Origin of Marathi

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 The script used for Marathi writing is the same as Devanagari, with an additional ``L'', old Marathi historical documents are found in Modi script.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).


  1. I am mentioning the fact about mahanubhav sect here.Before that please go through the following which is published in this artical.
    ''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.''

    From above it gives sense that mahanubhav follows the three headed Dattatray for bhakti,But this is not the fact.Mahanubhav do bhakti of ekmukhi Dattatraya(single headed).In maharashtra there are sects which follows ekmukhi Dattatraya like mahanubhav sect.Only thing is that mahanubhav are not doing bhakti of Three headed Dattatray but of ekmukhi Dattatraya.Please do correct in your writing.The name of the script is sakala and not sagala.

  2. Lilacharitra is the very first available granth in marathi sahitya.It was completed before janeswari and also before viveksindhu.

  3. Dattatreya is usually depicted with three heads, symbolising Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; past, present, and future; and the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. He is portrayed sitting in meditation with his shakti beneath the audumbara(wish-fulfilling) tree. In front of him is a fire pit, and around him are four dogs. These are sometimes said to be or to symbolise the four Vedas.

    I am not discussing the followings of the sect in this topic.

    Script is Sakala

    1. Four Dogs of Duttatreya are representing 4 Yugas....Not the vedas...

    2. What Dattatreya Dogs Symbolise? This is not my specialaity, but wherever I looked, I get the same answer.

      The four dogs of Dattatreya are the embodiments of the four Vedas. They follow the Lord as "hounds of heaven, watchdogs of the ultimate Truth". They help the Lord in "hunting" and finding pure souls, wherever they may be born.

      The Jury is up to you. This is not what I am discussing here in this blog

  4. Mhai-Bhata's Lila Charitra is 1286 AD. Do you have any evidence for earlier date let me know

  5. Well I completely agree with you, I have read your other posts and I am completely taken back by your level of research. I would be happy if you could show the masses the evidence about the fact that, basically sinhalese are the descendants of the Rakshas (the most evil people on this earth). You can refer to the ancient text of Ramayana for gathering the evidence. Keep up your good work.

  6. Asuras are not a community or ethnic or sect.

    Asuras is evil minded people and do not follow law as opposed to devas who follow the people.

    So Asuras and devas represent the character of a individual not a community. Some Asuras became devas after correcting their behaviour.

    Gita gives Asuric qualities as pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness, and ignorance.

    In Zorastrian tradition in persia Ahur are the good ones. But that is not scope of the topic.

    So No community can be said Devas or Asuras, Only Individual can be even according to the latest puranas let alone Ramayana.

  7. What was the language used by Shivaji's administration? Was it Pharsi or Marathi? Also is it true that Vijapur (Adilshahi) used Marathi as language of administration.

  8. Adilshahi introduced Persian in a aggressive way.They did issue some documents in Marathi though.

    Language of administration used Sanskrit under shivaji. But court language seems to be Marathi with local languages played part wherever the courts were held like Karnataka(kannada), Andhra(Telugu) etc. Shivaji Depersianised marathi to some extend.

  9. The term "Maharashtra" comes in the honors of RashtraKuta the rulers of ancient Maharashtra... The Term Marathi, Marratha is drives from the "Ganas" from Harrappa... Malla and Ratthas (Rashtras)... leaves the Indus vally by the falling of Harrappa by the invasion of Aryans (for details kindly read the Book KuntalDesh Maharashtra By Neeraj Salunkhe) The Malla's were having the counting system based on 12 ( Dwadshman) and the Rattha's were using the Counting systems of eight (ashtman) the unity called Malla+Rattha (12x8= 96) here after they called Maharatta > Maratha and they used the 96 home akshpaata ( Ludo) for the sacred terms... The Marashtriyans were called Pishachchya, Rakshas in Vedic times by Aryans and their language was called as Paishachi... this was the original form of Marathi...the language of MallaRattha... "Gunadhya" was one of the famous writer in Paishachi...Saathvahans were the Founder of Maharashtra as a State... Maharashtra is a unique portion in India which called himself a "Rashtra" (Country)... Maharashtra is aone of the ancient state which impress the world history. It is mentioned in Ramayana as where Sri Ram take shelter at his escort. I know I can not describe my thoughts clearly ... i am not blessed like you to write well in English But I have tried my best...

    1. Only one Question. The Great Pulakesin II said to be the lord of three Maharastra's. What are the three Maharastras.

      Fantastic theories, but I found no relation to the orgin of term Maharastra.

      Malla and Ratta (Latta - Rastrakutas) are Kannada Dynasties.
      Paischis are from North western India. They spoke Paisachi prakrit and their influence can be found all over India.

      Maharastra = Maha(Big) + Rastra(Country). Both are not unique terms can be found all over our countries literature and culture. So making a theory out of this is false.

  10. I dont think we share our backgrounds with people from the north and south india. Yes, there might be influences, but there is a clear distinction in rites, rituals and practices. Even gods, guardian gods and spirits are very unique to the region. The tradition of music too is different.
    Regarding the language, from whatever i have heard, the sathvanas who ruled around nashik are the first ones. The language spoken here must have been developed from the base the original rulers used. Or the victors forced. My grandparents read / wrote 'modi' langauge, which looks / sounds like primitive Marathi.

    1. Marathwada, Vidarba , North Karnataka and Telangana have same culture, same festivals, same gods, Same castes, Communities cutting across language barriers.

      The Above region may be today talking in Marathi, Hindi, Kannada , Telugu, But the place names in the area show they all show they spoke kannada in the early years. The satavahanas were kannada stock. Their literature like any other literature at that time is prakrit.

      Modi is script that developed due to persian script influence. Before that Maharastra used Goykanadi script (Maharastra variation of Kannada script) and before that Kadamba script along with Nagari script.

      Marathi started as serious language only during later days of seuna rulers(Who themselves are kannada stock).

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Please list examples of Kannada words borrowed into Marathi.

    As a native Marathi mother-tongue speaker, I'm aware of countless Farsi (Urdu) words borrowed into Marathi: For example samaz (understand), zameen (floor), maidan (open ground), inam (respect), sharam (shame), baag (garden) & on and on and on.

  12. tup - tuppa for Ghee, tat - tatte for Plate, kuttu, amunku, sendu, [agriculture, relation names, daily chores, place names] etc., from Old Kannada, Chinch - tamarind in Kannada, Chikhali - chikka halli - small village, Kendur - Red coloured village, Chembur - pitcher village, etc., Please refer Sham Baa Joshi's research for exhaustive examples.

    1. The Kannada influence on Marathi language is noticeable in place names like kandivalli (kand-villice), Borivili and Chembur (town of Chembu or vessels). I am of Maharashtrian ancestry who lived in Mysore.

  13. Marathi originated from Old Kannada speakers of Northern Deccan (present Maharshtra) learning the language (Maharashtri Prakrit or Apabransha) of migrants from North [as they failed to teach the migrants their mother tongue - Old Kannada] and gradually forgetting their own mother tongue in the course of several generations and centuries.

  14. Tai,akka,anna, dada,Adkitta,kitta,Kadachi all these words have Karnataki origin.We maharashtrian are proud of it.


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