Maithili Language : an introduction

Author: Late Dr. Binod Bihari Verma

Maithili is an Indo-Aryan language that is spoken by the people of North- Eastern Bihar and Nepal. The language has been named Maithili because it is spoken in the ancient land of Mithila. It is also called Tirhutia because Tirhut is another name of the same region, which is derived from Tirabhukti, which means the bank of the river purified thrice by the sacrifices. An Italian scholar named Amaduzzi in his book Alphabetum Brahmmanicum (1771A.D.) has mentioned this language as Maitili.

At present, the language has about 30 million speakers in the 26 districts of N.E. Bihar. Moreover it is the second state language of Nepal. The language is spoken by 12% of the total population there. P.E.N (an international organization of letters for Poets, Essayists, Novelists) and the Sahitya Akademi, India have recognized Maithili.

It is the sixteenth most spoken languages in India and the fortieth most spoken languages of the world. It has its own script called the Mithilakshar or Tirhuta, originated from Brahmi, a script of 3 BC also found in Asokan Inscriptions. Present day Maithili writers and public at large have adopted Devanagari script because of its widespread use, popularity and convenience.

Scholars believe that Siddhacharyas formed Protomaithili during 8-9th c. A.D. when they composed Charyapada (vide Prof. R.K.Chaudhary'sThe Survey of Maithili Literature ) since then the language has progressed and several works have been found. The forms of Protomaithili words are also obtained sporadically in Prakrit Paingalam and other Sanskrit works written by scholars of Mithila under the native influence. In 14th c AD Kavi Shekhar Jotirishwar used the language Avahatta, a form of Protomaithili in his Varnaratnakar, which depicts the oldest prose used for the first time in any of the languages of Northeastern India. Vidyapati the most prolific writer has also used Avahatta, form of Proto Maithili, in his dramas, the Kirtilata and Kirtipataka. He also composed melodious poems depicting the love of Radha-Krishna in his Padavali that is written in the Maithili of medieval period. Vidyapati also influenced Nepali, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya and Manipuri literature during the medieval period. His influence has also been seen unto the modern period in the Shyama Sangeet of Rabindranath Thakur ,composed by pen name as Bhanu Singher Padavali.

Maithili also flourished in the court of Kings of Nepal, during Malla period. Several dramas, anthologies of lyrical poems, songs, and inscriptions in Maithili are available in Nepal of this period In Assam, Ankiya natak's dialogue and songs used to be composed in Maithili in the period of Shankardev and Madhavdev.
During the last 150 years the foreign scholars like Colebrooke (1801), Hoernle (1880), Grierson (1881), Kellog (1893) and others have studied Maithili's grammar, phonology, lexicography, historical surveys, and comparative linguistics. These scholars along with Indian linguists like Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji and Mahapundit Rahul Sankrityayan have declared Maithili as a full fledged independent language which has originated from Sanskrit-Prakrit, Magadhi-Prakrit, Apabhramsa, to Avahatta, Protomaithili and then developed into the formation of modern Maithili. Earlier attempts were made by Sir G.A Grierson to publish the grammar in 1881 AD, chrestomathy and vocabulary of the language in 1882 AD and Bihar peasant life in 1885 AD to compile the form of Maithili words. He also collaborated with Hoernle to write a comparative dictionary of the Bihari languages in 1885 & 1889 AD
. In 1946, Pundit Deenbandhu Jha wrote its grammar based on the sutras of Sanskrit grammar of Panini. He also published a Maithili Dictionary in 1950. In 1973 the Institute of Advanced Studies Simla, published an incomplete dictionary of the language compiled by Dr. Jayakant Mishra. Now, Royal Nepal Academy has taken up the job to publish a Maithili - Nepali - English Dictionary under the guidance of Dr. Y. Yadav. Dr. Subhadra Jha has written the formation of Maithili language in 1958. Prof. Radhakrishna Choudhary has written the Survey of Maithili Literature (1964), Dr. Jayakant Mishra has written the History of Maithili Literature. In 1968 Pt. Govind Jha wrote The Origin and Growth of Maithili and he has also compiled a Maithili - English dictionary recently.

In modern times various writers regularly produce literary writings in all genres like poetry, prose, essays plays, dramas, fiction, critical reviews, epics etc. depicting the culture, history, journalism, and linguistics. Moreover Maithili has an enormous stock of oral literature in the form of folk tales in prose, verse, ballads and songs.
In spite of all this though even minor languages have been included in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution, Maithili has been ignored its rightful entry there. It is the perception of the speakers of this language, that due to political connivance, the language in its native state Bihar, has been given the minority status, despite the fact that almost half the population speaks Maithili. Hindi zealots time and again claim that the language is a dialect of Hindi having no independent entity despite strong evidence to its contrary. It is a well-known fact that the history of Maithili literature is more than a millennium years old whereas that of Hindi literature has a history of barely 200 years since Bhartendu Harishchandra.

Unfortunately Maithili speakers themselves don't take pride in the common daily use of the language. No dailies are published. Even periodicals and magazines are published few and far between. The language bears the insult of Hindi zealots and the apathetic state government. Institutions are taken lightly. The language has been derecognised by the state government from the educational curriculum and the state civil service examinations. The candidates have to choose, under pressure a language other than their mother tongue with which they are not well conversant for this examination.

To a great extent Maithili speakers are themselves to be blamed because of lack of unity among themselves, too much consideration of caste, creed, religion, regionalism, parochialism and the vast gap between the elitists and the downtrodden.

It should not be forgotten that Maithili belongs as much to dalits, Muslims, and people belonging to lower caste as much as it belongs to persons of upper castes. The ballads and other folk tales like Lorik, Nayaka Banjara, Salhes, Deenabhadri, Rayaranpaal, etc. have been preserved by these so-called dalits and lower castes since the time immemorial by memorizing and singing traditionally. These are as important contribution to the Maithili literature as are the writings of upper caste. See Mithila Script Mithilakashar

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