Clamour grows for Marathi to be given classical language standing

MUMBAI: While is conventionally considered a relatively modern language evolved from Sanskrit, documentary evidence submitted by the state- appointed to buttress its claim to a indicates it existed at least 2,300 years ago alongside Sanskrit as a sibling.

Ever since M Karunanidhi offered support to the Manmohan Singh government in 2004 on the condition that Tamil be granted the status of a classical language, there have been similar demands for other languages. Subsequently Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Oriya have progressively obtained a similar status. A classical status language entitles the state government to an annual grant of Rs 500 crore from the Centre for the promotion of the language.

In July 2013 a committee headed by Prof Rangnath Pathare submitted an interim report in Marathi and thereafter the final report in English to the Centre. Marathi has been given a favourable evaluation by the Linguistic Committee, Sahitya Akademi, Government of India, for such a status in 2015. However, a formal decision by the government is languishing.

Professor Hari Narke, co-ordinator for the 10-member committee that gathered evidence to show that Marathi is at least a 2,300-year-old language said, “It is a wrong perception that Marathi is an offshoot of Sanskrit or that it is merely 800-1,000 years old.”

Narke said the committee submitted 80 different documentary evidences to show that Marathi is an original and an old language.

A stone inscription in Tamil Nadu written in Tamil and part of the Sangam literature, which itself is 2,300-2,600 years old, mentions a dam being constructed across the river Cauvery and all types of experts from all over the world had been invited. It also mentions that the masons among themselves speak Maharashtri. Maharashtri over the ages became Maharatthi which evolved into the modern day Marathi, said Narke.

Varruchi the famous linguist and grammarian in his book Prakrut Prakash, which is 2,000 years old, gave grammar rules for the Prakrut languages—Paishachi, Shourseni, Magadhi and Maharashtri. “The last rule is “Sesham Maharashtrivat”, which means all rules remain as per Maharashtri. It clearly indicates that Maharashtri was the first amongst all Prakrut languages,” said Narke.

Another stone inscription in a cave at Naneghat in the western ghats at Junnar, in Pune district is 2222 years old. It is written in Maharashtri in the Brahmi script. “It is about 10 feet x 6 feet and is a declaration of victory of a Satavahan King,” said Narke.

Vinaytitak, a Buddhist religious book written at Rajgriha in Bihar is 2,250 years old and it mentions Maharatthi, said Narke. “It speaks of a Buddhish monk named Dhammarakshit who is being sent to to preach in Maharatthi,” said Narke. Similar evidence has been found in the books Deepvansha and Mahavansha from Sri Lanka written in the Sinhalese language.

Narke said the Gatha Saptasathi ___ a collection of poems written during the reign of King Hal of the Satvahan dynasty is 2,000 years old and is the first ever collection in Marathi. “It describes the agrarian civilisation, the lives of farmers who lived along the banks of the river Godavari. Another book as evidence is the novel Samaradityachi Katha (the original copy is with the in Pune) by Hari Bhadra, a well-known Marathi author 1,200 years ago,” he said.

Even the epic Mahabharata originally written in Sanskrit has several Marathi words and this has been pointed out by noted Sanskrit scholar K S Arjunwadkar in his research paper on the Maharabharata.

Narke said there are documentary evidences to show that Marathi has borrowed from South Indian languages, Sanskrit as also from Persian and Prakrut languages but “the core is Marathi. Marathi has also given to other languages. It is an original language”, he said.

While there is an impatience amongst academicians and research scholars that Marathi be declared a classical language the same does not seem to be the case with politicians, allege academics.

“The existing classical languages were pushed strongly by political heavyweights from the respective states. Ultimately it is a political decision. The evidence is there and it has been accepted,” said sources.

Neelam Gorhe, spokesperson for the Shiv Sena said her party MPs have been regularly following up with the relevant departments in Delhi and even raising the issue in the Lok Sabha. “The BJP has several ministers from Maharashtra. There is Nitin Gadkari, Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal, Subhash Bhamare. It is for them to take the lead and push for the political status,” she said.

Kapil Patil, member of the Legislative Council, speculated that one of the reasons the government is perhaps not keen to grant Marathi a classical status is because it could lead to demands to grant similar status to Pali, Magadhi and several other languages that have been around prior to Sanskrit. “Sanskrit, like Urdu, is a very refined and rich language but it originated from Sindhuvi or Sindhi language,” he said.

Minister for culture Vinod Tawde said the government worked hard to gather evidences and submit them in two years. “Thereafter the Linguistic Committee asked for a revised version which was also given. The challenge to Odiya being declared as a classical language was dismissed by the Madras high court only recently. The proposal is now before the cabinet secretary. We are hopeful Marathi will be given classical status soon,” he said.

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