Maithili is a language of India that is spoken mainly in Bihar. There are forty five million people speaking this language in the Eastern State of Bihar and in the Terai region of Nepal. Maithili is a member of the East Indian group of Indo-Aryan languages. It has been given official status in India and is used as a medium of education and also as an official government language. It is the sixteenth most spoken language in India and the fortieth most spoken language in the world.

As it is part of the language family of the Indo-Aryan group, Maithili is linked with all the people living in the eastern regions of India. Numerous speakers of Maithili are there in Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra. It is the second state language of Nepal.

Expert linguists have separated this language from Hindi which belongs to the same Indo-Aryan family. Few scholars claim it to be a dialect of both Bengali and Hindi languages.

A census report taken out recently has categorised Maithili as a source of origin for the Hindi language. In 2003, Maithili was accorded the status of an independent language through its addition in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. It was declared as an official language. This step was taken historically so that the language could be used widely in the areas of academics and all other official functions. It took some time for the language to be granted an official status as people always thought Maithili to closely resemble Hindi.

In the earlier days, Maithili had been the language most widely spoken by the people of high castes like Brahmins. Today, a Maithili Academy has been set up to train people regardless of the castes or classes. Now, Maithili has its speakers among all the classes and castes. It is a common scene when you find usage of the Maithili language in households and city halls.

Maithili had become a language of the masses. It has spread through magazines and television programs. It has gained so much popularity that it is now being used in the academic curriculum of universities.

Maithili linguistics is being taught at the Patna University and also Mithila University in Darbhanga. Dictionary and grammar books have been introduced in schools too.


Maithili language has a rich history behind it. The term has been taken from the word `Mithila’ which is a famous state in the ancient period of India. It was the name of the ancient kingdom of Raja Janaka, father of Sita. It also happens to be one of the names of Sita, Lord Rama’s wife.

The history of Maithili literature is more than a thousand years old whereas that of Hindi literature has a history of barely two hundred years since Bhartendu Harishchandra. In his book `Alphabetum Brahmanicum’, an Italian scholar, Amaduzzi, has mentioned Maithili language around 1770 AD. The modern period of Maithili began with the advent of the Maithili Theatre by Shri Kaushal Kumar Das in 1982.


Maithili has quite an illustrious history of its literature. A well known poet is Vidyapati.  It is because of his efforts that Maithili has achieved its status from its modest origins. His poems had a major influence on the Maharaja of Darbhanga who did a lot to bring it to the status of an official language and made it comprehensive to the masses.

The earliest work in Maithili is `Varna Ratnakar’ by Jyotirishwer Thakur around 1225 AD. The language got literary prominence in the medieval period when Maithili scholars like Chandeshwar, Vachaspati and Shankar wrote many works in the language.

The famous scholar Vidyapati wrote many famous songs in the Maithili language in Nepal in the Bhakti form of poetry. Vidyapati was an eminent literary figure in Maithili. He is responsible for elevating the status of Maithili language from a common people’s language to one used for official work in Bihar. He managed to replace Sanskrit with Maithili.

Many writers started writing in Maithili on the subjects of humour and satire. Dr. Hari Mohan Jha brought about important changes in the ancient Mithila culture. His renowned work, ‘Khatar Kaka Ke Tarang’ is regarded as a major work in the modern Maithili literature. After Maithili was accepted by the Sahitya Academy, many writers have won literary awards almost every year.

Many scholars opine that Siddhacharyas formed a prototype of Maithili during the ninth century when they composed `Charyapada’. Since then, the language has progressed and many works have been found. Prototype forms and words are also found in `Prakrit Paingalam’ and other Sanskrit works written by scholars of Mithila who were under the influence of the native people.

In the fourteenth century, Kavi Shekhar Jyotireshwar Thakur used a form of Prototype Maithili and this is one of the oldest prose works in any of the languages of North Eastern India. Vidyapati also used the language in his dramas, `Kirtilata’ and `Kirtipataka’. He also composed many poems describing the love of Radha and Krishna in his `Padavali’ that is written in the Maithili style of the medieval ages. He also influenced Nepali, Oriya and Manipuri literature during the medieval period. His influence has been seen right up to the modern period in the Shyam Sangeet of Rabindranath Tagore.

Maithili has also survived from the courts of the kings of Nepal during the Malla period. Several dramas and anthologies of lyrical poems in Maithili come from this period in Nepal.

Ankiya Natak’s dialogue and songs were composed in Maithili during the period of Shankardev and Madhavdev in Assam. In the modern days, several writers have produced literary writings in genres like poetry, plays, dramas, critical reviews and epics representing the culture, history and linguistics. Maithili holds a good collection of oral literature in the form of folk tales in prose, ballads and songs.


Maithili was generally written in the script known as Mithilakshar or Tirhuta which was developed from the Brahmi script during the first century.  It had similarities with the Bengali script. It is based on the Sanskrit grammar of Panini. Today, Maithili language uses the Devanagiri script. A lot of effort is being put in to preserve this script. A digital version is also being compiled to encode the script in the standard Unicode. A proposal has been put forward to implement this.

There are three modes of writing in the Maithili language. They are Devanagiri, Mithilakshar and Kaithi. During the last one hundred and fifty years, foreign scholars like Colebrooke (1801) and Kellog (1893) have studied Maithili’s grammar, lexicography and comparative linguistics.  These scholars along with the Indian linguists like Rahul Mahapandit Sankrityayan have been successful in turning Maithili into a fully fledged independent language that has originated from Sanskrit Prakrit.

There were earlier attempts made by Sir G. Grierson to publish the grammar of the language in 1880. He did work on the vocabulary of the language in 1882 and Bihar peasant life in 1885. In 1946, Pandit Deenbandhu Jha wrote a book on grammar and published a Maithili dictionary. In 1973, the Institute of Advanced studies in Shimla published an incomplete dictionary of the language compiled by Dr. Jayakant Mishra. Royal Nepal Academy has also published a Maithili-Nepali-English dictionary under the guidance of Dr. Y. Yadav.

Dr. Subhadra Jha has written on the formation of Maithili language in 1958. Professor Radhakrishna Chaudhury has written the `Survey of Maithili Literature’ in 1964. Dr. Jayakant Mishra has written the `History of Maithili Literature’ in 1968. In the same year, Pandit Govind Jha has written on the `Origin and Growth of Maithili’ and he has also compiled a Maithili-English dictionary in the recent times.


Maithili language has many dialects. The diversification in these dialects has come about due to its geographical locations as well as the caste differences. Some of the dialects are Standard Maithili, Eastern Maithili, Jolaha and Central Colloquial Maithili. A distinct characteristic of these Maithili dialects is the easy comprehensibility among the people who speak them. The main reason is the presence of many similar sounding words in all the dialects. Almost ninety per cent of the words are shared between Brahmin and non Brahmin dialects.

Maithili falls in one of the three dialects of the Bihari language along with Magahi and Bhojpuri. Maithili is widespread in the Northern region of Bihar, east of river Gandak. It is also spoken in parts of Southern Bihar.

Preservation of the Language

Just like Kashmiri, the Maithili speakers themselves do not take much pride in the daily use of the language. There are no daily newspapers published. Even magazines and periodicals are very few in print. The Hindi language purists who hate Maithili do a lot of damage through the apathetic state government.

The language has been derecognised at the civil service examinations level. There is no unity among the Maithili speakers themselves. There is too much of consideration for petty squabbles like caste, religion and the big gap between the lower strata of the society and the elitists. People forget that Maithili belongs as much to the Dalits and Muslims and those people belonging to the lower cadres and castes in life as it belongs to the people of the upper castes.

It is encouraging to note that the Dalits and the lower castes have preserved these Loris, Nayaks and Rayaranpaals and have memorised them. They have been able to maintain them traditionally down the ages. These traditions have played a great role in the preservation of the Maithili language.




Article Posted By : tahnaklView All Articles

Tahseen Nakavi Juror

Article Source :

Keywords :
Maithili , Bihar , Literature


Submit an Article

Related Articles


Asomiya is the Assamese language which belongs to the Eastern Indo Aryan group, genealogical..


ORIGIN Bengali is a language of eastern Indo-Aryan origin. It is native to Bengal in the ..


ORIGIN Dogri belongs to the Indo-Aryan sub group of the Indo-Persian languages. It is actuall..