Harman Patil (Editor)

Maithili language

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

ISO 639-3

Native speakers
30 million

Native to
India, Nepal

ISO 639-2


Spoken by

Bihar, Terai

Maithili language

Official language in
India 8th schedule of Constitution of India, Bihar    Nepal Interim Constitution 2007 and Constitution 2016

Language family
Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-European languages, Bihari languages, Indo-Iranian languages

Khortha dialect, Sotipura, Dehati, Kisan,Thetiya, Jolaha

Writing system
Devanagari, Tirhuta, Kaithi

Maithili (/ˈmtli/; Maithilī) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in northern Bihar of India and Province No. 2 of Nepal. In the past, Maithili was written primarily in Mithilakshar however today it is written in the Devanagari script. It is one of the largest languages in India and the second largest language in Nepal. Less commonly, it was 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. It is recognized as one of the largest languages in India and is the second most widely used language in Nepal.

In 2007, Maithili was included in the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063, Part 1, Section 5 as a Nepalese language.

Native speakers are referred to as Maithils.

Geographic distribution

In India, Maithili is spoken mainly in northern Bihar in the districts of Madhubani, Darbhanga, Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Begusarai, Purnia, Katihar, Kishanganj, sheohar, Bhagalpur, Madhepura, Araria, Supaul, Vaishali and Saharsa. Madhubani and Darbhanga constitute cultural and linguistic centers. Native speakers also reside in Delhi, Calcutta, Ranchi and Mumbai.

In Nepal, Maithili is spoken mainly in the Outer Terai districts including Sarlahi, Mahottari, Dhanusa, Sunsari, Siraha and Saptari Districts. Janakpur is an important linguistic centre of Maithili.


In the 19th century, linguistic scholars considered Maithili as a dialect of Eastern Hindi languages and grouped it with other languages spoken in Bihar. Hoernlé compared it with Gaudian languages and recognised that it shows more similarities with Nepali languages than with Hindi. Grierson recognized it as a distinct language and published the first grammar in 1881.

Chatterji grouped Maithili with Magadhi Prakrit.


Maithili varies greatly in dialects. Several geographic variations of Maithili dialects are spoken in India and Nepal, including 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.

Other dialects include:

  • Thēthi is spoken between the western part of the Mahottari and the eastern part of the Sarlahi districts of Nepal, and in adjacent areas in Bihar.
  • The Madhubani dialect spoken in north India is generally considered to be the standard form.
  • Central Maithili is also considered as the standard form.
  • The Kulhaiya dialect is spoken in most of north-eastern Bihar.
  • The standard form of Maithili is spoken in Darbhanga and Madhubani districts.


    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.

    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 Oinwar dynasty. But the 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 Singh and his queen Lakhima Devi. He produced over 1,000 immortal songs in Maithili on the theme of erotic sports of Radha and Krishna and the domestic life of Shiva and Parvati as well as on the subject of suffering of migrant labourers of Morang and their families; besides, he wrote a number of treaties in Sanskrit. His love-songs spread far and wide in no time and enchanted saints, poets and youth. 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.

    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 titled Pārijātaharaṇa in Maithili. 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.

    During the Malla dynasty's rule Maithili 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 Darbhanga Raj returned to his successor, Maharaj Lakshmishvar Singh, in 1898. The Zamindari Raj had a lackadaisical approach toward Maithili. The use of Maithili language was revived 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. 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 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.

    The publishing of Maithili books in Mithilakshar script was started by Acharya Ramlochan Saran.

    Writing system

    Maithili was traditionally written in the Maithili script, also known as Mithilakshar and Tirhuta. Devanagari script is most commonly used since the 20th century.

    The Tirhuta (Mithilakshar) and Kaithi scripts are both currently included in Unicode.

    Maithili calendar

    The Maithili calendar or Tirhuta Panchang (तिरहुता पंचांग / তিরহুতা পঞ্চাঙ্গ) is followed by the Maithili community of India and Nepal. It is one of the many Hindu calendars based on Bikram Sambat. It is a sidereal solar calendar in which the year begins on the first day of Baisakh month, i.e., Mesh Sankranti. This day falls on 13/14 April of the Georgian calendar. Pohela Baishakh Bangladesh and in Poschim Banga, Rangali Bihu in Assam, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, and Vaishakhi in Punjab are observed on the same day. These festivals mark the beginning of new year in their respective regions.


    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 was Sanskrit and Sanskrit was 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 7th century A.D., a marked change occurred in the northeastern alphabet, and the inscriptions of Adityasena exhibit this change for the first time. The eastern variety develops and becomes the Maithili script, which comes into use in Assam, Bengal and Nepal. The earliest recorded epigraphic evidence of the script is found in the Mandar Hill Stone inscriptions of Adityasena in the 7th century A.D., now fixed in the Baidyanath temple of Deoghar.

    The Kamrupa dialect was originally a variety of eastern Maithili and it was the spoken Aryan language throughout the kingdom, which then included the Assam valley, North Bengal and the district of Purnea. The language of the Buddhist dohas is described as belonging to the mixed Maithili—Kamrupi language.

    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 northern Indian language.
  • Middle Maithili Literature (ca. 1350–1830 AD)

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

  • Vidyapati (1350–1450)
  • Srimanta Sankardeva (1449–1568)
  • Govindadas
  • Modern Maithili Literature (1830 AD to date)

    Modern Maithili came into its own after George Abraham Grierson, an Irish linguist and civil servant, tirelessly researched Maithili folklore and transcribed its grammar. 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".

    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 the modern era was due to magazines and journals mainly concentrated at Janakpur. Some important writers of this era are:

  • Acharya Ramlochan Saran (1889–1971)
  • Baldev Mishra (1890–1975)
  • Krishna Kumar Jha 'Anveshak", Editor of Maithili Darpan Magazine and author of Mithila Anveshan
  • Surendra Jha 'Suman' (1910–2002) represented Maithili in the Sahitya Akademi
  • Radha Krishna Choudhary (1921–1985)
  • Sudhanshu Shekhar Chaudhary (1920–1990) authored plays in Maithili and received the Sahitya Akademi Honour in 1981
  • Jaykant Mishra (20 December 1922 – 3 February 2009) represented Maithili in the Sahitya Akademi
  • Anant Bihari Lal Das "Indu" (1928–2010), awarded in 2007 by Sahitya Akademi
  • Rajkamal Chaudhary (1929–1967)
  • Binod Bihari Verma (1937–2003)
  • Parichay Das (1964– )
  • Raman Jha 1957-
  • Gajendra Thakur (1971– )
  • Rambhadra (1933– )
  • Rupesh Teoth
  • Vinit Utpal
  • Umesh Mandal
  • Amarendra Yadav
  • Shankardeo Jha
  • Roshan Janakpuri
  • Sumit Anand (1992–)
  • References

    Maithili language Wikipedia

    Similar Topics