanimity amongst scholars about the origin and antiquity of this language. The first written form is in Vijayaditya's Copper-plate, dated 739 A.D., found in Satara. In 983 A.D., the stone inscription at the feet of Shravanabelgola Gomateshwar- Chavundarajen Karaviyalen (Built by Chavandaraja, the king), is considered to be the oldest. An interesting couplet in the Jain monk Udyotan Suri's Kuvalayamala in the eighth century, refers to a bazar where different people speak differently, selling their goods: the Marhattes speak Dinnale, Gahille (given, taken).
About the geneology of the language scholars have different views: C.V. Vaidya maintained that it developed from Sanskrit, Sten Knonow maintained that it developed from Maharashtri Apabhramsa, others regard it as one of the Pancha Dravida (five Dravidian) groups. Khaire has recently found several loanwords in early and spoken Marathi from Tamil (adgule-madzule). There were many borrowings from Telugu (tup, tale) and Kannada words are the highest in Marathi spoken under Yadavas (1180-1320). In 1290A.D. the Hoyasala minister Perusmala at Mailangi made ``provision for masters to teach Nagar, Kannada, Telugu and Marathi'' (B. Lewis Rice in Mysore and Coorg from inscriptions) Later Marathi, in Shivaji's times imbibed many words from Persian, Arabic, Portugese and English Maharashtra Shabdakosh (in eight volumes edited by Y.G. Date and C.G. Karve) has 1,12,189 words, out of which the words from Persion-Arabic stock are 2,900 and from European stock 1,500. The script used for Marathi writing is the same as Devanagari, with an additional ``L'', old Marathi historical documents are found in Modi script. In 1622, Father Stephans wrote Khrista-Purana in chaste Marathi. The language was enriched by several writers who were Muslims (like saint Sheikh Muhammad, the Sufi) or Rev. N.V. Tilak (1865-1919).
So how did marathi originate?
Lot of people say it originated from Maharastri Prakrit. But however we find no evidence of both Maharastri prakrit and marathi before 13h century AD. Vijayaditya plate, Shravanabelgola incription are said to be Prakrit. And Jain monk Udyotan commentry is said to be in Konkani. So there is no definite works before 13h century until seunas or Yadava period, when later part of their rule they also made marathi official language.
Though Marathi was called Deshi or a Desha-bhasha in Narada-Smriti, as Dr. Tulpule writes in the An Old Marathi Reader, ``Marathi can be rightly described as a re-oriented form of its immediate predecessor viz. Apabhramsa, with a number of borrowed Sanskritisms. . . This linguistic change must have synchronized with the revival of the Vedic religion at the hands of Shankaracharya'' in the ninth century.
The Mahanubhava sect founded by Chakradhar, a Gujarati princely Brahmin, in 1267 A.D., had its holy books written in cryptic scripts (Sagala, Sundari), in prose and deal with Krishna bhakti or the devotion to Dattatreya, the three-headed god, combing Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in one, followed by four dogs (the four Vedas). This was a sect which deliberately flouted the upper caste monopoly of Sanskritic learning. In Mhai-Bhata's Lila Charitra (1286 A.D.) or in the first Marathi poetess Mahadaisa's Dhavale songs, one finds this script of revolt.
The other important devotional sect was Varakari Panth. It was a combination of the Natha Panth of Gorakhnath and the Yoga practises of the Siddhas, combining the worship of God in the form of Vitthala or Vithoba, a form of Vishnu, whose main shrine is in Pandharpur. Around this god, both Aryan and Dravidian, Vaishnava and Shaiva forms of worship centred many important saint-poets beginning with Jnanadeva or Jnaneshwara (1271-93), who composed a remarkable classic in verse Jnaneshwari, a comentary on Gita in 9000 stanzas, composed at the age of nineteen. He proclaimed the equality of man in the eyes of God and openly revoked against caste tyranny and orthodoxy.
Namdev (1270-1350) was another great saint-poet, tailor by caste, who composed poems in Marathi, Hindi and Punjabi (61 of his padas are found in Adi Granth, the Sikh scripture).
From 1350 to 1550 A.D. it was a dark period, as wars and famine disturbed the people. After the great saint-poets like Eknath (1548-99) and Tukarama (1588-1649).
Mukteshwara (1608-60) translated Mahabharata, Vamana Pandita (1615-78), Raghunath Pandita (C-1650), Shridhar (1678-1728) and Mayur Pandita or Moropanta (1729-94) were the well-known scholar poets, who were well-versed in Sanskrit and mostly verified the epics, on the classical lines. Now Marathi language was highly Sanskritized and became restricted to the Brahmanic elite class. Samartha Ramdas Swami (1608-82), with his Dasbodh, introduced a more virile and forthright note and his poetry reached to the rustics by its rhetoric.
From the above stanzas one can see this is a language developed in opposition to the braminical sanskrit. Eventhough today it is called sanskrit language today.
Lot of confusion regarding maharastri prakrit, Marathi -Language, Maratha- caste, Maharastra -state exist. Even today there is opposition to being called maratha in Vidarba and konkan areas.
So marathi is language that has developed in Opposition to brahminical sanskrit domination. And its origins are definitely prakrit, the language borrows heavily from languages spoken in that area, mainly Kannada, telugu,gujarati , persian and tamil ( where marathas ruled with tanjore as base).