Marathi may become the sixth classical language

After Malayalam, it might soon be the turn of Marathi to be included in the list of classical languages. Constituted by the state government to study the language's claim for inclusion in the list of Classical Languages of India, a committee of eminent authors and historians has made its recommendation in favour of Marathi.

The committee has furnished proof to support the claim.

In 2004, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Government of India, laid down norms for declaring languages as classical. The norms stipulate that the language must be older than 1,500 years, should have an established and independent literary tradition and it should retain its continuity with its roots. Till date, the five declared classical languages are Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu, Kannada and Malayalam.

In order to probe the claim of Marathi as a classical language, the state government had set up a committee headed by author Ranganath Pathare, with historian-sociologist Hari Narke as the coordinator.

The committee had 10 other experts, including linguists, historians and language experts. After sifting through more than 200-plus reference books and other details, the committee submitted its report last month to the government, strongly recommending that Marathi be given the status of a classical language.

About the proof of Marathi's eligibility as a classical language, Narke says the earliest example of the existence of Marathi as an independent language dates back to more than 2,000 years. "A shilalekh (stone carving) discovered in Junnar taluka of Pune talks about Maharathi language, which is the same as Marathi. In fact, various references have been gathered that equate the Maharashtrian Parkit, Maharathi, Desi with that of present day Marathi," he says.

Citing the independent witness of Sri Lankan seminal work of Deepavamsam, a Pali work dating back 2,000 years, Narke says the book mentions the existence of Marathi as an independent language during the time of emperor Ashoka. "The book states that Maharathi-speaking Bhikkhus (Buddhist monks) were sent to present day Konkan, Kundal and Kolhapur to spread Dhamma there," he says. The Vinayapithaka (one of the canonical works of Buddhism) talks about an abbot named Mahadhammarakshak being sent to various parts of Maharashtra as he was well versed in Maharathi. This, Narke says, shows that Marathi was existing as an independent language well before the common era.

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