Myth of Maharastri Prakrit

The meaning of ‘Prakrit’ is ‘Natural’. The word prakrit is used for the group of languages spoken in ancient India.

Jainism has a great relation with Prakrit Languages. In ancient India Sanskrit was spoken only by Vedic Brahmins, while common people’s language was Prakrit. Jains always promoted their religion through people’s languages. So most of ancient Jain literature was written in various Prakrit Languages.

Some of the Prakrit Languages:
a) Ardhmagadhi Prakrit: Ardhmagadhi was the language of people in Magadh (today Bihar). This language is spoken between 600 BCE to 100 CE. Vardhman Mahavir and his Ganadhars gave sermons in Ardhmagadhi. Mahavir teachings were transmitted to next generation through the oral tradition. Later Shrideverdhigani compiled the teachings in 454CE. The famous & popular Namokar-Mantra is in Ardhmagadhi language.

b) Shourseni Prakrit: Shourseni was being spoken at Shoorsen (Mathura) region of North India between 100BCE to 500CE. Digamber Jains wrote their philosophical literature in Shourseni language. The Shatkhandagam and Acharya Kundkund’s works are in Shourseni. In Sanskrit dramas of Bhas, Kalidas etc. Shourseni is used for dialogs of servants, jokers, Labours etc.

c) Apbhransh: The meaning of Apbhransh is ‘Vulgar’ or ‘Impure’. Apbhransh is not a single language but there are many Apbhransh languages that were born from various Prakrit Languages. Apbhransh languages were spoken between 500CE to 1000CE. There is lot off Jain literature written in Apbhransh languages in medieval period.

d) Maharashtri Prakrit: This language is said to be later used by Jains.

Many today modern languages have roots in these prakrits.

Western Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi ------->Shourseni Apbhransh
Eastern Hindi--- --------------------->Ardhmagadhi Apbhransh
Marathi, Konkani -------------------->Maharashtri Apbhransh
Bangla, Udia, Assamese, Bhojpuri----->Magdhi Apbhransh
Gujrathi, Rajasthani ------------------>Nagar Apbhransh
Kashmiri----------------------------->Paishachi Apbhransh

The classic Sanskrit language also has its roots in old Prakrit language spoken in North-India in Vedic & Pre-Vedic period.

Now we have good sources for the other Prakrit. But when we see Maharashtri Prakrit, we have lot of doubts regarding the same. Basically because of the condition of the evidences suggested.

1.It is all Prakrit, little variations.
All the above are Prakrit and apart from the religious leanings there is no evidence of different Prakrits.

2. No parallel history with other prakrits
No Maharashtri Prakrit texts exist to verify whether the Maharashtri Prakrit is different at the time we are talking about Ardhmagadhi or Shourseni Prakrit. After the Ardhmagadhi Prakrit and Shourseni Prakrit eras we find only one Prakrit that is Maharashtri Prakrit. We don’t have any evidence to show all merged into one Prakrit.

3.All languages are like rivers, change in various stages
Like all languages Prakrit has undergone a change. Maharashtri Prakrit is also one of the stages not necessarily one of the branches. We find a Jain literature using early Prakrits in later stages using Maharashtri Prakrits. So it is just evaluation not branch of Prakrit. Jains who want to preach in local languages just picked up the most local of them at that time, which has many Kannada words in them.

4.Maharastri Prakrit does not show any natural characteristic like other Prakrits to show it is different.

Hence Maharashtri Prakrit is a myth that is has propagated to stretch the antiquity of Marathi.


  1. Friend, The famous literatures written during Satvahana times like Gatha Saptshati, Setubandh and Karpurmanjari were written in Maharashtri.

    It was prevalent during 500 BC to 500 AD.

    I don't agree with you that Maharashtri texts do not exist today.

    In fact maharashtri prakrit was the popular prakrit language.

  2. Maharashtri prakrit is just a name we use today, there was no separate maharashtri prakrit, it is all prakrit.

    Maharastri prakrit is just a term used to predate marathi ,which does not exist prior to 10th century AD in maharastra where kannada , Telugu and various munda languages prevailed. The court languages of all royal courts are in prakrit and sanskrit, so is in the case of satavahanas.

    Can you tell what is the distinguishing features of maharashtri prakit compared to other prakrits. You are just assigning a geographic location to something linguistic. which is not correct.

    Mahatrastri prakrit as you call it, is the last stage of prakrit before sanskrit took over ,so most of the revisions of earlier literature are retained in this stage. It is just stage of prakrit not a variety as you suggest.

  3. I disagree with you , Maharastri prakrit contains words which are found in marathi today , many marathi words have come from maharastri prakrit , its a distinct prakrit than other .

  4. It's not just Marathi or Konkani. Even southern Aryan languages Sinhala and Dhivehi are claimed to have evolved from Maharastri Prakrit.

    I'm a Marathi mother tongue person. I can understand Konkani (both Goan and Maharashtri flavours) without any problem as well. I tried listening to some spoken Sinhala & Dhivehi & couldn't understand a word being spoken. I did more research into what this Maharastri Prakrit sounded like, as I wanted to relate it to Marathi/Konkani. If anyone had links to original Gatha Saptshati in Maharashtri Prakrit (not translated into Sanskrit), please post link here. I have found following, but no direct access to original text.

    How about other referred materials like Setubandh and Karpurmanjari?

    As far as doing backward research starting from Dhivehi, I looked into following material:

    There are references to Prakrit in both documents, with plenty of Dhivehi text transliterated in the first. I tried to relate some commonality in any of it with Marathi, but have struggled to find even 1 single common link. I'm very much interested in looking at a sample of supposed common ancestor Maharashtri Prakrit. I desperately hope to make at least some sense of connecting link among various "supposed" daughters: Marathi, Konkani, Dhivehi and Sinhala.

  5. I have noted presence of some Kannada terms in Marathi lexicon and would like to know the sum total of borrowings from Kannada into Marathi. I do find the classification of Prakrt (Praakrt) into different labels rather spurious. Mahavir and Buddha sermons should be classed as Maagadhi (as per the great Rahul Sankrityayan).

    Further, I see nothing in common between the language of these sermons, Praakrt of Kalidasa's play and modern Marathi. One can trace sound change from Praakrt to Hindi to a great extent, but all the local dialects of north India, (Awadhi, Bhojapuri etc) will change as did Hindi. With many sounds returning to their Sanskrit roots.

    One more comment. It is best not to quote western scholarship, because that at best is most superficial and often the result of poor, inadequate research. At least that has been my opinion.

    1. There is a separate origin of Marathi Article. Marathi related comments can be taken there.

      There is forum and you can debate the topic there as well.


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