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Maithili language


Maithili language

मैथिली, মৈথিলী
Native to India and Nepal
Region Jharkhand, Northern Bihar, Terai Region of Nepal
Native speakers
35 million  (2000–2001)[1]
Central (Sotipura)
Khortha (Eastern)
Tirhuta (Mithilakshar)
Kaithi (Maithili style)
Official status
Official language in
   Nepal Interim Constitution 2007
 India 8th schedule of Constitution of India, Bihar
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mai
ISO 639-3 mai
Glottolog mait1250[2]

Maithili (;[3] मैथिली, মৈথিলী, 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 in Nepal. It is written in the Devanagari script.[4] In the past, Maithili was written primarily in Mithilakshar.[5] Less commonly, it was also written with a Maithili variant of Kaithi, a script used to transcribe other neighboring languages such as Bhojpuri, 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 also included in the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063, Part 1, Section 5.[8]


  • Geographic distribution 1
  • Classification 2
    • Dialects 2.1
  • History 3
  • Writing system 4
  • Maithili calendar 5
  • Literature 6
    • Early Maithili Literature (ca. 700–1350 AD) 6.1
    • Middle Maithili Literature (ca. 1350–1830 AD) 6.2
    • Modern Maithili Literature (1830 AD to date) 6.3
  • See also 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Geographic distribution

In India, Maithili is mainly spoken in Bihar up to the Purnia, Munger and Bhagalpur districts. The towns of Madhubani and Darbhanga constitute cultural and linguistic centers. Native speakers also reside in Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai. Maithili in its modified form is the second major language spoken in urban Jharkhand after Hindi.[4] Maithili is also spoken in Sitamarhi, Saharsa, Madhepura and Supaul.

In Nepal, Maithili is spoken mainly in the Outer Terai 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.[4] It is spoken by various 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 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 both India and Nepal, including Bajjika, 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.[4]

Other dialects include:

  • Thēthi is spoken between the western part of the Mahottari and the eastern part of the Sarlahi district, Nepal, and in adjacent areas in Bihar.[13]
  • Tharuwat is spoken exclusively in Nepal.[14]
  • the Madhubani dialect spoken in north India is considered Standard Maithili.[15]
  • the Central Maithili group of dialects is the semi-standard form, in which books are written. This dialect group is spoken in the Terai and in the Indian districts of the Darbhanga and Kosi Divisions.
  • the Khortha dialect is spoken near Deoghar.


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 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 a thousand immortal songs in Maithili on the theme of erotic sports of Radha and Krishna and the domestic life of Shiva and Parvatias well as on the subject of suffering of migrant labourers of Morang and their families; besides he wrote a number of treaties in Sanskrit on various subjects. His love-songs spread far and wide in no time and enchanted saints, poets and youth in general. 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 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 entitled pārijātaharaṇa in Maithili. A number of 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. 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.

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 return of the Darbhanga Raj to his successor, Maharaj Lakshmishvar Singh, in 1898. But these happenings has nothing to do with the use of Maithili Language, as the Zamindari Raj has lackadaisical approach towards Maithili Language. The use of Maithili language was revived, however, 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, but 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 also 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

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 Maithili version of the Kaithi script is a generalized version of script variants used for languages across eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and northern Jharkhand. An effort is underway to preserve the Maithili script and to develop it for use in digital media by encoding the script in the Unicode standard, for which proposals have been submitted to the Unicode Technical Committee.[17][18] The ISO of Unicode Technical Committee has approved the encoding of both scripts.

Maithili calendar

The Maithili calendar or Tirhuta Panchang (तिरहुता पंचांग / তিরহুতা পঞ্চাঙ্গ) is a community calendar followed by the Maithili community of India and Pohela Baishakh in Poschim Banga, Rangali Bihu in Assam, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, and Vaishakhi in Punjab are also observed on the same day. These festivals also mark the beginning of new year in their respective regions.

Names and approximate lengths of Maithili months[19]
No. Name Maithili (Tirhuta) Maithili (Devanagari) Sanskrit Days (Traditional Hindu sidereal solar calendar)
1 Baishakh বৈসাখ बैसाख वैशाख 30 / 31
2 Jeth জেঠ जेठ ज्येष्ठ 31 / 32
3 Asharh আষাঢ় आषाढ़ आषाढ 31 / 32
4 Saon সাৱোন सावोन श्रावण 31 / 32
5 Bhado ভাদো भादो भाद्रपद,भाद्र,प्रोष्ठपद 31 / 32
6 Aasin আসিন आसिन आश्विन 31 / 30
7 Katik কাতিক कातिक कार्तिक 29 / 30
8 Agahan অগহন अगहन अग्रहायण,मार्गशीर्ष 29 / 30
9 Poos পূস पूस पौष 29 / 30
10 Magh মাঘ माघ माघ 29 / 30
11 Fagun ফাগুন फागुन फाल्गुन 29 / 30
12 Chait চৈতি 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 used to be Sanskrit and Sanskrit was still 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 north-eastern alphabet and the inscriptions of Adityasena exhibit this change for the first time and hence forward the eastern variety develops by itself and becomes the Maithili script—a 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.[20]

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.[21]

Early Maithili Literature (ca. 700–1350 AD)

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)

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

Modern Maithili Literature (1830 AD to date)

Modern Maithili came into its own after Sir 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".[22] 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 modern era was due to various magazines and journals mainly concentrated at Janakpur. Some important writers of this era are:

See also


  • George A. Grierson (1909). An Introduction to the Maithili dialect of the Bihari language as spoken in North Bihar. Asiatic Society, Calcutta. 
  • Ramawatar Yadav , Tribhvan University. Maithili Language and Linguistics: Some Background Notes. University of Cambridge. 


  1. ^ Maithili at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Maithili". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ "Maithili".  
  4. ^ a b c d Lewis, M. P. (ed.) (2009). Maithili Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International.
  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. 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. ^ Pandey, A. (2006). Request to Allocate the Maithili Script in the Unicode Roadmap. University of Washington, Seattle.
  18. ^ Pandey, A. (2011). Proposal to Encode the Tirhuta Script in ISO/IEC 10646. Department of History, University of Michigan, Michigan, U.S.A.
  19. ^ Maithili Calendar, published from Darbhanga
  20. ^ Choudhary, R. (1976). A survey of Maithili literature. Ram Vilas Sahu.
  21. ^ Barua, K. L. (1966). Early history of Kamarupa. Lawyers Book Stall, Guwahati, India, 234. Page 318
  22. ^ Brass, P. R. (1974). Language, Religion and Politics in North India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974. page 64
  23. ^ Mishra, V. (1998). Makers of Indian Literature series (Maithili): Baldev Mishra. Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.  

External links

  • UCLA Language Materials Project : Maithili
  • National Translation Mission's (NTM) Maithili Pages
  • Videha Ist Maithili ejournal – ISSN 2229-547X
  • Maithili Books
  • Udbodhana Regd International e journal
  • Birth place of Vidyapati
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