Geographic Distribution of Marathi Speakers
Marathi language finds its predominant usage in the state of Maharashtra, India. However, its influence extends beyond the borders of Maharashtra, reaching various regions within the country and even crossing international boundaries. Apart from Maharashtra and its neighboring state, Goa, Marathi is spoken in certain areas of North Karnataka, including Belgaum, Hubli-Dharwad, Gulbarga, Bidar, and Karwar. Additionally, it is prevalent in certain pockets of Gujarat, such as South Gujarat, Surat, Baroda, and Ahmedabad, and also in Andhra Pradesh, primarily in Hyderabad.
Marathi has also found its way to states like Madhya Pradesh, particularly in cities like Indore and Gwalior. Moreover, there is a presence of Marathi speakers in Tamil Nadu, mainly in Tanjavur. The linguistic footprint of Marathi extends to Chhattisgarh as well.
In addition to the Indian subcontinent, Marathi has traversed borders and taken root in several countries. Marathi speakers are found in nine Indian states, four Union Territories majorly in Daman and Diu, Dadra Nagar Haveli, and an impressive 113 countries worldwide. Marathi is spoken by Maharashtrian emigrants in USA and Europe. The Ethnologue states that Marathi is even spoken in Israel and Mauritius. This wide global spread of Marathi speakers signifies the language's growing influence and presence on an international scale.
Official Status of Marathi language
Marathi serves as an official language of Indian state of Maharashtra. The State of Goa also recognizes Marathi as an official language, in addition to Konkani. The Constitution of India recognizes Marathi as one of India's twenty-two official languages. In addition to universities in Maharashtra, universities at Baroda (Gujarat), Osmania (Andhra Pradesh), and Panjim (Goa) all have special departments for higher studies in Marathi linguistics.
History of Marathi language
The history of the Marathi language is rooted in the Prakrit dialect of Maharashtri, which, according to recent research, has been confirmed to be synonymous with Marathi. The Maharashtrian language found its early usage in administration during the Satavahana Empire in Paithan (Pratishthan). Flourishing further during the Yadavas of Devagiri, Marathi culture and language experienced significant growth and development.
One of the oldest texts available in Marathi is the "Gatha Saptashati," dating back to approximately 2000 years ago. In the subsequent centuries, notable literary works were penned, such as Mhaimbhat's "Lila Charitra" in 1278 and Dnyaneswari's "Dnyaneswari" in 1290. The Mahanubhava Sampradaya played a crucial role in enriching Marathi literature, with Saint Eknath contributing significant texts like "Bharude," "Eknathi Bhagavata," and "Bhavartha Ramayana."
The popularity of the Marathi language can be attributed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who adopted Marathi as the official language of Swarajya. To promote the exclusive use of Marathi in royal affairs, Shivaraya compiled a 1400-word Marathi dictionary. During the era of the Peshwas, the empire expanded, further solidifying Marathi's prominence. It is noteworthy that Marathi was also used as the official language during the rule of pre-independence India (present-day Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh). Post-independence, in 1947, Marathi was granted the status of an official language in independent India. In 1960, the state of Maharashtra, predominantly for Marathi speakers, was established, and Marathi was declared the state language.
Archaeological findings offer glimpses into the ancient Marathi script. The Akshi inscription, discovered during the reign of King Kesidevaraya, is the oldest known inscription in the Marathi language. Before the Akshi inscription's discovery, a Marathi inscription near the statue of Gomteshwara in Karnataka was previously believed to be the original Marathi inscription. The Akshi village, located 5 km south of Alibaug in Raigad district, Maharashtra, holds historical significance in preserving this linguistic heritage.
Evolution of Marathi language
The Marathi language, with a history spanning over 2500 years, has undergone significant transformations mirroring the changes in society. The language has experienced several distinct phases, each leaving its mark on the linguistic and literary landscape.
The Early Period (1200 BC - 1250 AD): The language's earliest written records can be traced back to this period when works like "Leela Charitra" and "Dnyaneshwari" emerged. Marathi words and phrases of this era found mention in copper plates and inscriptions.
The Yadavakal (1250 - 1350 AD): During the rule of the Yadavas of Devagiri, Marathi gained prominence as the royal language. The period witnessed a flourishing of literature, and the emergence of Mahanubhava cult and the Varkari sect played a significant role in enriching Marathi literature with devotional poetry.
Bahmani and Sultanate Period (1350 - 1600 AD): With the Muslim rule commencing, Marathi continued to be widely used, especially in administration and record-keeping under the encouragement of local Hindu feudal lords and the majority population. The language saw the influence of Persian words, yet notable figures like Narsimha Saraswati and Eknath contributed to the literary legacy.
The Maratha Empire (1650 - 1818 AD): During the Maratha Swarajya, the Persian influence on Marathi diminished. Sant Tukaram and Samarth Ramdas Swami played pivotal roles in elevating Marathi to public recognition alongside its royal recognition. New literary genres like lavani and powada emerged, and society acknowledged literature as a form of entertainment. Moropant and Sridhar were prominent poets of this era.
The English Period (1818 - Present): This period marked the rise of prose writing and the spread of Marathi language due to the introduction of printing. The language underwent punctuation standardization by Major Kandy, simplifying Marathi writing. Savarkar's language purification movement led to the creation of many new Marathi words that are popular even today.
Post-Independence Period: After India's independence, the language underwent further development and purification. Savarkar's efforts led to the creation of essential Marathi words, catering to the modern era's needs. The literary landscape saw diverse movements, including the 'Chabildas' and 'Dalit Panthers,' leaving a profound impact on Marathi literature.
Modern Times: The later part of the 20th century witnessed the rise of influential literary figures like Gashiram Kotwal, Sakharam Binder, and Gidhade, as well as the women's liberation movement, which introduced new perspectives in literature.
Marathi literature boasts a rich and diverse collection of renowned works, contributed by prominent Maratha literary personalities. The period of the Maratha Empire witnessed the creation of masterpieces like "Ghadalay Bighadalay" by Moropant and "Harivijay" and "Pandava Pratap" by Sridhar, which explored themes of valor and heroism. Sant Tukaram's "Abhanga Gatha" and Samarth Ramdas Swami's "Dasbodh" are revered for their spiritual depth and profound teachings. The later era saw the emergence of trailblazing works like "Gashiram Kotwal" by Vijay Tendulkar and "Katyar Kaljat Ghusli" by Purushottam Darvhekar, both contributing significantly to Marathi theater. These timeless literary gems continue to inspire generations, reflecting the language's cultural and artistic richness.
Dialects of Marathi language
The major Marathi dialect divisions have been:
Ahirani is spoken in the west Khandesh, North Maharashtara region. Ahirani is a language today spoken in the Jalgaon, Nandurbar, Dhule and Nashik (Baglan, Malegaon and Kalwan tehsils) districts of Maharashtra, India. It is further divided into languages, such as Chalisgaon, Malegaon and Dhule group. Borrowing & bending the words from Hindi and Gujarati, Ahirani has created its own words which are never found in these languages. Ahirani is a colloquial form and uses the Devnagari script for its writing. Though it is the written form of devnagari but it is very difficult to write rather than to speak.
Khandeshi is spoken in East Khandesh specifically in Yawal and Raver Talukas. Khandeshi is also called as Tawadi which is specifically spoken by Leva Patils dominant cast of east Khandesh. Bahinabai Chaudhari is well known poet in Khandeshi, the study of her literature is studied and included in Marathi language. It is often misquoted that Bahinabai is an ahirani poet.
Although the constitution of India and Sahitya Academi considers Konkani as one of the 21 official languages, in Maharashtra Konkani is considered a dialect of Marathi. The Britannica Encyclopedia 1911 reported Konkani as only one real dialect of Marathi. Maharashtrians and Konkanis in Goa have had bitter fights over the official language issue. The Marathi-Konkani feud and inclusion of Konkani in scheduled languages was mostly because of political reasons and status as Konkani as a separate language is disputed. The claims of Dnyaneshwari being in Konkani and Marathi itself being a dialect of Konkani have not been proved. Marathi linguists and Maharashtrians in Goa and Maharashtra consider Konkani as a boli (dialect) of Marathi. Most Konkani people in Maharashtra speak and write fluent Marathi.
This language may not be named though, but was primarily spoken by Wadvals which essentially means agricultural plot owners, of the Naigaon, Vasai region . This language is preserved by Roman Catholics native to this region and is also spoken by the Hindus. But due to external influence ordinary Marathi is now more popular among the Hindus.
Samavedi is spoken in the interiors of Nala Sopara and Virar region to the north of Mumbai in the Vasai Taluka, Thane District of Maharashtra. The name of this language correctly suggests that its origins lie with the Samavedi Brahmins native to this region. Again this language too finds more speakers among the Roman Catholic converts native to this region who are known as East Indians. This language is very different from the other Marathi languages spoken in other regions of Maharashtra, but resembles Wadvali very closely. Both Wadvali and Samavedi have relatively higher proportion of words borrowed from Portuguese as compared to ordinary Marathi, because of direct influence of the Portuguese who colonized this region till 1739.
Thanjavur Marathi & Namdev Marathi
Thanjavur and Namdev Marathi is spoken by many Southern Indians. This language has evolved from the time of occupation of the Marathas in the Thanjavur in southern Tamil Nadu. It has speakers in parts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Dangii (spoken near the Maharashtra-Gujarat border)
Judaeo-Marathi (spoken by the Bene Israel Jews)
Malvani (spoken in southern Konkan near Malvan)
Kadodii (spoken near Vasai)
Marathi influence on other languages
Dakhini and Hyderabadi Urdu spoken in Hyderabad and some parts of Deccan are considerably influenced by Marathi. The grammar of Hyderabadi Urdu is loaned from Marathi. In fact, it is also called a creole between Marathi and Urdu with some Telugu loan words. Kannada, especially the northern Karnataka, has been heavily influenced by Marathi. For instance, feature of aspiration quite non-native to any Dravidian language is found in northern Kannada. Also loan kinship terms like vahini (brother's wife) etc. are also borrowed from Marathi.