The Prakrits (Sanskrit: प्राकृती prākṛta,
Shauraseni: pāuda, Jain Prakrit: pāua) are any of several Middle
Ardhamagadhi (or simply Magadhi) Prakrit, which was used
extensively to write the scriptures of Jainism, is often considered to
be the definitive form of Prakrit, while others are considered
Prakrit grammarians would give the full grammar of
Ardhamagadhi first, and then define the other grammars with relation
to it. For this reason, courses teaching 'Prakrit' are often regarded
as teaching Ardhamagadhi. Pali, the
Prakrit used in Theravada
Buddhism, tends to be treated as a special exception from the variants
Ardhamagadhi language, as Classical
Sanskrit grammars do not
consider it as a
Prakrit per se, presumably for sectarian rather than
linguistic reasons. Other Prakrits are reported in old historical
sources, but are not attested, such as Paiśācī.
Some modern scholars follow this classification by including all
Indo-Aryan languages under the rubric of 'Prakrits', while
others emphasise the independent development of these languages, often
separated from the history of
Sanskrit by wide divisions of caste,
religion, and geography. While Prakrits were originally seen as
'lower' forms of language, the influence they had on
allowing it to be more easily used by the common people - as well as
the converse influence of
Sanskrit on the Prakrits, gave Prakrits
progressively higher cultural cachet.
The word 'Prakrit' itself has a flexible definition, being defined
sometimes as 'original, natural, artless, normal, ordinary, usual' or
'vernacular,' in contrast to the literary and religious orthodoxy of
Prakrit can be taken to mean 'derived from an
original,' which means evolved in a natural way.
Prakrit is foremost a
native term, designating 'vernaculars' as opposed to Sanskrit.
The Prakrits became literary languages, generally patronised by
ancient kings of the
Hindu kshatriya class, though were still regarded
as illegitimate by the orthodoxy. The earliest extant use of Prakrit
is in the
Edicts of Ashoka
Edicts of Ashoka on
Buddhism (r. 268–232 BCE). It appears
as a very significant liturgical language in the form of the Pāli
Theravada Buddhists and the Agamas of the Jains, beside
countless later grammars, lyrics, plays and epics.
Each variety of
Prakrit gradually became associated with a particular
patron dynasty, and indeed particular religions, as well as with
numerous regional literatures. Every one is today considered to
constitute a distinct literary tradition within the history of the
2 Dramatic Prakrits
3 List of Prakrits
The Sūryaprajñaptisūtra, an astronomical work dating to the 3rd or
4th century BC, written in
Jain Prakrit language
Jain Prakrit language (in
script), c. 1500 AD.
According to the dictionary of
Monier Monier-Williams (1819–1899),
the most frequent meanings of the term prakṛta, from which the word
"prakrit" is derived, are "original, natural, normal" and the term is
derived from prakṛti, "making or placing before or at first, the
original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary
substance". In linguistic terms, this is used in contrast with
Pillar capital with addorsed lions and
Prakrit inscriptions in the
Kharosthi script, British Museum
Dramatic Prakrits were those that were devised specifically for use in
dramas and other literature. Whenever dialogue was written in a
Prakrit, the reader would also be provided with a Sanskrit
translation. None of these Prakrits came into being as vernaculars,
but some ended up being used as such when
Sanskrit fell out of
The phrase "Dramatic Prakrits" often refers to three most prominent of
them: Shauraseni, Magadhi Prakrit, and Maharashtri Prakrit. However,
there were a slew of other less commonly used Prakrits that also fall
into this category. These include Pracya, Bahliki, Daksinatya, Sakari,
Candali, Sabari, Abhiri, Dramili, and Odri. There was an astoundingly
strict structure to the use of these different Prakrits in dramas.
Characters each spoke a different
Prakrit based on their role and
background; for example, Dramili was the language of
"forest-dwellers", Sauraseni was spoken by "the heroine and her female
friends", and Avanti was spoken by "cheats and rogues".
Maharashtri Prakrit, the ancestor of modern Marathi, is a particularly
interesting case. Maharashtri was often used for poetry and as such,
diverged from proper
Sanskrit grammar mainly to fit the language to
the meter of different styles of poetry. The new grammar stuck, which
led to the unique flexibility of vowels lengths – amongst other
anomalies – in Marathi.
Unusual Prakrits appear in the margins of the Prakritic world:
Sri Lanka and Gāndhārī
Central Asia both
have unusual phonological and grammatical changes not found in other
List of Prakrits
National Institute of
Prakrit Study and Research. Shravanabelagola,
Banerjee, Satya Ranjan. The Eastern School of Prakrit
Grammarians : a linguistic study. Calcutta: Vidyasagar Pustak
Daniels, Peter T., The World's Writing Systems. USA: Oxford University
Sanskrit & Prakrit, sociolinguistic issues.
Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993.
Pischel, R. Grammar of the
Prakrit Languages. New York: Motilal Books,
Woolner, Alfred C. Introduction to Prakrit, 2nd Edition. Lahore:
Punjab University, 1928 (reprint). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, India,
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
(2017). "Middle Indo-Aryan".
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck
Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ Daniels, p. 377
^ Woolner, Alfred C. (1928). Introduction to Prakrit. Delhi: Motilal
Banarsidass Publ.,. p. 235. ISBN 9788120801899.
^ Woolner, pg. 6
^ Deshpande, pg. 33
^ Deshpande, pg. 35
^ Woolner, Alfred C. (1928). Introduction to
Prakrit (2 (reprint)
ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 1–2.
ISBN 978-81-208-0189-9. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
^ Woolner, pg. v.
^ Banerjee, pg. 19-21
^ Deshpande, pg. 36-37
Old and Middle Indo-Aryan languages
Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit
Modern Indo-Aryan languages