Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language that is spoken by the people in Western and Central India occupying the Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli region. It is the official language of the State of Maharashtra in India. Ninety million people speak the language worldwide. It has the fourth largest number of native speakers in the country after Hindi, Bengali and Telugu and is the fifteenth most spoken language in the world. As per Ethnologue reports, Marathi is also spoken among people in the United States of America, Canada, Israel and Mauritius.

Marathi is also the co-official language in the union territories of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The Constitution of India, in its Eighth Schedule, recognises Marathi as one of India’s twenty two official languages. In addition to all universities in Maharashtra, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat, Osmania University in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and Gulbarga University in Karnataka have special higher studies departments in Marathi linguistics.



Marathi language can be traced back to the tenth century. It comes from the Sanskrit through Pali and Maharashtri Apabhramsha. A gradual process of modifications in the spoken dialect has led to the total evolution of the present day Marathi.

The Maharashtri Prakrit was derived from Sanskrit. The recent influence of Persian, Arabic and Urdu makes Marathi resemble mainstream Hindi. Maharashtri Apabhramsha remained in use for many centuries from 150 AD to almost 875 AD. It was also used widely in Jain literature and became an important link in the evolution of Marathi. The earliest written form has been found on a copper plate in Satara around 740 AD.

The first Marathi newspaper was printed in 1835.


Grammar and Vocabulary

The British period and the colonial rule saw the Marathi grammar getting standardized in 1805 with the efforts of William Carey. He was a Christian missionary. The missionaries played a crucial part in the development of grammar and scientific dictionaries.

Marathi grammar is an alpha syllabary which consists of sixteen vowel letters and thirty six consonant letters, making a total of fifty two letters. Marathi is written from left to right.

Marathi grammar is similar to Hindi, Gujarati and Punjabi. The primary word order of Marathi is subject, object and verb. Marathi preserves all three grammatical genders from Sanskrit – masculine, feminine and neuter. It contains three grammatical voices – Bhave, Karmani and Kartari.

Bhave Prayog refers to a sentence construction in which the verb does not change according to the subject or the object. It is used for imperatives. Karmani Prayog refers to a sentence construction in which the verb changes according to the object. It is like the passive voice. Kartari Prayog refers to the construction of a sentence in which the verb changes according to the subject and is like the active voice.

Marathi is also the only Indo-Aryan language of Sanskrit origin to preserve the Sanskrit locative case. The nouns inflect for all the three genders, numbers and cases. The verbs inflect for past, present and future tense. In Marathi, the consonantal system is quite the same as in other Indian languages. Nasalisation of long vowels is very common.

Marathi language and Marathi people came into contact with many other languages and their dialects over many hundred years. At least fifty per cent of the words in Marathi are taken from Sanskrit. Marathi has shared its grammar, vocabulary and its directions with other Dravidian languages and a few foreign languages like Arabic, English and Persian.

The use of punctuation marks was one of the few major influences on this Indic script by foreign languages. Marathi uses a whole lot of morphological processes to join many words together and form complex words. These processes are traditionally referred to as `Sandhi’. For example, ati + uttam give the word atyuttam (super fine). Another method of combining words is referred to as `Samaas’.

 Like many other languages, Marathi uses distinct names for the numbers from one to twenty and each multiple of ten. It uses composite names for the numbers that are greater than twenty. There are distinct names for fractions, too. There are special names for prefixes and fractions greater than one.



Written Marathi can be traced back to the mid eighth century in the forms of inscriptions on copper plates. Marathi alphabets are similar to those used in Hindi because of the Devanagari script. The Marathi Devanagari script is also known as `Balbodh’ script. From the thirteenth century to the mid twentieth century, Marathi was written in Modi script. This script is known for its cursive properties that were made for minimizing the lifting of pen from the paper while writing. Most of the writings of the Maratha Empire are in the Modi script. Some Persian based scripts were also used for court documentation. When large scale printing came about, Modi script had to be abandoned as it became very difficult for type setting.



The important dialects of Marathi are the Standard Marathi and the Warhadi Marathi. There are a few other sub dialects like Ahirani, Zadi Boli and Khandeshi. Standard Marathi is based on dialects that are used by the printing media and the academic scholars. It is influenced by the educationists mostly from the Pune region.

Ahirani is spoken in the Northern Maharashtrian region, mostly in Jalgaon, Bhadgaon and Chalisgaon. Zadi Boli is spoken in the rich forest regions of Eastern Vidarbha and some parts of Nagpur and Wardha districts. The Zadi Boli Sahitya Mandal is working for the preservation of this distinct dialect of Marathi. Khandeshi was prevalent in the Dhule district and Khandesh which was an old district of Bombay Presidency. It has sub dialects like Khallyangi, Baglani and Dakhani.

It is an interesting point to note that Dakhani or Hyderabadi Urdu is influenced to a great extent by Marathi. The grammar of Dakhani Urdu is borrowed from Marathi dialects. It is a creole between Marathi and Urdu with few Telugu words taken from here and there.



Marathi literature came into being in the tenth century and can be grouped into two distinct periods. Ancient Marathi literature was prevalent from 1000 AD to 1800 AD. Modern Marathi literature has been there from 1800 AD to the present day. The growth of Marathi literature is attributed to two important factors. The first was the growth of the Jadhava Dynasty whose capital was Devgiri. The Jadhavas adopted Marathi as the official court language and patronised Marathi scholars. The second important factor was the coming together of two religious sects known as Mahanubhav Panth and Warkari Panth. They adopted Marathi as the medium of teaching their devotional doctrines. Writers of the Mahanubhav division contributed to Marathi prose while the saint poets of the Warkari division composed Marathi poetry. The Warkari sect is recognised as the pioneer and founder of Marathi literature.

Ancient Marathi literature was made up of poetry written in metres and it was limited to the poets’ selection of rhythms and words. It was mainly devotional, narrative and full of pessimism. The old Marathi poets were not able to integrate humour, irony and parody into their poems.

Old Marathi literature spans around eight centuries. Its pioneers were Mukundaraj and Dnyaneshwar who composed devotional verses in a simple language for the Marathi people. Couple of centuries later, the great poet saint Eknath wrote `Ekanathi Bhagavata’ which is considered a literary masterpiece of Marathi literature.  Eknath had a very simple and attractive style of composing poetry. He was the earliest secular poet in Marathi.

Around 1650, Mukteshwar wrote his version of the Mahabharata which became a good example of a great narrative poem in Marathi. About this time, Tukaram also achieved a status of distinction in the history of Marathi literature. Tukaram’s poetry was a result of his great inspiration. He was a radical reformist and has been called `Sant Tukaram’. Each verse of his poems is filled with earnestness, lucidity and strength.

In 1680, Ramdas wrote `Dasabodha’. It is an impressive poem. The most prolific writer among the Marathi poets was Moropanta in the late eighteenth century whose Mahabharata was the first epic poem.

The prose section in the ancient Marathi literature contained the `Bakhars’ which were written after Shivaji founded the Maratha Kingdom. The poetry section contained the Padavas and the Katavas composed by Shaers or poets.

The modern period in Marathi literature is divided into four ages. The first period starts from 1800 to 1885. The second period is from 1885 to 1920. The third period is from 1920 to 1945. The fourth period begins from 1945. In the last period, even scientific literature was written. Under the British rule, many attempts were made to enrich the literature.  Baba Padamji’s `Yamuna Paryatam’ was the first Marathi novel that was written on social reform around the time of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857.

Vishnudas Bhave was the pioneer of Marathi drama in the 1840s. Other dramatists were Deshpande, R. Gadkari and B.P. Kirloskar. Marathi stage with its `Lavanis’ and `Nautankis’ is still following its rich tradition and these dance dramas are quite a popular form of entertainment.

The oldest book in prose form in Marathi is `Vivekasindhu’ which was written by Mukundaraj, an important Marathi poet. He based his work on the principles of Hindu philosophy, Yoga Marga and the teachings of Shankaracharya. Another work of his, `Paramamrita’, is also the first attempt to describe the Vedanta in the Marathi language.

A literary event called `Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan’ is held every year. It is very popular among Maharashtrians. Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad is the main organization controlling the literary institutions of the Marathi language. 


Marathi on the Internet

`Kiran’ and `Shrilipi’ are two software programs based on the ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These programs were in use prior to the introduction of Unicode standard for the Devanagari script. The fonts in the ASCII code are still in use on personal computers even today since most of the computers in use are operating with the English keyboard. Various Marathi typing software is in wide use and display interface packages are now available on Windows, Linux and Mac OS.

Online projects like the Marathi Language Wikipedia with almost twenty five thousand plus articles, the Marathi blog roll and Marathi blogs have gained huge popularity.

Article Posted By : tahnaklView All Articles

Tahseen Nakavi Juror

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Keywords :
Marathi , Maharashtra


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