Guide to the classical languages of India
We all need a medium to communicate our feelings and experiences. The medium through which we can do this is language. Our ancestors had used gestures or sign language to convey their messages to each other.
With the evolution of the human species, their way of communication is also evolved. Now, they can use a variety of languages to communicate.
The evolution of the Indian language is not just for communication but to represent the different cultures and ethics of the people of India.
In India, different languages are used by the people of other communities. This depicts the linguistic diversity in Indian Culture.
Indian languages are evolved from different groups of languages. These groups are Sino-Tibetan, Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Austric, Negroid, and others.
The main groups of languages whose impact on the Indian Languages is excellent are the Aryan and the Dravidian.
There is also an influence of the Indo-Aryan Languages on Indian languages. In India, you can’t see a single language spoken everywhere.
Despite all the spoken languages of India, the classical languages have greater importance in the Indian culture and constitution.
If you want to know about the classical languages of India, then you are in the right place. This article is all about the classical language of India, its types, importance in Indian culture, and so on. So, just read it and learn everything about the classical languages of India.
Let’s get dive into the classical languages of India.
What is a Classical Language?
Although classical languages are not as common and used by people, they are dead or ancient languages. This language doesn’t have native speakers, but some people know it and use it as diglossia. It has a large ancient body of oral and written literature.
Classical language has its literacy traditions, which are unique and different from other speech. In modern times, the languages used in India are far more diverse than classical languages.
Role of classical languages in the Indian culture
Classical languages play a wide range of roles in preserving Indian culture. A classical language is used for communication purposes, but it represents the whole culture and traditions of that community to which it belongs or is related.
India is a multilingual country where millions speak different languages and dialects.
Today, there are a lot of countries in the world, which love our Indian culture and traditions. Only the Indian culture reaches up to different countries worldwide through the classical languages. Due to this, our culture is also recognized by different countries.
And all of this happens because of classical languages and their literature work. Therefore, the classical languages of India have great importance in Indian culture.
Six Classical Languages of India
In India, there are only six languages that fulfil the criteria of classical language. The government of India sets some requirements for the classical languages.
Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Odia. Let’s look at how these languages get the title of classical Language.
1. Tamil Language
The Tamil language is the first language that got the status of classical language by the government of India in 2004.
The people speak this language in Tamil Nadu, the Southern state of India.
The Tamil language belongs to the Dravidian language family. It is mainly spoken in the Indian states. There are approximately 60 million people in India who speak the Tamil language.
The government of India included it in classical Language because it fulfils the three criteria, which are as follow;
- It has an ancient origin.
- It has an independent tradition.
- It has ancient literary texts.
With time so much change has been taken place in the writing style of the Tamil language. The writing style of this language has opted from the Brahmi script. The most common style of writing used in it is “Round Script” or Vatteluttu.
Not only has the writing style changed, but the phonology of words in this language has also changed with time. After so much evolution in this language, Modern Tamil is presently spoken in South Asia.
Although it is a classical language, it is an official language of some states or UT of India and other countries. Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have the Tamil language as their official language. Country, where Tamil is used as their official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore.
According to the British Historian John Alexander Guy, the Tamil language was used as a bridge language to trade in India at early maritime. Hence, this language has a wide range of popularity.
2. Sanskrit Language
Second, in this list of classical languages of India, is the Sanskrit language, which is considered the mother of all languages of India.
The Sanskrit language is the most ancient language used in Hindu scriptures, textbooks, or Vedas. The first-ever book of the world, Rigveda, was also written in the Sanskrit language.
The Sanskrit used at the time of Vedas is much different from modern-day Sanskrit. Hence the earlier one is known as Vedic Sanskrit. The other form of Sanskrit language is Classical Sanskrit which is used nowadays. All the grammar used in Classical Sanskrit is taken from the book ‘Astadhyayi’ written by Panini.
After Panini, Bhartrhari came with another Sanskrit literature book called Vakyapadiya that explains the words and sentences. The writing style used in this language is the Devanagari script. This work of Bhartrhari became a pinnacle in the world of Sanskrit literature.
If we say only Hindus know this Language, then we are wrong. Some other religions like Jainism and Buddhism where their scholars use the Sanskrit language.
Due to its glorious ancient history, the government included it in the classical language in 2005. However, it has a special status under article 351.
3. Telugu Language
This language got the status of the classical Language of India in 2008 by the Government. But it is not relatively easy to reach for it. After going through so many challenges, it gained the title of classical language.
It belongs to the family of the Dravidian Language. This Language is mostly spoken by the Telugu population, which resides in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In these two states of India, Telugu is used as an official language. Hence, it is an official language of India along with a classical language status.
The ancient literature of Telugu is the version of the Hindu epic story Mahabharata. This is also known as Andhramu. The interesting thing to know about this Language is that this Language has gained popularity in the USA.
This Language comes at third position in the list of most spoken languages of India. The other two languages are Hindi and Bengali. Telugu is also one of the official languages of West Bengal.
The Telugu script won second position in the best script in the world contest in 2012 after the Korean language script. It is considered the sweetest Indian Language by the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
4. Kannada Language
Another language that belongs to the family of the Dravidian Language is the Kannada language. This Language is included in the 22 official languages of India, and also it is one of the classical languages in India.
It is spoken by the people of Karnataka, the Southern state of India, because it is their official Language. Like Tamil and Sanskrit languages, it is also the oldest Language.
Most of the Kannada scripts were in Bramhilipi and developed from the Kadamba script in the 5th century. This Language was also used by various dynasties of India, Chalukyas, Kadambas, and the Vijayanagara empire.
In 2008, the Kannada language received the status of classical Language. The literature of this Language won the highest number of Jnanapith awards. Languages that influenced the Kannada language are Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Pali.
5. Malayalam Language
Malayalam is the fourth Language in the list of classical languages of India. The government of India gave the status of classical Language to the Malayalam language in 2013. Like Tamil and Telugu languages, Malayalam is also a member of the Dravidian Language.
Kerala is the southern state of India, where Malayalam is used as spoken and an official language. It is also spoken in the Gulf Countries. The people also speak it in Lakshadweep and Puducherry.
One of the interesting facts is that the word Malayalam is a palindrome in English. It evolved from the Proto Tamil- Malayalam and the Tamil language.
The first book of this Language was not in India but Rome. The Malayalam script was influenced by Grantha script and some Sanskrit words.
The first literature work done in this Language is in the late 12th century. That literature work is Ramacharitam, written in old Malayalam. With time so many changes have occurred in this Language, and it is also influenced by other languages such as Tamil, Hindi, and English.
Not only do Indians have an interest in learning this language, but many foreign people are also are interested in learning the Malayalam language. People’s rising interest in this Language puts it at 27th position in the list of most spoken languages globally.
6. Odia Language
Odia or Oriya language is the last and sixth Language included in the list of classical languages of India. This Language got classical Language status in 2014 by the Union Cabinet. Odia is mainly spoken in Odissa as their official Language.
Despite being part of the classical languages of India, it is already included in the eighth schedule under Article 344 as a scheduled language of India. Becoming a classical language was not an easy journey for this Language.
It started its journey in 2004 when the state government of Orissa demanded to give it the status of classical Language.
Like the other classical languages, Tamil, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada, it is also the oldest Language, which is a criterion for a language to become a classical language of India.
This is the only classical language that belongs to the Indo-Aryan language. Out of so many dialects, the Mughalabadi is the standard dialect.
Odia language is evolved from the Ardhamagadhi Prakrit. Languages observed in the Odia language are the Dravidian Language, Arabic, Persian, and English.
Odia language borrowed some words from the Sanskrit language. This Language is also included in most of Jainism and Buddhism literature texts.
The literature work done by the poet Sarala Das in the 14th century are Sarala Mahabharata,Vilanka Ramayana, and Chandi Purana. The first long poem in this language written by Arjuna Dasa is Rama-Bibaha.
How did they become the classical languages of India?
The status of classical Language is not that easy to gain. There are some eligibility criteria selected by the government of India, under which the Union Cabinet declares any language as classical Language.
Criteria for a language to become a classical language:
Here are the essential eligibility criteria that define a language as a classical language given by the Ministry of Culture. The Government of India decided these in June 2004.
- Language has original literary traditions. That means it has not borrowed literary traditions from other speeches.
- Language has a body of ancient texts or literature.
- The ancient text or literature of the Language is old or has a history of over a period of 1500-2000 years.
- The Language and its literature have so much evolution that there is a difference in the old and modern forms of that Language.
When any language fulfills all the requirements mentioned above, it would be declared as a classical language of India. Presently, India has only six languages as the classical Language, and these languages are also part of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
Benefits of being as a classical language:
The Ministry of Human Resource and Development benefits the Language, which becomes a classical language. These benefits are as follow;
- Scholars of classical Indian Language get two major annual international awards.
- A Centre of Excellence is established for the study of classical Language.
- UGC creates a certain number of Professional Chairs for classical languages.
Well, these benefits are declared by the Human Resource and Development Ministry to promote the classical languages among the people of Indian culture and society.
Other Languages included in the Indian Constitution:
India is a culturally rich country. It has a wide range of spoken languages that belongs to various language families, including Indo-Aryan language, Dravidian Language, and so on.
With the high number of languages, India ranked fourth in the list of countries with the highest number of languages. In Indian Constitution, the languages of India are classified as official languages and schedule languages.
Official Languages of India
The official language of India is mentioned in Article 343 of the Indian Constitution. According to this article, there are two official languages of India. These are such as Hindi and English.
Hindi as an official language of India
According to Article 343, the Devanagari script of the Hindi language is used in all the official and administrative work of the Union.
Hindi is not only the official language of India but the native language of India. In 1950, the Hindi language was declared as the official language by the Indian constitution.
English as an official language of India
English is the most important Language, which still is an official language of India. It was mainly used in the time of British India.
To avoid the problem of non – Hindi speakers, the Union permits the use of the English Language in the country through The Official Languages Act, 1963.
Scheduled Languages of India
According to the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, there are twenty-two languages listed as scheduled languages and referred to as official languages of Indian states.
All though these languages are not included altogether in the Indian Constitution. They are added with the amendment in the Constitution of India.
List of 22 Schedule languages
The most prominent languages of India
The prominent languages are that language which is spoken mainly by every people. In India, Hindi, English, Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, and Gujarati are the most prominent languages.
I hope you will learn a lot through this article about the classical languages of India.
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